Ecuador and Bolivia: The Distortions of Ben Dangl and Upside Down World

In The Politics of Pachamama: Natural Resource Extraction vs. Indigenous Rights and the Environment in Latin America,  Dangl makes claims such as “indigenous movements have resisted extractivism in defense of their rights, land and the environment” as if  the indigenous movement is opposed to what Dangl calls “extractivism.”

Dangl must be counting on being able to evade fact-checking. There are indigenous movements or organizations in Ecuador and Bolivia that support using their natural resources to develop the countries and improve their health care, education and quality of life, and there are those opposed.



For Dangl to present the situation as indigenous movements being opposed is simply false. Just this April 30, El Telegrafo, an Ecuador newspaper reported “Leaders of the Waorani nationalities support the extraction of Oil from the Yasuni”

“They support the oil in Yasuni intervention , because according to Enqueri Laura , who represents the Waorani women ” we deserve the revenues to improve our lives ,” said the woman , who said that in her community they are ” poor and if we can improve with our resources we should…. we need water, schools, the government has to support communities ,” She believes that you should not pay attention to those who do not want to exploit oil in the area, “because they do not represent our needs.”

“David Irumenga represents 3000 Waorani people of Pastaza , Napo and Orellana. He said the oil should be extracted “because for many years we have lived in poverty, without education, without health care, without housing.” In his view , “it is necessary to use resources to escape poverty , and there are opponents who want to live like we did 50 years ago.”

“The Waorani leader demanded ” environmentalists, NGOs, anthropologists go to their own countries or leave our territory. As Ecuadorians we deserve a good education , health care, housing , the same as all Ecuadorians.”[1]

So much for Dangl’s assertion that “indigenous movements have resisted extractivism in defense of their rights, land and the environment.”

The member organizations of CONAIE, the most important indigenous organization in the country, have taken differing positions on oil exploitation in Yasuni.  Contradicting Dangl’s claims, CONAIE president Humberto Cholango has said,”We have had internal difficulties. This is because CONAIE is a very broad and diverse organization. There are many nationalities in the Amazonia who say ‘look, we are the owners of this land and we do want exploitation’. … Within CONAIE, there are various positions and various visions.”[2]

Dangl asserts “Yet while Correa rightfully spoke of the obligations of wealthier nations to contribute to solving the dilemmas of the global climate crisis, at home he expanded the mining industry and criminalized indigenous movements who protested extractive industries in their territories. Under his administration, numerous indigenous leaders organizing against mining, water privatization measures, and hydrocarbon extraction have been jailed for their activism.”

Dangl gives no names, dates, or charges that would enable us to fact-check this claim. Yet we can look at the websites of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, two pro-US government “human rights” organizations. Neither states there are political prisoners in Ecuador.



On Bolivia, Dangl alleges,“The government has advocated for a plan to build a major highway through the TIPNIS indigenous territory and national park. Protests against the government plans galvanized a movement for indigenous rights and environmentalism. In response, the government led brutal repression against families marching in protest of the highway in 2011. Government violence left 70 wounded; victims and their families and allies are still searching for justice.”

Arnold August in his new book “Cuba and its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion” (pp. 65-66) gives a balanced and factual account:

“This also includes the capacity, as exhibited by the political leadership of Morales and Garcia Linares, to learn from mistakes and adjust accordingly. For example, in April 2012, Bolivian Indigenous peoples participated in the commissions established by the Morales government for consultation on the TIPNIS. These commissions had the mandate to decide on the construction of the highway and perspectives of development for the Indigenous communities. This is in conformity with the Constitution that defends a democracy that is ‘direct and participative,’ including the right of ‘prior consult.’ In October 2012, Morales announced that 45 of the 46 communities consulted through these commissions agreed to the construction of the highway and the project is now underway.”

None of these facts about the highway does Ben Dangl mention.

Nor does he mention that high level Bolivian government officials resigned because of their role in the treatment of the marchers. Nor does he mention that the Bolivian government has postponed the highway project for at least 20 years.[3]

General indigenous support for the highway is also corroborated in Federico Fuentes article from 2011.[4]

Fuentes in another article states:

“Similarly, neither of the Internet statements [an anti-Evo Morales Avaaz petition and September 21 letter to Morales signed by over 60 environmental groups]  mentions the protesters’ support for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) program. REDD is a grossly anti-environmental United Nations program that aims to privatise forests by converting them into “carbon offsets” that allow rich, developed countries to continue polluting.[5]

“Some of the biggest proponents of this measure can be found among the NGOs promoting the march. Many of these have received direct funding from the US government, whose ambassador in Bolivia was expelled in September 2008 for supporting a right-wing coup attempt against the elected Morales government.

“Rather than defend Bolivia’s sovereignty against US interference, the letter denounces the Bolivian government for exposing connections between the protesters and “obscure interests”.

These “obscure interests” include the League for the Defence of the Environment (LIDEMA), which was set up with US government funds. Its backers include the US government aid agency, USAID, and the German-based Konrad Adenauer Foundation, which frequently funds actions against governments opposed by the United States and European governments such as Cuba.

“Secret US diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks and declassified US government files have conclusively shown that USAID directly targets indigenous communities in a bid to win them away from support for Morales and towards supporting US interests.”

Again, Ben Dangl makes not one mention of this important information.

An article from 2010 states Vice Minister of Coordination with Social Movements Cesar Navarro  told the Bolivian Information Agency that, “the purpose of USAID is to delegitimize indigenous organizations and create a climate of conflict and confrontation between the government and indigenous and social groups; this demonstrates highly political behavior which damaged the process of unification that we Bolivians are going through right now.”[6]

The article reports that USAID channeled funding to the Indigenous People’s Federation of La Paz through the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Friends of Nature Foundation. In this article Bolivian government showed that USAID was using environmental groups to channel money to indigenous groups to protest against Evo Morales.

This is corroborated by Wikileaks, which reported that leaders of the indigenous march Dangl referred to were working with the US Embassy at the very time of the march.

The Wikileaks article reports:

“Yesterday the president said in an interview with government media outlets that publications by diverse institutions related to the environment are financed by the agency from the northern country [USA].

This position was expressed minutes after he announced that leaders of the indigenous march have been in telephone contact with the Eliseo Abelo, in charge of indigenous affairs at the northern country’s embassy.

“Morales, basing himself on a record of phone calls, informed that MAS Deputy Pedro Nuni; the leader of the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of the Qullasuyu (Conamaq) Rafael Quispe, and Roxana Marupa Torrez, the wife of Adolfo Chavez, leader of the Bolivia Indigenous Peoples and Communities Confederation (Cidob), had been in contact with Abelo by telephone.”[7]

Any serious progressive journalist reporting on the Bolivian highway issue ought to bring this information to light. Yet of US government involvement with the protest leaders, Dangl says not a word.


Bolivia’s Nilda Rojas and CONAMAQ

Dangl quotes from Mama Nilda Rojas, a leader of the “dissident” indigenous group CONAMAQ  quite extensively in his article. Yet he does not inform us that CONAMAQ suffered a split last year because a large section of its membership, opposed to the anti-Morales position taken by some of their leaders, revoked their mandate and elected a new leadership. The old leadership however refused to accept the decision and continue to present themselves as CONAMAQ leaders.

In the  2010 World Meets article Evo Morales said,

“I have met many officials from CONAMAQ (the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of the Qollasuyo), some of our brother mallkus and former officials of Conamaq – and later I found them working with the U.S. Embassy. These aren’t our principles. I’m not mentioning any names, but they are there, and many brothers have also identified them.”

Dangl does not mention if there is any present or past connection with USAID and NED on the part of Nilda Rojas’ organization. Any serious journalist representing the 99%, not corporate interests, such as Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald or Federico Fuentes, would be exposing what the US is doing behind the scenes in Bolivia or Ecuador, rather than cover it up.

It is noteworthy that an allegedly progressive Latin America journalist can write an article in part about these ALBA countries, in the times of right-wing protests in Venezuela, and the USAID ZunZuneo operation in Cuba, all the while knowing of USAID-NED connections to indigenous and environmental groups, and not once mention US infiltration.

Federico Fuentes, in “Bolivia: US Worked to Divide Social Movements,” refers to a Wikileaks cable:

“An October 17, 2007, cable titled “Indigenous cohesion cracking in Bolivia” reported that a leader from the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qollasuyu (CONAMAQ), which groups together 16 rural indigenous organisations in the altiplano, told [US] embassy officials the Morales government was simply using indigenous peoples for to promote its “goal of socialism [which] does not coincide with ‘true indigenous goals”.

“The US embassy’s heightened interest in all things “indigenous” following decades of supporting governments that repressed and excluded them is explained in a February 6, 2007, cable.…An important tool used for reaching out to indigenous communities is USAID.

A January 28, 2008 cable said USAID social programs aimed at the “poorest and marginalized groups” would prove hard for the [Bolivian] government to attack.”[8]

Fuentes concludes:

“the international climate justice movement must focus its efforts on forcing rich nations to accept their responsibilities. The global movement must explicitly reject imperialist intervention in all its forms, including the “green imperialist” policies of US-funded NGOs. Only through such a campaign can we support the efforts of poorer countries to chart a development path that respects the environment.

“Unfortunately, Avaaz and the organisations that have signed the letter against Morales let the real culprits off the hook. Their campaign should be rejected by all environmentalists and anti-imperialists fighting for a better a world.”


 Covert US Funding to Ecuadoran and Bolivian organizations

Not only does Ben Dangl distort the positions of indigenous groups in Bolivia and Ecuador to make them seem opposed to the so-called “extractivism” of these governments in their effort to build democratic, participatory societies and improve the standards of living of their peoples, but he has nothing to say about US interference through indigenous leaders and environmentalist NGOs.

In 2013 just NED alone allocated $1,211,000 to groups in Bolivia, and $1,033,000 to groups in Ecuador. And this does not include their funding to the northern Andean region as a whole. Nor does it include USAID, which, while their offices were forced to close, still allocates funding for organizations it seeks to coopt. Wikileaks, among other sources, has shown US agencies focus on using indigenous and environmental groups in Bolivia and Ecuador as a tool to undermine the anti-imperialist governments in those countries.

None of this Ben Dangl mentions.

Finally, Dangl concludes his article with the outlandish claim, “In the name of progress, Mother Earth, Buen Vivir, and 21st century socialism, these governments are helping to poison rivers and the land, and displace, jail and kill anti-extraction activists. Solidarity that is blind to this contradiction can do a disservice to various grassroots movements struggling for a better world.”

Yet nothing in Dangl’s article supports his conclusion that the governments of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa have “helped to poison rivers and the land” or “kill anti-extraction activists.” It is hard not to call this a smear. In reality, Evo and Correa are two immensely popular leaders  because they have brought social justice, development, and new levels of democracy to their nations and have stood up to US attempts to reimpose neoliberalism and neo-colonialism on their countries.










2 thoughts on “Ecuador and Bolivia: The Distortions of Ben Dangl and Upside Down World

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s