This very notion of who encompassed a “people without land,” and who received the free land excluded those Indigenous people who would not take up agriculture in the form that the government recognized (clear-cutting the rainforest for a mono crop system of farming). Indigenous practices of polyculture and growing crops in the forest rather than cutting it down and growing on top of the forest fueled the government’s impression that Indigenous people were tied to the land in its primitive, uncultivated state.
This transformation also meant that the government would have increased control over the region; and, in a moment when oil seemed to literally be spurting out of the ground, control was key. Requiring that every Ecuadorian cut down half of the jungle on their plot of land, the Law of Empty Lands served to wipe out as much of the unruly, unknown, and seemingly unorganized jungle as possible and to transform it into an agricultural system that the government could measure and understand.
In the 1970s, nature in the form of wild, underutilized rainforests was useless to the Ecuadorian government. That this “jungle” was also home to Indigenous people did not matter in the face of the development potential on the horizon. While these people were engaging in myriad activities including certain forms of agriculture, the manner in which they did this did not register with the government as either useful or productive.