Ecuador inks temporary oil moratorium deal with indigenous groups

The government of Ecuador and indigenous leaders on Friday signed a deal to declare a temporary development moratorium on 15 oil blocks and suspend new mining contracts until a law about prior community consultations is in place.

The deals are the most important step yet to implement agreements that ended weeks of anti-government protests earlier this year.

President Guillermo Lasso, a conservative ex-banker whose government's viability was tested by the demonstrations, opened the 90-day dialogue with indigenous leaders from three groups in July to hash out details of the agreements.

The demonstrations left at least eight people dead and severely impacted the oil industry. The protests forced price cuts to gasoline and diesel, as well as prompted the government to implement fertilizer subsidies and other measures that officials say will cost $600 million.

The moratorium will apply to blocks in the Amazonian provinces of Pastaza and Morona Santiago, where there has not previously been oil exploration or production.

It will last at least 12 months while a law to regulate a community approval process is hashed out with contributions from indigenous leaders.

The government also pledged to suspend the awarding of new mining titles and environmental licenses until a similar law is in place for that sector.

"We have had agreements and also disagreements, but that's dialogue," Energy and Mining Minister Xavier Vera told journalists. "The negotiations are working and we are listening."

Indigenous groups had asked for a moratorium on oil development in environmentally-sensitive areas and those around their territory. They also demanded a definitive suspension of mining.

Lasso came to office last year promising an increase in oil and mining to shore up the country's beleaguered finances and create jobs.

Discussions on price caps for dozens of goods and other topics are also set to end Friday without deals, while negotiations on labor reform, higher education and security will begin on Monday and run for a month.