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The Yasuni-ITT Initiative: Oil Development and Alternative Forms of Wealth Making in the Ecuadorian Amazon
The design of economic instruments for the protection of ecological wealth in Latin American countries poor in financial capital, but rich in biological diversity poses very specific challenges. This article examines some of the interests, claims, discourses and values of a range of social actors (government officials, business leaders, international development planners, intellectuals, indigenous representatives, and activists) involved in defining the future economic use of the Yasuni National Park, a Biosphere Reserve for Humanity located in the Amazonian Region of Ecuador, a small oil-producing country in Latin America.
Two alternative development projects for this region are currently being debated by the government, the oil industry and civil society. The first one involves the development of a large oil and gas field in the Yasuni National Park, while the second proposes a financial mechanism by which Ecuador would be compensated for not exploiting the vast reserves of heavy crude lying underneath the park.
Researched over a two-year period by combining social anthropology, ecological economics and various political and economic approaches to development policy, this case study illustrates the unique problems posed by the incorporation of the natural capital of ecosystems in economic decisions. Negotiations of trade-offs between development and conservation, it is concluded, cannot be properly understood without reference to morally framed notions such as work, productivity, ownership, exchange, reward and responsibility.