Ecuador en las Noticias

It Doesn’t Matter if Ecuador Can Afford This Dam. China Still Gets Paid

A giant dam was supposed to help lift Ecuador out of poverty. Instead, it’s part of a national scandal, and a future tethered to China.

The New York Times - Nicholas Casey and Clifford Krauss 24/12/2018

The Coca Codo Sinclair dam.CreditCreditFederico Rios Escobar for The New York Times

The Coca Codo Sinclair dam.CreditCreditFederico Rios Escobar for The New York Times

REVENTADOR, Ecuador — The dam sits under the glare of an active volcano, with columns of ash spewing toward the sky.

Officials had warned against the dam for decades. Geologists said an earthquake could wipe it away.


Now, only two years after opening, thousands of cracks are splintering the dam’s machinery. Its reservoir is clogged with silt, sand and trees. And the only time engineers tried to throttle up the facility completely, it shook violently and shorted out the national electricity grid.

This giant dam in the jungle, financed and built by China, was supposed to christen Ecuador’s vast ambitions, solve its energy needs and help lift the small South American country out of poverty.

Instead, it has become part of a national scandal engulfing the country in corruption, perilous amounts of debt — and a future tethered to China.

Nearly every top Ecuadorean official involved in the dam’s construction is either imprisoned or sentenced on bribery charges. That includes a former vice president, a former electricity minister and even the former anti-corruption official monitoring the project, who was caught on tape talking about Chinese bribes.

Then there is the price tag: around $19 billion in Chinese loans, not only for this dam, known as Coca Codo Sinclair, but also for bridges, highways, irrigation, schools, health clinics and a half dozen other dams the government is scrambling to pay for.

It doesn’t matter whether Ecuador can afford them.

China gets paid either way.

To settle the bill, China gets to keep 80 percent of Ecuador’s most valuable export — oil — because many of the contracts are repaid in petroleum, not dollars. In fact, China gets the oil at a discount, then sells it for an additional profit.

Pumping enough oil to repay China has become such an imperative for Ecuador that it is drilling deeper in the Amazon, threatening more deforestation.

But that is not enough. Hobbled by the debts, President Lenín Moreno has slashed social spending, gasoline subsidies, several government agencies and more than 1,000 public jobs. Most economists expect the country to slide into recession, stirring outrage.

“China took advantage of Ecuador,” said Ecuador’s energy minister, Carlos Pérez. “The strategy of China is clear. They take economic control of countries.”

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