Sawyer, Suzana. Crude Chronicles: Indigenous Politics, Multinational Oil, and Neoliberalism in Ecuador. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

Discussions I’ve had about this book tend to orbit around how bad it is. I don't think it is that bad, but I do see some shortcomings. So rather than simply summarize it, as I would usually do in a post like this, I want to examine a few of its strengths and weaknesses.

I think that as a study of environmental justice its merit lies in the idea that Sawyer develops of the mosaic of alternative nationalisms that are at play in the OPIP struggle against Texaco and an Ecuadorian state that increasingly abandoned its representative role and took on the role of fiscal manager. I think that her analysis of Oswaldo Guayasamin’s mosaic in the presidential palace becomes her metaphor for the idea of plurinational space that was espoused by the indigenous movement in Ecuador (and I would say uncritically embraced by Sawyer). Yet unsurprisingly, Sawyer’s personal commitment to the indigenous struggle poses a problem for her critical engagement with important concepts at play. I think is is very difficult—and commendable—to tread that thin line between political commitment and scholarly distance, but it will almost inevitably raise critical concerns.

For instance, Sawyer fails to problematize race. Sundberg has struggled to point out how Latin American environmental justice literature has failed to look critically at race and I think Crude Chronicles is a case in point. While Sawyer does take race as something that is constituted and masked through official spatial discourses, what she centers on is the negation of identity (50-51).

Horna, Hernan

Horna, Hernan “South America’s Marginal Highway.” Journal of Developing Areas, Vol. 10 No. 4 (1976): pp. 409-424.

This piece comes across as an apologist ode to Belaúnde, peppered with statistics—the same ones Denevan uses, drawn from Stokes—and resting on a toothpick foundation forged from press accounts—Peruvian Times, Time, The New York Times and Semana en el Perú. There are, however, some redeeming qualities. For instance, Horna, while absolving Belaúnde of any guilt in his administration’s 1968 lackluster performance, focuses not just on the APRA-UNO opposition, but also in the American backlash to Belaúnde’s modest protectionism. Also, Horna gives a cursory account of the ways in which the Velasco administration carried the Marginal mantle into the context of the 1970s Amazonian oil boom. Interestingly, here Horna seems to continue embracing the view that road colonization will assuage the social strife caused by demographic pressure placed on land, while at the same time recognizing that roads were mostly built because of their value on the international stage: securing boundaries and resources, integrating markets (Andean Pact 1971, LAFTA), etc. This unique local-transnational symbiosis seems to result in part from the exorbitant costs of jungle road construction—$200,000 / mile in 1967 (416)—and the dependence that generates on international lenders.

Two other valuable aspects of this piece are the brief mention of Colombian, Ecuadorian and Bolivian participation in the continental dimensions of La Marginal’s construction. Also, this article is littered with anecdotal delicacies: like Belaúnde’s 1963 birthday gift of 25,000 tools (415); The pomp and circumstance where the Bolivian and Peruvian sections of the road were joined (414); Velasco’s effort to connect La Marginal to the Trans-Amazonian (418); and the quixotic hope of continental completion by 1995 (420).

Hvalkof, Soren.

Hvalkof, Soren. “Outrage in Rubber and Oil: Extractivism, Indigenous Peoples, and Justice in the Upper Amazon.” In Charles Zerner, ed. People, Plants, and Justice: The Politics of Nature Conservation. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. pp. 83-117

Perhaps one of the more conventional works of this volume, “Outrage in Rubber and Oil,” suggests a continuity of injustice that straddles the temporal boundaries of successive export booms in the Upper Amazon. I say conventional because in the end it posits collective land title as the “key to control” (106), a crucial mechanism by which indigenous peoples can transcend debt bondage. In this sense he reiterates the conclusions of most who deal with the region (Varese, Chirif, García, Gray, etc.) without acknowledging the myriad nuanced ways that tenure can give rise to other sets of problems (see Sawyer chapter 1, García and Chirif, or the critique Benavides and Chirif make of the De Soto brand of tenure). Morover, Ribot’s piece in this same volume shows how property rights do not necessarily translate into justice.

Hvalkof opens with a vignette of Siona Indians of Puerto Bolívar (Ecuador) resisting the arrival of Chinese oil company. He explains how the Siona political awakening was nourished in two major ways: their struggle with the administrators of the Faunistic Reserve of Cuyabeno brought them together in a collective effort to delineate their territory and marked yet another crucial moment in their struggle against extractive activities, as immediately after signing a treaty with INEFAN in 1995 INEFAN turned around and granted an oil concession on newly legalized Siona land. Hvalkof uses this story and a conversation with locals to demonstrate the continuity of experience that Cuyabeno area Indigenous have had with extractive activities since the seventeenth century.

Martínez-Alier, Joan

Martínez-Alier, Joan. "From Political Economy to Political Ecology." In Ramachandra Guha and Joan Martínez-Alier. Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South. London: Earthscan Publications, 1997.

Martínez-Alier’s explanation of political ecology and its relation to political economy begins by addressing the long-time reluctance of Marxists to take on questions of ecology. From Marx and Engels’ initial rejection of Podolinsky’s ideas, to the New Left’s failure to see environmentalism as more than just the ICUN, WWF and the Sierra club, Marxist critiques until the 1970s and 80s failed to acknowledge the “effluents of affluence” and resource distribution for fear of naturalizing human history. Martinez-Alier remarks on the myopia of such rejection, considering how social Darwinists, Neo-Malthusians (not sure how this jives with his positive treatment of feminist Neo-Malthusians in The Environmentalism of the Poor?) and in particular Garret Hardin have been using ecology “with criminal intent and to devastating effect against fellow human beings” (26) for some time. (Though indirect, I read this as a response to the way early political ecology was initially associated with Ehrlich, Harding, etc. (Bryant and Bailey, Chapter 1).)

Contrary to naturalizing history, Martinez-Alier argues, examining the effluents of affluence and ecological distribution conflicts historicizes ecology. As myriad examples from Ecuador to Chile demonstrate, while most anti-industrial struggles may resist characterization as “environmentalist,” they are nonetheless deeply rooted in ecology (as shown in Hugo Blanco’s quote and the case of La Oroya, which Mallon historicizes in detail). 

Van Cott, Donna Lee

Van Cott, Donna Lee. Radical Democracy in the Andes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Essentially picking up where Yashar left off, Van Cott looks at the impact of indigenous mobilization on political institutions in Bolivia and Ecuador since the 1990s. For instance, one of the major parties she examines, Pachakutik, sprung from the movement, CONAIE, whose emergence Yashar studies. Van Cott also deals in detail with localities governed by representatives from MAS and Felipe Quispe’s Movimiento Indígena Pachakuti in Bolivia, as well as Amauta Jatari in Ecuador.

As an interesting aside, Yashar looks at Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, arguing indigenous mobilization in Peru was scant and of little consequence for state institutions (the par excellence of the Peruvian exceptionalism García and Greene take on); Van Cott, in her way, solidifies this view by leaving Peru out entirely, instead looking to Bolivia and Ecuador because they represent cases where indigenous politics have had the greatest likelihood of institutional innovation through a confluence of processes of decentralization, specific characteristics of leadership and the formation of indigenous political parties. Thus, for Van Cott, indigenous mobilization is defined by the formation, consolidation and innovation of traditional political institutions and social movements, and she maintains the division between the two that Mallon tries to do away with.

Yashar, Deborah

Yashar, Deborah. Contesting Citizenship in Latin America: The Rise of Indigenous Movements and the Postliberal Challange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Yashar argues that the rise of indigenous movements in Latin America can be attributed to the interaction of three fundamental components: 1) the ethnic cleavages and threats to local autonomy posed by shifting citizenship regimes; 2) the existence of transcommunity networks; and 3) the availability of political associational spaces. Her analysis equally relies on the assertion that despite advocacy of local autonomy and the challenges presented by postliberal (the fusion of corporatist and neoliberal forms of interest intermediation such as those seen in the institutionalization of multiethnic and plurinational citizenship regimes) politics, the state is still a fundamental arbiter of rights and responsibilities. As such, identifying the scope and reach of the state by historicizing and spatializing the formation of indigenous movements is an undeniable requirement.

Looking in depth at Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru, she demonstrates how the transition from corporatist modes of state-based interest intermediation (focused on collectives as political entities and extending social rights in addition to some political and civil rights) to neoliberal citizenship regimes (privileged unit is the individual, social rights are stripped out of state functions) posed threats to local autonomy. In this context, indigenous federations such as CONAIE (Ecuador), CSUTCB and CIDOB (Bolivia) and AIDESEP (Peru) arose where there was a confluence of transcommunity networks—in the form of schools, churches, unions, etc.—and political associational space—framework for the freedom of expression and association. Whereas these three components existed in Ecuador and Bolivia, the residual effects of corporatist efforts and the outbreak of civil strife during the '80s and '90s in Peru stifled the formation of networks and the emergence of political associational spaces in most of the country.