On Tuesday May 6 the Ecuadorian National Electoral Council (CNE) proclaimed that the social movement YASunidos did not reach the required amount of signatures to call for a national referendum and keep the oil underground in the Amazon Yasuní-ITT area. This was announced after 6 months collecting signatures, and a verification process led by CNE that has been characterized by serious irregularities and violations of Ecuadorians participatory rights.
YASunidos handed in 757,623 signatures on Saturday, April 12 to call for a national referendum. However, the hope of a transparent validation process of the signatures was shattered after CNE broke the chain of custody and manipulated the materials submitted by YASunidos in their absence and without their consent only a few days after the submission.
At the CNE office YASunidos found the box containing critical documents, including the IDs of all the collectors required to verify each page of signatures open and the documents inside manipulated. YASunidos denounced the 100 missing IDs, and the changed registration codes of the documents. Without these copies, according to CNE, all signatures gathered by these people would be immediately invalidated, which corresponds to more than 200,000 signatures.
“It’s a grave violation of the Constitution and law to open any of our boxes without our presence and it’s a very serious matter that around 100 copies of the national IDs of signature collectors have mysteriously disappeared in the custody of the CNE,” explained Patricio Chávez, member and spokesperson of YASunidos.
YASunidos legally requested that CNE immediately stop the signature verification process until this issue was cleared up by an impartial committee, but their request was simply ignored and instead, CNE accused the movement of lying. This video shows clearly the opened box:
On April 17, military and anti-riot police forces intervened violently hitting, pushing, stepping on YASunidos members and even using teargas and stun guns. Along with other citizens, they peacefully protested by forming a human chain trying to defend the signatures from being moved from the premises of CNE to the military enclosure where the verification would take place without their consent.
However, the signatures were moved and the validation started that same day, while YASunidos were denied access as observers despite it being their democratic right. After four days they were allowed in, but under unreasonable conditions. For instance, only one YASunido observer was allowed per ten to fifteen computers. The observers had to put up with being ridiculed and demeaned by officials of CNE when opposing annulments of signatures.
Even before the verification of each individual signature began, CNE had already nullified more than 20% of the total amount based on format arguments such as: “wrong” paper size, “wrong” pen ink color, paper stains and others. This violates the constitutional right establishing that no omission of formality can prevent the fulfillment of rights. The movement therefore decided to withdraw from the verification process until all irregularities were addressed and until some kind of guarantee of transparency and genuine participation were made.
“We refuse to further partake in this process that is so obviously violating both our constitutional and democratic rights as Ecuadorian citizens. Continuing the audit would mean approving and accepting these violations and we won’t do that”, explained Patricia Carrión, a lawyer and YASunidos member, and she asserted
“We are still going to do all we can to defend the signatures of the 757.623 Ecuadorians who wish to be consulted about the oil drilling in Yasuní-ITT and we are now searching all options within our reach, both nationally and internationally, to ensure the respect for the will and the rights of these citizens.”
An independent commission was created in order to follow up on the process. On May 7 it delivered a report requesting a complete investigation of the staff hired to verify the YASunidos signatures. The commission also calls for an examination of the computer system used for the signature verification, a disclosure of all the rejected signatures and the garantee that all physical forms will be kept intact by the authorities.
- YASunidos: a civil society movement of different environmental, civic and indigenous organizations, groups and individuals formed in the wake of President Rafael Correa´s decision to abandon the Yasuní-ITT Initiative on August 15, 2013.
- Yasuní-ITT Initiative: an innovative climate solution plan combining conservation of the most biodiverse place on Earth, an effective manner to fight climate change leaving underground 900 million of barrels of oil, and respect for the last indigenous peoples’ rights living in voluntary isolation.
- August 15 and October 3, 2013: the government and Congress respectively bypass the Constitution and approve the exploitation of the protected Yasuní-ITT-area.
- October 14, 2013: YASunidos petition starts and they have 180 days to collect at least 584.000 signatures (equivalent to 5% of the voters) needed to get a question on the ballot.
- Repression from the Correa administration during colletion process; official smear campaign, personal intimidations and persecutions, plagiarism of YASunidos’ campaign designs and dirty tricks to try to avoid the Yasuní Referendum, including counter petitions to confuse the Ecuadorian population and more.
- Yasunidos delivered 757,623 signatures to CNE
- President Correa reiteratively announced that he will not pass any referendum regarding Yasuni-ITT oil exploitation.
- CNE denied the YASunidos referendum, with almost 60% of the signatures rejected by formalities in the signatures records and forms.