Ecuadorian Environmental Politics and Management

Environmental management in Ecuador today is a result of policies pursued by central authorities that have in turn produced a convoluted structure of environmental management. One way it manifests itself is through governmental action in the form of legislation and bureaucratic structures oriented toward environmental protection and sustainable management of ecologically sensitive areas. In this vein, the government has maintained a minimally consistent profile of legislation, combined with bureaucratic action and development. For example, the agency originally created to oversee the park system was elevated from one located within the Ministry of Agriculture to the ministerial level in 1996. The Ministry of the Environment existed through the remainder of the 1990s as a centralized bureaucratic entity but in the 2000s has begun to formally shift park and protected area management to provincial government and to private non-profit organizations. This organizational growth has both positive and negative implications. First it indicates the increasing relevance and attention to environmental concerns at the local level within the political system. Second, it demonstrates the expanding power domestic environmental nonprofits and international non-governmental actors have on this policy area. Third, the expansion of laws, regulations and other administrative rules has been

* In the 1960s, private investors sold exploration concessions to the Gulf of Guayaquil for hundreds of dollars; those concessions later proved the existence of 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves. Currently one ex-Vice President, Alberto Dahik (1992-1996) and one ex-President, Abdala Bucaram (1996-1997) are living in exile as a result of allegations of financial misconduct. The Quito Chamber of Commerce has estimated that political corruption costs 2 billion dollars annually out of a GNP of 39.6 billion.

large enough to result in a level of complexity that has had the unintended consequence of making application and enforcement of the rules difficult. The result has been only partial implementation [39].

Ecuador's statement of environmental conservationist intent is characterized by a variety of elements, ranging from the domestic legal structure of the system of protected areas, constitutional statements of "rights" of citizens to live in a clean environment, participation as a signatory to international environmental treaties and contractual commitments to international organizations such as the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). An excellent example of this type of commitment can be seen in the World Heritage agreements that require participating nations to fulfill specific obligations to the natural environment. It is therefore not accurate to dismiss Ecuador's governmental commitment to management and conservation of its natural resources as trivial. However, formally stated governmental intent to either conserve or manage environmental resources has not translated into either systematic or effective action to implement either conservation or sustainable management goals. Moreover, the efforts made to build a domestic structure that will aid the government in achieving either of these objectives can be characterized as largely unsuccessful. The reasons for this are complex, but they are rooted in the domination of the state apparatus by elites who use their power to centralize political authority and then wield that authority primarily in the interest of economic development, with little attention being paid to social services, economic redistribution, and the long-term environmental health of the nation.

Despite the continued institutional movement toward political centralization, the past 25 years have seen the emergence of two important groups of environmentally significant actors on the Ecuadorian political scene. First, since the creation of the system of protected areas and the formal transition to democracy, a broad spectrum of environmental interest groups has emerged as highly organized activists focused on monitoring the management of the system as well as actively tracking environmental issues facing Ecuador. Second, the establishment of the system of protected areas was an important factor in the general politicization of Amerindians in Ecuador. Amerindian political organization has focused on the human and civil rights of Amerindian citizens of Ecuador. For some of the more traditional and isolated tribal groups, the status of the environment, and its conservation, has been a fundamental component of their political demands.

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