(Source: Pax Christi International)
Extractivist processes in Latin America and the Caribbean are the continuity of a process of dispossession to which the region has been subjected from the 15th century to the present.
The former colonies were plundered in the search for minerals and raw materials and transformed into nations equally plundered by multinational corporations for the same purpose.
This continuity has shaped a deeply unequal international scenario. The countries of the “Global South” have assumed the very serious environmental, social, and economic costs of an unequal and unbalanced system that—after the unfulfilled promise of “development”—has left water pollution, diseases in communities, destruction of fields, and violence against populations that resist looting.
Through the project Latin America, between Violence and Hope, Pax Christi International has accompanied communities and organisations resisting extractivist practices in seven countries (Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Paraguay, Chile and El Salvador).
The project aims to: a) strengthen the capacity of communities for the nonviolent transformation of conflicts caused by extractivism; b) design and implement local, national, and global advocacy plans; and c) strengthen networking in the region in order to act in a coordinated, informed, and supportive way to defend the territories, communities, and the land itself.
Extractivism in the region
The region is an expression of the highly unequal global economic model. The so-called “countries of the North” (the great centres of world economic development such as the United States, China, United Kingdom, Canada, among others), hand in hand with transnational corporations, perpetuate a historic international division of labour.
The region exports raw materials, bearing the social, environmental, political and cultural costs of these practices, while products made with those same raw materials are later exported back to the region with a higher added value.
“Inequality affects not only individuals, but entire countries, and forces us to think about an ethic of international relations. Because there is a real ecological debt, particularly between the North and the South, related to trade imbalances with ecological consequences, as well as the disproportionate use of natural resources historically carried out by some countries.
“Exports of some raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialised North have caused local damage, such as mercury contamination in gold mining or sulphur dioxide in copper mining. Especially, we must calculate the use of the environmental space of the entire planet to deposit gaseous residues that have been accumulating for two centuries and have generated a situation that now affects all the countries of the world.”
The imposition of the extractivist model has brought with it the promise of generating wealth for exporting nations, their insertion into the world order, and the ability to generate mass employment.
This promise, however, has never fully materialised.
On the contrary, it shows a series of negative effects for communities and territories. Some of the most recurrent are:
- Expansion of agricultural frontiers with great environmental damage and the destruction of vital biodiversity areas
- Damage of water sources
- Recurrent health problems for communities, such as respiratory conditions, skin cancer, among others
- Limited job opportunities, usually targeting men as precarious and temporary labour
- Destruction of ancestral economies
- Changes in the social and cultural dynamics of the places where these projects are carried out
- Militarisation of territories and criminalisation of communities resisting extractive projects
The increasing pressure on the territories and the life in general of peasant, Indigenous, and Afro descendent populations and peoples has triggered social rejection and the emergence of conflicts between communities, companies, and states.
As of June 2020, the Latin American mining conflict observatory (OCMAL) records 277 socio-environmental conflicts associated with mining in the region, of which five are transnational.
Communities are displaying an increasingly organised resistance to the implementation of these projects in their territories, an action that according to the same observatory has led to 234 cases of criminalisation of protest. This has also awakened the interest of multiple organisations to transform these conflicts and generate alternatives in the territories.