SANI ISLA, Ecuador – For this Indian community in the Ecuadorian Amazon, opening the region to oil drilling would mean better education for the children and more income, yet it has said no to oil wells.
The 785 Kichwas of Sani Isla were tempted by offers made by state-owned Petroamazonas, but in the end chose to preserve the jungle, community leaders told Efe.
Sani Isla’s opportunities began to change 10 years ago when the community decided to use money from U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum to build a small hotel for tourists on the shores of Challuacocha Lagoon, resident Patricio Jipa said.
Oxy left Ecuador in 2006 following a dispute with the government and the drilling concession was turned over to Petroamazonas.
The company recently made an offer of economic aid in exchange for permission to carry out seismic studies at Sani Isla, Jipa said.
“It was a very tempting offer, because they offered schools and another place to do ecotourism,” he said.
Jipa said that Sani Isla president Leonardo Tapuy originally signed an accord with Petroamazonas, but the community rejected it because it hadn’t been the result of a group decision.
On Jan. 13 they held an assembly in which the residents rescinded the accord and said no to oil, he said.
The Ecuadorian constitution requires a “previous consultation” with the communities before beginning projects like this, but the government considers that its result is not binding.
Members of the community take turns working for six months at their small hotel, which mostly receives foreigners seeking a unique Amazon experience.
Jipa believes that ecotourism is not compatible with oil drilling and says that the choice to preserve nature is “fighting to save the earth.” EFE