The Misleading Guardian and the end of the Amazon: A New Ecuadorian Constitution?

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“Being in favour of the Ecuadorian constitution, then, is to sentence the Amazon to death, notwithstanding any little points they have thrown in here and there to make environmentalists jump and cheer with laughter.”

It is circulating on many global civil society mailing lists, Ecuadorian politrix are once again on everyone’s lips. “A new law of nature“, writes The Guardian, “Ecuador [tomorrow, Sunday, Sep 28] votes on giving legal rights to rivers, forests and air. Is this the end of damaging development? The world is watching.

What people marvel at is the inclusion of something in the order of “respect for Pachamama”, so to speak: “Ecuador’s tropical forests, islands, rivers and air similar legal rights to those normally granted to humans“.

Una nueva Constitución y una nueva decepción

Although it has some interesting aspects to it (that can give jobs to lawyers and environmental rights experts), including this new right for pachamama, the new Ecuadorian constitution that is put to the vote tomorrow [September 28, 2008], is principally speaking the most decisively industrialist, progressivist constitution ever written, because it defines a very specific and environmentally destructive trajectory for the Ecuadorian economy, including article 321, which affirms that the capitalist owners of the means of production can sleep tightly and secure forever after:

Articulo 321: El Estado reconoce y garantiza el derecho a la propiedad en sus formas publica, privada, comunitaria, estatal, asociativa, cooperativa y mixta“.

The provisions celebrated by many environmentalists are most likely a tactical manoeuvre: included to make you go “Wow!” – and then forget about reading the rest of the draft, which also includes this provision (NB: Correa calls environmentalists and indigeneous people “infantile”):

[See full .pdf document.]

This very specific element of the constitution, which breaks entirely with the tradition of a constitution as a collection of abstract ideals, visions or conceptions of freedom, ties Ecuador to the development of the IIRSA project. IIRSA is a World Bank developer’s wet dream, and a capitalist, expansionist nightmare – IIRSA is an elaborate plan that details many development projects of the usual industrial, progressivist kind. Large scale changes to nature through the building of many roads, river ways, canals, and so on.

Comision Prensa, an independent media collective states that IIRSA is “totally incompatible with the conservation of the Yasuni”, as has been a recurring point made clear in this blog:

Es totalmente incompatible con la conservación del Parque Yasuní, no se puede implementar un corredor comercial internacional al lado de una zona de tal fragilidad ecológica” – and they also state that such projects would never be supported by a revolutionary, leftist and ecological government and calls Correa’s industrialist, progressivist government “realist and pragmatic” (the kind that will sit on any fench with anyone, just to stay in power):

Un gobierno revolucionario, de izquierda y ecologista (que por supuesto no es el caso de Ecuador, aquí tenemos un gobierno realista y pragmático), tendría que estar en contra de estos proyectos. Pero no es así, no sólo lo apoyan sino que además pretenden poner la palabra IIRSA en la Constitución. Consideramos que el IIRSA podría ser algo semejante al Ministerio de Obras Públicas del tan denostado ALCA, por eso consideramos muy peligrosa la propuesta.

The new legal terrain that the Ecuadorian draft constitution charts, then, is two-sided: with the one hand it provides a human rights-like protection for the environment:

In the same way, compensation is measured in terms of that injury to a person or people. Under the new system, it will be measured according to damage to the ecosystem. The new system is, in essence, an attempt to codify sustainable development. The new laws would grant people the right to sue on behalf of an ecosystem, even if not actually injured themselves.

However, with the other hand it taketh away this nominal protection for the environment through the inclusion of IIRSA. Constitutionally sanctioning IIRSA is a de-facto go ahead for most major development projects, since they can probably be said to form a part of IIRSA, the concerns of which, presumably, then, overrrides most other concerns.

Giorgio Agamben has written a very illuminating story of liberal democracies and constitutions in “The State of Exception” which sums up the history of constitutional powers in a very long (11 pages) footnote. The German constitution of 1968 entrenches that Germany, indisputably, is a liberal/capitalist country:

“[O]n June 24, 1968, the “great coalition” of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats passed a law for the amendment of the constitution (Gesetz zur Ergänzung des Grundgesetzes) that reintroduced the state of exception (defined as the “state of internal necessity,” innere Notstand). However, with an unintended irony, for the first time in the history of the institution, the proclamation of the state of exception was provided for not simply to safeguard public order and security, but to defend the “liberal-democratic constitution.” By this point, protected democracy had become the rule.

(from: )

The Ecuadorian constitution takes it all one step further: it defines what kind of hands-on (industrial) things have to happen in order to steer the industrial economy forward, namely motorways through the Amazon and across the Andes (environmental destruction becomes law!):

Carlos Lessa, former president of the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES, by its initials in Portuguese) agrees, pointing out, “The Andes mountain range is certainly beautiful, but it’s a terrible engineering
problem.” This kind of logic that regards nature as a “barrier” in some places and a “resource” in others pervades all aspects of the plan.
” – from:

The wider plan, to which Ecuador signs itself up if they approve the constitution, encompasses:

• Andean Axis (Venezuela-Colombia-Ecuador-Peru-Bolivia)

• Amazon Axis (Colombia-Ecuador-Peru-Brazil)

• Central Inter-oceanic Axis (Peru-Chile-Bolivia-Paraguay-Brazil)

• Capricorn Inter-oceanic Axis
(Antofagasta/Chile-Jujuy/Argentina-Asunción/Paraguay-Porto Alegre/Brazil)

• Guyana Shield Axis (Venezuela-Brazil-Suriname-Guyana)

• Mercosur-Chile Axis(Brazil-Uruguay-Argentina-Chile)

• Southern Axis (Talcahuano-Concepción/Chile-Neuquén-Bahía

• Southern Amazon Axis ( Peru-Brasil-Bolivia)

• Atlantic and Pacific Maritime Axis (all countries)

Each axis involves a variety of infrastructure projects. For example, the Amazon Axis, which unites the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic and crosses three large ecosystems (coastal, Andean mountain, and rainforest), must tie the Amazon River and its tributaries to the ports of Tumaco (Colombia), Esmeraldas (Ecuador), and Paita (Peru). This will require major improvements to existing roads and construction of others.

Since the axis aims to create a dense network of river transportation systems, several rivers will be dredged and straightened, while in other places river ports will have to be completely overhauled. These infrastructure projects and the spike in transportation flows they generate will result in massive environmental impacts on the Amazon ecosystem.

Being in favour of the Ecuadorian constitution, then, is to sentence the Amazon to death, notwithstanding any little points they have thrown in here and there to make environmentalists jump and cheer with laughter.

Meanwhile, despite all rhetoric about Yasuni, contracts for oil fields (or “bloques” as they are called locally) are being drawn up anyway, according to insider information, so there is really no need for uncritical celebrations here.

Let us stay focused – and not be blinded by Correa’s shining spin. Many people who can read and understand constitutional politrix reject the constitution on these grounds, but of course there is a new funding niche for academics and yet another cash crop to harvest for lawyers. As an indigenous friend said when Correa was elected (as opposed to banana tycoon Noboa): “it will be good for parts of the middle classes, but for us it is a disaster“.

Read more about IIRSA here: IIRSA: infrastructure for the FTAA? and here IIRSA: Integration Custom-Made for International Markets and throughout this blog’s existence where we time and again have pointed to these and related issues.

Finally, a list from Friend of the Earth followed by Comision Prensa’s communique:

Why is IIRSA a risk for communities and the environment?

  1. Because its transport, waterways and agribusiness network projects crossing ecologically fragile areas, will have a negative effect on biodiversity. For example, the impact in the Andes, the Amazon Basin, the Mato Grosso, the Pantanal, and the Paraguay and Paraná rivers, will be significant, and in many cases irreversible.
  2. Because these projects are likely to put the products of peasant communities at a great disadvantage. IIRSA roads and waterways aim to facilitate the transport of export products like soy, while doing little to strengthen food security and sustainable livelihoods for local citizens.
  3. Because the mega- infrastructure projects have been drawn up with excessive focus on the needs of the private sector compared to the needs of the local economy and nearby communities.
  4. Because of the failure to incorporate appropriate environmental, social and cultural considerations in IIRSA’s large infrastructure projects.
  5. Because IIRSA projects are now set up to follow previous large infrastructure projects financed by international financial institutions. These projects continue to cause harm to indigenous communities (for example the Camisea gas pipeline) and the environment (Bolivia-Brazil gas pipeline), and can rack up devastating national debts (Yacyreta hydroelectric plant).
  6. Because the role played by European transnational corporations in Latin America has already generated conflicts between consumers of public services, putting access to basic services (such as water, electricity, telecommunications) at risk, and promoting the privatization of public services. Giving these companies a greater role, as envisaged by IIRSA, is potentially very harmful.
  7. Because IIRSA offers little public access to information about their projects and related policy reforms.
  8. Because IIRSA does not have monitoring and evaluation programs in place to demonstrate that poverty will be reduced or that sustainable economies are being promoted.
  9. Because IIRSA does not make concrete connections between its projects and the reduction of poverty or improvement of the environment.
  10. Finally, and in summary, because IIRSA has a logic that is purely economic instead of a logic that is about sustainable integration and healthy local economies.



Ecuador. Francisco de Orellana, 01 de Julio de 2.008 (12:15h)


Les adjuntamos una propuesta enviada el 14 de Mayo a la Asamblea
Constituyente, por el asambleísta de Alianza País, Edison Narváez
Guerra. Aunque no sea Correa o alguien de su gabinete quién la suscriba,
estamos seguros que dentro del gobierno tiene un apoyo total. Además en
el mismo escrito se dice explícitamente que Correa respalda estas tesis,
que Ecuador se convierta en la puerta de acceso al Atlántico para los
países asiáticos, como alternativa al canal de Panamá.

La Iniciativa de la Infraestructura Regional Suraméricana (IIRSA), es un
macro-proyecto para construir infraestructuras en toda Sudamérica, con
el fin de poder extraer con mayor facilidad todos los recursos naturales
que quedan en esta rica región, (petróleo, minerales, madera, agua),
además se podrían incorporar a la producción muchas tierras ahora
ocupadas por bosque (Ej. Extensión de las plantaciones de caña de azúcar
y soya en Brasil, Argentina, Colombia, etc.). IIRSA, pretende que todo
ese flujo de riquezas se incorpore a la economía global, es decir, a
unos cuántos bolsillos. El proyecto es impulsado por todos los gobiernos
sudamericanos y tiene los parabienes de todas las agencias
multilaterales de crédito, (Banco Mundial, CAF, BID), deseosas de
prestar fondos para tan golosas obras. También tiene el visto bueno del
gobierno de los Estados Unidos y nunca hemos escuchado pronunciamiento
alguno en contra, por parte de ninguna

IIRSA fue diseñada durante la �larga noche neoliberal� (tan mencionada
últimamente), por neoliberales convencidos, que crearon un proyecto
pensando la forma más rápida y eficaz de finiquitar el expolio de
América Latina, que comenzará hace 500 años. IIRSA supone la
profundización del modelo extractivista de recursos naturales, propone
seguir mandando al Norte todo lo que necesiten, perpetuando en la
historia nuestro papel de países exportadores de materias primas. Ese es
el modelo de integración que propone IIRSA.

Un gobierno revolucionario, de izquierda y ecologista (que por supuesto
no es el caso de Ecuador, aquí tenemos un gobierno realista y
pragmático), tendría que estar en contra de estos proyectos. Pero no es
así, no sólo lo apoyan sino que además pretenden poner la palabra IIRSA
en la Constitución. Consideramos que el IIRSA podría ser algo semejante
al Ministerio de Obras Públicas del tan denostado ALCA, por eso
consideramos muy peligrosa la propuesta.

En Orellana, la iniciativa IIRSA se particulariza en la hidrovía del
Napo (dentro del Eje Manta-Manaos). Entendemos que este proyecto supone
una amenaza para la amazonía mayor aún que el petróleo.

Es totalmente incompatible con la conservación del Parque Yasuní, no se
puede implementar un corredor comercial internacional al lado de una
zona de tal fragilidad ecológica. Es una desfachatez tremenda decir que
no va a afectar en nada. Uno de los aeropuertos de carga que se pretende
construir (para transporte mercancía, no de gente, los que viven allí no
tienen plata para pagar un viaje en avión), el de Rocafuerte, se
encuentra a unos 5 kilómetros del límite del parque, se supone que con
el gran tráfico que se espera, la ciudad crecerá. Hay quién asegura que
puede convertirse en una nueva Iquitos en medio de la amazonía. Una gran
cloaca al lado del Yasuní.
No beneficiará las economías locales. La gente aquí, principalmente las
comunidades kichwas que están en la ribera del río, practican una
economía de subsistencia, viven de la caza y la pesca y de una
agricultura mínima. Así han vivido siempre y esto les permite una
relación armónica con la naturaleza que les rodea. Este macro-proyecto
hará saltar en pedazos la forma de vivir de esta gente.

En fin, esto es un llamado de atención a las personas que pelearon
contra el ALCA y contra el TLC. De los grandes comerciantes de Manta,
que ya se están frotando las manos con el negocio, no esperamos nada.
Por cierto que algunos también son prominentes figuras de la nueva
�revolución ciudadana�

5 thoughts on “The Misleading Guardian and the end of the Amazon: A New Ecuadorian Constitution?

    colono responded:
    Monday, September 29, 2008 at 04:18 (221)

    So, the Ecuadorian people decided that it is OK to destroy the Amazon rain forest in the name of industrial progress and material well being for the middle classes:

    First Results Show Ecuadoreans Back New Charter
    First official results show voters back new Ecuador constitution in win for president Correa

    The Associated Press

    QUITO, Ecuador

    Rafael Correa’s avowed quest for an “equitable, just” Ecuador won a major boost as voters approved a new constitution that will help the leftist president consolidate power and enable him to run for two more consecutive terms.

    Preliminary results showed 65 percent support with 5 percent of the vote counted, mirroring earlier exit polls and quick counts that indicated overwhelming voter approval.

    “We’re making history! Onward!” a jubilant Correa proclaimed in his coastal hometown of Guayaquil after his crushing victory became clear. “This is confirmation of the citizen’s revolution we’re offering.”

    He and the close associates who helped him craft the new document hugged each other and sang “Patria,” their party anthem.

    Correa called on Ecuadoreans to help him “achieve a brave, sovereign and dignified homeland — equitable, just and without misery.”

    A quick count by Citizen Participation representing 4 percent of the vote showed 63 percent of voters approved of the measure. The count had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus half a percentage point. Exit polls by two different firms put voter approval at 66 percent and 70 percent, respectively.

    Correa, 45, called it a “clear, historic victory,” an endorsement of his goal to secure a social safety net for the 38 percent of Ecuadoreans who live below the poverty line. He also has said the document will help to eradicate a political class that made Ecuador one of Latin America’s most corrupt countries.

    The president promises Ecuador’s 20th constitution will spur “rapid, profound change.”

    Although the new magna carta is nowhere near as radical as similar projects in Venezuela and Bolivia, critics complain the document will give Correa too much control over the economy and the judicial and legislative branches.

    It will almost certainly lead to presidential, congressional and local elections as early as February — making a Correa presidency through 2017 possible — and an overhaul of the judiciary in which the president is expected to play a decisive role. The Central Bank and other key institutions also would cede or lose autonomy to Ecuador’s sixth president in a decade.

    That should give the U.S.- and European-trained economist greater liberty to fashion what he calls a “new political model.” Sunday’s victory was Correa’s third nationwide electoral victory since he won office in November 2006 with 57 percent of the vote.

    The new constitution guarantees free education through college and pensions for stay-at-home mothers and informal-sector workers. Such measures build on already popular Correa programs that provide low-interest micro-loans, building material for first-time homeowners and free seeds for growing crops.

    “He’s going to activate the productive sector,” said Patricio Quienacho, 48, the owner of a computer business who voted “yes” on Sunday in large part because he believes Correa will spur job growth through a program that offers five-year $5,000 business loans at 5 percent interest.

    But many wonder how Correa will pay for all his ambitious social programs.

    “I don’t know that we have all the resources to really guarantee all that he’s offering,” said Carlos Roman, a 57-year-old engineer who voted against the new charter. “It’s dangerous for the country.”

    A third of the national budget comes from oil revenues and Correa has had the good fortune of oil prices soaring well above $100 per barrel, providing Ecuador with revenues of $4.8 billion this year alone.

    Some in Correa’s badly splintered and debilitated opposition contend he’s creating a Venezuela-style autocracy. But while Correa followed Hugo Chavez’s lead by pushing for a new constitution to help him consolidate power, he has kept the Venezuelan president at arm’s length.

    Unlike Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, Correa has not moved to nationalize telecommunications and electrical utility companies or pledged to establish closer relations with Russia.

    And although Correa has opted not to renew the lease that allows U.S. anti-narcotics missions to fly out of a coastal airport in Manta, U.S. diplomats praise Ecuador’s drug-fighting cooperation. The lease expires late next year.

    Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

    Copyright © 2008 ABC News Internet Ventures

    Stuart said:
    Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 20:11 (882)

    I came across your post while doing research for a research paper dealing with Correa’s confusing relationship with neoliberalism. I also came across this document regarding the IIRSA (pdf). If you haven’t seen it already, it’s pretty extensive.

    Click to access corredores.pdf

    […] enshrined in the new, market oriented Ecuadorian constitution (which, btw, is often presented in an environmentally biased and misunderstanding manner) and stands as a milestone warning against social-democracy or national-socialism (or the lesser […]

    […] is a milestone for the environmental movement – so they say, from The Misleading Guardian (commented here earlier) to more grass roots oriented, independent […]

    Line Rangers Cheat said:
    Wednesday, June 4, 2014 at 02:12 (133)

    “I wanted to create a very strong, sexy woman. So, there is more than a puncher’s chance of Toney making an octagon appearance. I usually don’t like to write about what everyone else is writing about.

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