President Rafael Correa used the bully pulpit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) summit to warn of what he called “infantile environmentalism” that puts the needs of people below those of nature.
Observers said Correa’s intention had more to do with laying out his position on oil exploration and mining in Ecuador than with establishing ALBA policy. Correa faces strong opposition from indigenous leaders, mostly in the Amazon and southern regions of Ecuador, who are opposed to all drilling and mining activities.
The 12th annual ALBA Summit, held in Guayaquil, was atended by ALBA members Dominica, Ecuador, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua.
“What we have to consider is whether or not we want to make human rights secondary to the supposed rights of nature,” Correa said. “Human beings are the most important part of nature. If we don’t overcome poverty, poverty itself will degrade our environment.”
One of Correa’s biggest challenges may be Ecuador’s constitution, which specifically recognizes the rights of nature. Evironmentalists and indigenous groups are planning legal challenges based on constitutional grounds.
Correa claims that the constitution does not prohibit the country from using its resources.
“We need to use our non-renewable natural resources. It is our best chance for sovereign development, to raise our people out of poverty, to make sure they enjoy a decent standard of living, to educate them and provide good health care.”
Correa maintained that oil and mining activities can be undertaken without environmental damage. “We can avoid the rape of nature that occurred during the Texacao – Chevron disaster,” he said. He also attacked the notion that non-renewable resources are a curse for developing countries like Ecuador.
“There are those who say the oil is a curse. Please, go see a psychiatrist! Anything can be a curse! Tourism, poorly directed, can be a curse. Agriculture, poorly directed, can be a curse. Industry can be a curse.”
“But just because there is bad tourism, bad agriculture, bad industry, we’re not going to conclude we shouldn’t have tourism, agriculture or industry. The sensible, intelligent, responsible conclusion is to do good tourism, good agriculture and good industry.”
“The sensible, intelligent, responsible, historical conclusion is that we should do good exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, and not the infantilism of rejecting their use.”
Correa says that if its resources are “used wisely” that they can raise Ecuador into the “first rank” of Latin American. “We have the opportunity to build a sophisticated, educated and economically properous society, but it depends on using our resources. We must keep our eye on meeting that objective.”
Correa applauded Bolivian president Evo Morales’ shifting attitude towards mining in his country, and Venezuela’s ongoing use of oil revenues to fund social programs.
Correa also warned of the danger of “indigenous fundamentalism” and what he called the mythification of the demands of indigenous groups and leaders. He said these leaders are not always progressive, honest or selfless.
The final declaration of the ALBA summit includes language that addresses Correa’s concern over “excessive environmentalism.”
Photo caption: Rafael Correa at ALBA summit in Guayaquil