The curse of violence. Naked extractivism

The curse of violence. Naked extractivism

By Alberto Acosta

Violence seems to configure an inherent element of extractivism, a bio-predatory model par excellence. Poverty in many countries of the world is related to the existence of significant wealth in natural resources.

"The entire history of oil is full of crime, corruption, the crude exercise of power and the worst of frontier capitalism." Michael J. Watts (1999) (1)

It is difficult to understand how a popular government, which prides itself on being revolutionary and assumes the defense of popular interests, can violently repress popular sectors that demand their rights. That just happened in Bolivia. The government of President Evo Morales, ignoring repeated requests to open a dialogue with the residents of the Isiboro Sécure Territory and National Park (TIPNIS), opted for repression. Using unusual police violence, they tried to dissolve a march of indigenous peoples, who defend their rights and the Constitution of their country. With their peaceful action, these groups oppose the construction of a highway, financed by Brazilian capital, that would cross the TIPNIS to facilitate the exploitation of oil fields. And, incidentally, they expose the contradictions of their government.

Indignation and frustration spread like concentric circles across Bolivia and the world. Adolfo Chávez, Bolivian indigenous leader, could not express his discomfort in a better way: “The indigenous peoples of the entire country are outraged and deeply hurt by the actions of the government. This government promised us a change: respect indigenous rights, respect mother earth, respect our culture, respect our self-determination ”.

Surely there will be many (without) official reasons to explain this violent act that confronts us with a little known reality. Violence and repression, beyond some stages of greater intensity in some historical moments, are latent in a mode of accumulation that systematically and massively attacks Nature and even society. What has just happened in Bolivia, with the aggravating circumstance that a government that claims to represent the indigenous represses indigenous peoples, has happened or is still happening in almost all countries rich in natural resources.

Although it is not very credible at first glance, recent evidence and many accumulated experiences allow us to affirm that poverty in many countries of the world is related to the existence of significant wealth in natural resources. Above all, those countries that have a substantial endowment of one or a few primary products seem to be condemned to underdevelopment and to suffer various forms of authoritarianism. A situation that is even more complex for those economies that depend mainly on oil and minerals for their financing. These countries would be trapped in the perverse logic of the curse of abundance ”(2): Could it be that they are poor countries, because they are rich in natural resources?

Violence and authoritarianism hand in hand with extractivism

Violence seems to configure an inherent element of extractivism, a bio-predatory model par excellence. There is violence unleashed by the State in favor of the interests of extractivist companies, especially transnational ones. Violence camouflaged as indispensable sacrificial actions by a few to ensure the well-being of the community, regardless of the ideological orientation of governments. It is enough to see the repression in Yukumo, Bolivia, for defending the TIPNIS or the one unleashed by the government of Alan García in the northern Peruvian Amazon, in June 2009 or the one that occurred in Dayuma, in the Ecuadorian Amazon region, at the end from 2007. (3)

There is even symbolic violence infiltrated in societies that have assumed extractivism, as something practically inevitable: it could be said that in these societies there is a kind of extractivist DNA at all its levels, starting with the highest levels of political definition. This explains why progressive rulers, by assuming the role of bearers of the collective will, try to accelerate the leap towards the desired modernity by forcing extractivism: a kind of past modernization ...

These extractive activities also generate serious social tensions in the regions where these natural resources are exploited. The economic and social impacts cause the division of communities, fights between them and within families, intra-family violence, the violation of community and human rights, increases in crime and insecurity, land trafficking, etc. The great social tensions in the regions grow through other perverse forms of domination that occur when, for example, extractivist companies are formed in which indigenous groups participate to exploit these non-renewable natural resources in conflictive areas, as is now the case in the Bloque. Armadillo in Ecuador, where -constitutionally- it is forbidden to extract oil because there is evidence of the presence of peoples in voluntary isolation. This type of situation increases the confusion of the peoples and generates more internal ruptures.

Violence also emerges when governments, even those considered progressive, as in the case of Ecuador, criminalize the popular protest that emerges against extractivist activities, with the sole purpose of guaranteeing them ... in order to reduce poverty, as justified. the official message.

In short, as the opposite of multiple violence, the list of repressions tied to extractivism is long. This could be one of the backdrops in the history of our peoples, which began more than five hundred years ago, when this type of extractivist accumulation was inaugurated, condemning us to underdevelopment.

Nor have there been a lack of civil wars, even open wars between countries or imperial aggression by some powers determined to secure by force natural resources, especially hydrocarbons in recent times. To illustrate this last case, it would be enough to mention the US military aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan, in both countries seeking control of oil and gas reserves. The NATO bombings of Libya seem to be heading in that direction as well.

This violence almost innate to this curse of abundance is very often linked to authoritarian regimes. The massive exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, predatory in essence, is possible by trampling over certain segments of the population for the benefit of the community and to achieve development, according to the rulers.

The massive income obtained has allowed the emergence of paternalistic and authoritarian states, whose capacity to influence is tied to the political capacity to manage a greater or lesser share of the mining or oil revenues, as well as to their capacity to impose new supposedly indispensable extractivist projects. to face poverty and develop the economy; projects that, according to official propaganda, would even serve to protect the environment ...

This type of political exercise is also explained by the desire of governments to stay in power, accumulating it more and more, and / or by their intention to accelerate a series of structural reforms that, from their particular perspective, appear as essential to transform the societies. They are states that have added to the monopoly of natural wealth the monopoly of repressive and political violence.

In these extractivist economies, a political structure and dynamic has been configured that is not only violent and authoritarian, but also voracious. This voracity, particularly in boom years, is reflected in an increase many times more than proportional in public spending and above all in a discretionary distribution of fiscal resources.

In the absence of a great national agreement to manage these natural resources, without solid democratic institutions (which can only be built with broad and sustained citizen participation), various power groups appear on the scene, desperate to obtain a slice of the income. mining or oil company. And, as is easy to understand, this distributional struggle, which can be more or less conflictive, provokes new political tensions.

All of this has contributed to weakening democratic governance, as it ends up establishing or facilitating the permanence of authoritarian governments and voracious companies, also prone to authoritarian practices. Indeed, the best examples of democracy do not appear in these countries. Additionally, the often wasteful management of the income obtained and the absence of foreseeable policies ends up weakening the existing institutional framework or preventing its construction.

The high income of the government allows it to prevent the configuration of groups and fractions of opposition or independent power, which would be in a position to demand political and other rights (Human Rights, Rights of Nature, justice, co-government, equity, etc.), and of democratically displace them from power. The government can allocate large sums of money to strengthen its internal controls; including the repression of opponents. Latin America has extensive accumulated experience in this field.

As a consequence of the high income derived from the exploitation of natural resources and the open possibilities of external financing, governments tend to relax their tax structures and practices. At this point, then, the voracity effect appears again, manifested by the desire to participate in the feast of the large income by banks, especially international, private or multilateral, jointly responsible for the processes of external debt. Lately, China has been granting more and more credits to various underdeveloped countries, particularly in Africa and Latin America, in order to secure mineral and oil deposits, or large areas of land for agricultural production, in addition to the construction of important infrastructure works.

Ultimately, the significant environmental and social impacts, typical of these large-scale extractive activities, which are unevenly distributed, increase ungovernability, which in turn requires new authoritarian responses.

This is a great paradox: there are countries that are very rich in natural resources, that may even have significant financial income, but that have not been able to establish the foundations for their development and are still poor. And they are poor because they are rich in natural resources, as they have primarily opted for the extraction of that natural wealth for the world market, marginalizing other forms of value creation based more on human effort than on Nature's generosity.

From colonial extractivism to the extractivism of the XXI century

Very few years ago, a new stage full of hopes for change began in several Latin American countries. The economic policies of progressive governments, detached from the mandates of the IMF and the World Bank, gradually began to reverse the previous neoliberal trend. However, this transformation effort, as we see in practice and as much as the harmful consequences caused by the primary-exporter logic are known ad nauseam, does not (yet) affect the extractivist essence of the prevailing mode of accumulation since the colony. . The countries that align themselves with progressivism and that have held anti-imperialist positions, in practice, by maintaining models that tie them to the economic interests of the central countries, do not achieve their independence and maintain levels of political and economic dependence.

However, let's make some differences. There are advances in relation to the previous extractivism, especially on the side of the defense of the national interest and a consequent state action to try to reduce poverty. Among the notable points, without denying the existence of some serious contradictory situations, a greater presence and a more active role of the State emerge. State regulations and standards have increased. Extractivist state companies have been strengthened. And from a nationalist position, through some tax adjustments, a larger slice of oil or mining income is sought.

A significant part of these resources, unlike what happened in previous years, in which the bulk of this income was used to pay the foreign debt, financing important and massive social programs. In this way, these States try to actively and directly confront poverty.

Being important a greater control on the part of the State of these extractive activities and even significant the effort to reduce poverty, this does not change the mode of primary-export accumulation. Subordination to the global logic of capital accumulation remains unchanged. The real control of national exports remains in the hands of transnational capital, which directly or indirectly determines the evolution of these activities. By the way, in Latin America the weight of Brazil and its interests plays a preponderant role, through its various companies with a global vocation.

Perversely, many state-owned companies in these extractivist economies (with the consent of the respective governments, by the way) seem programmed to react exclusively to foreign impulses and act at home with logics similar to or even worse than those used by transnational companies. In this way, it is demonstrated that the issue of ownership of natural resources and extractive companies, being important, is not enough.

Equally contradictory is the fact that these governments, subordinated by transnational geopolitical interests, of old and new hegemonies such as China and Brazil, continue to develop integration projects to the world market driven by the domination forces of the capitalist world-system; such as those designed by the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA). The Manta-Manaos axis, between Ecuador and Brazil, is a sample of this assertion.

Thanks to oil or mining, that is, to the income produced by the exports of these resources, the progressive rulers are able to consolidate themselves in power and deploy renewed state actions to confront poverty. They do not wait, as in neoliberal times, for poverty to be reduced one day by the effect of economic growth, which in turn would cause a greater concentration of income; a situation that would later benefit the community through new investments that would cause new jobs and additional income. Progressive governments, which consciously understood that neoliberal theory does not work, inspired by criteria of social justice, are determined to reduce inequities in society.

The foregoing is what happens with the current progressive governments of the region. From the minimal state of neoliberalism, an attempt is made - with justified reason - to rebuild and expand the presence and action of the state to lead the development process, and not leave it to fate tied to market forces. Unfortunately, with all this state effort, it is not possible (or does not want to) alter the structural bases of the extractivist accumulation modality.

Thus, the production and exports of raw materials keep their fundamental structures and features unchanged. Environmental depredation and social disrespect are the order of the day.

What is remarkable and certainly regrettable is that, although poverty has been reduced in countries with progressive governments, the differences and inequities in the distribution of wealth remain unchanged. The powerful business segments, which have suffered the onslaught of "revolutionary speeches" from the progressive rulers, have not stopped making large profits taking advantage of this renewed extractivism and developmentalism (at least that is the case in Ecuador).

Consequently, the relative improvement in the living conditions of the traditionally marginalized segments of the population has been possible thanks to the better distribution of the growing oil and mining revenues, not as a result of a deep redistribution of wealth. This situation is explained by how relatively easy it is to take advantage of generous Nature, without entering into complex political processes of redistribution of said wealth.

As in past times, the bulk of the benefit of this economic orientation goes to the rich economies, importers of Nature, which make a greater profit by processing and marketing it in the form of finished products. Meanwhile, the countries that export primary goods, which receive a minimal share of the mining or oil income, are the ones that bear the burden of environmental and social liabilities. Liabilities that hide, many times, extremely violent processes tied to the extractivist logic, which implies a massive and systematic aggression against Mother Earth and even the communities.

In short, the subordinate logic of their production, motivated by external demand, characterizes the evolution of these primary-exporting economies. Neo-extractivism, in the end, maintains and reproduces key elements of extractivism of colonial roots, the original cause of underdevelopment.

Overcoming these colonial and neocolonial aberrations is the challenge facing these countries. Building Good Living constitutes a qualitative step to dissolve the traditional concept of progress in its productivist drift and of development as a single direction, especially in its mechanistic vision of economic growth, as well as its multiple synonyms. But not only does it dissolve them, Buen Vivir proposes a different vision, much richer in content and, by the way, more complex. To achieve this, getting out of the trap of extractivism is essential.

Alberto Acosta placeholder image - Loja, September 30, 2011


(1) Watts, Michael J .; “Petro-violence-Somethoughtsoncommunity, extraction, and politicalecology”, WorkingPapers, Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1999. Here we study the case of oil violence in Nigeria and Ecuador.

(2) Acosta, Alberto; The curse of abundance, CEP, Swissaid and Abya-Yala, 2009. Available at ... On this subject can be found on the same portal contributions Valuable by Eduardo Gudynas, Jürgen Schuldt, Humphreys Bebbington and AJ Bebbington, Mariastella Svampa, among others.

(3) It must be remembered that the Constituent Assembly, the following year, granted amnesty for the victims of said repression.

Video: STIAS Public Lecture Series 2019 - Yvette Christiansë (June 2021).