A report outlining the historical context and perspectives for a sustainable development model in the face of intensifying extractivism in Ecuador and globally.
Prepared for the Rainforest Information Centre by Jefferson Mecham, Carlos Zorrilla, Daniel Thomas, and Liz Downes on 17 December 2017. Version 1.1 (updated 20 January 2018)
3.- Historical setting
4.- A new menace
5.- The economic imperative
6.- An alternative path
1) Protected Forest Reserves/ Bosques Protectores
2) Main deregulatory reforms by the Correa government to promote mining
3) Extractivism and indigenous peoples in Ecuador
In 2016 and 2017, the Ecuadorian government granted concessions to over 2.9 million hectares (7.17 million acres) of land for mining exploration. Most of these concessions are within indigenous territories and legally declared forest reserves in headwater ecosystems and biodiversity hotspots of global importance. Additionally, many of these concessions appear to have been granted in violation of Ecuadorian law and international treaties. Here, we relate this process to Ecuador’s history of extractivism, outline potential impacts of mining, and present an alternative biodiversity-based development model. We conclude by situating the Ecuadorian experience in global context.
Ecuador is a small country of huge conservation significance for the world. It is among the most biodiverse nations with a myriad of complex ecosystems, endemic species, and indigenous cultures that has suffered one of the world’s highest rates of deforestation, as well as cultural and species loss (Mosandl et al, 2008). It is also the first country to recognize in its Constitution the principles of ‘Buen Vivir’ (Living Well) and the ‘Rights of Nature’: a concept of development upholding the rights of citizens and ecosystems to thrive in their full integrity.
Ecuador’s biodiversity and the progress made to protect it, embodied in the principles recognized in its Constitution of 2008, are now endangered. The government of Ecuador has concessioned to transnational mining companies from China, Canada, Australia, and Chile over 2.9 million hectares (7.17 million acres) to exploration for metals like gold and copper. This includes one million hectares of indigenous territories and 41 protected forest reserves totaling nearly ¾ million hectares, for a total of over 1.7 million hectares (4.25 million acres) or 60% of the total area concessioned.
The government is granting exploratory concessions at an accelerated pace. In the past 24 months 237 concessions were awarded and another 615 are in process (852 total), resulting in the presence of 28 new mining companies. In April 2016 the total surface area affected by mining concessions was 790,000 hectares. By January 2018, the area of concessions granted or in process had increased to 3.9 million hectares, representing over 14% of the country’s territory, and affecting hundreds of local communities totaling approximately 2000.
Most of these concessions were granted unannounced to the public and without free, prior and informed consent of affected communities as required by both the Ecuadorian Constitution and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, many of these concessions are illegal because they are in areas that had been revoked by the Mining Mandate in the Constitutional Assembly of 2008. The concession process has also been plagued by ongoing human rights abusesincluding criminalization and silencing of dissent, and forced displacement of people whose homelands are jeopardized by mining projects.
Another concern is the situation of the forty-one Bosques Protectores (Protected Forests), a natural areas category consisting of public, private, or community-owned areas specifically created to protect biodiversity and watersheds (see Annex 1). While grazing and agriculture are prohibited, these reserves are now open to mining exploration which means that, in effect, their “protected” status was rescinded without due process.
Mining would have devastating and irreversible consequences on communities, indigenous territories, fragile ecosystems of high biodiversity, and on thousands of water sources vital for the country. Most of the concessions are located in the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot, the most biodiverse of the 36 ‘hotspots’ worldwide, and home to hundreds of threatened species of mammals, birds, amphibians, and plants. Read more about Ecuador’s endangered biodiversity here(*, *, *, *), and about the acceleration of mining concessions
3.- Historical setting
The opening of the country to industrial mining is only the latest chapter in a long history of exploitation and extraction in Ecuador. This story goes back to the Spanish Conquest and colonial rule from the early 1500 to early 1800’s and the decimation of over 90% of the indigenous population (Galeano, 1971). Ecuador gained independence in 1822 but legal changes to abolish feudal bondage of indigenous peoples on the large hacienda estates only began in 1964. At that time most of Ecuador’s forests were still intact with exception of the severely deforested Andean highlands and locally in the Pacific coast region (Larrea, 2006).
In the late 1940’s Ecuador’s banana boom began. In the 1960’s, both ‘Agrarian Reform’ and the ‘Green Revolution’ were introduced under the U.S. ‘Alliance for Progress’. By the late 1980’s over 90% of Ecuador’s lowland coastal forests had been logged and were replaced by bananas and other export crops such as oil palm, sugarcane, soybeans, rice, corn, and shrimp farming (*), as well as the traditional cattle pasture, cacao and coffee crops. As a result, one of the world’s richest ecosystems with an untold number of endemic species was wiped out before it could be documented (Dodson and Gentry, 1991). Today the landscape is dominated by large monoculture plantations dependent on chemical fertilizers, pesticides (*), and intense use of plastics that have done incalculable harm to ecosystem and human health. The Agrarian Reform and Colonization laws (1964, 1973) did little to change the concentration of land ownership but helped reduce social pressure for land by incentivizing the colonization of “vacant land”, mainly primary forest in areas unsuited for agriculture.
In the late 1960’s petroleum was discovered in the Ecuadorian Amazon and by the mid-1970’s crude oil had replaced bananas as the country’s top export and source of national income. The region of oil fields centered in Lago Agrio in the northern Amazon has been deforested due to the invasion of colonists following the oil roads. The area is known internationally for the severe pollution that affected the Cofán and Siona-Secoya indigenous peoples among the tens of thousands of inhabitants who filed the historic class action lawsuit against Chevron-Texaco. Although the petroleum extraction-based economy has generated large revenues, it has lead to even greater debt, and to loan repayment and ‘structural adjustment’ policies that siphoned away the chances of a better life for the majority of Ecuadorians.
In recent years, after failure of the Yasuní ITT Initiative in 2013, oil drilling is now taking place within Yasuní National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, home to the Tagaeri and Taromenane indigenous tribes living in voluntary isolation, and arguably the most biodiverse spot on Earth. The largest intact area of tropical rainforest remaining in Ecuador is in the territories of the Achuar, Andoas, Kichwa, Sapara, Shiwiar, Shuar, and Waorani indigenous peoples in the southern Amazon. The Ecuadorian government has opened the whole region for oil and gas development with the next international auction scheduled for early 2018.
4.- A new menace
Ecuador is the smallest of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries, and is the only Andean nation free of large-scale metal mines. In line with its agenda for Ecuador, the World Bank (1984), financed the ‘Mining Development and Environmental Control Technical Assistance Project’ (PRODEMINCA) operated by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Mines from 1995-2002. This project accrues to Ecuador’s national debt and achieved two objectives: to produce mineral maps based on regional geochemical prospecting conducted by the project on 3.6 million hectares to make subsequent exploration easier for the mining industry; and to rewrite the mining law to attract foreign investment. The new law eliminated royalties to the Ecuadorian treasury, granted exemption from export, income, and value-added taxes, weakened labor, community, and environmental protections, and facilitated water concessions with priority for mining. This legislation was signed into law in December 2000 without public participation or congressional debate and by 2005 over 20% of the country was under speculative mining concessions.
Public outrage over such betrayals of national sovereignty contributed to the protests that ousted the country’s president (Lucio Gutierrez) in 2005 and led to the election of Rafael Correa in 2006. The Constitutional Assembly of 2007-2008 passed the Mining Mandate in April 2008 that revoked most of the nation’s mineral concessions and declared a moratorium on new concessions until a new mining act could be approved. In addition, it granted amnesty to hundreds of community anti-mining activists. In May 2008, Correa announced his government’s policy for ‘responsible’ mining and pushed through a new Mining Law passed in January 2009. The Mining Mandate was only partially fulfilled and large areas concessioned to transnational corporations did not revert to the State. In 2013 and 2015 the Mining Law was revised to deregulate, lower taxes, and create incentives to make Ecuador more lucrative for foreign investors (see Annex 2). Consequently, the mining industry gave Ecuador the “Best Country of the Year” award and expects eightfold growth in investment to $8 billion by 2021.
Meanwhile, in late 2008 Correa broke relations with the World Bank and IMF after defaulting on over half of Ecuador’s external debt, found to be illegitimate based on an audit commissioned by the government. After losing access to the usual sources of finance, China became Ecuador’s largest creditor; since 2010 it has provided over $15 billion in loans to bankroll the largest expansion of public sector spending in Ecuador’s history. China is to be repaid in the form of oil and mineral exports under questionable terms, in deals fraught with corruption. To meet these terms Ecuador has contracted record levels of debt for highway and hydroelectic dams positioned to facilitate new resource extraction projects. Vice president Jorge Glas who headed the Strategic Sectors Ministry responsible for negotiating these contracts has been convicted to a 6-year jail term for his role in the Oderbrecht corruption case.
Ecuador’s Mining Law contravenes the Constitution of 2008 by violating the Rights of Nature (Article 72) and the principle of ‘Living Well’ as the means for development (Art. 275); the human right to water (Art. 12) and the priority use of water to ensure food sovereignty (Art. 318), as well as food sovereignty (Art. 281); the collective rights of indigenous peoples including the right to free, prior and informed consent (Art. 57) (see Annex 3); the right of rural communities to prior consultation (Art. 398); and the prohibition of extractive activities in protected areas (Art. 407).
To have a clear idea of the consequences of large scale mining, the following is summarized from the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) prepared for the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA, 1996) for the Junín mine in the cloud forest region of Intag, northwest Ecuador. Based on a proposed 72 million ton ore deposit containing 0.7% copper the EIS projects: Massive deforestation leading to local desertification; Direct impact to 4000 hectares (10,000 acres) of mostly primary forest and to 12 species of endangered mammals; Impact on the neighboring Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve; Alteration of three watersheds to treat millions of tons of copper ore that will need tens of millions of cubic meters of water; Reduced water flows and pollution of rivers, streams, and water tables with heavy metals (e.g., arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead) to levels up to 100 times normal; Impacts on health of the local population due to noise, poisoned water, and air polluted with toxic dust and gases; Displacement of local communities; Social impacts such as an increase in crime, and indirect impacts include those generated by road construction and migration.
Now multiply this example by the dozens. This is an environmental and human disaster not only for Ecuador, but the entire world. Most of the areas affected by these concessions are within the ‘Tropical Andes’, the most diverse of the world’s 36 ‘Biodiversity Hotspots’, the world’s top priority areas for conservation. Andean cloud forests in particular provide critical hydrological functions at local, regional, and global levels. The Andes are the headwaters for the Amazon (Atlantic Ocean) and Chocó (Pacific Ocean) watersheds. Industrial mining is the world’s most broadly destructive and toxic industry, impacting not only communities nearby but whole watersheds and downstream industries such as agriculture, fisheries, and tourism.
Mining consumes extreme quantities of water and up to 10% of the world energy supply while producing 12% of sulfuric gases that contribute to acid rain and climate change. In the U.S. mining generates eight (8) times more solid waste than the total produced by all the nation’s municipalities. Most mine wastes contain heavy metals and other poisons (e.g., mercury, cyanide), many of which remain toxic for centuries as they bioaccumulate in the bodies of living organisms, and biomagnify as they move up food chains.
As was the case with petroleum, mining is now promoted by the government and official media as the only alternative capable of funding Ecuador’s future development and that the country must “sacrifice” to derive its benefits. However, mining contributes less than 2% of income generated by all economic activities globally and employs under 1% of the labor force. Developing countries dependent on mining have below average indices of human development. After factoring in the loss of revenue due to generous incentives to attract mining together with the costs of mine closure and remediation, temporary economic benefits are insignificant compared to the social and environmental ruin that remains for the long term.
5.- The economic imperative
Ecuador faces a challenging economic scenario as petroleum reserves are in decline and the price of oil in recent years has dropped sharply. Although Correa promoted moving away from raw materials toward a more diversified and sophisticated economy, the major focus was on mining as the new engine of growth to replace decreasing oil revenues. The new government of Lenin Moreno has inherited a heavy debt burden and is under pressure to continue down the same path to make loan payments and cover the high costs of expanded social programs. The Ecuadorian Mining Ministry projects US$8 billion in private investment in the mining sector by 2021 that would generate $800 million in annual fiscal revenues. However, these calculations do not consider all costs, such as water and electricity, subsidies, harm to existing productive activities, or environmental and social impacts. Nor the fact that mining companies are notoriously unreliable partners for staking a country’s dreams of development.
A development model based on extraction creates more problems than it solves. Mining of non-renewable metals is a relatively short term activity that causes long term damage to even more valuable renewable resources (biodiversity, water, soil) and ecosystem services essential to sustain life, livelihoods, and entire economies. The most complete study on this topic in Ecuador concludes: The economic value of the (Intag) watershed is greater than all of the built assets or underground minerals…the environmental and social costs of extracting the copper are much greater than the value of the copper itself (Kocian, et al 2011).
Mining also impairs the potential to develop better economic opportunities. A multi-criteria study of development alternatives in the same region found that: Nature-based tourism and sustainable agriculture lead to more equitable and inclusive development with advantages in sustainability and job creation. In contrast, the mining alternative is less articulated in the region and generates limited local employment that would last for only about 18 years. Subsequently the regional economy would suffer a severe lack of opportunities, worsened by the environmental impacts of mining and deforestation. Local investment of mining royalties does not make up for the difference between these scenarios (Larrea, et al 2011).
Mining might make sense in situations where a country has no other economic alternatives; Ecuador has them in abundance. Its wealth and future development prospects now depend on wise investment in its biodiversity, ecosystems, and human potential, but requires significant resources to realize. Meanwhile the government struggles to meet national budget priorities and an onerous external debt financed by the unsustainable extraction of non-renewable resources. This dilemma is not unique to Ecuador, rather it is the model typical to the economies of developing countries throughout the world. Nevertheless, in 2017 El Salvador approved a nationwide ban on metal mining to protect its water. Costa Rica banned all open-pit mining in 2010, and in 2011 placed a moratorium on petroleumextraction to base their future on the sustainable use of renewable resources. Today Costa Rica has much better socio-economic indicators than Ecuador (Larrea, 2013).
6.- An alternative path
At a time that we witness climate chaos daily and our best science suggests we are headed toward systems collapse, our only hopeful option is to rapidly implement available alternatives to heal our planet. Development of a regenerative economy is viable now and has been since the 1970’s when Amory Lovins outlined a ‘soft energy path’ to an alternative future where energy efficiency and appropriate renewable energy would have gradually replaced our centralized energy system based on fossil and nuclear fuels.
Unfortunately, this energy strategy was the road not taken and today we see the consequences. The extractive ‘hard path’ industries do not pay their true costs as they depend on massive subsidies and legal exemptions. They invest heavily to influence politicians, political processes, and regulatoryagencies to serve their interests, and for decades have impeded development of urgently needed alternatives. They knew (*) of their own role in damaging the biosphere but chose to conceal and deny it rather than to update their business model.
The growing trend of corporate concentration of power needs to be reversed. Widespread adoption of sustainable alternatives requires parallel political-legal reforms to revive democracy by making corporate rights subordinate to human rights and rights of nature. In these conditions there are many policy options to create incentives that harmonize economic efficiency, social equity, and environmental stewardship. These include full-cost pricing; simple consumption taxes in lieu of complex tax codes that favor the rich; financial transaction taxes and abolishment of tax havens; general education for voluntary and beneficial lifestyle changes; and comprehensive planning for a stable population and a steady-state circular economy that operates safely within Earth’s carrying capacity.
Permaculture provides a solid framework to design solutions based on three ethical principles: care of the Earth; care of people; share surplus to reinvest toward these ends. Mining in rainforests does the opposite: it devastates ecosystems and communities to amass wealth in the hands of a few, leaving gaping wounds that leach toxins into the biosphere for centuries. This is totally unnecessary to meet the real economic needs of civilization. Minerals for industry can be provided without destroying our life-support systems (IUCN-WWF, 1999).
Metals are necessary industrial inputs for a modern technological economy. Mining need be only a minor source since input substitution, materials efficiency, reduction of obsolescence, ‘true cost’ accounting, and recycling of raw materials already mined could supply most of world demand. In addition, the amount of energy saved by recycling instead of producing from virgin minerals is from 50 to 95% (Weizsäcker and Lovins, 1997). This should be our first option before converting the world’s most biodiverse regions into “sacrifice zones”.
Global financial institutions must stop subsidizing destructive mining and invest instead in such alternatives. Due to low recycling rates, many urban landfills contain higher concentrations of metal than do mines themselves. This is an opportunity for extractive companies to embrace the circular economy by investing in recycling to supply metals without mining; and for manufacturing industries to apply sustainable procurement practices to require recycled materials and metal substitutes for their products. Final customers (all of us) need to escalate this process by demanding it of the tech companies that we purchase from.
Ecuador is the first nation to establish in its Constitution (2008) both the ‘Rights of Nature’ and the indigenous concept of ‘Sumak Kawsay’ (in Kichwa) or ‘Buen Vivir’ (Living Well) in harmony with nature. In 2009 Ecuador presented to the world the Yasuni-ITT Inititiative, an unprecedented proposal to maintain the crude oil in the ITT field indefinitely underground if the international community would contribute half of the opportunity cost of doing so. The fund’s capital would be invested in the country’s vast solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric potential, thus ending dependence on fossil fuels (Larrea and Warnars, 2009).
The failure of the Yasuní ITT Initiative, as well as the breach of human rights and the Rights of Nature in Ecuador’s Constitution, are failings of the Ecuadorian government under Correa. However, as proposals originating from the Ecuadorian people, their validity and the need to fulfill them are now greater than ever. Correa perverted the principles of Buen Vivir to promote extractivism. Today, Ecuador has a singular opportunity to regain its position as a global sustainability leader by applying a development model that is coherent with its own Constitution. The Yasuní-ITT Initiative contains the basic elements of such a model and should be applied to the country’s current situation. Now not only fossil fuels but metallic minerals also should be kept underground indefinitely, at least in “water sources and recharge areas, the National System of Protected Areas and their buffer zones, special conservation areas including forest preserves and fragile ecosystems, indigenous territories, cities, towns and archeological sites”. This is the petition (*, *) of a broad coalition of Ecuadorian civil society organizations.
Open public debate and a national referendum are needed to decide, not only about mining, but about the development model that best serves the entire people of Ecuador: Extractivism or sustainability? Such decisions on essential issues cannot be delegated to politicians. On the mining issue, Ecuador may choose to follow the examples of Costa Rica and El Salvador, who passed nationwide bans on open-pit and metal mining to protect their water. In any case, mining and fossil fuel development should be allowed only where benefits exceed total costs, with all economic, environmental, and social costs internalized. The right of communities to refuse projects that would have a negative impact should be guaranteed. Any exception to this, or any other important national policy, should be by popular referendum, not by executive or legislative decree.
Ecuador currently has pending a critical national investment decision. The $12 billion investment planned since 2008 for the Pacific Oil Refinery and Petrochemical Complex (PORP) would make it the biggest megaproject ever in Ecuador. There is question whether enough oil remains to refine over the lifetime of the project and may be viable at current prices only by exploiting the remainder of its Amazon region. Regardless, oil and gas will soon be “yesterday’s fuel” (*) as the world races to adopt renewable energy and costs of production plummet. The immense investment in the PORP would become either a stranded asset, obsolete before capital costs are recovered, or zombie energy that is not economically viable without government subsidies. The opportunity cost would be yet much higher as it would also destroy Ecuador’s greatest remaining asset: its largest intact rainforest. Ecuador should abandon this dead-end and take the path straight to a sustainable-regenerative economy based on decentralized renewable energy and its extraordinary biodiversity, its principal areas of strategic advantage. This solution (*) is not only possible, it is more cost effective and available for implementation now.
To accomplish this Ecuador needs to terminate outdated plans that impoverish future prospects; end oil frontier expansion; ban mining in vital ecosystems; reduce its debt burden and payments to meet national budget priorities for human development; and obtain funds in favorable conditions for investment. To do so, access recently enlightened global financial institutions (*, *) and investors (*) that are divesting (*, *) from fossil fuels and redirecting investment (*) to sustainable alternatives; arrange ‘debt for nature’ swaps and cancel debts pertaining to extractive projects (e.g., PRODEMINCA); raise public funds from taxes on waste, pollution, and excess consumption; and negotiate compensation forecosystem conservation, biodiversity protection, and climate change mitigation in a revived and expanded ‘Yasuní-ITT’ concept (*) within and beyond the framework of the Paris Climate Agreement (*).
Funds made available through such measures should be invested in a rapid transition to a post-petroleum economy founded on renewable energy, conservation of remaining ecosystems, sustainable uses of biodiversity, tourism, agroforestry, and eco-technological development. This is also compatible with the new Environment Minister’s bioeconomy policy to integrate conservation with economic development based on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Good alternatives abound.
Alternatives to extractivism
- Fossil fuels: petroleum, natural gas, coal
- Nuclear fuels: uranium
- Metallic minerals
Water conservation and efficiency
Grey cities, highways, and urban sprawl
- Nature-based tourism
Travel and tourism (T&T) is one of the world’s leading creators of employment, representing more than 3% of all jobs. When induced and indirect impacts are included, T&T contributes about 9% of jobs worldwide. T&T generated a total of USD$7.6 trillion in GDP in 2016, which makes the sector’s contribution larger than that of mining (USD$5.0 trillion), agriculture (USD$5.8 trillion), banking (USD$4.8 trillion), automotive manufacturing (USD$6.1 trillion), and chemicals manufacturing (USD$6.5 trillion).
In Ecuador tourism contributed US$1.5 billion to the economy and was the #4 source of income (after petroleum, bananas, and shrimp). The number of visitors to Ecuador’s protected areas in 2015 was 2 million and the contribution just from protected areas to the economy was $527 million, which was 35% of total national tourism revenue. In addition, 5.7 million people depend on water sourced from protected areas and $37 million was saved by preventing or reducing sedimentation in hydroelectric dams.
Protected areas are the fastest growing and most profitable sector of Ecuador’s tourism economy. The five main protected areas generated 5,735 tourism jobs and the number of tourism operating licenses have increased by 56% since 2012. Every dollar invested in protected areas in 2014 generated a return of US$10. In 2015 one of 13 Ecuadorians visited protected areas, compared to one in 49 in 2010. 68% of international tourists reported that their principal motive for traveling to Ecuador was to visit the country’s protected areas. The visitors who arrive at these areas stay five days longer in the country and spent an average of US$2,797. This is $1200 more than the average tourist expenditure.
- Biodiversity and biomimicry-based technologies
This is a promising area of scientific research, technological innovation, ecological design and engineering, and business development in virtually all fields: agriculture, architecture, building, energy, food, water, medicine, and materials including substitutes for metals, plastics and other synthetics, as well as for high-tech applications such as computing and solar cells.
Manufacture of standard silicon-based solar panels use highly-purified material that require large amounts of energy, toxic solvents, and bulky infrastructure to support rigid panels. Plant-inspired solar cells mimic photosynthesis to generate solar energy at much lower cost than silicon-based photovoltaics. These solar cells use photo-sensitive dyes and common, flexible materials that can be incorporated into building exteriors, such as window panes, paints, or textiles. Although conventional silicon-based photovoltaic cells currently have higher solar energy conversion ratios, dye-sensitive solar cells have higher overall power collection potential due to low-cost operability under a wider range of light and temperature conditions, and more flexible application. This technology was inspired by Kokia cookei, a hibiscus native to Hawaii with a status of “extinct in the wild” on the IUCN Red List (http://enperitus.com/biomimicry/). See also this.
For many more examples see:
Ecuador is endangered by the imposition of an extractive development model that would sacrifice the advanced democratic principles of its own Constitution, the human rights of indigenous peoples and rural communities, the rights of all people to clean water and a healthy environment, the integrity of its spectacularly biodiverse ecosystems, and its prospects to realize its own development model of ‘Living Well’ in balance with nature.
The most biodiverse regions remaining on Earth are endangered by the same forces. An unprecedented avalanche of interconnected roads and highways, railroads, ports, pipelines, hydroelectric dams (*), and extractive industries such as mining (*), fossil fuels (*), logging, cattle ranching, and industrial agriculture (*, *, *) projects are planned or have already commenced in countries throughout Africa, Asia, and the Americas. In this context, progress toward achieving the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, including the climate change mitigation mechanism of “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation” (REDD+) would be sabotaged by this multitude of projects driven by contrary ‘business-as-usual’ incentives that subsidize destructive and obsolete industries (*).
In South America the initiative for the Integración de la Infraestructura Regional Sudamericana (IIRSA) includes the Manta-Manaos Corridor that dissects Ecuador. The country’s prior experience with giant infrastructure schemes (*, *) has been mostly negative, with costs far exceeding benefits and formidable debts yet to be paid. Typically, beneficiaries are international banks, contractors, corrupted politicians, and subsidized industries that profit enormously from project construction and finance, irrespective of benefit to the host country.
Adequate cost-benefit studies, consideration of alternatives, and meaningful public participation are the exception rather than the norm. Among the unaccounted costs are displacement of indigenous peoples and rural communities, loss of livelihoods, urban migration, large-scale deforestation, land degradation, desertification, habitat fragmentation, wildlife poaching and trafficking, air and water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. If these projects are completed as planned our chances of halting the global climate and extinction (*) crises are near zero. So too would be our opportunity to implement the abundance of solutions (*, *) we already possess to heal the biosphere while improving the lives of all people.
Ecuador proposes a ‘regenerative’ development policy based on Buen Vivir, on respect for and reciprocity with the human and natural communities that sustain us. This is in stark contrast to the extractive model aimed at unlimited growth, exploitation, privatization, and concentration of wealth for a few and costs for everyone else. These two models of development are mutually exclusive. The time, resources, and pervasive infrastructure required for extractivism, and the human and ecological damages incurred, progressively diminish possibilities to attain a more just and sustainable alternative.
We must replace the extractive development model or be consumed by it. Now is the time to defend democracy and the health of our planet by insisting on the right of people to be informed of and to choose the model of development they want for their future. Otherwise our children may not have the same opportunity.