QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador halted environmental cooperation deals with Germany worth some 43 million euros to the Latin American country after German lawmakers tried to visit an Amazon rainforest recently opened for oil production, the foreign minister said on Friday.
President Rafael Correa in 2007 asked wealthy countries to donate $3.6 billion to help protect the environmentally sensitive rainforest known as Yasuni in exchange for promises not to drill for the oil beneath it.
In 2013, he scrapped the plan and authorized drilling after the proposal brought in a fraction of what he had sought.
The group of German legislators earlier this month had attempted to visit the Yasuni to observe oil operations, talk to activists opposing the drilling, and see how German funds were being used. Correa blocked their trip.
“If they think they had the right to doubt the word of Ecuador’s government on the issue of Yasuni because they were providing funds, we’ll give them their money back with interest,” Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino told reporters.
“Ecuador unilaterally ends all cooperation with Germany on environmental issues.”
The German embassy in Quito did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment.
Germany and Ecuador had signed cooperation deals for 36 million euros ($44 million) to protect the Yasuni and another 7 million euros ($9 million) in other environment projects.
The funds for Yasuni had not yet been disbursed, and the money for the other projects will be returned in coming days, Patino said.
The Yasuni jungle area boasts some of the planet’s most diverse wildlife, which Correa has promised would not be harmed by oil production. The first oil production is expected in 2016.
Ecuador in recent years has unilaterally halted a number of international cooperation agreements, particularly with the United States, citing the need to defend its sovereignty.
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Jonathan Oatis