A Brief History of Extraction in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Updated: Jan 4

As agroecology and permaculture practices have shown us, having an intimate, interdependent relationship with the soil allows for earth’s joys to reproduce abundantly. That is, when we embrace soil as the basis of sustenance, habitat, and life, we can begin to understand that our existence is tied up in its flourishing. That when we give to the soil, the soil gives to us. But what happens when dominant systems of capital accumulation and fascism keep us from accessing this relationship?

What results is a different, broken relationship with soil and its greater offshoots. Worldviews of domination and supremacy convert the life-giving organ underneath us into parcels to be divided up, penetrated, and exploded in the name of generating profit. This, in turn, gives way to mass scales of environmental destruction.

Such is the case in the history of the Ecuadorian Amazon, which dates back to the age of colonization in the 16th century. As waves of Spanish colonizers forced their way through the Amazonian “frontier” in search of gold and spices, the Amazonian region was increasingly understood as empty land waiting to be developed and exploited.

Though these attempts were met with successful Indigenous resistance, forced evangelization over the next 200 years would signal a tighter government control over Amazonian land, especially to monitor quinine and rubber extraction. Over the years, the rainforest would be subjugated to agricultural extraction of bananas and coffee.

This colonial landscape of extractivism gave way to a continued state-sanctioned philosophy of rainforest-as-resource. By the 1970’s, the demand for oil deemed the Ecuadorian Amazon a means to an end of foreign and domestic capital accumulation. Soon, old growth trees and rainforest habitat would be replaced by thousands of kilometers of roads, oil wells, and even airports.

Today, much of the same damage continues as oil extraction is coupled with large-scale foreign copper, silver, and gold mining projects. The construction of one such mine, El Mirador, has left the Southeast corner of the Ecuadorian Amazon devastated with over 1,000 hectares of forest being eliminated and bodies of water contaminated with sediment.

These are the forces Indigenous soil protectors are up against as they charge themselves with the task of reversing the irreparable damage that dates back to the age of colonization. We must ask ourselves: what are we doing to give to the rainforest? How are we regenerating soil and working alongside Indigenous protectors to repair our world?

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