Author: Emily Joiner

Obstacles to Amazonian Conservation in Ecuador

The most biologically diverse place on earth is a portion of the Amazon rainforest known as Yasuni. Environmentalists have targeted the region for an innovative and internationally recognized conservation project, and the populist President Rafael Correa seems to be on board. However, Correa has many obligations to social movements and businesse alike under Ecuador’s constitutional referendum. Can Ecuador’s government juggle multiple budgetary obligations in order to conserve biodiversity in the Amazon, and at what point does a remarkable environmentalist proposal fall apart under the weight of intensive social and economic programs? The Yasuni stretches over approximately one million acres. Biologists studying the biodiversity of the region remark on the more than 300 species of trees than inhabit areas smaller than two football fields. More than 500 species of birds can be found, and 40% of the Amazon’s mammal species are protected within Yasuni’s bounds. The Ecuadorian government declared Yasuni a national park in 1979 and a wildlife sanctuary in 1989. Subsequent designations in 1999 and 2006 made Yasuni an “untouchable zone” where no type of extractive activity is allowed. However, the government, which has depended on oil revenues to repay foreign debts over the past 25 years, has largely ignored these designations, even following the 2003-2006 court case against Texaco for the “Chernobyl of the Amazon,” environmental damages caused by sloppy oil drilling and repeated oil spills. Further, a...

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Returning Public Services to Public Hands

Before sunrise on November 7, 2005, I joined members of the Observatorio Ciudadano de Servicios Públicos as we erected a blue tent in front of the Palacio de Justicia in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Volunteers readied vote deposit boxes, paper ballots, and signature pages in anticipation of the crowds of people to come. Over the next two weeks, more than 41,000 of Guayaquil’s citizens participated in a “consulta” regarding the water and sewage services provided by Interagua, a local subsidiary of the U.S. Bechtel Corporation. The results were overwhelming: Privatization as a strategy for effectively and efficiently improving water infrastructure in Guayaquil had failed during its first four years. An overwhelming majority (92%) of participants declared that the Bechtel subsidiary was not fulfilling its contractual requirements to Guayaquil’s consumers. I spoke personally with dozens of citizens who expressed serious problems with the water and sewage services. Privatization is the selling of a publicly operated government service or industry to a private company. The World Bank and other international lending institutions popularized, and arguably required, privatization as a win-win development strategy during the 1980s and 1990s. Dozens of Latin American governments reluctantly gave up local public control, often to transnational corporations, in the hopes that the private sector’s access to credit and financial efficiency would improve the quality of services. As in Guayaquil, governments offered concessions in terms favorable for the corporations,...

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