Propaganda as “News”: Ecuador Sells out Indigenous and the Environment to China

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A portion of the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador
By Stansfield Smith Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- A news article appeared at end of January - “Ecuador To Sell A Third Of Its Amazon Rainforest To Chinese Oil Companies” - and has resurfaced again and again on the internet. Posted on progressive websites such as Reader Supported News, Daily Kos, The and, the story often comes with maps of the affected area, and includes pictures of indigenous peoples living peaceably with nature or protesting against oil drilling. Almost all these stories refer back to an article published three years ago, in March 2013, in the Australian online journal Business Insider: “Ecuador is planning to auction off three million of the country’s 8.1 million hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies, Jonathan Kaiman of The Guardian reports.” And, “Ecuador owed China more than $7 billion — more than a tenth of its GDP — as of last summer. In 2009 China began loaning Ecuador billions of dollars in exchange for oil shipments. It also helped fund two of the country’s biggest hydroelectric infrastructure projects, and China National Petroleum Corp may soon have a 30 per cent stake in a $10 billion oil refinery in Ecuador.”[1] The rest of the article provides a platform for Adam Zuckerman of the US based NGO Amazon Watch to spin his tale of China colonizing Ecuador, with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa willingly selling out the environment and the indigenous peoples to pay off his China debt. The problem is that the story is an invention. This same story slamming Correa and China for forcibly displacing indigenous people and destroying the rainforest for the sake of oil profits also reappeared in June-July 2015 - just as rightwing protests against Correa’s proposal to raise taxes on the rich were occurring. Business Insider takes its disinformation story from another March 2013 Guardian article, “Ecuador auctions off Amazon to Chinese oil firms”.[2] The article provides no evidence to support its claim and also mostly relies on quotes from Zuckerman. Both articles never state that Ecuador actually did sell large tracts of Amazon rainforest to Chinese companies; they allege Ecuador “planned” to sell a third of its Amazon rainforest, though this “plan” is not corroborated by any evidence. Almost three years later, no rainforest has yet to be sold to China, but the same concocted story is repeated. Last November, International Business Times reported Ecuador’s China debt totalled $5 billion, while the country’s central bank said overall foreign debt was $20 billion[3], making China’s share only a quarter. Ecuador also has one of the lowest foreign debt to GDP ratios (22.4%) in Latin America.[4] This hardly substantiates the view that Ecuador is in hock to China. The Guardian has a history of dishonest reporting on Ecuador. Christian Tym[5], Aliya Alwi[6] and Ecuador Ambassador to Britain Carlos Abad[7] have all addressed it. What has happened is that in January 2016 - three years after the Guardian article - Ecuador sold exploration rights to a Chinese company for $80 million to search for oil in an area of the Amazon one and half times the size of Los Angeles. To place this in context, global oil exploration is an almost trillion dollar business.[8] Certainly Ecuador has a right to explore for oil, as do Chinese companies, which unlike Western corporations agree to technology and technological know-how transfers to the countries they do business with. In comparison, the Alberta tar sands oil fields are 1500 times the size of the small area Ecuador opened up for oil exploration in the Yasuni. Furthermore, last May Obama approved oil drilling in the Artic Sea, where 20 billion barrels of oil and 90 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are now more readily available due to the melting of Arctic ice sheets. Why do we repeatedly see dishonest news articles about Correa sacrificing the environment and indigenous people to China’s thirst for oil? This is a clear anti-Correa campaign being led by some US NGOs such as Amazon Watch, which is sullying its well-deserved reputation as a leader in the struggle to make Chevron pay for its environmental crimes in Ecuador.[9] There has been a several year old campaign attacking both Correa and China for drilling for oil in the Amazon, supposedly against the wishes of the indigenous who live there. However, as former president Humberto Cholango of the Ecuadorian indigenous federation, CONAIE stated, "Many nationalities of the Amazonia say “look, we are the owners of the territory, and yes we want it to be exploited.”[10] They find it against their interest to leave valuable natural wealth untouched while their people go without adequate schools, housing, roads, medical care and employment. This anti-Correa campaign happens to coincide with the successes of Ecuador’s legal case against Chevron to make it pay up the $9.5 billion owed for its deliberate oil pollution of a vast area of the Amazon. Chevron, with its powers as a giant multinational corporation, has fought back in and out of court, even seeking to take to court the 30,000 victims and their lawyers.[11] Christian Tym also notes, “Ever since Julian Assange was granted asylum, western media and NGOs have been taking free hits at Ecuador.”[12] The Amazon Watch campaign against Correa Amazon Watch has waged a continuous disinformation campaign against Correa’s Citizens Revolution in Ecuador.[13] In 2013, the West snubbed Ecuador’s Yasuni Initiative, a revolutionary anti-global warming initiative to keep Yasuni rainforest oil untouched if Western countries reimbursed Ecuador for half the value of the oil. Amazon Watch used the initiative’s failure not so much to expose Western government indifference to real action on global warming, but to declare that, “Correa's own contradictory policies and mismanagement of the initiative may have been its ultimate undoing.”[14] Perhaps Amazon Watch’s most outrageous article was one supporting the right-wing backed anti-Correa protests in August 2015. “While police massacre indigenous protesters and citizens, the Government of Rafael Correa dances in the Presidential plaza….All of the rights won by the indigenous nationalities have been repealed, just as the system of bilingual intercultural education, indigenous health services, economic funds, and political organization….Violent confrontations with citizens ensued and resulted in numerous people disappeared, imprisoned, tortured, and dead across the country.”[15] This is deliberate disinformation, as can be seen from footage of the protestors that day attacking the police in an attempt to seize the presidential palace.[16] It may not be clear why Amazon Watch engages in this disinformation campaign against Correa, a target of the US government. But it is clear this NGO relies on corporate backed funders,[17] and markets to corporate elite clientele tours to the “pristine” Amazon and its “natives.”[18] It is also clear the US rulers are preoccupied with combating China as the only world power it sees directly threatening its global domination[19], a central reason for the anti-China TransPacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. In fact, China provides loans at low interest rates, does not intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, respects other countries’ paths of economic and political development, and encourages South-South cooperation as a counter to Western hegemony. It cannot be coincidence that Amazon Watch - or the Guardian - portray China as the new colonizer, as the global power responsible for the concocted environmental and human rights abuses they attribute to Correa. Stansfield Smith is a representative of the Chicago ALBA Solidarity Committee, co-administrator of Facebook page “Friends of Ecuador –North America”, leader of former Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban 5, has been on delegations to Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia in 2015. Notes [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19]