This article has been translated and adapted from the Spanish article published in the Cronicon: Entrevista con el exministro Ecuatoriano Alberto Acosta
Former Ecuadorian Energy and Mines minister Mr. Alberto Acosta Espinosa, and one of the architects of the Yasuní Initiative to keep oil in the ground of Yasuní National Park in Ecuador, reflects on the dangers of an extractive economy.
“we are poor, because we are rich in natural resources”
Besides the negative effects on the environment Acosta, points out that the massive extraction of natural resources, such as the mining and oil sectors are generating extremely complex processes. Countries based on an extractive economy are witnessing “the alienation of the state. The state (often) ignores the mining and oil concession sites, leaving the fulfillment of social demands to transnational corporations. This leads to a disorganized and unplanned management of these regions, which, in practice, are often falling outside the national rule of law.” This, says Acosta, “reinforces a climate of generalized violence, increasing poverty and marginalization, which leads to blind responses of a police state…”.
This Ecuadorian economist goes even further arguing that we need to find alternatives to extractive economies: “What you need to think about is transitions. There is no abrupt end to this economy. Ecuador will not come out of their oil dependence stopping to produce crude overnight, that’s clear. Otherwise the government will fall. But we cannot continue to expand the oil frontier because we keep destroying the Amazon without solving the problems.”
One of the possible alternatives or transitions could be the Yasuní-ITT Initiative. “The aim of the initiative is to provide a creative solution for the threat posed by the extraction of crude oil in the Ishpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha (ITT) oil fields, which are located in the highly vulnerable area of Yasuní National Park. The proposal would contribute to preserving biodiversity, reducing carbon dioxide emissions, and respecting the rights of indigenous peoples and their way of life”.
Acosta affirms that this initiative is revolutionary in its own way but needs to be adequately supported by the Ecuadorian government and envisioned as a complement to other reforms and alternatives. “The first thing to do then is to overcome certain aberrations that accumulated over time. In Ecuador, the economy is based mostly on oil production and export, but Ecuador has no ability to turn crude oil into refined products as gasoline, and need imports for that; Ecuador has also an enormous hydropower, geothermal and solar potential but is still subsidizing refined oil. Other major bottleneck is the agrarian code: without a proper land reform Ecuador is not going to solve the problems of equity, employment, or even food security. Ecuador has to think about other activities like tourism. This activity is much more viable in the short and medium term, following the example like Costa Rica, compared to Venezuela, Peru and Bolivia.”
What Acosta is teaching us about the Yasuní-ITT Initiative is that similar plans can be implemented in Virunga, and that we need to look at several viable alternatives to short-term extraction.
The current pattern of most extractive economies will allow for no more than 30-50 years production. One day production will start declining and what will be the result after 50 years production? Places like the Nigeria Delta where living is getting “Worse than Bad”, with “368 oil spills a day…firepower against firepower”, stateless no-go-zones, increasing poverty and violence…
Moreover, for Virunga it could mean the death of one of the most promising and sustainable economic alternatives for the Democratic Republic of Congo: tourism.
Acosta Espinosa is an economist at the University of Cologne, Germany, specializing in energy industry, is currently a researcher and professor at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) in Quito.