Ecuador: Two Executive Orders Threatening the Amazon

No more Oil Spills Photo: Iván Castaneira
No more Oil Spills Photo: Iván Castaneira

SOURCE: Originally published by the Ecuadorian digital magazine GK

The oil and mining policies of Ecuador’s government continue to affect indigenous populations and go against all recommendations to mitigate climate change.

President Guillermo Lasso’s oil and mining policies have been rejected by indigenous organizations and nationalities. In October 2021, delegations from all over the Amazon region mobilized, and their organizations filed a federal lawsuit to declare Executive Order 95 unconstitutional, which outlines a new policy to double the country’s oil production. In December, they filed another lawsuit against Executive Order 151, which gave a green light to expand large-scale mining.

These executive orders were issued during the first six months of the president’s term in office. Their implementation is of concern to indigenous organizations because of possible violations against collective and nature’s rights. On the one hand, oil and mining production will be doubled and, on the other hand, collective rights are not being respected, including the right to prior consultation for or against such activities on indigenous lands.

“For years we have shown that oil and mining exploitation hasn’t changed our livelihoods. Our grassroots leaders have risked their lives for decades, saying that extracting resources from their lands has brought nothing but destruction, social conflict, and environmental disasters,” said Marion Vargas, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The new projects, like the one led by an oil consortium—Petroamazonas EP, Enap Sipetrol and Belorusneft—on Block 28, or the one by Solaris Resources or EcuaSolidus, would affect the State’s fiscal profits to the detriment of the financial, social, and cultural rights of the population.

This is because it imposes a bidding process that ensures profits for the companies while shifting cost risks to the State. It is a situation similar to those in previous decades, such as Occidental Petroleum and the Chevron Texaco cases, which caused financial damage to the State.

The oil executive order protects the interests of the private sector and financial entities by offering a “transition,” where strategic sectors are transferred from state control and handling to that of transnational companies. This transition implies the executive will need to review, accelerate, and relax several enabling processes to authorize bidding concessions of oil blocks.

The mining executive order, on the other hand, aims to position the country as a mining investment attraction, while —mistakenly—establishing a narrative that promotes mining as the road towards development and an alternative to overcoming the financial crisis. This in spite of economists who have argued that large-scale mining will not provide the promised revenue, as is already the case of the Mirador, Fruta del Norte, and San Carlos Panantza projects.

Indigenous organizations in Ecuador are concerned, since many communities—ancestral owners of the land—have declared themselves free of mining, protected by collective rights enshrined in the constitution and international treaties and agreements, such as the International Labor Organization’s Declaration 169 of Indigenous Peoples (ILT).

The new executive order justifies increased attacks and the stigmatization of people who are against mining, such as what happened to Josefina Tunki, president of the Shuar Arutam Village, who was branded “irresponsible” by the government for defending her land. Her life was threatened by the company Solaris Resources, an incident that has not been properly investigated by Ecuadorian courts. Similarly, this executive order proposes reviewing and accelerating current processes of environmental and social licensing for mining concessions. It also recommends changes to the contractual conditions between parties, weakening the State’s posture and making it easier for companies to operate freely.

Both executive orders enable institutional channels to expand extractivism, in a context where two oil spills are reported in the northern Amazon every week. Also in a scenario where mining companies in the southeast have accelerated buying people’s consciences, thus creating social divisions within indigenous communities. This was the case of Vicente Numi, ex-president of the Shuar Arutam Village, who went from being a plaintiff against the company Solaris Resources to being a civil servant of the same company.

All of this is happening while the government continues to violate people’s rights and generate harming conditions for communities, particularly in Morona Santiago, as in the case of Nankints, which has ongoing judicial processes underway. Another case is that of Warints—with a palpable community divide—and Yaupi, in the Cordillera de Trans Kutukú, where the community expelled the mining company EcuaSolidus in 2021.


These executive orders are taking us back to the 70s and 80s, when neoliberal policies were leaving behind severe damages, such as the Chevron-Texaco case. To this day, the families and people in the Amazonian regions of Sucumbíos and Orellana, affected by the biggest oil spill in Ecuador’s history, have not received reparations.

Meanwhile, latest figures from the 2010 population and housing census, analyzed by Amazon Watch, show that the Amazonian populations of Orellana, Sucumbíos, and Napo reported as having the highest rates of unfulfilled basic needs. Orellana reported 85%, Sucumbíos 87%, and Napo even higher, at 94%. These are the three poorest regions in the country.

So, what have been the benefits of becoming areas of oil exploitation for more than 40 years? None, say northeastern indigenous leaders. There are 120 Kichwa communities in the northern Amazon region that are currently awaiting reparations, remediation, and guarantees of non-repetition from Ecuadorian courts. To enforce this, the Union of Native Comunes of the Ecuadorian Amazon (FCUNAE), CONFENAIE, and other human rights organizations brought protective actions against state-owned companies PetroEcuador and OCP, as well as several state portfolios.

To date, there has not been any explanation about how the rights of nature, human and collective rights of indigenous peoples, and environmental advocates will be guaranteed. Many of them have been criminalized for exercising their rights to resist and for defending their lands against extractive companies. In some cases, they are the members of government councils of the CONAIE and CONFENAIE, according to a report from the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA).

Spokespeople for the indigenous movement say the environmental proposals signed by Guillermo Lasso during his political campaign constitute yet another act of deception.

The executive orders show the State’s failure to comply with its international human rights obligations, such as the Escazú Agreement, which came into force in April 2021. Despite this, the ministries continue to be part of institutional mediations which are at the service of oil and mining extraction companies. We see it with every judicial case, such as the one initiated after the oil spill in April 2020, which still awaits a court ruling.

The State should be committed to protecting the collective interests of the population. Both the oil consortiums and the mining registry affect most indigenous lands, and this will only increase if the extractive frontier expands, as promised by both decrees.

It is difficult to understand how the current government can promote these executive orders when the International Energy Agency highlighted in its last report an urgency to stop the production of fossil fuels in the Amazon. We find ourselves at a turning point that will shape the destiny of humanity. These types of policies are so absurd in light of the findings from the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC), which declared that the climate emergency can only be mitigated if urgent decisions are made by States to stop global warming. The most urgent of which is to abandon the production of fossil fuels and the drivers of deforestation and pollution, such as mining, as quickly as possible.

He has a degree in Biological Sciences and a master's degree in Biodiversity in tropical forests. Community communicator with technology at the People's High School in Härnösand, Sweden. Director of Communication of the Confeniae for two consecutive periods. Director of Radio la Voz de la Confeniae, audiovisual producer.