Ecuador Almost Made a Grand Bargain to Save their Rainforest

Hotelier Lazlo Karolyi
Hotelier Lazlo Karolyi

Inside Café Cultura, a boutique hotel in Quito three fires crackled in the fireplaces, as we were welcomed warmly by Lazlo Karolyi, a Hungarian immigrant who owns this and five other boutique hotels in Ecuador. He was happy have us, having sent a car to fetch us at our hotel, and he told us how “things come around in a circle,” explaining how relationships with journalists bear fruit over time.

Café Cultura’s lobby has a painting of a reclining Marilyn Monroe in bra and panties, and the walls are painted in an ochre color, each room is lined with bookshelves with novels in English. I asked Laszlo about a topic that’s come up in newspaper headlines here again and again….the lawsuit against Chevron for pollution clean up in the Amazon. What’s the story?

Lazlo said he met with international billionaire financier who wanted to get the real story, and he visited the rainforest with seismic measuring equipment and oil engineers. He said based on their tests it was clear that the damage was done by Texaco and not by the state-owned oil company as the defense has alleged. The damage is widespread and horrifying, on the front page of the local paper the president Correa with his hand smeared black with oil. Many celebrities have come and done the same thing, holding black hands showing the oil that’s all over the rainforest floor.

This rich man approached the government with an offer: he’d put up $350 million if they would put up 10 percent more. The goal was to compensate the country for the value of the oil so they could stop drilling and spilling in a big chunk of the rain forest. But after eleven false starts, the government could not get it done—partly because of the Marxist leanings of the leaders, and a fierce independent streak of suspician against the capitalist plans. Sadly, the deal fizzled.

Despite his disappointment in this deal not working out, Lazlo is excited about the big plans President Correa is pushing—-a billion dollars for new trains, six billion for a brand new oil refinery, $600 million for promoting tourism, and billions for new hydro electric dams. “The goal is to replace every gas stove or furnace with clean ecologically friendly electricity generated by hydro,” he said. Also the goal is to life the incomes of every Ecuadorian to the level of their more prosperous neighbor, Chile.

Quito and the country have a lot of exiting new things happening, and this meeting of nearly 1000 tourism professionals in the city has boosted everyone. With oil reserves, billions in revenue pouring in and an energetic president, it all looks doable.