This study contributes to the understanding of the cultural identification and (dis)attachment of Quiteños to the Amazon rainforest by focusing on oil development in Ecuador. Since its beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, oil development in the Amazon region of Ecuador has been a controversial and debated topic. After Chevron-Texaco deliberately dumped 18.5 billion gallons of toxic waste sludge into the streams and rivers of the Amazon between 1964 and 1992,1 and once President Rafael Correa popularized the Yasuní ITT Initiative, the international spotlight on oil development in Ecuador has grown stronger. There are many international and national actors involved in either the fight to progress or halt oil production in Ecuador. However, while all international eyes are on Ecuador, this ethnographic study has determined that Ecuadorians, especially Quiteños living in the nation’s capital, have a strong cultural detachment to the Amazon. By examining the structures of Quiteños’ cultural relationship and identification with the Amazon, this study aims to understand the powerful political and social role the oil industry plays in Ecuador.

This study briefly discusses the environmental consequences of oil exploitation, ranging from deforestation and species extinction to climate change and increasing pollution to oil spills, as they are well documented and undeniable. Additionally, there exists an abundance of academic articles, journals, and books that cover the devastating impacts of oil production on Amazonian indigenous communities, especially those in the provinces of Orellana and Pastaza. However, there is virtually no literature regarding the public perception of Ecuadorians living in cities. In the small country, sharing approximately the same area as Wyoming, there exist many distinct and often contrasting worlds: the coast and endemic Galapagos Islands, the Sierra, the modernizing urban cities such as Quito, and the pristine Amazon rainforest which is home to indigenous people. This study focuses on the public perceptions of Quiteños relating to oil development, and more specifically the cultural attachment to, or detachment from, the Amazon.

1.2 Methodology

Since this study focuses on the public perceptions of Ecuadorians living in Quito regarding oil development in the Amazon, ethnographic methods are carried out in Quito. Quito was the selected site for this study because it is the capital of Ecuador where major environmental and social decisions are made and policies are crafted.

To understand the public perceptions and cultural ties of Quiteños to the Amazon, multiple data collection methods are utilized. The majority of my analysis is drawn from eight interviews of Quiteños conducted from February 2013 to April 2013. This study has two major hypotheses: 1) Quiteños generally do not have a prominent cultural attachment to the Amazonian regions of Ecuador; and 2) Quitenos’ political involvement and advocacy to encourage the protection of Amazon is low. The rationale for these two hypotheses was generated from observations made during my five-month stay in Quito, where I noted a surprising lack of pride for and urgency to protect the megadiverse Amazonian regions of the country. I first wanted to know how educated Quiteños are regarding oil development in the Amazon. Therefore, the interviews begin by examining the interviewee’s general knowledge and opinions regarding the issue.

Do people from Quito agree or disagree with the oil development in the Amazon and why? Other questions this study answers include: do Quiteños have a sense of pride for their megadiverse country?; do Quiteños have a shared attachment or detachment with the Amazon?; politically, do Quiteños prioritize the protection of the Amazon above/below other issues?; who do Quiteños blame for the blatant neglect of the Amazon and its indigenous peoples?; do people living in Quito have optimism for the Yasuní-ITT Initiative and/or alternative energies?

In order to reach as many individuals as possible and to receive additional data, this study analyzes the results from an anonymous survey that was sent to eighteen Quiteños from varying socio-economic classes, ages, and genders. This survey was distributed as a hardcopy and electronically. The survey includes opinion questions regarding political prioritization of issues in Ecuador, and agree/disagree questions relating to oil and mining development in the Amazon, and to tourism’s effects on the rainforest. Target groups that received this survey include, but are not limited to, taxi drivers, business owners, and college students. Important results collected from the survey were then compiled into graphs and are featured within this study and in the appendix section.

This study primarily targets the average Ecuadorian citizen living in Quito. However, in order to provide varying perspectives to the complex issue of Amazonian oil development, this study also includes other actors, such as a worker for a privately owned oil company living in Quito. Workers from the Tiputini Biodiversity Station located within the Yasuní National Park were also interviewed in order to provide first-hand witnesses to the consequences of oil development. The co-founder and director of the Station, Kelly Swing, was interviewed along with manager Juan de Dios. During these interviews, extensive field notes and written transcripts were taken.

2.0 The Past and the Present

To fully understand the problem of oil development in the Northeastern region of Ecuador, one must understand the historically powerful role major oil companies have held and the ecological and cultural spheres they destroyed. This study also provides a brief explanation of President Rafael Correa´s unprecedented Yasuní-ITT Initiative.

2.1 Ecuador’s Oil Boom and the Reign of Texaco

“Black gold” has transformed Ecuador economically, politically, and culturally, and in such a rapid and profound way that perhaps only the Spanish Conquest has had a comparable effect2. Studies on the history of Ecuador’s oil industry rarely neglect to examine the role of and case against Texaco.3 4 Ecuador’s history of development is marked by a reliance on the primary sector, from cocoa (1860-1920), to the Banana Boom (1948-1965), to the current extractive practices of the oil and mining industries.5 Between the different international and national actors and concessions from the government, the beginnings of oil development in the Amazon were convoluted and the means by which Texaco got involved have been said to be deceptive.

On August 26, 1961, the Ecuadorian government granted 4.35 million hectares of land as concessions to Minas y Petróleos del Ecuador, which was operated by Phoenix Canada Oil Co. of Toronto and Norsul Oil and Mining Ltd. of Albany, Georgia.6 Howard Strouth controlled both of the firms, and unilaterally transferred 1.65 million hectares of the land to two other companies, Compañía Petrolera Pastaza and Compañía Petrolea Aguarica7. These two companies then sold the 1.65 million hectare concession to Texaco-Gulf on December 20, 1965. All of these transactions were completed without the knowledge of the Ecuadorian government. These developments soon left the “effective rule of the Oriente in the hands of Texaco-Gulf.”8

The oil boom that began in 1967 permanently transformed the region when the Texaco-Gulf Consortium drilled its first well in Sucumbio’s Lago Agrio and began producing an incredible 2,640 barrels of oil daily.9 Between 1967 and 1987, 138 exploratory wells were established, 80% of which were located in the Amazon.10 In 1969, the Ecuadorian government agreed to re-establish its contract with Texaco-Gulf, but reclaimed two-thirds (930,000 hectares), leaving Texaco-Gulf with its favored 500,000. The oil production grew to massive heights when in 1972 the Trans-Ecuadorian Pipeline (SOTE) began pumping oil and production capacity rose from 4,100 thousand barrels a day in 1970 to over 208,800 barrels by 1973, the year that Ecuador became a member of OPEC.11 Ecuador later voluntarily suspended its OPEC membership in 1992 and resumed membership in 2007.12 Texaco-Gulf’s contributions of knowledge and technological capital allowed Ecuador to enjoy increasing GDP and growing prosperity. By the early 1980s, the “oil-rich Oriente was controlled by foreign TNCs.”13

From 1964 to 1992 Texaco, today owned by Chevron, deliberately discarded 18.5 billion gallons of wastewater and 17 million gallons of waste oil into the pits of the Amazon and its waterways.14 Today, private companies such as Texaco control most of the oil operations in the Oriente; a web of roads has been established, indigenous natives have been displaced, and vast swathes of the Amazon have been deforested, almost a million acres a year.15

2.2 Exploitation of Environment and Indigenous Communities

The era since the OPEC boom has been one characterized by man’s domination over the environment and the natives that lived there in order to accumulate economic wealth under an aggressive capitalist system and globalized world, where ecological sustainability and stewardship have not been part of the agenda. Other studies that analyze these consequences ask questions relating to changes in indigenous culture,16 health and exposure to toxins,17 ecological pollution and unsustainability,18 and ecotourism.19

The three stages of oil development – exploration, production and transportation – have considerable ecological consequences. Oil exploration in the Amazon has caused thousands of miles of deforestation and hundreds of seismic explosions that have resulted in land erosion and wildlife habitat destruction.20 Even more devastating to the Amazon is oil production. Every day oil separation stations discharge over 4.3 million gallons of untreated toxic wastes, including up to 4,200 gallons of oil, into waste pits located in the heart of the Amazon that eventually leach into the environment.21 A government study conducted in 1987 found that 80% of these waste pits were permanent sources of contamination.22 Furthermore, during the production stage, oil leaks from storage drums and contaminates waterways. Over 30 billion gallons of crude oil and waste has been dumped into the Amazon’s land and water since 1972.23 Another government study carried out that same year discovered high levels of oil and grease in all thirty-six samples taken from waterways near a production site, which had “seriously harmed the aquatic ecosystem.”24 Finally, the transportation stage of oil development, including the construction, maintenance, and monitoring of transport pipelines, also causes environmental degradation in the Amazon. The Ecuadorian government reported 30 spills in the main trans-Ecuadorian pipeline, which dumped almost 17 million of crude oil into the environment – almost 7 million gallons more than the Exxon-Valdez disaster.25 Some spills are unpredictable and unavoidable, but, according to the CESR, the spillage seen in Ecuador can be attributed to industry negligence. These reckless ecological assaults have been considered a ¨horrendous ecocide perpetrated by forces that wish to remain hidden.”26

The effects on indigenous communities have been equally as devastating. Eight indigenous nations reside in Ecuador’s Amazon: the Quichua and Shuar account for the majority, and the rest are Huaroni, the Secoya, the Siona, the Shiwiar, the Cofan, and the Achuar.27 Once thought to contribute to Ecuador’s economic growth, oil development in the Amazon has proven to reinvest very little back into the Amazon and its native indigenous people. For the indigenous, oil development has brought disease, displacement, nearly irreversible contamination of land and water, loss of food sources such as fish and game, and forcible encroachment on traditional lands by the state and foreign oil companies made to seem more benign with the bestowment of gifts and bribes. Additionally, oil development, especially its establishment of a web of roads throughout the Amazon, has allowed for increased contact with outsiders and has introduced the market economy into the Amazon. This extended contact and implementation of market economic values has not only undermined traditional cultures but has also encouraged racism and discrimination.28

A black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) sighting while traveling across an Amazonian lagoon.

Photo Courtesy of Britney Lauren Weber
A black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) sighting while traveling across an Amazonian lagoon.

Despite many progressive international initiatives to recognize and protect the world’s indigenous people, such as the UN designating 1995-2005 the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People, Ecuador has sought to assimilate its indigenous populations of the Amazon into the oil economy. Furthermore, the Ecuadorian government has refused to recognize indigenous ownership to the land they have inhabited for centuries.29 Instead of assimilating, many indigenous groups in Ecuador have countered these assaults and encroachments by protesting in Quito to demand that their political, cultural, and territorial rights be respected, and oil development to stop.

While there exists pressure from the international community and indigenous and environmental organizations for oil companies to utilize safer environmental practices and protect indigenous communities, Petroecuador, the state-run oil company in Ecuador that controls over 90% of current production, has shown little interest in making significant reforms and continues to enjoy immunity from regulation policy.30 Field visits by various groups and independent observers have found that Petroecuador still uses environmentally dangerous equipment and discharges toxic waste directly into the environment, practices that were inherited from Texaco.31

2.3 The Future of Yasuní

In order to appreciate the unique gem located within Ecuador, it is impossible not to mention the Yasuní National Park. The Yasuní National Park was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1989 and is one of the most biodiverse places in the world with one of the highest numbers of endemic species.32 The area encompasses the Huaorani Ethnic Territory and the Tagaeri-Taromemani Untouchable Zone (intangible area), a combined area of 16,800 km2 of the Amazon. The national park contains over 1762 plant, 173 mammals, and 610 birds species – many of which are categorized as vulnerable or endangered.33

The Yasuní National Park has not been spared from environmental degradation. Despite its designation as a national park in 1979, The Ecuadorian government continued to promote oil development in Yasuní.34 Ecuador’s Amazon is geographically divided into oil blocks. Each block is sold to and owned and operated by foreign and domestic oil companies. As the demand for oil increases worldwide, more and more blocks are being carved out of the Amazon, some of which overlap with indigenous territories and protected areas like the Yasuní National Park.35 Additionally, due to the construction of oil roads, settlements, and resource exploitation in the Amazon, overhunting and contamination can occur virtually unrestrained.

However, within the last decade, a considerable resistance campaign has emerged in Ecuador to counter the exploitation of the Yasuní National Park. In June 2007, Ecuador launched an unprecedented and innovative new initiative called the Yasuní-ITT Initiative. This initiative would leave at least 850 million barrels of heavy crude oil locked beneath the ground in order to protect biodiversity, respect indigenous’ territory, and combat climate change.36 Due to Ecuador’s deep economic reliance on the oil industry, it is offering to leave the oil fields of Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini, or ITT, undeveloped if the international community can generate a minimum of half the estimated market value of the crude oil, or $3.5 billion.37 While this initiative has gained support and praise from the international community, many in Ecuador are skeptical of its potential for success considering Ecuador’s heavy economic reliance on the oil industry.

2.4 Problem Statement

As can be seen above, many different aspects of the oil development issue in the Amazon have been covered in previous studies and literature. However, virtually nothing has been documented regarding the public perceptions of Quiteños. Considering that crucial legislative decisions are made in the capital of Quito, and also taking into account that Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse places in the world, this study aims to make sense of the alarming lack of cultural and political attachment to the Rainforest amongst Quiteños in order to better understand the persistent, exploitative practices of oil development. Additionally, this study analyzes the skepticism that exists amongst Quiteños regarding the Yasuní ITT Initiative.

3.0 Cultural Separation: Ethnographic Analysis and Interpretation

After one month of surveying and interviewing in Quito, I have concluded that there does exist a strong cultural separation from the Amazon amongst Quiteños. In this section, I first analyze survey and interview results and identify indicators of this separation, which include overall agreement with oil development in the Amazon, the recurring idea of the “other,” lack of political involvement and prioritization of political issues, and opinions and skepticism regarding the Yasuní ITT Initiative. This study concludes by examining Quiteños’ hope for the younger generations.

3.1 The necessary evil

Every day on the public bus from Quito towards Cumbaya, I notice graffiti along the streets that read, “Chevron no sea cabrón!” “Chevron = asesinos,” and the Chevron logo crossed out with a red ‘X’. However, out of eighteen surveys, only five Quiteños said they disagreed completely with oil development in the Amazonian regions of Ecuador. Four of these respondents were in disagreement because of the irreversible damage caused to the environment and indigenous communities in the Amazon, one respondent stating that, “there exist few ecological reserves in the world, and Ecuador is an Amazonian country.” The final respondent’s rationale for being in disagreement with oil development was due to the lack of regulation and caution taken during oil production in the Amazon. The remaining respondents were either in total or partial agreement with oil development in the Amazon. Those who partially agree with oil development (9) did so under the condition that areas of high biodiversity are protected and indigenous communities respected. Finally, the four Quiteños who completely agreed with oil development all shared the same rationale: “oil is the energy that drives the Ecuadorian economy” and “[petroleum] is a necessary evil.”

These survey results suggest two realities: 1) the majority of Quiteños are at least partially in agreement with oil development in the Amazonian regions of Ecuador for economic reasons; and 2) the majority of Quiteños do care that oil development is done in a respectful and regulated way, and some even acknowledge the holistic importance of the Amazon’s biodiversity that makes Ecuador unique. (Agree: 4 / Partial: 9 / Disagree: 5)

3.2 Another World and the “Other”

Juanito is a 41-year-old small-business owner, taxi driver, husband, and father of two who has lived in Quito for 37 years. Without any hesitation, he explained to me how oil development in the Amazon greatly affects his businesses in Quito, “when oil costs more, so does everything else,” including the food necessary to keep his restaurant open. He mentioned that without oil development, the new, and much safer, airport would not have been able to be built. Since Juanito’s businesses are dependent on low oil costs, he is in complete agreement with domestic and foreign oil development in the Amazon, as long as it is done legally, regardless of lax regulations and harm to the environment. Compared to the economic benefit oil development brings to Juanito’s businesses, irreversible environmental damages are nearly invisible throughout his daily life.

When I asked Juanito and Elizabeth Ramos, a 29-year-old publicist and single mother, if they felt connected to or separated from the Amazon, they both said that Quiteños, including themselves, are separated because the only avenue to feel “connected” is through the media. When Juanito discovers the damage oil development is causing the environment and indigenous communities, he said, “I feel sorry/bad, but that’s as far as it goes. Since Quiteños do not live in the Amazon, they do not care.” Paula Armendoriz, a 22-year-old college student who has lived in Quito her whole life, put it best, “the Amazon and the indigenous people who live there are not considered part of Ecuador…The Amazon equals oil. That’s it.”

Additionally, the idea of the “other” makes it easier for Ecuadorian students and employed adults to leave the country to take advantage of opportunities abroad, because they do not feel personally and culturally attached to the diversity they are leaving behind. Paula regrettably explained that the ultimate goal of most of the students at her university is to continue their studies abroad, even though “Ecuadorians should take advantage of all our country has to offer and help develop it.” However, a phenomenon exists where Ecuadorians have more pride for the Amazonian regions of their country once they travel abroad and have a chance to miss it, discovering its value. Juanito told me that his brother is a doctor in the United States who before did not appreciate the diversity in Ecuador. However, only by leaving Ecuador did he gain a renewed sense of pride for its diversity, and now deeply misses it.

3.3 Political Prioritization and Involvement

I asked all of the interviewed Quiteños to rank their top three political issues from most important to least important. Juanito and Paula responded 1) education, 2) health, and 3) the economy, while Elizabeth said 1) health, 2) the economy, and 3) education. Modesto Ponce, a 75 year-old published Ecuadorian author, also prioritized health and social issues above all else. Survey results showed that environmental issues receive only 20% of the first priority when compared to health, the economy, and human rights.

Political involvement and activism are also strikingly low in Quito. Out of 18 surveys, 15 respondents said they have never participated in any type of activism against oil development in the Amazon, be it petitions, protests, or another type of public display of disapproval.38 Low numbers of political participation and mobilization against oil development further enforce the idea of cultural separation from the Amazon. However, Elizabeth spoke about how before Rafael Correa’s government, there existed many more protests among the indigenous people, who would travel to Quito demanding oil companies to stop destroying their lands. Some Quiteños were even involved in these public displays of outrage. According to Elizabeth, however, today Correa hands out “regalos” (gifts) to indigenous communities to avoid social discord and scandal: “El es un hombre muy intellegente. Nadi dice nada ahora.”

Throughout this study, the environment was consistently ranked far lower than other political issues to Quiteños, and it quickly became apparent that political activism for Amazonian conservation is virtually nonexistent in Quito. While interviewing and surveying did reveal that many Quiteños are partially interested in the welfare of the Amazon, there does not exist a sense of urgency and/or pride to become involved in its protection.

3.4 Public Perceptions of Yasuní National Park and the ITT Initiative

After spending three days at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a research center that sits in the heart of the Yasuní National Park, it was impossible not to feel awestruck by the vast power and strength of the Amazon rainforest. It was apparent that the employees at the station, including Mayor, a tour guide who has worked in the Amazon for nearly 40 years, have a deep appreciation for the animal and plant species and unwavering respect for the majestic forest. I was fortunate to have had the chance to speak with Kelly Swing, the founding director of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, who has lived in Quito since 1990. I was surprised to find that it is not always the primary environmental effects of oil development that destroy the Amazon, such as oil spills, but also the secondary effects that can be just as irreversible. These secondary effects include indigenous settlements, deforestation, and the hunting of wildlife, all of which are enabled by the construction of roads. A recent example is the Católica Biodiversity Station, where, after the construction of the infamous Maxus Road, once nomadic indigenous communities were able to settle for the first time and hunted all the wildlife to scarcity, bringing animal species research to a screeching halt. In 1994, Kelly handpicked the land for the Tiputini research center because it was “in the middle of nowhere” in hopes of avoiding a similar fate. When I asked Kelly if Tiputini runs the risk of being settled and over-hunted, he said there already exists encroachment even though the closest road is 12 kilometers away, and “all I can hope is that [the Tiputini Biodiversity Station] has been established long enough that we have the potential for survival…but right now is a crucial moment for deciding what is staying, and what is going.”

The popularized idea of conserving the megadiverse Amazon is only as new as the Yasuní ITT Initiative, which has brought such an incredible amount of political and social attention to the issue in the last few years that Ecuadorians from all four regions of the country are at least aware of its existence. According to survey responses, all respondents think the Yasuní initiative is a step in the right direction for environmental conservation. However, over half of the respondents were extremely skeptical of its success. Skepticism included comments such as, “[the Yasuní initiative] is hypocritical and inconsistent,” “it is doomed to failure if the position of the government does not change, especially the President’s,” and “the initiative is driven by politics,” implying that the initiative is not based on actual concern for the welfare and protection of the Amazon. Overall, this skepticism suggests that since Quiteños do not have considerable hope for the initiative’s success, their motivation and desire to become involved in advocacy is very small. Lack of motivation to become politically or socially involved in the initiative’s successful passage is weakened even further when beliefs exist specifically regarding politicians’ agendas having more importance than environmental welfare. In other words, Quiteños may feel as though their voice would not matter when faced with political agendas and the power and influence that come with them. Nonetheless, while skepticism exists amongst Quiteños, every person surveyed had heard of and had a base knowledge about the initiative.

However, even with a large amount of media attention on the Yasuní ITT Initiative issue, Kelly informed me that no one from outside the region who does not work in the Yasuní National Park either for environmental conservation or in the oil industry, would ever make an active effort to visit the park. “I'm sure that less than 1% of all Ecuadorians have actually been inside the Yasuní.” Kelly continued to explain how even most Ecuadorians from the Oriente itself have never been inside the actual, intact rainforest and know essentially nothing about it beyond where it is geographically located: “People who live in Coca or Tena or Lago Agrio have, for the most part, never seen a monkey in the wild – and they would never consider paying to go to a place where that might be possible. That's just too far from their hometowns and there's no justification for going ‘all the way out there.’” Oil workers are also separated from the power and awe of the Amazon by chain-linked fences that keep them away from the “menacing and dangerous forest and all its creatures.” If people who live within the regions of the Amazon, and even those who work inside it, have no desire to learn about and feel connected to the Amazon, it is no surprise that the majority of Quiteños, according to this study, are culturally barricaded from it too.

Kelly’s research has shown that there may be no comparison to the Tiputini area in the entire world in terms of biodiversity. However, according to the observations of Kelly and Juan de Dios, a manager at the Station living in Quito, Quiteños are generally ignorant about the gem that exists in their own country. Kelly explained how every year for Earth Day he does environmental outreach for the US government in Ecuador. A few years ago, he spoke to sets of Quiteño public school students from ages 10-17 about environmental awareness. When Kelly asked the children if they had ever visited the Yasuní National Park, it did not surprise him that no one raised a hand. However, Kelly was shocked to find that a large majority of the children had never even visited the very popular Carolina and Metropolitano parks of Quito.

If a majority of children from public schools and their families have never visited the landmark and iconic parks of Quito, visiting Yasuní is like “talking about going to the moon”. To Quiteños, the Amazon is “muddy, sweaty, and ridden by insects”, and if money were available, many would rather go to a fútbol game or to the beach. When I asked Kelly and Juan where they thought the future of Yasuní ITT was headed, both said that the land would definitely be exploited, but the question is when: “the survival of Yasuní will depend on how long the issue will be pertinent in Ecuadorians’ hearts.”39

The bottom line is that people in Quito are very separated from Yasuní geographically, mentally, and emotionally; the "people of the Oriente" are almost as separated as Quiteños despite the fact that they would likely show more solidarity on the issue if confronted, and as a point of pride they would be more adamant. However, in general, the old psychology adage, "out of sight out of mind" applies to an overwhelming extent in this case.

4.0 Conclusion

Various conclusions have been drawn throughout interviewing and surveying. First, it is important to acknowledge that Quiteños, overall, do have a sense of pride for Ecuador’s Amazon, and none of the interviewees denied that there should be a mobilized moral obligation to protect it, “Todos somos Ecuatorianos.”40 However, there does exist a strong cultural detachment from the Amazon, which is a phenomenon that is not just limited to Quito but also runs rampant in other major Ecuadorian cities such as Guayaquil and Cuenca. Indicators of this cultural detachment can be seen through Quiteños’ overall agreement with oil development in the Amazon (cultural), the recurring perception of the Amazon and indigenous communities that live there as the “other” (geographical), the lack of political involvement and prioritization of political issues in Quito (political), lack of desire to visit the Amazon and the Yasuní National Park, and the skepticism of the Yasuní ITT Initiative’s success (geographical/economical).

One of the solutions to this detachment that every interviewee mentioned was the mobilization of younger generations. Paula has faith in the youth of Ecuador, including her own generation: “the Ecuadorian youth will have loud voices regarding oil development in the Amazon because they are living with the consequences.” Every day, Kelly witnesses his students becoming increasingly outraged at the lax regulation of oil development and the widespread Amazonian deforestation that goes along with it. Modesto is proud that his country is the first to ever give the natural world legal rights in the Ecuadorian Constitution and believes that every generation that passes has clearer ideas of conservation. When I asked Elizabeth if she had faith in younger generations to protect the Amazon, she quietly looked at her three-year-old son, as if hopefully imagining his abundantly promising future, and responded “totalmente.” In the past forty years, educators have made increasing efforts to instill a sense of appreciation and pride for Ecuadorian biodiversity in the hearts and minds of young children. According to the interviewees, many Quiteños have faith that a group of organized Ecuadorian youth who feel personally offended by the country’s disregard for the intrinsic value of the Amazon will grow to such numbers to a point that a difference will be made in the future.

"In the end, we will conserve only what we love,
we will love only what we understand,
and we will understand only what we are taught."
Baba Dioum, New Delhi, India, 1968

Now, the question is whether Ecuador will find the balance between society, economics and the environment before the Amazon, including its wildlife, medicinal potential and its indigenous people, disappears forever.


1 Rainforest Action Network, “Chevron’s Toxic Legacy in the Ecuadorian Amazon”, <>.
2 Karoline Nolso Aaen, Ecological and Sociological Impacts of Oil Exploitation in and around Yasuní National Park, Ecuador (Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, 2006) 6-8.
3 Chris Baker, et al., Oil Pollution in Ecuador: A devised Remediation Approach (Worcester: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 2009) ix.
4 James Rochlin, “Development, The Environment and Ecuador’s Oil Patch: The Context and Nuance of the Case Against Texaco” (Association of Third World Studies 28.8, 2011) 11-39.
5 Rochlin 11.
6 Rochlin 14.
7 Rochlin 14.
8 Rochlin 14.
9 Rochlin 14.
10 Rochlin 14.
11 Rochlin 15.
12 OPEC, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, “Ecuador Facts and Figures” (Annual Statistical Bulletin, 2012).
13 Rochlin 14.
14 Baker ix.
15 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon: The Human Consequences of Oil Development, (New York, NY: Center for Economic and Social Rights, 1994) 5-11.
16 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
17 Migual San Sebastián and Anna-Karin Hurtig, Oil Exploitation in the Amazon basin of Ecuador: a public health emergency, (Sweden: Umea International School of Public Health; Ecuador: Instituto de Epidemiología y Salud Comunitaria, 2003) 205-210.
18 Baker ix.
19 Julie Marie Weinart, The Construction and Influence of Local Gender Roles on Practice in a Global Industry: Ecotourism in Ecuador, (Ohio: The Ohio State University, 2008).
20 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon 6.
21 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon 6.
22 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon 6.
23 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
24 Sebastián, Hurtig 207.
25 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon 6.
26 Rochlin 12.
27 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon 11.
28 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon 8.
29 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon 11.
30 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon 6.
31 Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon 8.
32 Aaen 7.
33 Aaen 7.
34 Matt Finer, et al., Leaving the Oil Under the Amazon: Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT Initiative (Biotropica, 2009) 63-66.
35 Aaen 7.
36 Finer 63.
37 Finer 65.
38 Appendix, B.1.
39 Appendix A.1, Kelly Swing Interview
40 Appendix A.1, Juanito Interview


Aaen, Karoline Nolso. Ecological and Sociological Impacts of Oil Exploitation in and around Yasuní National Park, Ecuador. University of Copenhagen. 2006. Web. 14 March 2013.

Baker, Chris. Oil Pollution in Ecuador: A Devised Remediation Approach. Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 2009. Web 13 March 2013.

Center for Economic and Social Rights. Rights Violations in the Ecuadorian Amazon: The Human Consequences of Oil Development. New York, NY. Center for Economic and Social Rights, March 1994. Web. 14 March 2013.

“Chevron’s Toxic Legacy in the Ecuadorian Amazon.” Rainforest Action Network. Web. 14 March 2013.

Finer, Matt; Moncel, Remi; Jenkins, Clinton N. Leaving the Oil Under the Amazon: Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT Initiative. Biotropica, Duke University. 2010. Pg. 63-66. Web. 13 March 2013.

OPEC, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Ecuador Facts and Figures. Annual Statistical Bulletin 2012. Web. 7 May 2013.

Rochlin, James. “Development, The Environment And Ecuador’s Oil Patch: The Context And Nuances Of The Case Against Texaco.” Journal Of Third World Studies 28.2 (2011): 11-39. Historical Abstracts. Web. 13 Mar. 2013.

San Sebastián, Miguel; Hurtig, Anna-Karin. Oil Exploitation and Health in the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. Umea International School of Public Health, Umea Sweden, and the Instituto de Epidemiología y Salud Comunitaria, Coca, Orellana, Ecuador. Web. 12 March 2013.

Weinert, Julie Marie. The Construction and Influence of Local Gender Roles on Practice in Global Industry: Ecoturism in Ecuador. The Ohio State University. 2008. Web. 11 March 2013.


A.0 General Interview Questions

  • What is your name, age, and title? How long have you been living in Quito?
  • Politically, what issues do you prioritize? The economy? Health? The environment?
  • What do you know about oil development in the Amazon regions of Ecuador? Historical or current events.
  • Considering the economic benefits and environmental/indigenous consequences combined, do you agree or disagree with oil development in the Amazon? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel that tourism hurts or helps the Amazon and its protection? Why or why not?
  • Do you have a sense of pride for the biodiversity in your country? Why or why not?
  • Do you feel that much of the revenues generated from oil development in the Amazon regions of Ecuador are properly reinvested into the economy? Why or why not? How should accrued revenues be distributed or regulated?
  • Living in Quito, do you feel more connected or separated from the events occurring in the Amazon currently? Does oil development in the Amazon affect your daily life?
  • Since the Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse places in the world, the “lungs of the earth”, do you witness a sense of urgency in Quito to become involved in its preservation? Why or why not?
  • Would you say that there should be a moral obligation for Quiteños to become involved in the fight against environmental destruction? Why or why not?
  • Where do you think the future of the Yasuní ITT Initiative is headed?

A.1 List of Interviewees and Additional Questions Asked

Juan de Dios and Andrea – April 09, 2013 – Quito

  • How many years have you worked at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station
  • Can you talk a little about the Católica Biodiversity Station, and if oil development played a significant role in it becoming less pristine?
  • Has Tiputini seen any effects of oil development?

Juanito – April 17, 2013 – Quito

  • Does oil development help or hurt your businesses? Do you see the effects of oil development on a daily basis?

Elizabeth Ramos – April 17, 2013 – Quito

  • What role do you think the Ecuadorian youth/younger generations will play in environmental conservation of the Amazon in the future, if any?

Ignacio Benitez – April 18, 2013 – Quito

  • During your work, do you witness the affects of oil development on the Amazon?
  • Have you ever experienced a situation in your work relating to the destruction of the Amazon due to oil development?

Paula Adimidanez – April 22, 2013 – Quito

  • What role do you think the Ecuadorian youth/younger generations will play in environmental conservation of the Amazon in the future, if any?

Modesto Ponce – April 23, 2013 – Quito

Kelly Swing – April 25, 2013 – Quito

  • What is your title?
  • How long have you been working at Tiputini Biodiversity Station?
  • Can you talk a little about the Católica Biodiversity Station, and if oil development played a significant role in it becoming less pristine?
  • Has Tiputini experienced similar symptoms?
  • What do you think the future of the Tiputin Biodiversity Station is?
  • What role do you think the Ecuadorian youth/younger generations will play in environmental conservation of the Amazon in the future, if any?

Jaime (Psudonym) – April 25, 2013 – Quito

  • Do you think that protecting the Amazon is a cause worth fighting for?
  • What kinds of measures does your private oil company take to ensure the protection of the Amazon, as well as any environment you might work in?
  • What do you think needs to happen in order for oil development not to destroy the Amazon?

B.0 Survey

El petróleo en la Amazonía
1) Género:
F   M
2) Edad:
15-19   20-29  30-39
40-49  50-59  60+
3) ¿En cual de las siguientes categorías se encuentra Usted?
Empleado  Desempleado  Estudiante
4) ¿En Ecuador, cómo priorizaría los siguientes temas? Siendo 1 el más importante y 5 el menos importante.
___ La economía doméstica  ___ Los derechos humanos  ___ La igualdad de géneros
___ La salud de la gente  ___ El medio ambiente (cambio climático, el protección de la Amazonía, etc)
5) ¿Está de acuerdo o en desacuerdo con la exploración y explotación de petróleo en la Amazonía? ¿Por qué? Explique

6) ¿Está de acuerdo o en desacuerdo con la minería en la Amazonía? ¿Por qué? Explique.

7) ¿Explique brevemente cómo cree que debería ser utilizado, distribuido, y regulado el dinero obtenido del desarrollo del petróleo y la minería en la Amazonía?

8) Si alguna vez ha participado en activismo en contra de la explotación petrolera de la Amazonía, especifique qué tipo de activismo fue.
Peticiones  Protestas  Otros  Nunca ha participado
9) ¿Ha escuchado sobre la iniciativa de Yasuní-ITT? En caso afirmativo, cual es su opinión sobre la iniciativa?

10) ¿Cree que el turismo ayuda o perjudica a la protección de la Amazonía? Razone brevemente su respuesta.

Photo of Britney Weber

About the Author

Britney Weber is an alumna from Fairfax, Virginia. She majored in International Studies and minored in Spanish. She is currently working for The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

She would like to thank Dr. Michael D. Hill for his support and guidance through this project.