When an Ecuadorean appeals court in Sucumbíos upheld an $18 billion judgment against Chevron earlier this month, I happened to be passing through Lago Agrio—the famed location of the oil contamination at issue in the case. As we took the highway out of town, we followed the path of the oil-pipeline that snakes its way southwest, towards Quito. “The government does more to protect the pipeline than it does to protect drivers,” my guide informed me as we headed east.
I wasn’t surprised. In fact, the purpose of my trip southeast of Lago Agrio was to visit another project that is wholly supported and driven by the Ecuadorian government, and that has little promised benefit for the people, or the forests and rivers, in its path. This project is the massive Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric dam.
Anticipated to be the largest hydroelectric project in Ecuador, the dam is highly controversial. The project is estimated to affect more than 2,000 people and flood an area of 3 square kilometers of a delicate Amazonian basin. The project could also potentially bring to a trickle Ecuador’s tallest waterfall, the San Rafael falls. Critics and experts in Ecuador also question the fact that the dam is being bankrolled with a $1.68 billion dollar loan from China to finance 85 percent of the construction and equipment. In turn, the state-owned Chinese company, Sinohydro Corp., was awarded the construction contract in a process that many regard as having been procured without proper bidding.
Most worrisome about the project however, might be that a substantial perimeter around the project was recently declared, by executive decree of the Ecuadorian government, to be a “militarized zone.” As a result, the area around the dam, and the people who live there, will be “under the control of the armed forces.” According to ERI’s partner organizations in Quito, declaring areas around large-scale investment projects to be under the control of the “armed forces” is a new and incredibly worrisome trend in a country where many of the richest resources happen to be located on, or below, areas that indigenous people call home.
During my trip out of Lago Agrio, as we drove along the rivers due to be affected by the Coca Codo Sinclair dam, construction was already underway. What should look like a river now looks like an excavation site. Perhaps it is not ironic that one of the few features of the landscape that will remain unaffected by the planned project is the oil pipeline, pictured above, which will continue to make its way south, and east, untouched.