A new Issue of Alternautas is now available!

A new Issue of Alternautas is now available!

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!

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Governance in “Murky Waters”: the Political Fields of Water Extractivism in Honduras

Governance in “Murky Waters”: the Political Fields of Water Extractivism in Honduras

By INGO GENTES

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.

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The many natures of water in Latin-American neo-extractivist conflicts

The many natures of water in Latin-American neo-extractivist conflicts

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.

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Lake Atitlán, Guatemala: “The Possibility of a Shared World”

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala: “The Possibility of a Shared World”

by EMILIO TRAVIESO

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.

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Small-scale gold mining, mercury exposure and the Struggle for the Right to Water in the Peruvian Amazon

Small-scale gold mining, mercury exposure and the Struggle for the  Right to Water in the Peruvian Amazon

By Celine Delmotte

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.

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Water Security, Justice and the Politics of Water Rights in Peru and Bolivia

Water Security, Justice and the Politics of Water Rights in Peru and Bolivia

BOOK REVIEW by LAURA TEJADA

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.

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Water Conflicts in the Elqui River Watershed: New Water Territories Challenging Chilean Water Institutional Framework

Water Conflicts in the Elqui River Watershed: New Water Territories Challenging Chilean Water Institutional Framework

BY CHLOÉ NICOLAS-ARTERO

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.

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Virgin Forest? The Long Human Past of the Tapajós Valley

Virgin Forest? The Long Human Past of the Tapajós Valley

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 [1992]). 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.

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Introduction to the Special Issue on "Water and (neo)Extractivism in Latin America"

Introduction to the Special Issue on "Water and (neo)Extractivism in Latin America"

By EMILIE DUPUITS and MARIA MANCILLA GARCIA

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.

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