The Correlation Between Natural Resources and Ethnic Conflict in Ecuador

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Political History

After the discovery of oil in 1967 by a Texaco Gulf consortium (Johnson: 2011), Ecuador “began to borrow money, with the belief that profits from oil exports would enable the country to repay its foreign debts” ( However, in 1986, there was a huge decrease in the world oil prices, and in 1987, “a disastrous earthquake wiped out about 40km of oil pipeline, severely damaging both the environment and the economy” (Lonelyplanet .com). Between the 1980s and 1990s, legitimacy between Ecuadorian citizens and the government weakened when presidents such as Abdala “El Loco” Bucaram were caught in a few scandals. In 1986, The Indigenous Nationality Confederation of Ecuador (CONAIE) was created “to gather local communities and associations of indigenous people in order to act on the national political scene in Ecuador” (Joussemet: 3). Since 1990, the CONAIE sparked the beginnings of the Indigenous movement, but also the beginnings of a ten-year struggle to incorporate Indigenous involvement in the government (Joussemet: 3).


Throughout the 20th century, three major export booms sustained Ecuador’s economy: cacao, bananas, and it’s most recent one, oil (Johnson: 2011). As a middle-income economy, Ecuador’s per capita annual income is just under $4,000 (Johnson: 2011). Although oil brings in a large amount of revenue to the state, there is an unequal distribution of wealth between the upper and lower classes. The richest 10 percent controls more than a third of all personal wealth, while the bottom 20 percent collect just 3.3 percent (Johnson: 2011). Thea Johnson argues that race is a major factor. “The logic goes that the lighter one’s skin, the heavier his bank account” (Johnson: 2011). “In 1999/2000, Ecuador’s economy suffered from a banking crisis, with GDP contracting by 5.3% and poverty increasing significantly” (CIA: The World Fact Book). Due to the unequal distribution of wealth, wealthy Ecuadorians were spared “the worst effects of the defining moment in modern Ecuadorian economic history” (Johnson: Limited Liabilities).

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