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The International Failure to Keep Oil in the Ground

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One of the major issues in South America in the last twenty years is what to do with the resources that are in the ground. The many leftist governments that have risen in the region have grappled with this. Hugo Chavez wanted to build socialism on oil, but it didn’t work. You can’t build your revolution on a single commodity in a capitalist marketplace, even if it is your only real commodity. But as the climate change era and indigenous rights movements have changed the South American left, you’ve seen a different set of debates around these issues. In Bolivia, the left has engaged in a pretty significant internal debate on how to approach the nation’s massive lithium resources, necessary from building electric cars, but also in a nation with a long history of destructive extractivism that has not helped the nation’s indigenous majority at all.

In Ecuador, the government of Rafael Correa wanted to keep the oil in the ground. This is good for the planet, good for the forest, good for the nation’s environment, and good for the indigenous people who live in the oil-rich Amazon rainforest. But it needed help to do that. It requires the world’s more developed nations to engage in debt forgiveness and other programs so that Ecuador wouldn’t have to drill. But they have not done that. In the end, the U.S. and Europe cares more about keeping nations in their place in the international marketplace than in climate change. So to pay the debt, Ecuador is going to have to drill. It knows it will be a terrible thing. But this is the reality of the neocolonial global capitalist system. It most certainly doesn’t have to be this way.

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