Water Fall and Profit Rise: Ecuador, Correa and the Environment

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See also these IIRSA related posts.


There has been a lot of cheering and celebration of Ecuador’s new constitution, which provides a bit of rhetoric about how nature has certain rights – like human rights – that, then, would save Pachamama from the Almighty Dollar. The Ecuadorian constitution is a milestone for the environmental movement – so they say, from The Misleading Guardian (commented here earlier) to more grass roots oriented, independent journalism.

However, some have been more careful, such as Upside Down World publishing Cyril Mychalejko’s Ecuador’s Constitution Gives Rights to Nature and Dan Denvir’s Whither Ecuador? An Interview with Indigenous Activist and Politician Monica Chuji, both of which contextualise the political process that by no means reflect or give just cause for any cheering and hope for the environment, let alone democratic principles (not that colonos really believe in those anyway, but still..). Ecuador’s revolutionary constitution is revolutionary for quite the opposite reasons: it entrenches IIRSA and private property in “all its forms”, essentially spelling the end of the Amazon as a rain forest and severely threatening the Andes mountain range.

All along, this blog has featured articles on Correa’s more than absent environmental sensitivity – indeed, the most read articles have concerned just that: Correa hates environmentalists (“infantile”, “romantic”, “indigenist” etc. etc. ) and wants to see the country turned into a Chinese-Brasilian investment project without trees and bees and primitive tribal attitudes.

In the beginning we were most often met with disbelief, anger even: How dare you criticise the Great Ecuadorian Revolution and cast doubt on the Latin American hope for 21st Century Socialism? Lately, however, we have had emails from people saying that they’re changing their minds in the face of the ever growing evidence that Ecuador’s constitution and Correa’s political programme serves global capitalism first and foremost (but then, of course, redistributes the loot from deforestation and displacement of peasants and indigenous peoples a little bit more fairly.  In order to save the country they have to destroy it?).

¿So what’s the news? Well, business as usual, Correa has revived yet another 1980s World Bank, Economic Hitman style project, this time to destroy the highest waterfall in Ecuador and nothing is much more sacred, powerful and constitutive of the spririt of nature (Pachamama, that is)  than a waterfall for the Kichwa people inhabiting the Sumaco Biospere Reserve – here is an excerpt from a piece called Ecuador’s Water Crisis: Damming the Water Capital of the World by Matt Terry, founder of the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute, which has an office in Tena, Napo:

“Coca-Codo Sinclair (1,500 MW): Construction began on this project in the mid-1980s, but the project was suspended in 1987 after Volcano El Reventador erupted and devastated the entire region. Although the volcano is still quite active, a new version of the project has been proposed which supposedly takes geologic issues into account and nearly doubles the installed capacity. The project would develop a road and transmission line corridor into a currently roadless, protected area that is part of the Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, and would threaten to de-water San Rafael Falls, which at 146m (480 feet) is the largest waterfall in Ecuador and an incredible scenic attraction.”

It was written in December 2007 and in April 2008 the Presidency proudly posted a photo series on Flickr when the first stone was laid under militant protection with the lorries standing by:



Now, more or less a year later, the deal is done, the last papers almost signed and the waterfall presumably soon history:

“The Ecuadorian government hopes to receive nearly $2 billion from China to finance the construction of the country’s largest hydroelectrical plant, Coca-Codo-Sinclaire, in the Amazon region.

President Rafael Correa said that on Friday he met in Quito with Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu, who is on an official trip to Ecuador.

Beijing wants “to invest a lot in the country,” said Correa in his regular weekly report broadcast Saturday on radio and television, in which he emphasized the presence in Ecuador of several Chinese firms.

“They’re ready to give us $1.7 billion in financing for Coca-Codo-Sinclaire. This is extraordinary news, it’s almost assured,” although some details still remain to be worked out, Correa added.””

The project was mentioned in a press release in September 2008 with a rather appropriate slip of the tongue, note how Palacio says “Coca Cola” (another water enemy) instead of “Coca-Codo” (maybe the power produced is primarily for a Coke bottling plant?)

This is what some engineering vultures wrote back in September 2008, shortly after the announcement:

“Argentina and Ecuador signed an agreement aimed at promoting a joint venture company, Coca-Codo-Sinclair, for the construction of a hydroelectric plant. It will be the largest hydroelectric power plant to be built in Ecuador since the Paute hydroelectric project. With an investment of $2 billion, the 1600 MW plant will be located in the Amazonian region of the country and its construction will take five years.

In a country where two of the most biodiverse reserves (in the world) – Sumaco and Yasuni – are heavily exploited and all resources extracted, in a country where mining is outsourced to foreign corporations and the locals who protest against it are violently repressed, and the president threatens his own people with charges of treason and what is worse, does it really make sense to celebrate the constitution as an environmental achievement? Can we celebrate something so abstract and so clearly subordinate to economistic, progressivist interests?

The fall of the San Rafael Falls and the rise of Diablo Rafael Correa go hand in hand.

16 thoughts on “Water Fall and Profit Rise: Ecuador, Correa and the Environment

    colono responded:
    Friday, March 6, 2009 at 14:39 (652)

    More here:

    Two Chinese companies seek to participate in building Ecuador’s biggest hydro-power project:

    QUITO, March 4 (Xinhua) — Two Chinese companies have presented their bids to the Ecuadoran government on the construction of the biggest hydroelectric project in the South American country, said the Ecuadoran government Wednesday.

    The Sino-Ecuador (Gezhouba) and Sinohydro-Andes JV companies have offered to finance some 80 to 85 percent of the total money needed to build the Coca-Codo-Sincalir hydroelectric project, Ecuadorian Strategic Areas Coordination Minister Galo Borja said.

    The project, which is expected to cost 2 billion U.S. dollars, can generate 35 percent of the total electric power the country needs when it turns into operation.

    Till last week besides the two Chinese companies, one Italian and one Iranian companies had also voiced their interest in investing the project, but only the Chinese companies presented their offers on Tuesday, Borja said.

    Borja said that the final winner will be announced on April 20.

    Initially the government had decided to self-finance the project, but it was obliged to change its mind and let foreign company’s participation due to the international crisis, Borja said.

    -from: http://ecuador-rising.blogspot.com/2009/03/two-chinese-companies-seek-to.html

    colono responded:
    Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 17:32 (772)

    Friday, March 06, 2009
    Resource Wars in Ecuador
    Written by Daniel Denvir
    Thursday, 05 March 2009

    Indigenous people accuse President Rafael Correa of selling out to mining interests.

    Source: In These Times

    QUITO, Ecuador–In January, this country was shaken by mass protests against large-scale mining.

    Indigenous people and campesinos–or peasant farmers–in Ecuador have long called for nationalization of natural resources. These days, many are demanding that they not be exploited at all and are blockading highways to make their point.

    President Rafael Correa responded by calling the protesters “nobodies” and “extremists.” The government detained a number of protest leaders, charging some of them with terrorism. One leader in the Amazon was briefly disappeared only to show up in a hospital in the Amazonian city of Macas with a gunshot wound to the head. Police officers were also injured in attempting to clear blockades.

    In September, Ecuadorian voters approved a new constitution backed by Correa’s political movement, Alianza Pa’s. Among other gains, the document awards rights to the natural environment and declares access to water to be a human right.

    But Correa is now pushing for the expansion of large-scale metal mining in Ecuador, winning congressional approval in January for a law that would open the country to mineral exploitation by Canadian companies, including Kinross, Iamgold Inc., and Corriente Resources Inc.

    Local and regional campesino movements, joined by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), cite the new constitution in arguing that the mining law is illegal. CONAIE, which represents indigenous people in Ecuador’s Amazon, highlands and coast, is one of Latin America’s most powerful social movements.

    In an interview before the new law’s passage, CONAIE President Marlon Santi accused Correa of being under the influence of foreign mining companies. “We wonder what interests are at work here when there are other important laws to work on. We reject the current mining law,” says Santi.

    Natural resource exploitation has long been a source of conflict in Ecuador, from the oil boom that began in the late 1960s to the proposed mining of copper, gold and silver reserves of today.

    In the southern Amazonian province of Zamora Chinchipe, the EcuaCorriente mining company–a subsidiary of Corriente Resources Inc.–has allegedly cultivated a pro-mining front group of Shuar indigenous people. Corriente has not responded to the allegations, first reported in Canada’s Dominion newspaper.

    The Amazon Defense Front, which represents indigenous groups and campesinos, is waging a multibillion-dollar lawsuit against Texaco, charging that the oil giant’s practices caused widespread environmental destruction and illness among local residents. A 2008 report by a court-appointed expert found that crude spills and the abandonment of huge quantities of toxic fluid byproducts in hundreds of unlined pits led to high rates of cancer among residents and the disappearance of an entire indigenous nationality, the Tetete.

    Oil exploitation’s legacy of pollution and disease spurs much of the contemporary opposition to large-scale mining. The experiences of anti-mining activists in other Latin American countries, such as Peru and Guatemala, have further given Ecuadorians the inspiration to resist.

    Gonzalo Esp’n, an indigenous leader participating in January’s highway blockades in the central highlands province of Cotopaxi, says the government should regulate the small-scale mining and invest in sustainable, small-scale agriculture.

    “Large-scale mining just leads to our natural resources being exported to other countries and then being sent back to us as manufactured goods,” Esp’n says.

    The northern highlands community of Intag and the Amazonian community of Sarayaku have provided models for resistance. Both have kept mining and oil companies, respectively, out of their territories since the early ’90s. They have built alliances with urban environmentalists and supporters in Europe and North America to put pressure on foreign companies and the Ecuadorian government.

    In his Jan. 24 weekly radio address just days after major protests, Correa pledged to press on with large-scale mining. “It is absurd that some want to force us to remain like beggars sitting atop a bag of gold,” he said.

    Indigenous and campesino leaders are discussing an alliance to challenge Correa in April elections. While it is nearly certain that the president will be re-elected, activists say they hope to win a number of seats in the National Assembly, increasing the movement’s visibility.

    “The CONAIE will continue to struggle for territorial rights and against environmental pollution,” said a recent statement from the indigenous federation. “We will closely monitor mining concessions and will condemn the lack of prior, free and informed consent by any means, including international mechanisms.”

    In Ecuador, and in countries throughout the Global South, it is often the most oppressed people who are resisting mineral exploitation and articulating a new vision of sustainable development.

    For Susan, a teenage Kichwa activist, Ecuador’s indigenous people are uniting to defend access to clean water, without which their communities would be unable to survive.

    “We are demonstrating that we are not just nobodies,” she says. “We are an entire people in struggle.”

    Daniel Denvir is a freelance journalist who recently moved from Quito to Philadelphia. He is writing a book on poor people’s environmentalism in Ecuador.

    colono responded:
    Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 11:10 (507)
    colono responded:
    Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 11:11 (507)

    and one of the obvious consequences of these industrial initiatives:


    colono responded:
    Tuesday, April 7, 2009 at 11:19 (513)

    Here is another indication of the environment politrix of Correa’s government:


    Sachawarmi said:
    Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 05:13 (259)

    I am currently writing a thesis for undergraduate honors on the Correan government’s facade of environmental legitimacy and the rampant denial of indigenous rights environmentally and socially. I spent last summer in the jungle around Tena at a field school next to cochabamba, do you know it? And although I got good interviews, I am hoping for any information you have that would help me with this. My thesis director owns the field school over there and is married to a Quichua woman and they spend half the year there and half in the U.S. He is currently recording Quichuan traditional songs about plants from older women and Shaman and hoping to preserve them online and he wants to post my thesis on his website, so anything that you could send would be amazing. The Quichuan community and the jungle in Ecuador had a profound effect on me. At 22 I feel like I haven’t lived at all, and I don’t ever want that style of living to go away…please help. And thanks for all you do. 🙂

    Daniel said:
    Saturday, May 30, 2009 at 20:06 (879)

    Let’s analyze the rise of the center left governments of Latin America, such as Correa’s, in a wider geopolitical context of change, without excluding the domestic sociopolitical factors; this in relation with the discussion we are having in this blog. But before, one should be clear that this “21st century socialism” has never, never intended to be anti-capitalist, not even in the case of Chávez in Venezuela. This will be explianed in what follows.
    In terms of the global exercise of power, we are witnessing the decline of the hegemonic power of our age, the United States of America. This means that we are currently undergoing a fundamental change in the way a ruling “great power” exerts control and manages the human and natural resources of the world (like the ones in Ecuador, for example) on behalf a ruling economic, political and cultural core. The global power is shifting in general terms to Asia, in particular to China, but not in such a monopolizing way, like the US after World War II. Precisely because there’s hasn’t been a war like that, we are also seeing the emergence of several other power blocs apart from the Asian, China-centered one: for example Brazil wants to build its own bloc in South America (and precisely IIRSA is part of this).
    Latin American countries, since the last years of the 19th century, have been subjected the the political economic will of the US. But this took a special significance during the Cold War, as the US, paranoically seeing “communist aggression” everywhere, transformed Latin America into another ideological and political battlefield on the planetary struggle between “freedom” and “totalitarianism”. Then we saw the American-World Bank style, “development” (that certainly coexisted with the ECLA import-substitution strategy), apart from right-wing military dictatorships, this is. In the 70s, but in particular the 80s, as “democracy” returned to Latin America, the US was, at the same time, worrying a lot about the (re)emergence of powerful economic rivals in West Europe and Asia. This, in the context of the Latin American debt crisis, paved the way for the implementation of the “neoliberal” agenda in the region, which was in a great measure, an economic instrument to reinforce US control over Latin America, in the face of a global redistrbution of economic power. In Ecuador, this meant that the revenues obtained from the exploitation of natural resources and primary goods (almost all of its exports), had to be oriented less to social spending and more to debt repayment, under coercion from the IMF and the World Bank, as we know controlled by the US in close relationship with great financal private interests. This meant that the State, and democracy itself in Ecuador didn’t deliver and never showed any correlation with economic well-being of the people, poor and middle classes, rural and urban, during the 80s and 90s. This reflected itself in the Ecuadorian political arena as a never-ending instability, since 1996 no Ecuadorian president has finished his 4 year term (there has been 7 presidents in all these years), and in the socioeconomic arena, in a declining standard of living except for the rich. In terms of the ecological balance, the international economic conditions of globalization and neoliberalism forced Ecuador to over-exploit its natural resources, in particular oil (half of the dollars going in to Ecuador come from oil exports), having to spend sometimes 40% of its GDP to debt-repayment. One of the conditions the IMF imposed to Ecuador in order to give its “stamp of approval” for receiving more loans from the international financing sector, was to deepen the participation of private foreign companies in the explotation of its natural resources. Of course, one of the populations hardest hit by this situation was the indigenous peoples (as it has been the case for the last 500 years). It was precisely them, that led the “resistance” against neoliberalism, and put certain issues such as alternative democratization, recognition of their diverse cultures and nationalities, defense of the ecosystem, anti-american interventionism , among others, in the forefront of the political struggles in Ecuador. The proposals coming from a rejuvenated left, led by the indigenous movement, seemed to Ecuadorians as a real alternative to neoliberalism and State corruption. However, a deeply flawed political decision by the indigenous movement (allying themselves with semi-fascist ex-army colonel Lucio Gutiérrez), severely weakened them. Although the political influence of the indigenous movement waned, their agenda was still in place. Having the urban middle classes, deeply frustrated by neoliberalism and the traditional political parties, as its social and political base, the center-left, “catholic-humanist” (this is theology of liberation-inspired), foreign university-trained economist, Rafael Correa came in to the scene, accompanied by a legion of center-left technocrats. He won the elections. Of course this happened in the regional context of the succesive rise of center left governments in the region, the first being Chavez, then Lula, and then others, which in turn, happened in the global context of a waning global American hegemony. Their agenda, has never been, as already said, anti-capitalist. In domestic terms, they pursued a State worried more about social spending than debt-repaying, this of course meaning, a break with the “Washington Consensus” inspired policies. In a few words this means a State that spends more and more. Where should the money come from? As it has always being the case of Ecuador, from the exploitaion of natural resources. Has he alternatives? Truth said, not really much. So, in order to pursue a post-neoliberal domestic agenda, Correa has no other choice but to keep on exploiting natural resources the old way, this time, with greater shares for the Ecuadorian State. But this exploitation comes in a new geopolitical context, as we close the circle. Now the investors, come from China or Brazil, these being state-owned companies. Now, one thing is clear. The neoliberal discourse of the 80s and 90s, was attached to an American strategy to remain in control of the natural and human resources of the Americas. With the failed foreign policies of the Bush administration, the trend towards a multipolar world, has all but accelerated. The “21st century socialism” discourse is attached to precisely this movement against American economic and political control, and with the movement towards a multipolar CAPITALIST world, with a greater influence of countries like China and Brazil, that in the case of Ecuador, will grow as investors in the country’s business of exploiting natural resources. Now, I finally arrive to the point I wanted to make. As long as the capitalist world system remains in place, the dilemmas faced by a president like Rafael Correa will remain: extracting natural resources for the mid-term well-being of the Ecuadorian population (this is the part of the population that do not suffer directly from the very process of exploitation), but endangering the long-term well being of this population. Again, does he has any choice? I don’t think so, as long as world capitalism exists, American or Chinese-led. So, if one wants to level criticisms against Correa, one has to consider the wider context too, and the structural dilemmas he´s facing.

    colona said:
    Monday, June 1, 2009 at 12:44 (572)

    Interesting comment. This, however, seems like a truism that would apply to the analysis of anything:

    “So, if one wants to level criticisms against Correa, one has to consider the wider context too, and the structural dilemmas he´s facing.”

    It is as if you are suggesting that Correa would do things differently, if he could. Perhaps he would, but given his background – Euro-American economics PhD – and his often repeated insults against indigenous people and environmentalists, I find that very hard to believe.

    Indeed, the context in which I prefer to analyse someone like Correa would first and foremost be the context of his own words and behaviour.

    There is no doubt that Ecuador and therefore the president – increasingly running the show on his own and according to his own will – are under pressure from the outside world, but it is pure speculation that he _would_ act less “capitalistic, industrialistic and extractivistic” under different circumstances (unless they were also forced upon him).

    So, what your point really is, I am not sure that I get. That he could be, might be, better if he lived in a better world? Or that in the world of today there cannot be any change, since the circumstances are unchangeable? The prevailing forces too strong?

    colono responded:
    Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 13:46 (615)

    So the deal is done, more or less:

    Monday, October 12, 2009
    Ecuador wants to double green power use

    By Mica Rosenberg

    LEON, Mexico (Reuters) Oct 8 2009 – Ecuador aims to double hydroelectric power use over the next decade and increase grid capacity to attract mining investment but must overcome local opposition, a senior official said on Thursday.

    Ecuador wants 86 percent of its electricity needs to be covered by hydroelectric power by 2020, up from 43 percent now, Luis Castelo, an official at Ecuador’s ministry of electricity and renewable energy, told Reuters in an interview.

    “We have massive hydroelectric resources in the country that have not been exploited for a long time,” Castelo said at a climate forum in the central Mexican city of Leon.

    But he said one challenge is to appease local communities in the Amazon region that have voiced opposition to large-scale hydroelectric projects.

    “There is a lot of resistance from the indigenous communities. There’s been a lot of effort to work with the communities so they see the projects as a source of jobs.”

    The ministry, created in 2007, is now charged with implementing a clause in the country’s new constitution that commits to increasing Ecuador’s use of renewable energy.

    Ecuador has world-class precious metals deposits that have yet to be exploited and increased electricity capacity could help lure investors. “The mining industry demands a lot of electricity. We are proposing to increase the electricity supply precisely for mining uses,” Castelo said.

    The aim is to reduce the country’s reliance on diesel imports, since oil-producing Ecuador does not have refining capacity, he added.

    Chinese company Sinohydro has signed a contract with President Rafael Correa to build a $2 billion hydroelectric project along the Amazon river, which will be the country’s largest with a capacity of 1,500 MW.

    The project will be 85-percent financed by a Chinese bank and the government will provide the other 15 percent for construction to be completed by 2015.

    Ecuador is seeking investors for other big dam projects but says companies must come with their own financing.

    colono responded:
    Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 13:49 (617)


    Ecuador’s President Says Big Hydro Project on Track
    Latin American Herald Tribune

    QUITO – President Rafael Correa said progress was being made in the preliminary construction phase of the Coca-Codo-Sinclaire hydroelectric power plant, the largest facility of its type in Ecuador, following the signing of a contract last week with China’s Sinohydro.

    The construction of access roads is in the advanced stage because work started before the contract with the Chinese company was signed last Monday, the president said during his weekly program on Saturday.

    The power plant will have the capacity to generate 1,500 MW of electricity, allowing it to meet about 70 percent of domestic power demand in the Andean nation.

    Ecuador will no longer need to import electricity from Colombia and Peru once Coca-Codo-Sinclaire is completed, and it will gain the capacity to export power to other countries in the region, Correa said.

    The hydroelectric power project is “the biggest investment in the history of the country and is being made despite the economic crisis at the global level,” Correa said, adding that construction would cost some $2 billion.

    “Much care is being taken in the environmental area” because the plant is being constructed in the east-central Amazon region, the president said.

    Ecuador is providing about 15 percent of the funding for the power plant, with China’s Eximbank financing the other approximately 85 percent of the project.

    The Coca-Codo-Sinclaire hydroelectric power plant is located in El Chaco, in the Amazonian province of Napo.

    The plant is expected to create some 4,000 direct jobs and 15,000 indirect jobs.

    Elliot said:
    Saturday, October 24, 2009 at 17:05 (753)

    It will be interesting to see exactly what happens with the Coca-Codo-Sinclaire pp. I recently returned from Peace Corps service in Ecuador, living in Baeza (about 30 minutes up river from El Chaco) and I can tell that a lot of things that are mentioned are true, but many are a bit inflated. I’ll be heading back down this coming May to do some work with the guardaparques del Parque Nacional Sumaco Napo-Galeras with regards to conservation and value added income generating products. Thanks for keeping this blog, great to see that people are watching.

    lia said:
    Monday, May 31, 2010 at 18:46 (823)

    WOW.. HAVE TO SAY.. i think the enviroment should be taking care of not destroyed. We the people are destroying the world our oxygen that we breath thanks to the trees and also we are destroying the animals and if the world does not realize within a few years we will leave in a world where no trees will exist and that will be a sad and terrible world. We should appreciate what nature has given us and learn to value and learn how to make it benefit us instead of just putting new plantations that look at the oil spill we have that has created a destruction for the sea life and ours because we need the ocean to transport and for jobs..Just think about it..why destroy something beautiful like the great waterfall its an amazing fantastic place for tourist ..

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