Book Review: Crude Chronicles

Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador by Suzana Sawyer

Since the discovery of oil in Ecuador's Oriente region in 1967, the country has seen it's economy become dependent upon export of the crude substance, making up nearly half of the country's GDP. This situation is severely complicated by the fact that the discovery and exploitation of oil-rich land not only lies within the Amazon basin -- one of the most environmentally important areas in the world -- but also in areas long inhabited by various indigenous groups. Suzana Sawyer's account of indigenous organization's conflicting with Ecuador's national oil company and overseas, corporate oil interests elucidates this situation while also relating it to similar situations in the rest of the world.

Sawyer, an assistant professor in anthropology at UC-Davis, spent years with indigenous organizations. Here she focuses on a time in the mid-1990s when Ecuador would grant additional oil concessions to those from three decades previous, as well as reworking agrarian law in favor of large landholders and corporations. Her account follows the indigenous groups as they marched from the Oriente to the capital of Quito, as they demonstrated in that city's plazas, and as they blocked roads in their home province, all in an effort to have their voice heard and stop the neoliberal agenda affecting Ecuador via oil companies like ARCO and AGIP.

What appears to be about oil and the environment from a neoliberal perspective is much deeper to the indigenous peoples, encompassing transnational equality, historical continuity, and social customs. Sawyer's account, while not wholly objective -- perhaps stemming from the time she spent with the indigenous groups as well as her academic background -- illuminates the tactics the corporations and government use to play down these other issues of importance. And even though the oil concessions and agrarian reforms were enacted in compromised forms, the indigenous groups can take pride in not swaying from their foundation of democratic, historical, and social considerations. But most importantly, they became a force to be reckoned with in a country (and a world) that will see more conflicts like these in the future when their voice will be heard once again.