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

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]…

The article by Stansfield Smith titled "The Amazon Watch Campaign Against Ecuador's Revolution" is poorly-researched and riddled with factual errors, misleading information, and falsehoods.

Smith accuses Amazon Watch of being "corporate-backed."

This is false.

Amazon Watch has never taken corporate donations and has a clear policy against the practice. Our major funders are a matter of public record and are listed in our annual report on our website.

Smith's piece proceeds to quote an "outrageous article" allegedly by Amazon Watch criticizing the response of the Ecuadorian government to Indigenous and civil society protests. But a simple reading of the "article" shows that it is a declaration from the indigenous Kichwa people of Sarayaku and not a statement from Amazon Watch.

As for the Yasuni-ITT initiative, Smith ignores the fact that Amazon Watch was a major supporter of the initiative. Our founder was an official Ambassador for the proposal and we worked closely with the government of Ecuador on technical components of the proposal itself, as well as promotion and fundraising.

Our extensive work with Ecuador's government and experience championing the initiative among foreign nations, civil society, and decision makers around the world led us to believe that the demise of the Yasuni-ITT initiative was a shared failure of both the international community and poor management and contradictory policies of the Correa administration that eventually doomed the project.

Contrary to Smith’s misleading insinuation, Amazon Watch never has shied away from placing a good portion of the blame on the governments that shunned the initiative. In fact, the Amazon Watch press release that Smith cites has a paragraph preceding the one he quotes, which reads:

“There was little interest from Annex I countries who, despite professed interest in addressing climate change and recognition of share responsibility, were unwilling to contribute to an initiative that did not provide carbon credits and essentially fell outside existing market based schemes for emissions reductions. “

Smith's failure to mention our years of support, and accusation that we let the world off the hook for not contributing to the initiative is simply contrary to the evidence and intellectually dishonest.

Smith’s article also fails to mention our years of work with local Amazon Indigenous and farmer communities in Ecuador to hold Chevron accountable for one of the worst oil disasters on the planet in the Ecuadorian Amazon – a major campaign of Correa's as well. Correa praised our nomination of Chevron when the company won the Public Eye Award for being the worst corporation on the planet. He also praised Amazon Watch for publishing the 'Chevron Tapes' exposing the company's effort to corrupt the trial against it in Ecuador.

While China's lending to Ecuador - eleven loans totaling $15.2 billion - fortunately hasn't come with the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) from traditional predatory western lenders like the World Bank and IMF that have wreaked havoc throughout Latin America, the loans are certainly not without their onerous conditions. As such, they cannot be immune from criticism just because they are less bad that those of previous years. They are oil-backed loans that have allowed China to claim some 90 percent of Ecuador's oil shipments and are a major factor in Correa's drive to open up new areas of its Amazon for drilling over the objections of local Indigenous communities, with potentially disastrous human, environmental, and economic consequences. Ecuador's oil sells now for roughly $20 per barrel, but costs $39 per barrel to extract.

Readers can decide whether the strings attached to China's lending qualifies as "respecting other countries' paths of economic and political development" as Smith claims, or whether it's something more obvious: a bad deal. Either way, Smith is obligated to provide some facts.

Amazon Watch was founded in 1996 to protect the rainforest and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. We partner with Indigenous and environmental organizations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability, and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems. As a non-governmental organization, we will continue to work toward that regardless of the political ideology - right or left - of sitting governments in the countries where we work.

Mr. Smith is certainly entitled to his opinion, but he's not entitled to misrepresent ours.

AW: Amazon Watch has never taken corporate donations, nor will we.

Reply: The link I give to sourcewatch shows corporate sponsored funds Amazon Watch receives money from.

AW: Smith's piece proceeds to allegedly quote an "outrageous article" by Amazon Watch criticizing an Ecuadorian government crack-down on protests by indigenous peoples and civil society.

Reply: I wrote the following, which is completely accurate, “Perhaps Amazon Watch’s most outrageous article was one in support of the right-wing backed anti-Correa protests in August 2015…”

I do not know if someone from Amazon Watch wrote the entire article, part of it, or none of it. They don’t say. And contrary to what they assert in their response, I don’t say either.
What is important is that they do post it on their website as an “Urgent Action,” and they obviously fully endorsed its contents. And they still endorse it, and we notice they make no attempt to deny what I wrote about it - that it was deliberate disinformation.
Moreover, the hatchet job title of the article is entirely Amazon Watch's creation: “Ecuadorian Government Violates Human Rights and the Constitution While police massacre indigenous protesters and citizens, the Government of Rafael Correa dances in the Presidential plaza”

AW: As far as the Yasuni-ITT initiative is concerned -

Reply: I quoted them from their website “Correa’s own contradictory policies and mismanagement of the initiative may have been its ultimate undoing.”
It is not that some vague “international community” that “failed” – the Western governments refused to support the agreement, and these unsubstantiated claims of Correa’s poor management of the Yasuni Initiative administration had very little to do with that.
We might as well say the NY police “failed” to arrest Eric Garner properly, but that it was his poor self-management that was ultimately responsible for him being strangled to death.

AW: The article also fails to mention our years of work to hold Chevron accountable for one of the worst oil disasters on the planet in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Reply: In my article I did state: “…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.”

I repeat what my article said about the indigenous: 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.”

Amazon Watch provides no facts at all that China’s loans to Ecuador come with onerous conditions. As such, to say so is simply a smear. That the World Bank and the IMF are predatory lenders does not mean therefore China is too. Facts please!

China has made $65 billion of loans to Venezuela, and US government debt to China is $1.24 trillion as of January 2015. Does this in itself make China a kind of predatory lender?

We should also note that China has made $15.3 billion line of credit available to Ecuador, much of which Ecuador has not used. (My article says, “Last November, International Business Times reported Ecuador’s China debt totaled $5 billion”) Moreover, there is nothing sinister about Ecuador repaying Chinese loans with oil. Nor does Amazon Watch give any facts to substantiate that this is a “major factor” driving Ecuador to drive for oil in the Amazon.

Amazon Watch simply continues its anti-China, anti-Correa propaganda, both regarded as enemies by the US government.

I may note that Amazon Watch now does have up an article, the same fabricated “news” - Ecuador To Sell One Third Of Pristine Rainforest To Chinese Oil Companies