Ecuador is a country where oil accounts for 17% of GDP and 55% of all exports, and which has entered a new extractionist era with the imminent launch of major mining projects.

From a historical perspective, in Ecuador, as in many countries of the región, the results of this extractionist model have been catastrophic —the expectations of growth, industrialization, modernization, and poverty and inequality reduction have not been met.



 Esperanza Martínez

Esperanza has a background in biology and law, as well as a graduate degree in environmental auditing by the Aberstwyth University. She is a founder of the organization “Acción Ecológica”, the Oilwatch network and the “Oficina de Derechos de la Naturaleza”. In recent years, she has become a figure in the context of domestic and international debate regarding public policies that favor extractivist activities.



Ecuador is a country where oil accounts for 17% of GDP and 55% of all exports, and which has entered a new extractivist era with the imminent launch of major mining projects. 

From a historical perspective, in Ecuador, as in many countries of the region, the results of this extractivist model have been catastrophic —the expectations of growth, industrialization, modernization, and poverty and inequality reduction have not been met. 

Extractivism is a word not easily pronounced and a policy not easily overcome. Criticism of extractivism is generally nothing new. It is associated with the criticism of development, the criticism of colonialism and the search for development alternatives. As is the case with other "isms" it conveys more than an activity that accents the notion of extraction. It becomes a category which allows and upholds colonialstyle sacking, accumulation, concentration, destruction and devastation, as well as the evolution of modern capitalism.

The term extractivism relates to activities involving the removal of large volumes of unprocessed (or minimally processed) natural resources, in particular for export on the basis of their demand in central countries. In this context, it is generally interpreted as mineral extraction-intense and oil-producing activities.

Extractivism has been a mechanism of colonial and neo-colonial sacking and appropriation. This extractivism, which, over time, has taken on various facades, has become the exploitation of raw materials indispensable for the mass industrialization and wellbeing of the northern hemisphere.

It has been carried out with no regard for the harmful effect of the extractivist projects, or the depletion of resources. Most of the production by extractivist firms in the Southern hemisphere is essentially destined for export, not for consumption in the domestic market, this history has wellknown actors and histories in Ecuador.

One of the painful experiences in the context of oil extraction in Ecuador was the exploitation by Texaco --subsequently purchased by Chevron-- that, at the end of its operations, was sued by the farmers and indigenous persons for the environmental damages caused during its 26 years of operation in the North of the Amazon.

From the case against Chevron-Texaco, whose inquiry is now over1, we not only obtained the images and statements reflecting the devastating nature of these operations, we now know the high cost of reparation -- currently at 27 billion dollars2 (i.e. nine times more than that proposed by President Correa as compensation for the non-exploitation of the Yasuní).3 According to the plaintiffs, the cost of reparation --which seems astronomically high-- is normal, low even, if the environmental damages in Ecuador are compared to the magnitude of the damages and other reparation proceedings in the United States.

Backlash against oil extraction was sparked by the images of pools filled with oil, cancer patients and corroded pipelines running from the Amazon to the refinery in Esmeraldas.

The announcement that the Yasuní was to be exploited inspired a number of initiatives to stop the Yasuní from being destroyed this time. The same population living in the affected areas used to chant “What happened here, not in Yasuní.” 

Thus, the Yasuní ITT initiative was born. This initiative essentially called for the non-exploitation of the crude oil in that area of the Yasuní and, instead, campaigned for industrialized nations to contribute with funds for Ecuador, to the extent that through this effort the country would not only protect its local biodiversity, but the global climate as well. This initiative was taken up by the new government.

The proposal of non-exploitation of crude oil placed at the core of the debates in this context various perverse elements of the extractivist model:

  • Its impact both locally and globally
  • The easily spendable funds that income from the exploitation of
  • nonrenewable resources entails
  • The real role and result of the investments
  • The destruction of nature, the territories and sustenance of the
    local population

The initiative to not exploit crude oil became so relevant internationally that in 2007, George Monbiot, a well-known oil analyst, wrote in the British newspaper The Guardian:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have the answer! Incredible as it might seem, I have stumbled across the single technology which will save us from runaway climate change! From the goodness of my heart I offer it to you for free. No patents, no small print, no hidden clauses. Already this technology, a radical new kind of carbon capture and storage, is causing a stir among scientists. It is cheap, it is efficient and it can be deployed straight away. It is called … leaving fossil fuels in the ground.”

The proposal not to exploit the Yasuní encouraged many organizations and youth groups. For instance, campaigns were organized in high schools and elementary schools to discuss the impact of the oilextracting activity (with the images from Chevron-Texaco) and the wealth of the Yasuní with its enormous biodiversity.The Yasuní initiative was presented in various domestic and international stages. 

With the slogan “Yasuní depends on you,” signatures were collected on giant posters --signatures done with a green marker which filled the landscape and became images of dense, green vegetation, much like that of the rainforest. With the slogan “My future Yasuní” donations were collected in small money boxes in elementary schools.

However, despite the efforts of the citizenry, the initiative was terminated, not for an alleged lack of international cooperation, but rather because the oil industry had already built the entire infrastructure to begin extraction, agreements had been reached with Chinese firms and the crude oil had been committed.

This triggered the petition for a referendum to decide the desirability of oil exploitation in the Yasuní. With the campaign “Your signature for Yasuní,” 750.000 signatures were collected, which were rejected as a result of electoral fraud which can best be summed up wit h the message: democracy in extinction. 

The efforts to stop the expansion of the extraction limits within the Yasuní are very much alive despite the fact that extraction has already begun in one area.


Tags: Analysis

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