Alternautas, our academic peer-reviewed blog, is calling for contributions for a special issue on ‘Agribusiness, (Neo) Extractivism and Food Sovereignty: Latin America at a crossroads’. Click here to read more or download the CfP.
We are witnessing the re-emergence of cosmopolitism. Cosmopolitanism is rising as a politico-cultural movement, which while being globalised in the inter-metropolis connection, it chiefly reaffirms the normative engagement with human rights beyond national borders. Almost simultaneously, several theories have appeared under the term ‘cosmopolitical’. They question cosmopolitan common sense and its mono-naturalism as they reclaim the polyphonic de- and re-construction of the world from the heterogeneous forces and entities that inhabit it. Considering their dissimilar assumptions, cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitics do not seem to encounter points of convergence, except their aspirations to think about the world. For those who support cosmopolitanism, this is the field of human political action, while for advocates of cosmopolitics the world is something to be constructed by involving human and non-human actors. In this way, as suggested by Bruno Latour, it could be argued that we are obliged to decide between cosmopolitism and cosmopolitics; between assuming the urgency of saving the world and the slowing down of decisions that undermine this enterprise; between the ‘logical equivalence’ and the ‘operator of equality’ that Isabelle Stengers tells us about (2014).
This is the first time Alternautas devotes an entire issue to a special topic. In this case, during the second half of 2016, we published a collection of articles and essays discussing the theme of water, a natural resource which is at the core of the debates on the kind of development model Latin American countries engage into. Indeed, water resources are at the core of numerous conflicts in which antagonist visions of development are revealed. To name just a few among those that have received extensive international scholarly attention are the ‘Water War’ against the privatization of drinking water in Bolivia (Olivera & Lewis, 2004; Perreault, 2005), the mobilizations against the mega-projects of hydro-electricity in Brazil (Fearnside, 2006, 2013, 2014) and those against the pollution of the Cajamarca water basin by the mining company Minera Yanacocha in Peru (Bebbington & Bury, 2009).
To mark the completion of this special issue, we have collated and published all of the articles, available in a PDF, in open-access format to be distributed freely. We wish you all a happy reading!
Profound changes in public administration after the presidential elections in Honduras (2013) resulted in a re-structuring and regrouping of public institutions and autonomous entities for the relevant legislative period (2014-2018). These adjustments, thought as a “new public-private co-management” – aimed to “…tangible impacts not only within the administration but also within communities and scattered settlements which, in turn, are expected to be both, beneficiaries as well as participants in innovative sectorial and public policies programs.”
The governments’ goal was to carry out a National Plan for Water and Sanitation (PLANASA, Plan Nacional de Agua y Saneamiento) together with a still pending financial sector policy for the WASH sector (CONASA, 2013b, c, 2014). Both politics established different mechanisms and instruments as well as strategic guidelines according to the Framework Law for Water and Sanitation (2003, FLWS, Ley Marco de Agua Potable y Saneamiento). New secretaries and institutional entities generated adjoined existing ones in their technical and administrative mandate.
By Cristobal Bonelli, Denisse Roca-Servat and Mourik Bueno de Mesquita
Thousands of diverse ‘water protectors’ representing different ethnic, cultural, and social backgrounds throughout the American continent are standing firm against the destruction of ecological systems carried out by extractive development projects. One recent example concerning indigenous peoples has been the mobilization carried out by the Hunkpapa Lakota and Yanktonai Dakota Native American people of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline project is a $3.8 billion investment to move 500,000 barrels of domestic crude oil a day through four U.S. states. If constructed, the Dakota pipeline would pass through sacred burial grounds as well as the Missouri river – the main water source for the Standing Rock Sioux population.
Conflicts around development issues are increasingly focused on water. These conflicts tend to intertwine a struggle over whether water should be treated as a commodity with struggles over how its management should be configured, and by whom (Castro 2008). Latin America has emerged as a particularly relevant region for these debates (Ávila-Garcia 2016).
This article presents the case of Lake Atitlán, in the Sololá department of Guatemala, where long-standing conflicts and divergent imaginaries have made it difficult to create consensus about how to solve an ecological problem. The article is based on four months (April to July 2016) of ethnographic fieldwork, in three towns and one village on the shores of the lake. Many names and other identifying details are left out, due to safety concerns.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, increase in global demand and the price of gold have led to an expansion of industrial and artisanal gold mining (Swenson et al., 2011; World Gold Council, 2010). Worldwide, Artisanal and Small-Scale Gold Mining (ASGM) is carried out by an estimated number of 15 million miners in more than 70 countries (UNEP, 2015; Diringer et al., 2014) and accounts for 15 percent of the world gold production (Telmer, 2011). In Peru – which is currently the sixth largest gold producer in the world and the first in Latin America (Mujica, 2014) –, 70 percent of national artisanal gold production is mined in the department of Madre de Dios, located in the southwestern Amazon basin (Brooks et al., 2007).Since the 2000s commodities boom, Madre de Dios, considered one of the most biological places on the planet, has indeed experienced a rapid development of ASGM operations which have transformed large expanses of rainforests into denuded and mercury-poisoned wastelands (Asner et al., 2013; Elmes et al., 2014; Román et al., 2015). It is estimated that as many as 30.000 miners are working in this region (Fraser, 2009) and are using mercury to recover gold from the river sediments or solids extracted. Numerous studies show that mercury levels found in fishes and inhabitants of Madre de Dios are above the maximum levels recommended by the WHO (Damonte et al., 2015; Diringer et al., 2014; Ashe, 2012), therefore due to ASGM, artisanal miners as well as local population are exposed to dangerous levels of mercury contamination.
The overall goal of Water Security, Justice and the Politics of Water Rights in Peru and Bolivia is to scrutinize the claim by legislators, policymakers and development institutes that legal recognition of local water rights reduces water conflict and increases water security and equality for peasants and indigenous communities. This is indeed an ambitious goal of the author Miriam Seemann, given the fact that nearly no studies have looked at the actual impacts of water rights formalization policies on the ground so far. Nonetheless, the book touches a subject of major importance in view of the trend towards the adoption of new water legislations in the last decades, resulting in the formalization of water rights and entitlements, not only in Latin-American countries such as Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Peru and Bolivia, but on a global scale (Baillat 2010). Well aware of the shortcomings of mainstream approaches to property rights formalization, like de Soto's (2000) theoretical presupposition that formal property rights are the most important institution for economic growth and development, the book demonstrates that uncritical formalization of local water rights may lead to weakening, instead of strengthening, local water security.
Chilean extractive development model remains on a neoliberal water-management institutional framework edified by Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship and perpetuated by the Concertation of Parties for Democracy governments (Tecklin et al. 2011). This model therefore appears as an example of new forms of extractivism in Latin America (Gudynas 2011), which can be defined as a “patrón de acumulación basado en la sobreexplotación de recursos naturales, en gran parte no renovables, así como en la expansión de las fronteras hacia territorios antes considerados como «improductivos»” (Svampa, 2013:33). It was implemented during the dictatorship by means of structural reforms opposed to the Unidad Popular government policies headed by Salvador Allende. Several laws encouraged foreign investments to develop new strategic export industries such as mining, agriculture, hydroelectric energy, forestry or pisciculture (Quiroja 1994). Moreover, the current constitution, enacted in 1980, represents the core of the neoliberal institutional framework currently shaping the Chilean state (Moulian 2002).
This article aims to analyze the plurality of water conflicts existing at the watershed level in an extractivist context.
By BRUNA CIGARAN DA ROCHA & VINICIUS HONORATO DE OLIVEIRA
Translated by Louise Cardoso de Mello
This article looks at the archaeological heritage along the rapids of the Tapajós River and its tributaries, such as the Juruena and Teles Pires Rivers, based on the existing record. Apart from archaeology, historical sources as well as oral history may also shed some light on the (often turbulent) past of the Tapajós Valley after the Portuguese conquest (Menéndez, 1981/1982, 2006 ). They also point at the possible location of archaeological sites; stemming from the review of historical and archaeological sources, Alexandre Robazzini (2013) has compiled a comprehensive table containing 423 archaeological sites in the Tapajós Valley. Notwithstanding the limited amount of archaeological fieldwork carried out in the region where the government intends to build the Tapajós Hydroelectric Complex (CHT) –and in contrast to the idea promoted by the official discourse that the area in question is empty and has no history- we present some evidence here that points to the richness and singularity of the existing archaeological heritage. Far from being located in a virgin forest, the Tapajós and its tributaries irrigate an area that has been anthropized, or in other words, altered by humans for thousands of years.
We are happy to share with our readers a series of seven articles, to be published between mid-October and mid-December, from diverse disciplinary perspectives – including anthropology, archaeology, political science, development studies and critical sociology and geography – showing the diversity of existing approaches to study water (neo)extractivism. Moreover, the special issue covers a large geographic area, with two cases from Central America – Honduras and Guatemala – and five cases from South American countries – Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia.
The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released on the 20th of March 2015 in Lyon (France) a controversial report stating that glyphosate, the world’s most widely used herbicide, is probably carcinogenic for humans. The use of the word “probably” is meant to clarify that although there is a positive correlation between exposure to the chemical agent and cancer, other explanations (such as chance, bias, or confounding) could not be fully ruled out (International Agency for Research on Cancer 2015). While the debate triggered by this report has revolved around the agricultural uses of glyphosate at the international level, in Colombia the debate has been associated with the use of glyphosate to eliminate one of the main financial sources of insurgent groups: cocaine crops. Moreover, while the use of glyphosate in Colombia was banned for the eradication of illegal crops shortly after the release of the WHO report, its use remains unproblematic as a strategy of crop management for legal agricultural crops. How can these different responses to the evidence presented in the WHO report on glyphosate be explained?
Given the focus of our work in Alternautas, the Editorial Board of Alternautas feels compelled to comment on the contemporary political crisis in Brazil. We join the chorus of academics, politicians and concerned citizens in denouncing the impeachment process that has taken Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff out of office. We consider it a grave subversion of the democratic process that should be of global concern. As academics concerned with Latin American politics, we are deeply distressed by the spurious use of the legal regulations of the country to overthrow a democratically elected President.
This fourth Alternautas issue gathers the articles published during the first half of our third year of existence. We are an academic blog focused on discussing development through critical lenses and from a Latin American perspective. During the last three years, we have published original and translated articles from young and prominent scholars from Latin America and the world, contributing not only to academic discussions, but also to create a fertile environment where non-mainstream ideas and perspectives on development can flourish.
This issue collects the articles published by the blog during the first half of 2016. Through their own perspectives and problems, all of them contribute to a collective effort to map, understand and propose alternative paths to our contemporary scenario. While the first section is dedicated to alternative development thinking in a broader sense, the second section features the first dossier that Alternautas has organized. Our guest editor, Gerardo Muñoz, curated an insightful collection of essays and interviews focused on the current crisis of the progressive governments of Latin America.
All victories are Pyrrhic, to a greater or lesser extent. That is, no victory is ever complete; victors always have to concede something to the vanquished. At the very least, for instance, those who emerge victorious from a political (or other) struggle either depend upon or, worse still, have to make do without the recognition on the part of the vanquished that they have indeed won. Either, that is, the losing side sign, metaphorically or otherwise, the equivalent of some kind of document of surrender, in which case they have retained the power to determine that the struggle is indeed at an end. And this retained power forces an acknowledgement, on the part of the winners, that their victory cannot be total even if the surrender is unconditional. Or, worse still, the losers do not sign such a document, either because they refuse to acknowledge defeat or because they will not or cannot acknowledge the victors and the legitimacy of their victory. In which case, symbolically and perhaps not just symbolically, the struggle continues and victory remains elusive for the victors.
near the ekeko of alasitas, lord of wands, beyond, more- over the indio, false or ver- ified, in the words of silvia rivera, nobody voices over you, falsely or de-votedly, d evoted, evo, you’ll never have been, above a miner, pastor, cocalero, so-called president. But whenever we evo- ke the indio, fishy or seal- ed in gold, an Andean metaphysics flaps its fins; “An- dean metaphysics”: not a turn of phrase by jesús or silvia or the vice president or saenz but
The analysis of encounters of alterity, within the context of seduction and in a touristic environment, gives us the possibility to reflect upon powerful relations between gender, race and class. How can femininities and masculinities be analysed in an intercultural context and asymmetrical socio-economic situations? The focus on seduction strategies gives the possibility to investigate gender staging in this specific context of cultural-mixing. The commercial exploitation of romance interrogates the lack of transcendence in post-modern societies. The encounter of fantasies allows us to study the complex identity process marked by domination logics.
Maristella Svampa is a sociologist and researcher at CONICET (National Technical and Scientific Research Council) at the University of La Plata. She is the author of a dozen books that have had a significant impact on the academic and public discussion of regional politics, social movements, and the function of the state in Latin America. Among her most recent books are Fifteen Myths and Realities of Transnational Mining in Argentina (Colectivo Ediciones Herramientas, 2011), Maldevelopment: Extractivism and Plunder in Argentina(co-written with Enrique Viale, Katz, 2014), and Latin American Debates: Indianism, Development, Dependency, and Populism (Edhasa, 2016). Over the course of the decade, Svampa’s critical work has constituted a sustained effort to understand the progressive actors of the region, as well as an inquiry into the geopolitical configuration at the intersection of state form and transnational capital.
Imagen e intemperie: las tribulaciones del arte en los tiempos del mercado total  is a collection of five essays and an interview, written during the past ten years by Ticio Escobar, one of the most distinguished figures of the contemporary cultural, and political, panorama in Latin America on the question of art and representation . Perhaps the most influential art critic in Paraguay, as well as a philosopher, lawyer, and former Minister of Culture during Fernando Lugo’s presidency (2008-2012), Ticio Escobar has been an attentive reader of different artistic practices at both the local and global levels for decades, confronting questions posed by indigenous and popular art, crossed with a form of critique of mercantile-capitalist discourse. Among Escobar’s previous publications, we should mentionUna interpretación de las artes visuales en el Paraguay(1982), where Escobar began delineating, in the light of the Enlightenment definition of art, the question posed by different forms of popular production, whose imageries have been so vividly present within the cultural texture of the region.El mito del arte y el mito del Pueblo: cuestiones sobre arte popular(1986), written during Alfredo Stroessner’s dictatorship (1954–1989), pivots on the analysis of the concept of “popular,” and finally,La belleza de los otros(1993) engages with the notion of otherness.
Throughout this last decade and a half, and in parallel to the general crisis of global capitalism, a wide popular urban sector of the periphery (from Argentina but also from elsewhere) sought a favorable cycle that included themselves in consumption. One could think of this new access to wealth as a process of liberation (unlike the orthodox critique that interprets it as alienation), with the caveat of amplifying the very notion of “liberation”.
With the increase of consumption there are new modes of sensing, desiring, thinking, socializing; but also other ways of being, loving, enjoying, and dying that have been radically altered. New possibilities emerge and the traditional knowledge of governing populations radically breaks down. Far from pointing to a decline in the old forms of social organization, collective action opens a new gap in a time that is unprecedented and incalculable.
Are we witnessing the end of the progressive governments’ cycle in Latin America? This question seems to come up after every electoral defeat or disappear whenever there is a victory. After more than a decade of continuous political successes in Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, as well as other Central Americas countries, 2015 was the year that signaled adverse results and a drop in electoral support began. Without diminishing the importance of elections, whence the progressive governments derived their legitimacy, it is the time to evaluate the vitality of the political projects away from the narratives that constituted them in their peak moment. Beyond the polls, there looms an undetermined time of change. Due exhaustion of the model and to the internal transformation of the progressive, plurinational or Bolivarian political narrative (electoral defeats), we find a political language that was able to inscribe a new political time in Latin America, which comes to an halt with leaders involved in charges of corruption and as well as accompanied by the lowest indexes of popular support.
The so called Marea Rosada (Pink Tide) specifically refers to the turn that several Latin American governments took by the end of the 90s, in favor of public and social agendas that opposed the neoliberal order that characterized the region in the previous decades. These new agendas also broke away from the age-old ideal of revolutionary partisanship, pursuing a critique of neoliberalism that was not reducible to a radical (impossible) delinking still embedded in the logic of accumulation. The new political agenda brought to the fore by the governments of the Marea Rosada without opposing neoliberalism tried to radically modify its logic and produce a more humane economy. In spite of the anti-imperialist and nationalist rhetoric that have flourished in the regional Left, it is also true that for cases such as the Chilean and the Brazilian ones the scene is dominated by a type of government that seeks to correct unjust income distribution while maintaining a disciplined fiscal budget as to facilitate its entry into international markets.
Surrounded by an overwhelming support from the popular classes and the nationalist left; Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, Correa in Ecuador, the Kirchners in Argentina, and Lula in Brazil confronted openly the elites, the press monopolies, the right-wing destituent force, and in doing so, detached themselves from the governmentality that intensified inequality and poverty in the neoliberal 1990s. The year 2015 was the annus horribilis of the Latin American progressive cycle. This was the year in which governments were defeated on their own terms, that is, through massive electoral participation that included the poor popular sectors. It is in this context that the discourse on the exhaustion of the progressive cycle begins to take shape. At the same time, understanding it as a narrative of “closure” is insufficient and full of traps, since it seems to point to a defeat of what previously was a golden age of progressive usurpation of power. This article explores the narratives associated with this process and the ambiguous results that are now emerging.
More than a decade since the eruption of the “progressive cycle” of Latin American governments, a question has become inevitable after the recent presidential elections in Argentina: what is left of the Latin American Left? Is it still possible to isolate divergent tendencies in the Latin American progressive wave at the current moment of generalized international financial domination? Does the question of the ‘exhaustion’ of the progressive cycle not open a gap that invites us to think beyond the popular distinction of the “two Lefts”, proposed by Jorge Castañeda (2006), that strategically separated a “good democratic left” committed to liberalism and the market from an “authoritarian” one, heir to populist and caudillo legacies of the Latin American political tradition?
In this introduction, Gerardo Muñoz discusses the question underpinning this dossier, as we seem to witness the crisis of the Latin American progressive cycle. The contributions collected are varied in style and argumentation, as well as in the case studies discussed. Yet, they are not meant to be read as comprehensive reflections on the region throughout these years. Instead, each of the contributions essentially should be read as evoking a paradigm that allows us to rethink a problem or a series of problems that traverse different key sites. These are also conjectural texts, but to the extent that they seek to think through central issues of Latin America politics, they also exceed the established temporal parameters fixed by the ‘untimely present’ or the ‘actual movement’ of contemporaneity. There is a tension throughout across the articles that point to different ways of understanding the ‘crisis’ (which is fundamentally the crisis or krenein of thought, that is, of judgment).
Mainstream thinking – embedded within capitalist globalisation – leads us to accept the impossibility to imagine an economy that does not promote growth, as much as a world without oil, mining and agribusiness is impossible. Within this mainstream thinking, we can find people from every political stance, from neoliberals to socialists.
Reality, however, is that we must overcome such views, that is the great task of this moment. On the one hand, we must rethink the question of economic growth, and free ourselves from its shackles before we enter into a global socio-environmental debacle with unforeseeable consequences. On the other, it is increasingly urgent to move from an extractivist perspective focused on the demands of capital, towards a view that prioritises a dignified life to its fullest extent and enables the construction of structurally democratic societies.
On Saturday 16th April 2016, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit the coast of Ecuador. The number of casualties has passed 500 and the search for hundreds of missing persons continues.
All of us at Alternautas are saddened by the tragedy that has hit the people of Ecuador and would like to share some resources to expand the possibilities of collaboration. To help the victims, here are a number of reputable sites and initiatives that are receiving donations.
Indigenous peoples’ histories and memories are almost invisible to the eyes and ears of western civilization. When we do hear about them, we generally do so through accounts and reconstructions made by naturalists, priests, explorers and more recently historians, geographers, and anthropologists – rarely from indigenous people themselves. Yet indigenous peoples in Latin America are very much aware that an important part of their struggle for cultural and physical survival involves telling the world their own histories. This post discusses how “participatory video” (PV) can help with indigenous peoples’ needs for cultural reassertion as well as with creating opportunities for restoring environmental justice in their territories
Since the 1990s, foreign investment has been presented as a strong means for development. Foreign investment serves to climb the value ladder, bridge the investment gap, and maintain a ‘maxim effective utilization of economic resources.’Yet, attracting and enabling foreign investment is not an easy task for governments. In a context of fierce competition for capital, this requires an active state promoting policies that match the needs of foreign investors. As a result, the control and steering of foreign investment of the 1960s and 1970s was quickly replaced with a model in which governments must facilitate foreign investor initiatives and reap the benefits of multinational corporate activity. This short essay aims to illustrate this more general debate by looking at the awards in the case Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) II v Ecuador, where the tribunal imposed one of the highest awards against a host state.
With a little delay, we are happy to introduce you to the a new issue and proud result of our Alternautas journey off the beaten path! Here you will be able to download our new journal issue, open and free for everyone.
Since 2013, the steadily expanding Alternautas family has been engaged in discussing development-related issues in Latin America by publishing and translating cutting-edge work around the continent of Abya Yala. We are convinced that much of its intellectual contributions are timely and well fit for addressing some of the profound problems our world is facing today. Alternautas continues therefore to strive to expand, reaching new audiences and exploring new horizons.