Sunday, January 12, 2014

Red vs. Green

There's an interesting conflict brewing in Ecuador these days. In December, the Correa government moved to dissolve an environmental group, the Pachamama Foundation, after accusing them of participating in a violent protest against oil extraction in the Amazon region (which the group denies). Although staffed by Ecuadoreans, the Pachamama Foundation is a group founded by U.S. citizens with considerable funding from foreign donors (including, allegedly, from USAID), and so some have defended the Correa government's move as a legitimate defense of Ecuador's sovereignty. NACLA has a good summary here presenting the two sides of the issue. The Morales government in Bolivia also expelled all USAID funded groups, and USAID voluntarily pulled out of Ecuador around the same time.

But that may not be the end of the story. Amazon Watch passes along the recent news that the Correa government is also cracking down on Ecuadorean indigenous groups opposed to increased oil extraction:
The Secretary of Hydrocarbons has filed a formal complaint against eight indigenous leaders who have dedicated their lives to defending the Amazon, including Franco Viteri (President of GONOAE), the presidents of the Achuar & Zapara nationalities, the president and vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and pioneering female leaders Patricia Gualinga from Sarayaku and Gloria Ushigua of the Zapara.
If carried out, this would be a much more serious crack-down on democracy and dissenting voices.

Naturally there is a long history here. As we saw on our trip in 2009, certain parts of Ecuador have been quite heavily polluted by decades of oil extraction, while untouched areas have fought to avoid the same fate. The Correa government had previously put forth a creative plan to avoid having to extract oil from pristine parts of the Amazon. The plan was for wealthy governments who care about climate and the environment to pay Ecuador to leave the oil in the ground. Despite some hopeful signs, the plan failed to gain nearly enough pledges. So the Correa government has decided to go ahead with at least some oil development in Yasuni over the objections of some (but not all) of the indigenous residents of region. Upsidedownworld has a long analysis here of the plan and its fallout.

All this highlights what may be an emerging trend in Latin America, that of a Red vs. Green split. The last decade has seen a number of left governments come to power: Chavez in Venezuela, Correa in Ecuador, Morales in Bolivia, Ortega in Nicaragua, Lula and Roussef in Brazil and others. Add Pope Francis to the list and you've got a region moving to the left on economic issues. Traditionally green groups have been part of the left coalitions that support these governments, but there have been tensions and conflicts.

Here in Nicaragua, Ortega is planning a trans-oceanic canal which looks to bring him into conflict with environmentalists. Bolivia's Morales has had his own conflicts with indigenous groups over environmental issues, and even Chavez's Bolivarian revolution was fueled by massive oil revenues. The environment poses a problem for all forms of extractive societies, no matter how they distribute the profits after the fact (see Jacobin for more thoughts on this). So I kind of expect these tensions to keep simmering in the future. Something to keep an eye on.

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