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The Curse of Resources

i Feb 26th No Comments by

Guest blog written by Elisabeth Scharling

 

Dear reader, I am a student of Latin American studies at Copenhagen University. When forced to confront some of the heavy issues concerning human rights, I am very happy to share a few issues with the readers at Talk Trafficking. I try to define some of the paradoxes and complications which concern debates in the public sphere, using articles, analyses, conferences or a simple discussion as inspiration to the subjects.

 

In topic number one, I will look at the curse of resources. Blog one uses as reference Anthony Bebbington & Denise Humphreys Bebbingtons article, ”An Andean Avatar: Post-Neo-liberal and Neoliberal Strategies for Securing the Unobtainable”.

A paradox created by colonial past and foreign interests has turned places of great natural prosperity and wealth into zones of horrifying poverty. The once sacred land has become the primary source of suffering for the people who inhabit it. Mountains are undermined in a desire to extract coal and diamonds, while forests are cut down and rivers polluted in the name of evolution, prosperity and economic wealth. Mother earth, better known as Pachamama or Madre Tierra has been put up for sale. But who are entitled to enjoy her riches? Who should have access to the resources and the land?

In Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru the national economy are characterized by resource extraction. Being these countries greatest asset, a fierce debate is taking place between the two claimants of the land: on one side the indigenous people who claim ownership of the land and on the other side a government who seeks the resources in the ground (Not to forget external interests from NGO or investors who stand behind these two). The natural resource extraction activities and infrastructure construction is often done without consultation with the indigenous organizations (CCGT 2010) and there is a pattern which systematically disadvantages indigenous groups by national development models.

The hardship of the indigenous peoples is no news and it would be easy to write about the massacres in Peru, or how the legal system under President Rafael Correa in Ecuador has been used to cut down on what we might consider a fundamental human right to demonstrate (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/ecuador/9344403/Ecuador-dubious-human-rights-record-of-country-considering-Julian-Assange-asylum.html). Instead, we will try to understand the characteristics of the neoliberal politic, which promotes the extraction as beneficial for the country as a whole.

I find it relevant to take a look at the main arguments, presented by post-neoliberal and neoliberal governments. In this case the references are made to Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. The three countries concord on encouraging the extractive industry as the macroeconomic strategy and the source of a possible poverty reduction. The arguments pro extraction are quite similar and are based on the idea of the subsoil as belonging to the nation, and therefore are to be used for the nation. Solely focusing on the economical possibilities, the government claims the right to resources underground and the arguments values collective interest and prosperity.

Álvaro García Linera, Vice-President of Bolivia argued that the greater collective interest of all the peoples was more important that the indigenous right to land (http://www.seed.manchester.ac.uk/medialibrary/andes/publications/papers/HumphreysBebbingtonandBebbington_CJDS.pdf), while Ecuadors President Rafael Correa argued that “it would be ’absurd’ to say no to mining and the huge amount of dollars which the industry provides the country with” (http://www.elcomercio.com/actualidad/politica/resumen-del-enlace-ciudadano-no-8.html). The vision of development as put by García focuses on the unused land, great natural resources, and leaves “little concern for the environment” (http://www.aidesep.org.pe/editor/documentos/58.pdf).

Interesting is Ecuador’s president Rafael Corra, who initially focused on finding new ways of governing the economy and natural resources, but who changed radically within the first years of his presidency. The reason for this change might be explained by “the very structure of government expenditure and the dependence on the extractive economy” (New Political Economy, Volume 16, issue 1, 2011).

The disagreement between indigenous groups (often supported by NGOs) and governments in need of resources seems to have long prospects of finding solutions. Extraction is a huge income, and alternative economic politics are sparse. Indigenous groups promote values of biodiversity and cultural heritage. These are values which are overheard as the global economy offers an income based on the use of natural resources.

 

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