Roads and agents of looting in Latin America

Roads and agents of looting in Latin America

By Ana Esther Ceceña

We are currently in a moment of systemic crisis of capitalism. Capitalism defends itself and rebuilds itself permanently through the design of a set of comprehensive, multidimensional strategies that are deployed globally, including megaprojects of territorial reordering, which are necessarily also political reordering, such as Integration. of the Regional Infrastructure of South America, IIRSA.

We are currently in a time of crisis. Systemic crisis that does not announce an immediate fall or outbreak, but is the expression of the mutant vocation of capitalism and its capacity to adapt or readjust to the changing conditions of events not only economic but social. The crisis gives way to a much greater concentration of wealth and power and grants conditions of strength and at the same time of vulnerability to an increasingly exclusive and exclusive power that, in its arrogance, is putting into operation various mechanisms of support and of articulation or cohesion in an increasingly contradictory environment.

The cyclical crisis, in the current circumstances, is indicative of the inability of the market to guarantee by itself the general conditions of the process of capital accumulation and private appropriation of wealth and, in this sense, it appeals to the mechanisms of social containment to ensure that which the market cannot unite and control, especially when the capitalist economy is both legal and illegal. Nobody escapes that the economic crisis is not touching the illegal sectors that undoubtedly contributed to generating it and will most likely be part of its solution.

However, the crisis requires a change in strategy and a change in the modality of domination that encompasses all dimensions of the social, territorial and political organization of the system, especially because the need to reestablish the general conditions of valorization corresponding to the moments of cyclical adjustment, characteristic of the regular functioning of the capital accumulation process, now occurs in a context of integral questioning, of systemic crisis, of inability to internally resolve the progress-depredation contradiction that comes from the very foundations of capitalist society as a place of the dominion of nature by man.

For this reason, the current crisis is not only financial, nor is it resolved with subsidies and state adjustments or with mergers and centralization of capital. This allows us to move forward but simultaneously aggravates the situation of technical suicide in which capitalism finds itself irremediably, despite its ability to keep the whole world under its operating rules, even knowing that they tend, paradoxically, to the unsustainability of life itself. .

IIRSA as a strategy of hegemonic power

The internal force of capitalism is defended and permanently rebuilt through the design of a set of comprehensive, multidimensional strategies that are deployed planetarily, among which are megaprojects of territorial reordering, which are necessarily also of political reordering, such as the of the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America, IIRSA. The main virtue of projects like IIRSA is to be able to reestablish and enhance the general conditions of the valuation, rather than to generate succulent business in its own implementation, which is also the case.

Seen from a broad perspective, IIRSA and Plan Puebla Panamá are two parts of the same project: both were supposedly devised by a President of the region, in one case Fox, in Mexico, and in the other Cardoso, in Brazil. With all the cultural, intellectual and political distance between the two, presumably at the same time they designed two similar and geographically tied projects. The specific negotiations and implementation vary according to subregional conditions, but the fundamentals of the projects do not: build a communications, transport and power generation infrastructure that constitutes an agile and dynamic circulatory system that allows linking regional economies to the market world.

A single project for the total commercialization of nature for massive use from central Mexico to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. It is not a question of the exploitation of natural elements for domestic use, neither local nor national, but of their exploitation according to the dimensions of a planetary trade sustained, 50%, by transnational companies. The infrastructure that is proposed - and that is required - is precisely what will allow Latin America to become a key piece in the international market for primary goods, at the cost of the devastation of its territories, reopening those veins of abundance that bleed to the pachamama and that feed the accumulation of capital and the world struggle for hegemony. The design of this infrastructure goes from the heart to the extremities, from the center of South America to the ports in the case of IIRSA and from Colombia-Panama to the border with the United States in the case of the Mesoamerican Project, the new name of the Puebla Panama Plan.

The dimension of the exploitation of the territory of Latin America and the extraction of its valuable elements is in relation to the increasing levels demanded by a world economy that responds to the vertiginous needs of multiplying its own profits much more than to the real needs of the world's population, and calls for a streamlining of the circulation of goods to reduce the unproductive moments of capital as much as possible. The level of extraction and production of the companies involved, even though their origin is local, has changed in proportion to this new demand for resources. Cases such as that of Vale do Río Doce are symptomatic of the new dynamics: a company rooted in mining production in an area of ​​great abundance of deposits is little by little foreignized through the placement of shares on the New York Stock Exchange or similar and their production levels, already large, are multiplied in accordance with the needs for the valuation of proprietary capital. The pace of the trains that transport iron to the port has increased and the number of loaded wagons has multiplied in recent years, thereby ensuring private possession, outside the land, already as merchandise, of a natural element that is it has become an important part of the hegemonic dispute. With this, the generation of energy that constitutes an agile and dynamic circulatory system that allows linking regional economies to the world market.

A single project for the total commercialization of nature for massive use from central Mexico to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. The infrastructure that is proposed - and that is required - is precisely what will allow Latin America to become a key piece in the international market for primary goods, at the cost of the devastation of its territories, reopening those veins of abundance that bleed to the pachamama and that feed the accumulation of capital and the world struggle for hegemony. This increases the looting that Latin American peoples have been subjected to for more than 500 years, with the beginning of conquest-colonization, and the territories, the space of the nature-society relationship, are subjected to a wild and irreversible predation. more than 500 years, with the beginnings of the conquest-colonization, and the territories, space of the nature-society relationship, are subjected to a wild and irreversible predation (3).

The export of raw materials, seen by macroeconomic analysts as a sign of development and prosperity, is altering the very conditions of life due to its massive nature and because it responds to needs unrelated to those of local societies. And the same happens with the modern transport routes that are proposed and are being enabled with the IIRSA. The routes of the IIRSA place the enormous South American territory at the disposal of the needs of looting strategic resources, as can be seen in map 1, which shows what I consider to be the strategic design of the IIRSA.

Now the interoceanic channels are not looking for the shortest route between oceans but the widest, the richest. The 80 km of the Panama Canal are now replaced by 20 thousand km of the Amazon route. This difference in criteria makes it clear that the connection has other purposes than those sought in the past, in accordance with the increased capabilities and scope of capitalist appropriation. The IIRSA routes ensure not only the extraction of resources from each of its parts, but that this extraction is carried out in an articulated manner. National or local interests are linked with transnational and even strategic interests.

IIRSA's routes pass through the sources of water, minerals, gas and oil; through the industrial corridors of the subcontinent; for the most important areas of genetic diversity in the world, for indigenous refuges and for everything that is valuable and appropriable in South America. The expansion of river flows to dedicate them to intense traffic is putting the swamps at risk and degrading the living conditions of animal and plant species while violating the ways of life of neighboring or related communities; the massive exploitation and export of minerals punishes the jungle with a constant heavy traffic that is rapidly eating away at the Amazon stain and threatening the glaciers; the local ways of organizing life are confronted with a vertiginous dynamic that does not correspond to them and that alters them externally and irreversibly.

IIRSA's network of interests

The present or foreseeable damages that accompany this project have been widely denounced and even so the insistence on maintaining it is tenacious. The question, then, is what kind of interests prevail over the extremely high ecological and social risks that IIRSA entails.

On the one hand, the fact of having the consent or even the enthusiasm of many of the Latin American governments is the result of a combination in which local governments and companies receive some benefits that, at their level, can be significant.

On the other hand, evidently an infrastructural network of the characteristics of the planned one is undoubtedly a facilitator of extractive activities, and economic activities in general, of the great capitals of the world in search of competitive and valuable resources, which in many cases can be considered strategic for the global reproduction of the system and, therefore, for the assurance not only of the living conditions of capitalism but also of hegemony.

The construction of the infrastructure itself seems not to be the most coveted dish. The big transnationals focus on the exploitation of resources, much more than the big businesses for local investors, but relatively small for them, of road, rail, waterway, dam and other similar construction.

Due to the way governments and companies have behaved, there seems to be almost a complementarity agreement in which both benefit and for this reason both defend the project as their own. The variegation of interests has increased recently due to the entry of foreign capital to local companies, most of the time related to extractive activities, as is the case of Vale do Río Doce. These companies grow stronger, increase their production and, obviously, their exports; They are more closely linked to the world market, but they continue to appear as national when in several cases their capital is already mainly foreign.

Perhaps the Latin American company most favored by IIRSA today is Odebrecht, which advertises itself as a Brazilian company. As it is an engineering and construction company, in this first stage it has been involved in projects throughout the IIRSA region.

Odebrecht has investments in America in 13 countries, in addition to Brazil. Geographically covers from Mexico to Argentina, with activities also in the Caribbean (Dominican Republic), Central America (Costa Rica, Panama) and South America (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay), as can be seen in the map, showing the proximity of the areas of your investment projects with those containing the most valuable resources.

Historically, in extractive activities, the presence of large foreign transnationals has been registered, and hence this connection of interests that we mentioned. It is a sector in which competition makes it difficult for national capital to enter, especially after the lack of protection and the change in criteria on national assets induced by neoliberalism.

Reviewing the lists of the 500 largest companies in the world drawn up for a long time by Fortune magazine, and those of the 500 largest in America drawn up by América Economía magazine, what is observed is the low participation of Latin American companies in the larger activities. Even when they are in these activities, their participation is much less important, except in the cases of Odebrecht, Aracruz and Votorantim, all three originally Brazilian.

In some countries, oil and gas extraction is exclusively owned by state-owned companies but, as regards the rest, the main companies in this sector are Exxon, Royal Dutch, British Petroleum, Chevron, CONOCO-Phillips, ENI, Petrobras, Repsol -YPF, SK, Occidental Petroleum, Lukoil, EnCana and Oil and Natural Gas. The location of these companies' projects leaves no doubt as to their good sense, since they are found in all regions of important deposits, as can be seen on the map. These locations are well protected by the infrastructure facilities projected by IIRSA, so that their access to the world market, already quite agile, would still be improved.

Minerals, elements that make up the basic material structure of production processes, have one of their most diverse and abundant spaces in Latin America. Metallic minerals are the focus of attraction for large global companies such as Anglo American, BHP Billinton, Río Tinto, Vale do Río Doce, Xstrata and Nippon Mining Holdings, and their territorial distribution takes them to various South American regions that in all cases will have the virtue of being articulated through IIRSA routes (see map).

The appropriation of forests, natural or artificially generated, has its main areas in very specific points. Their territorial deployment is much less widespread than those of the previous activities, but they are also large-scale capital, linked to the production of cellulose and paper (see map). The main companies in the sector are Stora Enzo, Weyerhauser, Aracruz Celulose, Votorantim Celulose, Kablin, Suzano Papel e Celulosa, CELCO and CMPC, the last two with investments in southern Chile.

Obviously, in addition to all the companies mentioned, there is a network of smaller companies linked to the activities of the large ones, however, they are either completely dependent on them, or their production levels do not affect the large markets or define the dynamics of the economy. .

The idea of ​​showing the geographical deployment of these large investments comes from the interest of reviewing the capacity of these capitalist agents to occupy and define the territory and its dynamics. One of the things that should concern us is how the territory is being expropriated and how projects like IIRSA reinforce that trend.

And, in reality, although in this field we can verify the great number and diversity of interests at stake, it is the hegemonic subject who is at the head of the process. We have an estimate of the foreign territory occupied by US military bases, but it would be necessary to measure that occupied by the properties of the companies to have a complete idea of ​​the territorial dimension of domination.

With these calculations we could find ourselves in a better position to assess whether IIRSA is a project of the South American States or a requirement of those large capitals that drag the States to formulate the policies that benefit them, because what are the States today if not a part of that economic subject, of that dominant subject that is sometimes called Brazilian capital, sometimes Ecuadorian capital, many more times American capital but that, finally, reveals a fusion of interests in relation to the large capital of transnational companies, driven, protected and represented by the North American State.

Even today, although it is difficult to speak of the nationality of capital, there is indeed an enormous weight of US capital in all the most important, most dynamic and future-oriented activities in the world. That authorizes us to continue talking about the American subject as a hegemonic subject, that is, that great capital that coalesces around the American state even though it contains some Mexicans, Brazilians, Japanese or capitals from anywhere else but organically incorporated into that power structure.

Ana Esther Ceceña, a Mexican economist, is a researcher at the Institute of Economic Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Latin American Observatory of Geopolitics, Mexico. - Source ALAI, Latin America on the Move -


(1) This work had the valuable contribution of Rodrigo Yedra, member of the Latin American Observatory of Geopolitics.

(2) Director of the Latin American Observatory of Geopolitics at the Institute of Economic Research, National Autonomous University of Mexico. Coordinator of the Hegemonies and Emancipations working group of CLACSO. Books: Strategic Production and World Hegemony (Mexico: Siglo XXI); Hegemonies and Emancipations in the XXI Century (Buenos Aires-Sao Paulo: CLACSO); Challenges of emancipations in a militarized context (Buenos Aires: CLACSO); Drifts of the world in which all worlds fit (Mexico: Siglo XXI); On the knowledge of domination and emancipation (Buenos Aires: CLACSO).

(3) It is enough to observe what is happening in the Brazilian state of Pará, originally jungle, today full of pastures for cattle and mining craters that deforest, transform the local logics of sociality and organization of reproduction.

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