The roadways slashing through the rain forest instigate both extraction and attraction, becoming the medium for still larger territorial reorganization. As roads are built, forest is cleared to make way for three rows of agricultural plots, each 820 by 6,562 feet, creating a space 7.5 miles wide and, in aggregate, hundreds of miles long, a vast linear settlement occupied by colonos from elsewhere in the country—well over a quarter million have poured into Oriente since the discovery of oil. Much of this is pasture land: rain-forest soils are a poor basis for conventional agriculture, and clearing the jungle dooms the richly symbiotic biodiversity it supports. The pattern brings a new economic organization as well as new styles of agricultural activity, new homesteads, new villages, and new towns. Much like the Jeffersonian gridding of the American west, the remorseless geometry of subdivision accomplishes a dramatic literal and conceptual shift: What was once “wilderness” becomes urban, part of a global system. The long miles of farms and villages in the cleared jungle and the check-point at Block 16 are part of the same Petropolitan urbanism that produces the freeway morphology of Los Angeles and Houston and the glittering skylines of Dubai or Kuwait City.
Of course, an urban environment requires urban citizens, and the boom has attracted hundreds of thousands. But what of those already there and their sedulously un-urban lifestyles? Two years after Texaco discovered huge reserves of oil in Oriente, the Ecuadorian government created a protected “reserve” for the Huaorani. Desperate to cash in on the oil but anxious about the potential cauldron of conflict between native peoples, oil workers, and the accelerating influx of settlers and tourists, José Velasco Ibarra, the president at the time, handed the protectorate’s administration to the Sumner Institute of Linguistics, a Protestant evangelical group that has been active in Ecuador since the 1950s and specializes in the translation of scripture into native languages.