by Amazon Frontlines /

August 2023 /

Chronicles /

What would you say if citizens had the power, for the first time in history, to vote out the oil industry from earth’s most biodiverse place? Well, that’s exactly what’s happening in Ecuador. 

After years of mobilization, civil society has managed to secure an official referendum, where the Ecuadorian people will get to decide whether the oil industry must shut down its operations in the forests of Yasuni deep in the Amazon, or whether they can expand oil extraction. This 20th August, Ecuadorians will go to the polls to cast their votes: YES to protect Yasuní, or NO, a green light for the oil industry to continue business as usual. 

This is a massive, historic turning point for our planet. The referendum is a first-of-its-kind demonstration of climate democracy, where people, not corporations, get to decide on resource extraction and its limits. In just days, Ecuadorian voters can deliver a major blow to the fossil fuel industry, forcing them to leave the oil in the soil. 

The Most Biodiverse Place on Earth 

Yasuni is considered the most biodiverse place on the planet because of the sheer variety of life within the territory, which is simply staggering: there are more species of trees in Yasuni than in the United States and Canada combined.  

Sitting at the meeting point of the Andes mountain range and the Amazon rainforest, crossed by the equator, Yasuni unique geography means it hosts some of the highest levels of diversity of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and plants in the Americas: Yasuni alone is home to at least 600 species of ants, 100 species of bats, 9 types of toucan, and over 100,000 different types of insects.

Wildlife in the forests of Yasuni. Photos Courtesy of Lucas Bustamante

Yasuni is the ancestral territory of the Waorani people, and is home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane communities, the last Indigenous communities in Ecuador living in voluntary isolation. 

But Yasuni today is under major threat. Since the 1960s, corporations have extracted oil across the Ecuadorian Amazon, leaving an ongoing legacy of destruction and pollution for local communities. In the last decade, oil firms have started extracting oil in Yasuni itself; access roads have been built, enabling deforestation, overhunting and logging. Now, they want to expand their reach, drilling the last drops of oil in Yasuni. But the referendum offers a major chance to stop them.  

As Waorani leader Nemonte Nenquimo says, “The Waorani people, and many other peoples that have suffered the violence of the oil industries, haven’t had opportunities like this to challenge the oil industry and limit their power. A few years ago, we won a major victory in Pastaza against the oil industry, defending half a million acres of land from oil companies. Now, we want to win another victory – to protect Yasuni, the heartland of the Amazon. To protect the rights of Indigenous peoples and the planet we share. This referendum is a tremendous moment for the Ecuadorian people and the world to realize that oil is not the future; it is not worth more than the land it comes from, or the cultures it destroys.”

Waorani Pekinani (traditional authorities) Ore and Memo Ahua with A’i Cofan leader Alex Lucitante share laughter and songs in the forests of Yasuni in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Protecting Yasuni is a priority if we want to safeguard our global climate, the biodiversity of forests, and the rights of Indigenous peoples. “We want to tell the world that this territory is sacred”, A’i Kofán leader Alex Lucitante adds, “that it’s the home of many living beings, many animals and plants. Its rivers are indispensable. This is the space of life for our Waorani brothers, for nature itself. That’s why we need to say yes to Yasuni, not to oil companies.”

Yes to Life, No to Oil Drilling in Yasuni!

The referendum, taking place on August 20th, is a major event: for the first time in history, every citizen of an oil-producing country will get to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ on kicking Big Oil out of a territory.  

The choice is simple: a “Yes” vote ends oil exploration in Yasuni and sends oil companies packing. A “No” vote gives the oil industry permission to exploit hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, unleashing hundreds of millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. Years of organizing to demand a popular vote got us this far. Now we have an unmissable opportunity to make this an iconic victory for people power over corporate greed, by using our international platforms to strengthen the voice of Ecuadorians voting yes to protect Yasuni.  

At Amazon Frontlines, we’re teaming up with our main partner Alianza Ceibo, civil society organization Yasunidos, and Indigenous confederations CONAIE and CONFENAIE, to launch SÍ al Yasuní (Yes to Yasuni) a campaign to strengthen a vote for Yes in the upcoming referendum, by building support across the world. 

Together with our partners, we have witnessed first-hand the damage of the oil industry in the Amazon, and its toxic legacy of pollution and poverty. We know that fossil fuels do not bring wealth and developments; instead, they deliver huge profits to corporations and destruction to communities. The model of fossil fuel capitalism has expired, and the Ecuadorian people have a unique chance to chart another path ahead, and take a huge step forward in the struggle to tackle climate change: 

We hope you will take away a sense of what’s at stake and how, with your help, we can make history. This destructive encirclement and dispossession of Indigenous lands has to stop – it’s time to end fossil fuel extraction in the Amazon once and for all. 

Share this video & cast your vote for the rainforest!