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The Rubber Economy in the Ecuadorian Amazon  

Matthew Ford

The demand for rubber in the global north had severe impacts on Amazonia—its extractive origin—and irreparably transformed the economic and social landscape. Although the scholarly literature on rubber’s impact on Amazonian Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia is rich, the historiography on Ecuadorian Amazonia (known locally as the Oriente) remains underdeveloped. Yet the rubber economy had lasting impacts on the Oriente and shaped how the Liberal state interacted with its eastern frontier. The chains of debt, credit, rubber, and people integrated the Oriente into an expansive economic circuit—with its local hub in Iquitos—that cut deep scars into the region and ultimately undercut state-building efforts. Caucheros used a coercive system of debt peonage to gain control over the indigenous population, leaving frontier civil authorities with limited access to a labor force that was necessary for state building. In the larger context of Liberal export-oriented development—whereby state capacity in formerly isolated regions was often strengthened by integration into the global economy—the rubber economy in the Oriente stands out for having the opposite effect.