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extractivism

Mobilizing for Justice in the Anthropocene: Autogestion, Radical Politics, and the Owl of Minerva (2/2)

By Javier Sethness Castro and Alexander Reid Ross - Notes toward an International Libertarian Eco-Socialism, September 18, 2014

This is part II of an interview on Grabbing Back: Essays Against the Global Land Grab (AK Press, 2014). Read part I here.

In the interviews you hold with Chomsky and Hardt in Grabbing Back, both thinkers point out the irony whereby the so-called “socialist” governments that have been elected throughout much of Latin America in recent years—Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Uruguay, for example—notoriously have in fact been engaged in a significant intensification of the extractivist trends which their neoliberal precedecessors oversaw. This developmentalism has inexorably brought these “Pink Tide” governments into conflict with indigenous peoples, and it certainly has not been auspicious for nature, however much posturing Rafael Correa and Evo Morales like to advance in terms of the “rights of nature.” The fate of Ecuador’s YasuníNational Park is emblematic in this sense. As editor of Upside-down World, Grabbing Back contributor Benjamin Dangl has written at length on these tensions. How do you see indigenous concepts like sumak kawsay (“living well”) as realistic alternatives to State-capitalist depredation?

I think the implications of Dangl’s analysis of extractivism is as important today as, say, Rosa Luxemburg’s work on the Accumulation of Capital in the 1910s or David Harvey’s work on the Limits to Capital in the 1980s, and it fits with some really important thinking going on by people like Silvia Rivera CusicanquiRaúl Zibechi, and Pablo Mamani Ramírez. The Pink Tide governments are interesting to me, because they show how rhetoric centered around land can lead to a kind of fixation on natural resources and infrastructure, which precludes the Prebisch-style development of the Third World. So I wonder, does the focus on “the land” come about through the export-based economies that were generated by the annihilation of industrial infrastructure vis-à-vis globalization, and does it also reflexively work to thrust into power a so-called populist leadership that makes gains in the social wage by simply speeding up the process?

It seems strange to me that so-called neo-Peronism (if there ever was a populist moniker, that was it) could dismantle and sell Mosconi’s YPF, a highly technical model of a nationalized energy industry, to the former colonial power, the Spanish oil giant Repsol, for pennies on the dollar while basically forfeiting huge gas fields despite the resistance of the Mapuche, whose land they are destroying in the process. Former Argentine President Carlos Menem became one of the most despised figures in the Latin American Left, but now Kirchner is selling off the Patagonia oil fields to North Atlantic powers and Malaysia while bringing in Monsanto. What if the “populist wave” has just ridden an exuberant surplus of popular political involvement, and is returning to the kind of elite populism expressed by people like Menem? We might say, “let us not be so hasty in condemning the governments of Latin America, because look at what happened with Manuel Zelaya and deposed Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, let alone the Central African Republic. They have to work with global hegemony, and that means either bringing in Chinese investors as in Ecuador, or US investors as in Argentina.” But we should not concede the reality and the basis of what made “¡Que se vayan todos! such an important global position.1

In contradistinction to these problems, there is the Indigenous idea of sumak kawsay, as you mentioned, which places spirit and land along the same axes, and is epistemologically less driven to accept the division and privatization of land. It will be interesting to see changes in the ways that this concept is used over the next decade or so. Mahmood shows how the Islamic concept of dawa changed over generations to become tools of more general liberation—both from neoliberalism and from strict gender norms. But signifiers can be hollowed out through capitalism as well, so I think that it’s also important not to separate concepts from the people who produce them; for example, the ayllus that form Indigenous “microgovernments,” as Pablo Ramírez calls them, are profound structures that provide an interesting example of popular representation as opposed to the general diplomatic-discursive field of “geopolitics.”

It is also important to take note of Simon Sedillo’s excellent work tracking the mapping projects underway by Geoffrey Demarest and the Department of Defense in Colombia and Oaxaca, which are defined by this bizarre concept of “geoproperty” that mixes old English and Jeffersonian ideals of private property with contemporary land-titling strategies developed by economists like De Soto.2 Geoproperty is the conceptual artifice of a rather brutal strategy that deploys paramilitaries in order to separate Indigenous peoples from their lands, and it works both on a level of what Mignolo calls “geography of reason3 and a level of pragmatic force (defoliation, paramilitaries, and militarization). Connecting neoliberalism to geography, James C. Scott notes how, during the commercialization of the ejidos in Michoacán, “the first task of the state has been to make legible a tenure landscape that the local autonomy achieved by the revolution had helped make opaque.”4

It’s here that Guillermo Delgado-P’s article in Grabbing Back becomes so crucial, because it takes back the notions of territory and land, and provides a kind of alter-anthropology that thinks Indigenous cultures with agrarian polyculturalism and a kind of negotiation between the popular concept of the commons and Indigenous practices of conservation. So the challenge for local activists is, perhaps, to create growth from within the “Pink Tide” by learning from those who have always existed in a kind of threshold of state practices, and to do this in such a way that is, perhaps, illegible to the “great powers” in order to dodge the military incursions and counterinsurgency strategies while protecting increasing amounts of land. I find the more autonomized urban structures that sparked the mass movements in Chile in 2012 to be very inspirational along these lines, and in conversation with some of their organizers, I was told that they do have a relatively high level of respect and solidarity with the Mapuche. At the same time, these movements are different on several fundamental levels, and solidarity also becomes a question of recognizing ones limits, keeping the borders open, but understanding that the urban organizer is not the savior of the Indigenous peoples or the rural campesinos. In a sense, this is an inversion of politics in the classical sense, which relies on the polis for its basic way of thinking in Plato and Aristotle, but that is why anarchism today manifests a fundamentally different method of thinking than is possible within a strict adherence to the tradition of Eurocentric thought.

NUMSA and allies call for dismantling the ‘mineral energy complex’

By NUMSA - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 19, 2015

Electricity Crisis Conference Declaration

  1. Introduction:

We, as representatives of trade unions that organise in the energy sector and delegates from communities that are struggling around outages, loadshedding, high electricity prices and poor quality of energy services, met for four days (from 02 to 05 June 2015) in the midst of what we consider as a far-reaching electricity crisis in our country. As we met, on the table of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) is an application by South Africa’s electricity utility – Eskom – for a 25.3% increase in the price of electricity for the year 2015/16 to 2017/18. As we met, Nersa had agreed to grant municipalities an above-inflation increase of 12.2% from 01 July 2015 and that nine municipalities were applying for average increases above the Nersa increase guideline of 12.2%. We also gathered when delegates at this conference from two municipalities were unsure whether they will reach their homes at the end of our deliberations still with some power, as Eskom threatened to plunge into darkness their defaulting municipalities today.

The electricity crises that face us worsen with each day that passes. The crisis is multipronged. It is a supply crisis and chronic load-shedding. What we see is a financial meltdown of Eskom; massive cost and time overruns in the build programme of new power plants such Medupi and Kusile; and a worsening governance practices within Eskom as executives come and go, leaving with millions of rands as golden handshakes. We have also seen the downgrading of Eskom within capital markets and a ballooning debt for the utility as municipalities fail to pay their bills to Eskom.

As delegates to this Electricity Crisis Conference, we are enthused that our people are refusing to shoulder the implications and consequences of the crises. Throughout the four days, we heard of gallant battles against unaffordable electricity increases and imposition of prepaid meters that are being waged in different communities who refuse to have the burden of the electricity crises shifted onto them. At the forefront of these battles are women who unfortunately still bear the brunt of reproductive activities in our society. Our people realise that the electricity crises directly affects their children’s ability to learn and to be taught as schools are cut off. Our people realise that as most of their staple diets are electricity intensive, tariff hikes increase food hunger in South Africa. They know that an increase in the price of electricity will lead to retrenchments and short-time for workers.

The Cost of Caring for the Land: Attacks on Communities in Resistance in Mexico

By Analy S. Nuño - It's Going Down, January 12, 2018

In the last decade, indigenous and mestizo communities in Michoacán, Jalisco, and Colima have confronted developers, mining and other extractive industries, governmental authorities, and criminal gangs to protect their territories from dispossession and destruction. Along the way, they have come up against threats, disappearances, criminalization, and death.

The body of the P’urhépecha indigenous woman Guadalupe Campanur Tapia was found on January 16th, around the 15th kilometer of the Carapan-Playa Azul highway, in a place known as Irapio. She had disappeared several days earlier.

Guadalupe, 32, was a woman who had broken the mold of her community by joining the group of forest defenders and participating actively in the search for security, justice, and territorial reclamation. The journalist Alejandra Guillén, author of the book Guardians of the Territory: Security and Community Justice in Cherán, Nurío, and Ostula, defined her as “one of the critical voices who pointed out internal contradictions — because she knew that the struggle is built day by day, starting with the small and the everyday things.”

Guadalupe was the founder of the Community Patrol, the movement against illegal logging, and a member of the “Cherán K’eri: Knowing and Recognizing our Territory” project.

On many occasions, she carried out searches for community members who had been reported as disappeared. Her murder is the latest in a series of killings of activists and land defenders in the region, including Jalisco, Colima, and Michoacán, whose natural resources are targeted by both capitalist interests and criminal groups.

“This can be interpreted as a message to intimidate and silence those who genuinely aim to re-value life through community actions that go beyond resistance. It is also a means of terrorizing women, and, on top of everything, it fits within a broader ethnocidal technique intended to diminish the struggle for life carried on by the P’urhépecha community of Cherán,” wrote her friend, Carolina Lunuen.

Still, the attacks occurring in this region are only a sampling of the systematic attacks that have been carried out against social leaders, activists, and land defenders nationwide in the last decade.

Focus on China: The East is green?

By Martin Empson - Socialist Review, February 2018

China’s rapid economic expansion is based on massive state investment, low pay and manufacturing for export to the Western economies at the same time as the promotion of domestic consumerism. Global competition for resources and markets means China must continue this economic model. But this brings with it the risk of war, economic crisis and the threat of workers fighting for an increased share of the enormous wealth being generated. But it is also driving environmental disaster on a local and international scale.

Last October Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined a five-year economic strategy. He focused on putting China at the centre of the world economy, offering “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence”. But commentators noted how Xi also emphasised the environment, using the word 89 times in the 3-hour, 23-minute speech and pledging to lead globally on the environment.

In a dig at Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement, Xi argued that, “No country alone can address the many challenges facing mankind. No country can afford to retreat into self-isolation.” By contrast he claimed that China had “taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change”, and echoing Friedrich Engels, concluded that, “Only by observing the laws of nature can mankind avoid costly blunders in its exploitation. Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us. This is a reality we have to face.”

China faces an unprecedented environmental crisis. Mao Zedong’s decision to make China’s economy match and then overtake the West triggered numerous environmental problems. But the sheer scale of today’s economic expansion means that China’s environmental crises today are colossal.

China is the world’s leading polluter in absolute terms. The country is responsible for around 30 percent of global carbon emissions, twice that of the next biggest polluter, the US. In per capita terms, China’s emissions (7.9 tons per person) fall below those of many other industrialised countries such as the US (16.4) or Germany (9.2). But this merely highlights the size of China’s population (1.4 billion). Meanwhile, current economic trends will only drive emissions upwards. In 2000 China’s per capita emissions were just 2.7 tons per person.

Counter-power and self-defense in Latin America

By Raúl Zibechi - ROARMag, January 29, 2018

Africa: New evidence of ongoing corporate looting

By Patrick Bond - Climate and Capitalism, February 5, 2018

A brand new World Bank report, The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018offers evidence of how much poorer Africa is becoming thanks to rampant minerals, oil and gas extraction. Yet Bank policies and practices remain oriented to enforcing foreign loan repayments and transnational corporate (TNC) profit repatriation, thus maintaining the looting.

Central to its “natural capital accounting,” the Bank uses an “Adjusted Net Savings” (ANS) measure for changes in economic, ecological and educational wealth. This is surely preferable to “Gross National Income” (GNI, a minor variant of Gross Domestic Product), which fails to consider depletion of non-renewable natural resources and pollution (not to mention unpaid women’s and community work).

In its latest world survey (with 1990-2015 data), the Bank concludes that Sub-Saharan Africa loses roughly $100 billion of ANS annually because it is “the only region with periods of negative levels – averaging negative 3 percent of GNI over the past decade – suggesting that its development policies are not yet sufficiently promoting sustainable economic growth… Clearly, natural resource depletion is one of the key drivers of negative ANS in the region.”

The Bank asks, “How does Sub-Saharan Africa compare to other regions? Not favorably.” Contrary to pernicious “Africa Rising” mythology, the ANS decline for Sub-Saharan Africa was worst from 2001-09 and 2013-15.

Other regions of the world scored strongly positive ANS increases, in the 5-25 percent range. Richer, resource-intensive countries such as Australia, Canada and Norway have positive ANS resource outcomes partly because their TNCs return profits to home-based shareholders.

Africa’s smash-and-grab ‘development policies’ aiming to attract Foreign Direct Investment have, even the Bank suggests, now become counter-productive: “Especially for resource-rich countries, the depletion of natural resources is often not compensated for by other investments. The warnings provided by negative ANS in many countries and in the region as a whole should not be ignored.”

Such warnings – including the 2012 Gaborone Declaration by ten African governments – are indeed being mainly ignored, and for a simple reason, the Bank hints: “The [ANS] measure remains very important, especially in resource-rich countries. It helps in advocating for investments toward diversification to promote exports and sectoral growth outside the resource sector.”

Africa desperately needs diversification, but governments of resource-cursed countries are instead excessively influenced by TNCs intent on extraction. Even within the Bank such bias is evident, as the case of Zambia shows.

Chile: Lies, dam lies and a Mapuche activist murdered

By - Freedom, January 30, 2018

It has taken nearly a year-and-a-half of fighting the authorities, and a second autopsy, to confirm what the family of Macarena Valdés Muñoz already knew – she was hanged after her death. There was no suicide. 

On the afternoon of Monday August 22nd, 2016 Macarena, a Mapuche environmental activist fighting against the construction of a mini-hydroelectric dam near and over her property in Newen-Tranguil, near Liquine, Los Rios, was found hanged in her home aged 32. A noose was round her neck and for the coroner the situation was obvious: “Death by suffocation and hanging” – a suicide with a technical explanation that baffled her family.

What had actually happened however was murder. A doctor was first to explain to loved ones that key factors for a suicide had not happened. Her cervical vertebra hadn’t been broken, and it was clear, explained her father-in-law, Mapuche political leader Marcelino Collío, she had been killed. Most likely, it had happened in front of her one-year-old child who was with her at the time.

But it wouldn’t be until January 19th 2018, with the trail long cold, that they would have their suspicions confirmed by a government department in a statement that acknowledged Macarena could not have killed herself. She had instead been killed and then hanged to simulate suicide,

Last week, following the second report, the family and supporters from the Health For All Movement made a number of demands of the authorities, who they suspect of effective collusion in what amounts to a racist strong-arming of the Mapuche community in Tranguil to force them to accept damaging mini-hydroelectric dams across the regional river network. They called for:

  • A new statement of intent on the part of authorities and agencies involved in the investigation of Macarena’s death
  • The the results of both autopsies be clarified to show why the first was inaccurate
  • That resources be provided to investigate the murder fully and bring the killers to justice

They added:

We denounce the violence and permanent intimidation suffered by the community of Tranguil, exercised by the State and the hydroelectric companies interested in extracting the riches of the territory, at the expense of the destruction of the natural and cultural heritage of the town.

Through our history in Latin America we know that this crime corresponds to the way in which, both state policies and business groups, repress through terror and silencing the dissidence and diversity of peoples.

There were strong reasons for the suspicions of Macarena’s family and community, which have repeatedly clashed with both the government and hydroelectric companies over the future of development in and around Tranguil, in the mountains of Los Rios.

Leaked Trump Infrastructure Plan is a Blueprint for Corporate Subsidies

By  - CounterPunch, January 29, 2018

The Trump administration’s plans to rebuild infrastructure in the United States have been leaked, and it appears to be as bad as feared. At least three-quarters of intended funding will go toward corporate subsidies, not actual projects. It is possible that no funding will go directly toward projects.

There’s no real surprise here, given that President Donald Trump’s election promise to inject $1 trillion into infrastructure spending was a macabre joke. What is actually happening is that the Trump administration intends to push for more “public-private partnerships.” What these so-called partnerships actually are vehicles to shovel public money into private pockets. These have proven disastrous wherever they have been implemented, almost invariably making public services more expensive. Often, far more expensive. They are nothing more than a variation on straightforward schemes to sell off public assets below cost, with working people having to pay more for reduced quality of service.

That is no surprise, as corporations are only going to provide services or operate facilities if they can make a profit. And since public-private partnerships promise guaranteed big profits, at the expense of taxpayers, these are quite popular in corporate boardrooms. And when those promises don’t come true, it taxpayers who are on the hook for the failed privatization.

The collapse earlier this month of Carillion PLC in Britain put 50,000 jobs at risk, both those directly employed and others working for subcontractors. The holder of a vast array of government contracts for construction, services and managing the operations of railways, hospitals, schools and much else, Carillion received contracts worth £5.7 billion just since 2011. Overall, an astonishing £120 billion was spent on outsourcing in Britain in 2015.

What did British taxpayers get for this corporate largesse? It certainly not was the promised savings. Parliament’s spending watchdog agency, the National Audit Office, found that privately financing public projects costs as much as 40 percent more than projects relying solely on government money. The office estimates that existing outsourcing contracts will cost taxpayers almost £200 billion for the next 25 years. (This report was issued before Carillion’s collapse.) In response, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “These corporations need to be shown the door. We need our public services provided by public employees with a public service ethos and a strong public oversight,” The Guardian reported.

Naturally, there was one group that did quite well from this privatization: Carillion’s shareholders, who reaped £500 billion in dividends in the past seven years. But it is the government that will have to pick up the tab if the company’s employees are to continue to be paid. On top of that, the company’s pension shortfall reached £900 billion, according to Reuters.

By no means is Carillion’s collapse the only privatization disaster in Britain. A bailout of the corporate-run East Coast rail system is expected to cost hundreds of millions of pounds. There are numerous other examples that have proven windfalls for corporate executives but expensive mistakes for the public.

Declaration From The Regional Encounter For The Defense Of Our Territories: Oaxaca, Mexico

By Anonymous Contributor - It's Going Down, December 8, 2017

On the 6th of December, this year, we met in the community of Morro Mazatán, Municipality of Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, as the Agrarian Authorities and representatives of the communities of: San Miguel Chongos, Guadalupe Victoria, Santa María Zapotitlán, San José Chiltepec, Santa Lucía Mecaltepec, Santa María Candelaria, San Pedro Sosoltepec and San Pedro Tepalcatepec, all members of the Asamblea del Pueblo Chontal para la Defensa del Territorio [Chontal People’s Assembly for the Defense of the Territory]; as well as representatives of Morro Mazatán, Santa Gertrudis Miramar, Tilzapote, San Pablo Mitla, Tlacolula de Matamoros, Rincón Bamba, Asamblea de Comuneros de Unión Hidalgo [Comuneros’ Assembly of Unión Hidalgo], Colectivo Matzá [Matzá Collective] from the community of San Miguel Chimalapa, and Tequio Jurídico AC [Collective Legal Work Civil Association], to advance the “Regional Encounter for the Defense of Our Territories,” with the goal of informing each other and articulating ourselves for our own defense in the face of megaprojects that dispossess us and extractive projects, among them, mining and Special Economic Zones.

In our analysis, our territories find themselves at risk under a capitalist system which in our country began to deepen in the 90s with the reconfiguration of the state’s legal framework. This included reforms to constitutional article 27, the mining law, the foreign investment law, and the entry into the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, generating legal conditions favoring national and international businesses that seek to impose neo-extractivist projects such as mining, wind energy projects, hydroelectric dams, high-tension towers, Special Economic Zones, tourist projects and as a consequence the militarization and paramilitarization of the territory.

In this encounter we listened to the experiences of regional organization processes from San Pablo Mitla and Tlacolula de Matamoros, who are defending their territory in the face of the installation/relocation of a military zone by the federal government through the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA), the state government, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Municipal Presidents of San Pablo Mitla and Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Thanks to citizen organization, they have suspended this project; however, they remain attentive before new threats to reactivate the project utilizing a real estate company on land in Tlacolula. The residents also denounced the mining concessions in the district of Tlacolula de Matamoros.

Likewise, we listened to the experiences of the Chontal People’s Assembly for the Defense of the Territory, who have organized to defend themselves faced with the imposition of the mining concession Zapotitlán 1 granted to the companies Zalamera SA de CV and Minaurum Gold by the Ministry of the Economy. It would strip 5,413 hectares [13,375 acres] from six Chontal communities in the high region.

In this encounter, the representatives of the communities of Tilzapote and San Francisco Cozoaltepec, Municipality of Santa María Tonameca, denounced the supposed small proprietors Pedro Martínez Araiza and Domitila Guzmán Olivera. The community doesn’t know these people, who are trying to take away their territory under the argument that they are executing a resolution of the Unitary Agrarian Tribunal that recognizes them as the owners of 300 hectares [741 acres] where the village sits, in so doing, displacing them from their community. The Agrarian Ombudsman’s office, the Ministry of Agrarian, Territorial, and Urban Development, the National Agrarian Register, and the aforementioned Unitary Agrarian Tribunal Number 21 are among those responsible for this situation, putting the pueblo—composed of 70 families—at risk. These government institutions and small proprietors threaten the inhabitants with the loss of 300 hectares, which spans the entirety of their territory, and the neglect of their personal defense. [Translator’s note: read more about this situation here, and there is a video in Spanish here.]

Those representing the Matzá Collective from the community of San Miguel Chimalapa denounced the fact that their 134,000 hectare [331,000 acre] communal territory has been pierced by a series of landgrabs characterized by agrarian conflicts with the state of Chiapas and mining concessions, which span 7,200 hectares [18,000 acres] of communal lands. The companies involved are Zalamera, Minaurum Gold, and Gol Cooper, and their projects would put at risk the Espíritu Santo, Zacatepec, and Ostuta rivers, on which the lives of the Zoques, Binniza, and Ikoots peoples depend.

The representative of the Comuneros’ Assembly of Unión Hidalgo denounced the illegality of the contracts on common lands signed by wind energy companies like France Electric and EDEMEX with supposed small proprietors. The Unitary Agrarian Tribunal of Tuxtepec does not acknowledge the experts’ reports offered by the agrarian community, and validates these contracts.

Shock Doctrine Implemented in Oaxaca After Earthquake

By Renata Bessi and Santiago Navarro F. - It's Going Down, November 28, 2017

Naomi Klein, in her book The Shock Doctrine, argues that the economic policies of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics have gained importance in countries with free market models not because they are popular, but rather because through the impacts of disasters or contingencies on the psychology of society, in the face of commotion and confusion, unpopular reforms can be put into place.

It has been little more than a month since September 7, when the strongest earthquake of the last 100 years in Mexico hit, at 8.2 on the Richter scale. The landscape in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the region most affected, is still one of devastation. The city of Juchitán de Zaragoza resembles a ghost town. Wherever you look, there is debris or damaged buildings. The police and military still roam the streets, heavily armed.

The earth has not stopped shaking. Strange sounds emanate from the depths of the sea on the shores of Oaxaca. It is possible to feel tremors every hour. Mexico’s National Seismological Service has registered more than 6,000 aftershocks, in addition to a second earthquake with a Richter scale reading of 7.2 that happened on September 19 and devastated several sites in Mexico City, where 369 deaths have counted as of the October 4.

Official data from the government of Oaxaca state that the earthquake affected 120,000 people in 41 municipalities, as well as 60,600 homes, of which 20,664 were destroyed and 39,956 had partial damage. Its infrastructure, drinking water, and drainage networks are damaged. The local economy has been hit. Garbage is piling up in the streets. There is concern about a possible health crisis.

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