A 2010 proposal, known as the Yasuni ITT initiative, sought to keep millions of barrels of oil under the Amazon
. Backed by Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, the plan asked developed countries to pledge funds that would replace the profits from oil extraction. But the plan failed
when Ecuadorian leaders said they were unable to attract the foreign funds needed to preserve the area.
Now, the government is moving to tap into previously untouched areas such as Yasuni National Park, which is believed to be one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
Although the U.S. has long been the leading importer of Ecuadorian oil, according to an analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration
, demand from China has increased.
But advocates believe they can still gain ground in their fight to protect the region's culture and the environment. The effort in Gualinga's home of Sarayaku, for example, has been hailed as a victory after decades of oil-related exploitation.
In 2012, indigenous groups there won a settlement and an apology from the government for approving drilling on their territory without the permission of native communities.
Andrew Miller, advocacy director for the nonprofit Amazon Watch, called the win in Sarayaku "a really inspirational case and one that had international reverberations."
“[The people of Sarayaku] are very well organized, because they effectively stood up to government and multinational oil corporations, and they are very savvy with media," he said, citing a documentary called The Children of the Jaguar,
which documents their struggle.
Similar battles are playing out across nations rich in natural resources. But in Ecuador, perhaps more than in other countries, female activists are on the front lines of the fight. Miller, whose organization works with indigenous groups throughout the Amazon basin, said that in Ecuador, "there’s a whole slew of very powerful women" advocating for the environment.