Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

Recolonising Ecuador

NEO-COLONISALISM / Ecuadorian indigenous resistance against their homeland's resource exploitation at the hands of China.
Director: Marc Wiese
Producer: Oliver Stoltz
Country: Ecuador, Germany

German filmmaker Mark Wiese takes the spectator on a thrilling journey to Ecuador, an environmentally diverse Latin American state rich in natural resources. This Stolen Country of Mine is a well-built and electrifying documentary about two heroes fighting against their corrupt government, who have brokered several disadvantageous loan deals with China.

Paul Jarrín, an indigenous environmental activist leader, together with his comrades, struggles to stop Chinese companies from mining in the Amazonian rainforest near indigenous villages. These industrial activities cause water contamination, thereby making the villages uninhabitable. At the same time, journalist Fernando Villavicencio reveals to the broader public the exploitative contracts that the Ecuadorian government has signed with China. The Chinese have been guaranteed access to vast amounts of Ecuadorian oil and other valuable natural resources.

This Stolen Land of Mine, a film by Marc Wiese
This Stolen Land of Mine, a film by Marc Wiese

Neo-colonialist practices

Our two main heroes, Paul and Fernando, are putting their lives at risk to help their communities and environment. Despite being faced by powerful antagonists – the corrupt left-wing government, led by President Rafael Correa from 2007 to 2017, has signed exploitative contracts with China’s economic giant.

The relationship between Ecuador and China could be described as neo-colonial. This term was introduced by the Ghanaian politician Kwame Nkrumah and described the practice of economically powerful countries resorting to strategies that make poorer countries dependent on their monetary injections. Instead of creating mutually beneficial contracts, the relationships remain exploitative. After colonialism, unequal partnerships were common between Western governments and their former colonies. Furthermore, China has been accused of adopting aggressive methods towards the much poorer African and Latin American countries in recent years. The states, whose possibilities to get loans elsewhere are limited, are especially vulnerable. After defaulting, Ecuador’s leftist government could not secure further funding from the Western countries, so it turned to China instead. Neo-colonial practices reveal the ugly truth – some resource-rich nations live in extreme poverty.

China has been accused of adopting aggressive methods towards the much poorer African and Latin American countries in recent years.

Revealing the truth

The details of Ecuador’s deal with China have never been made public. However, Villavicencio has managed to gain access to the confidential documents and reveal their content. For doing so, his property was confiscated, and he needed to flee the country. The episode asks how much power government officials should be allowed to have? In a democratic country, people elect politicians to serve their needs – at least in theory. The classified contracts and trade secrets primarily protect the enterprises and governments, and they are signed not only in developing countries. For instance, most Covid-19 vaccine contracts were also hidden to the public eye. A civil society should push for greater transparency to be better informed, thereby making their representatives accountable to avoid corruption.

Paradoxically, while the left-wing Ecuadorian government was chasing a journalist from its homeland, it allowed Julian Assange to stay in its embassy in London for years. The WikiLeaks founder and human rights activist avoided arrest after publishing secret documents and leaks for years, thus revealing to the public the political, economic, and military secrets it deserves to know.

This Stolen Land of Mine, a film by Marc Wiese
This Stolen Land of Mine, a film by Marc Wiese

Nature and Spirit

Even though the film’s heroes face powerful opposition, the director creates a dynamic feeling that the forces of light will prevail in the end. Ethics, nature itself, and the gods are on their side.

The government and industry want to extract vast amounts of the natural resources in the protected areas – deep in the rainforests where indigenous villages are located. The industry is poisoning the villagers’ water and environment. Many of the folks living there see no other choice than to become eco-guerrillas, attacking the industry. Protests and other legal means do not help. How to be a good citizen in a corrupt country where police and the army protect a corrupt government and industry?
The indigenous protagonist emphasizes that he and his villagers do not want to be colonized again. The hundreds of academic books about colonial, post-colonial, and neo-colonial practices have not been enough. One needs to speak about it much more openly, and, most importantly, one needs to sense this – we are humans, capable of feeling empathy towards fellow human beings. Additionally, it is naive to think that these environmental disasters influence only small indigenous populations. There are already many areas where clean drinking water is a rarity. Even in rich countries, like the United States of America, many drink contaminated water, making them sick in the long term. On this planet, everything is connected, and everybody needs places like the Amazonian rainforests to be capable of living a healthy life.

For Jarrín, the connection with nature is instinctive. In these times of hardship, he performs an ancient spiritual ritual. For the viewer, the beauty and power of natural landscapes are hypnotizing. It is something to realize or simply to remember.

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Astra Zoldnere
Astra Zoldnere
She is a regular critic in Modern Times Review.

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