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Ecuador's oil-thirsty president says newspapers should go digital to help the environment

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Rafael Correa takes a jab at opposition media following controversial plan to begin drilling in the Amazon

rafael correa ecuador (wikimedia)
rafael correa ecuador (wikimedia)

The president of Ecuador has proposed a referendum to eliminate all print newspapers in the country, as a measure to combat deforestation and global warming. President Rafael Correa suggested the move in a series of posts to his Twitter account Monday, after announcing a controversial plan to begin drilling for oil in a protected area of the Amazon rainforest.

In his tweets, Correa said forcing the country's newspapers to go digital would "save paper and avoid so much indiscriminate cutting of trees." He added that he would support the measure if it garnered enough popular support, though it's not clear whether Correa truly sees it as a viable option, or mere political ploy.

The left-leaning Correa has had a combative relationship with Ecuador's opposition-led media, and has even sued journalists for allegedly publishing biased or inaccurate reports. Earlier this summer, his government passed controversial curbs on the national media, implementing much tighter regulation and oversight.

The tweets published Monday come in response to calls from several newspapers to hold a popular referendum on Correa's decision to open up the Yasuni national park for exploratory oil drilling. Last week, Correa announced that his government is lifting a six-year moratorium on drilling in Yasuni, which was declared a biosphere reserve by the UN in 1989. Correa said in 2007 that he would maintain the moratorium if Ecuador received $3.6 billion in contributions from rich nations, but has now abandoned this initiative, after receiving just $13 million in donations and $116 million in pledged donations.

Indigenous and environmental groups are calling for a popular referendum to block the decision, but Correa and his loyal congress have shown no sign of conceding. The president says his proposal would open just one percent of Yasuni's 3,800 square miles up for drilling, and describes it as critical to the future of Ecuador's economy.