- Oil, Revolution, and Indigenous Citizenship in Ecuadorian Amazonia by Flora Lu, Gabriela Valdivia, and Néstor L. Silva
Oil, Revolution, and Indigenous Citizenship in Ecuadorian Amazonia
New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2017. xvii + 296 pp. References, index, illustrations. $89.00 electronic (ISBN 978–1–137–53362–3), $119.99 cloth (ISBN 978–1–137–56462–7).
Oil, revolution, and indigenous Citizenship in Ecuadorian Amazonia is a unique work on an important topic: the relationship between a marginalized indigenous people (the Waorani of Amazonian Ecuador), one of Latin America’s most celebrated “New Left” administrations (the Ecuadorian state under Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017), and the socio-ecological complexities of life within an oil-based political economy. Flora Lu, Gabriela Valdivia, and Néstor L. Silva take the reader on a detailed tour of Ecuador under the Correa regime. In doing so, they produce a comprehensive account of what Ecuador’s experiment with “21st-Century socialism” has meant for some of country’s most vulnerable citizens.
Although much of the book focuses on the experiences of an indigenous people, it is a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort rather than a conventional ethnography: Lu was trained in ecology, Valdivia teaches geography, and Silva is completing his doctorate in anthropology. In the introduction, the authors state that the book traverses a variety of “geographic and social scales to integrate information from multiple sources and perspectives: scholarship, media accounts, as well as ethnographic research” (4). In doing so, it challenges any simplistic context/topic distinction; each chapter includes detailed discussions of national policy, political shifts within and beyond Ecuador, and the particulars of the Waorani experience.
The authors state that the first half of the book views “Amazonia from Quito” by describing the history of Ecuadorian indigenous citizenship (Chapter 2), shifts in oil policy (Chapter 3), and Correa’s battle against poverty through his so-called “Citizens’ Revolution” (Chapter 4). The second half views “Quito from Amazonia” by privileging a more Waorani-focused perspective on the risks of petroleum-based development (Chapter 5), a failed government proposal to exchange untapped oil for international dollars (Chapter [End Page 283] 6), and the complex responses to encounters with the Taromenane, a Waorani-related group who live in voluntary isolation (Chapter 7).
The central argument of the book is that despite the Correa administration’s stated objective of making environmental conservation, human rights, and socioeconomic equality national priorities, the government’s continued reliance on natural resource extraction risked “repeating and deepening cycles of poverty and marginalization,” thereby perpetuating and even exacerbating “socio-ecological conflict” (23–24). Lu, Valdivia, and Silva assert that Correa’s progressive programs depended on oil rents, making the Citizens’ Revolution “the state-led response to state-caused problems, a political project funded by the very same practices it seeks to challenge” (93). In short, the authors allege, Correa’s administration represented no radical break from past political-economic models and in some ways made life even worse for such citizens as the Waorani.
Oil, Revolution, and Indigenous Citizenship in Ecuadorian Amazonia has many strengths. It contains one of the most thorough accounts of Ecuadorian politics and economics in the new millennium. The overview of Correa’s vision is extensive and accurate. The discussion of the programs of the Citizens’ Revolution is an important resource for any scholar of Ecuador. I wish I had access to it while writing my own book on oil in Amazonian Ecuador (Cepek 2018), as I was often perplexed by many Correa-era institutions that directly affected my subjects. The authors also employ a mixed-methods approach that includes household economic analysis and risk-mapping—techniques that are absent from most cultural-anthropological accounts. The quantitative data are accompanied by reflections on important social and political theorists, including Giorgio Agamben, Judith Butler, Antonio Gramsci, and Donna Haraway. Finally, Lu, Valdivia, and Silva enliven their study with telling vignettes concerning Correa’s television and radio program, the sometimes-tragic failures of development projects, and the authors’ own reception by Waorani communities.
The book also has qualities that some scholars might consider weaknesses. Apart from the more descriptive episodes...