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Recolonizing Ecuador's Oriente : oil, agriculture, and the myth of empty lands Gaechter, Darcy Ann

Abstract

Multi-national oil corporations, the national government, landless Ecuadorian farmers, and Ecuador's Indigenous populations have dramatically transformed the eastern half of Ecuador (the Oriente) over the past forty years. When American oil companies Texaco and Gulf discovered viable oil wells in the region in 1968, they not only piqued the economic hopes of the Ecuadorian government, but also put into motion a massive modernization and recolonization movement. When Ecuadorian colonist Solomon Haro Valle traveled from the highland town of Ambato to the Oriente he described an inhospitable jungle, primitive living conditions, unbearable heat, and ominous jungle fauna. Yet hundreds of thousands of landless Ecuadorians moved to the Oriente during this period in order to cash in on the free land their government was giving away. Since the Ecuadorian government was desperately trying to bring this region under national control, it eagerly perpetuated the scenario that Haro described in order to transform the Oriente into a tierra baldia, or empty land in order to then transform it into an economically productive and integrated part of the Ecuadorian Nation. Through various laws and propaganda, the government effectively erased the Oriente's inhabitants (both Indigenous and Ecuadorian), and created the myth of the Oriente as a vacant space. It was only logical, then, to fill this empty space with Ecuadorian farmers who were willing to work towards the nation's latest modernization project—that of incorporating the Oriente along with its burgeoning oil industry.

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