Social Movements

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).

Gotkowitz, Laura

Gotkowitz, Laura. A Revolution for Our Rights Indigenous Struggles for Land and Justice in Bolivia, 1880-1952. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Focused on indigenous organizing and politics in pre-1952 Cochabamba, Laura Gotkowitz’s A Revolution for our Rights tells the story of the “revolution before the revolution.” This book is key because it fleshes out the intricacies, associations and years of struggle that often get written out of narratives of revolution. Thus while it does not discuss the land reform implemented as part of the Bolivian National Revolution, it meticulously lays out the legal battles, confrontations and protests launched by rural people for some 70 years before. Stressing legal battles, Gotkowitz shows how communities mobilized against the Liberal project fighting for corporate “absolute rights to property” in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Additionally they often fought for recognition of their right to rights. For instance, as a result of the 1945 Indigenous Congress a series of laws protecting colonos from their hacienda owners were passed. However, it was up to the communities to ensure that the laws were observed; Villarroel made no effort to enforce them.

As important as the emphasis placed on legal battles, is Gotkowitz’s unearthing of the dense network of associations that fueled indigenous and colono mobilization in Cochabamba. First off, struggles were often waged as indigenous community members and hacienda colonos together. Moreover, Gotkowitz shows how they were linked to urban labour movements, like the Confederación Sindical de Trabajadores de Bolivia (CSTB), as well as radical parties and organizations.

For text online click HERE (login to UBC Library required)


Marisol de la Cadena

Marisol de la Cadena. Indigenous Mestizos: The Politics of Race and Culture in Cuzco, Peru, 1919-1991. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Marisol de la Cadena’s Indigenous Mestizos tracks the roots and practices of what she calls “de-indianization,” or the process by which the racism that differentiates between categories of “Indian” and “mestizo” is reproduced and contested by working-class Cuzco residents. Balancing intellectual history and ethnography, the book charts elite ideas of race throughout the twentieth century and then examines the ambivalent reprocessing of those ideas by indigenous organizations, other intellectuals, as well as in daily practice in markets, and public and religious rituals.

She argues that Cuzco elites first developed a discourse of indigenismo as a way of distinguishing themselves from the modernist discourses of mestizaje that were associated with Lima. Meanwhile indigenous groups like the Comité Pro-Derecho Indígena Tawuantinsuyu perpetuated a vision of Indian-ness steeped in modern rhetoric of progress through education. By the 1930s and 1940s indigenista elites found competition in the form of “neo-indianist” ideas that, rather than exalting an idealized Inca past, promoted a discourse of mestizaje. Finally there were the Marxists, who, in the form of the Federación de Trabajadores del Cuzco in the 1950s and in the form of the government by the time Velasco famously turned Indians into peasants, represented the closest allies of indigenous cuzqueños. In the waning days of indigenismo, after the defeat of the Tawantinsuyu’s racialized pro-indigenous project, the alignment of indigenous issues with unions meant a confluence of race and class. While de la Cadena argues biology had never served the basis for twentieth-century racial categories, the general trajectory that she describes is one in which Indian-ness goes from being defined by culture, to being defined by class.

Santiago, Myrna

Santiago, Myrna I. The Ecology of Oil: Environment, Labor, and the Mexican Revolution, 1900-1938. Cambridge [U.K.]: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Santiago blends social and environmental history to explain transformations in the Mexican oil industry leading up the Cárdenas' nationalization in 1938. The guiding concept she uses to bring these two fields together is the notion of an "ecology of oil," which addresses interwoven patterns of land tenure and use with social structures.
The major transformations she describes, then, fall along these three axes: tenure moving gradually from communal to private; use moving agricultural (subsistence and ranching) to drilling and refining; and the social landscape shifting from Huasteca to mestizo, as the industry attracted labour and the instability of the revolution—then post-revolutionary clientelism—pushed labour to the Vera Cruz.

Regarding tenure, the transformation she describes follows a common progression in which commonly held Huasteca land eventually became the property of foreign firms like Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell. However, unlike the situation Melville describes in the Valle del Mezquital, this progression is stunted and interrupted by the nature of the Huasteca landscape and the social transformations of the revolutionary and post-revolutionary period. Although consolidation of ownership did occur in the lead up to the revolution, land was not fully privatized by an invasion of ranching-focused hacendados, partly because the dense jungle and tar pits spotting the land were not conducive to large-scale ranching. Moreover, as foreign firms moved in to search for and exploit reserves, the instability of the revolutionary period made it more reasonable to rent from hacendados instead of purchasing land outright.

Folchi, M.

Folchi, M.  “Conflictos de Contenido Ambiental y ecologismo de los pobres: no siempre pobres, ni siempre ecologistasEcología Política No. 22, Ed. Icaria, (2001) pp. 79-100.

In this piece Folchi takes on the prevailing tenets marking the “environmentalism of the poor” frame, especially as Chile is concerned. He begins with a brief literature review in which he demonstrates the tendency of the ecologismo de los pobres school to locate the origin of Chilean environmental conflicts at the shift to the neoliberal model ushered in under Pinochet. Folchi argues that these studies neglect: 1) the long history of environmental conflict that goes back far beyond the 1973 coup; 2) the “ideological impurity” of many so-called environmentalist mobilizations (here he weaves ecological concerns into a fabric of social, material and traditional issues); and 3) the fact that environmental conflict can be generated by any kind of transformation, not necessarily degradation.

Under the Hapsburgs, the “common” status of the palma chilena was often a source of heated conflict that forced the colonial administration to choose between community access and the private property rights of landowners.

For instance, conflicts over fuel wood in early republican Chile were often played out between mine owners and hacendados, The issue over prohibition of the fraguas—or artisanal foundries—in mid-nineteenth century Santiago was one in which the poor artisans fought to continue contaminating the city’s air.

A community fought to get legislation passed that would regulate containment standards and require the neutralization of relaves de cobre to avoid toxic spills.
Environmental tension (tensión ambiental), to overcome Manichean approaches, and conflicts of an environmental nature (conflictos de contenido ambiental) to avoid the implication that tensions arise from a strict ideological defense of nature.

Burt, Jo-Marie, y Philip Mauceri, eds

Burt, Jo-Marie, y Philip Mauceri, eds. Politics in the Andes: Identity, Conflict, Reform. Pittsburgh, Pa: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004.

As a volume I have to admit I didn’t find this book too useful. The comparative framework and normative baseline use of an ill-defined—even vacuous—notion of “democracy” made its contribution too vague for my liking. While I understand the attempt to isolate regional similarities in identity politics, violence and political transformation, and situate them within “broader, historical, political, economic and social trends,” (14) I’m afraid Burt and Mauceri cast the net too far.

That said, the individual case studies are of some use. Xavier Albó’s piece takes Yashar’s comparative approach and reaches the same conclusion that Greene and García challenge: namely that of Peruvian exceptionalism. Interestingly, he relies heavily on Iván Degregori’s argument, that Peru saw little indigenous mobilization, because of migration to the coast, where “choledad” was the mainstay of ethnic identity. Collins fleshes out a case from Van Cott, looking at the way Pachakutik emerged as an electoral manifestation of CONAIE.

The only other thing I want to mention is the emphasis placed on the role of personalistic politics in the rule of figures like Fujimori (Burt) and Chávez (López and Lander) and the threats it poses to, as well as the ways it interacts with, democratization.

Hooker, Juliet

Hooker, Juliet. “Indigenous Inclusion/Black Exclusion: Race, Ethnicity and Multicultural Citizenship in Latin America.” Journal of Latin American Studies 37, no. 2 (2005): 285-310.

Hooker takes on the question of how, under what Van Cott calls the Multicultural Model, Afro-Latino struggles have not succeeded in securing the same types of rights and recognition that indigenous peoples have. She begins with a statistical overview that shows black marginality to be as—indeed in some cases like Colombia’s Pacific coast, more—severe than that of indigenous Latin Americans. Challenging prior assertions that explained this discrepancy in terms of differential population sizes, mobilization in defense of rights and the capacity to organize, she argues that “the main criterion used to determine the recipients of collective rights in Latin America has been the possession of a distinct cultural group identity,” and not the experience of racial discrimination and socio-economic or political marginalization. (291)

First she examines the holes in prior arguments that tried to explain this phenomenon. Using the case of Colombia in 1991 specifically and resorting to more general region-wide information, she demonstrates that Afro-Latinos were often involved in struggles much like those of indigenous peoples analyzed by the likes of Yashar, García and Van Cott. However, she sees one fundamental distinction in the way that their respective struggles were perceived by national elites and the public at large: that of Afro-Latinos as based on a position of anti-discrimination, and that of indigenous peoples as rooted in a collective sense of identity that differentiated them from the rest of the national polity.

Newell, Peter.

Newell, Peter. “Contesting Trade Politics in the Americas: the Politics of Environmental Justice.” In Carruthers, David V, ed. Environmental Justice in Latin America: Problems, Promise, and Practice. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2008.

This piece is more descriptive than analytical. In it, Newell, seems to be suggesting that if we look close enough we can often find an environmental justice component of many critiques of trade liberalization. However, he warns of the allure of subsuming environmental justice movements within the broader framework of those critiques. After briefly positioning environmental justice (defined on p. 50) vis-à-vis the contestation of such regimes as NAFTA, Mercosur and the proposed FTAA, he then gives a broad overview of the forms that contestation has taken and the existence of environmental justice movements within them.

Form 1: First Newell discusses examples rural actors influencing regional trade policy through environmental justice movements. Here he gives account of various instances of regional opposition to GMOs and the way they interact with Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) clauses in NAFTA and CAFTA.

Form 2: Next he explains some of the barriers posed by trade liberalization talks to democratic decision-making and gives an overview of some of the EJ movements that have engaged with trade regimes over issues of transparency and democratization, particularly around land rights in the Peruvian and Chilean mining regions and in Brazilian Amazonia. Specifically he mentions how trade regimes circumvent debates over the “social ecology of trade.” (60)

Form 3: Finally he discusses various cases of EJ movements pushing for corporate responsibility: Metalclad using NAFTA to sue Mexico, DIFD at Manhattan Minerals’ Tambo Grande Mine; Botnia and Empresa Nacional Celulosa España paper mills on the Río de la Plata, La Oxy in Colombia, etc.

That’s all.