Spring 2021 Conflict Series - Resource Radicals: Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador
hello everyone uh very glad to virtually see you all at the inaugural session of the spring semester's Conflict Security and Development series. um we're incredibly excited to have Thea Riofrancos here who I will introduce in a second, just want to remind folks that while this week the series is meeting at two o'clock uh next week we'll return to our regular time of uh 12:30. uh for the series I want to shout out to our co-sponsors of course the series is hosted by the Wagner Office of International Programs and we're very thrilled to collaborate with the School of Professional Studies, Center for Global Affairs, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights both at NYU Law School and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences International Relations program. um our speaker today and since this is a webinar format just to remind people um if people would like to use the chat to kind of connect with people and so forth that's great otherwise if you're gonna have questions that you would like me to raise um with the uh please put that into the q&a section or q&a link rather than the chat that would be great.
um so Thea Riofrancos is a professor at Providence College. She is in addition to this book the co-author of an excellent book on the Global Green New Deal um today she's going to be talking about uh resource ra-- her her most recent book Resource Radicals: From Petro-nationalism to Post-extractivism in Ecuador. um absolutely thrilled to have her and without further ado uh turn it over to Thea. thanks so much John for that warm introduction and to Hannah for initially inviting me, and just for everyone for coming out today to this virtual event.
so without further ado I will get started and be sure to leave time for questions and answers over the past two decades two historic processes transformed Latin America my book resource radicals is about their intersection and their combined implications for left-wing projects that seek to transform an economic model based on resource extraction the first process was the recent commodity boom from roughly 2000 to 2014 demand for primary commodities such as copper soy and oil soared driven in large part by rapid industrialization in China as well as other emerging economies during the boom the price of oil increased almost 500 percent accompanied by historically high prices for raw materials across the board in Latin America high prices for key exports offered the opportunity of massively increased government revenues at the same time that they dramatically intensified resource dependency This renewed economic dependency on oil mineral gas and soy exports coincided with a dramatic political development what scholars call the Pink Tide during which a spate of left-wing governments came to power beginning with Hugo Chavez in 1999. the coincidence of these two processes transformed the political economy of the region ballooning export revenues enabled pink tied administrations to govern from the left making good on campaign promises to reverse austerity and significantly reduce poverty and inequality increasing access to education and health care and embarking on new infrastructural projects but the price for improving millions of citizens at socioeconomic well-being was further fiscal dependency on natural resources and in many cases the territorial expansion of the extractive frontier subjecting indigenous communities to displacement and fragile ecosystems to contamination in other words economic development threatened the well-being of some of these leftist government's core constituencies the same social groups who had mobilized against the prior decades of neoliberal policies now faced a new set of social and environmental ills in this context resource extraction and mega development projects emerge as salient sites of conflict between pink tide administrations and social movements resource radicals traces these dynamics in Ecuador the decade in which leftist rafael correa served as president was marked by protracted dispute over new mining and oil projects the conflict split the Ecuadorian left in two on one side indigenous and environmental movements claim that resource dependency pollutes the environment violates its collective rights and undermines democracy they called this model of development extractivism or extractivism in spanish and fought for what they called a post-extractive future this stance represented a historic shift just years earlier some of these same social movements had fought for the nationalization of natural resources they now resisted all forms of resource extraction no matter who the owner on the other side the korea administration defended a pro-extraction stance asserting that oil and mining are vital for equitable economic development they argued that this development would benefit the majority strengthen the state and bolster democracy benefits that an interview far outweighed the socio-environmental costs of mining or oil and I just want to turn to these photographs on the screen right now so you have sort of two different stances on extraction in the same exact site and landscape which is actually one of my field sites on the left you have correa uh with um some of his cabinet members and and the media looking at a site that was slated uh for for for a mining project and on the right a couple of years prior to that you have protests at that same site against that particular mining project and also against the mining law that had just been passed which I'll refer to later um later on in in the talk but just to kind of give you a visual of what these different stances look like who was promoting them and also the landscapes that were at stake this dispute over resource extraction in Ecuador was a dispute between competing models of development that were articulated and then consolidated on the fly echoing historic debates while also forging new interests and identities resulting in a novel kind of political conflict this dispute speaks to a key challenge of our global moment the urgent need for development models that are both socially and environmentally sustainable and for political strategies to mobilize for this aspiration as I'll discuss at the end of this talk this challenge is only intensified by the accelerating climate crisis leftist administrations in Latin America are ideal sites to explore these challenges since both policymakers and movements politicized and radicalized the relationship between development and extraction in the process they raised deep questions about the state democracy and the ecological foundations of global capitalism within this broad regional context Ecuador is a particularly interesting site it is one of the most commodity dependent economies on the continent and saw intense conflict between a leftist government committed to extractive development and an array of movements opposed to extraction in all forms in this talk I'll delve a bit into my book's arguments and I'll also offer a critique of how the politics of extraction tend to be depicted in social science research policy conversations as well as the mainstream media so on to my book my book is animated by two questions first why did activists in Ecuador begin to resist what they called the extractive model or extractivism and what were the political effects of anti-extractive protest and I just want to pause again and turn your attention to the photograph on the right which is during a protest that I did participant observation during and protesters are holding a banner that says fuera mineras which in in spanish and in english that means mining companies get out like get out of the country get out of our territory get out of this landscape and the image I think is quite important it's a skull uh with um two crossbones and the skull has a cap on that says a helmet on I should say a mining helmet that says kinross which was the name of a mining company that was interested in developing a project in Ecuador at the time a canadian mining company and then the two bones are a mining pick uh and shovel right so there's this equation symbolic equation of mining and death which gives you a sense of the militancy of of these environmental and indigenous movements I argue that in answer to these questions I argue that the militant discourse of anti-extractivism was the product of a critical juncture this critical juncture was marked by leftist president correa's inauguration his his ascension to power the constituent assembly that rewrote the constitution and the administration's promotion of large-scale mining which was a new extractive sector in an already oil dependent country anti-extractivism a product of these specific historic circumstances fractured the leftist coalition it drove a wedge between correa and his erstwhile movement allies and caused conflict within the state itself among state bureaucrats with different visions of extraction in what follows I'll walk us through this argument and and specifically through some of the history that led to this dramatic dispute between different leftists between the leftist government and then leftist social movement activists um I will situate Ecuador a bit in global context drawing out some of the motivations for my book and connecting it with maybe other examples that that people are are already aware of if they're not familiar with Ecuador I'll say a bit about my research methods um and the the interviews and ethnography that I conducted and then with that in place I'll walk us through my book's argument and also my critique of what scholars refer to as the resource curse so I'll critique some of the predominant ways that resource extraction is studied in the social sciences to conclude I'll bring us a bit up to the president and mention a little bit about my current research which which dovetails a bit with this project but takes it to a new attractive sector so first the motivations and the global context what does protest against extraction in Ecuador tell us about broader global dynamics so first around the world the extractive frontier is expanding to new territories in Latin America between 2000 and 2014 during that commodity boom there was an intensification of extraction especially in the andes that the mountain range that sort of cuts through the middle of the continent and the amazon one of the most important tropical forests in the world in terms of its its um it's it's uh its biodiversity and also its role in in um in maintaining uh the climate so closer to home uh here in the u.s the advent of fracking for oil and natural gas has transformed the landscapes of the norTheast and great plains so we are actually quite familiar with this expanding attractive frontier uh here in the united states several recent studies have noted an important shift in the contention that surrounds the exploitation of these resources historically a lot of conflict would focus on issues such as labor or ownership but more recently resistance to extraction has centered increasingly on environmental or cultural concerns and invokes new international rights and legal norms that protect local communities anti-extractive protests in Ecuador is emblematic of this broader shift what's really important is that an emerging response to the government and corporate attempt to develop a new attractive sector so it's very much in response to the expansion territorial expansion of extractive activity and in particular I'm talking about large-scale mining which has a really large land footprint and environmental consequences the eruption of militant protest against the expansion of extraction highlights dramatic changes in the political economy of extraction across the region so I was just kind of reviewing some of the global context now I'm going to go to the regional context the global commodity boom as I mentioned resulted in a substantial economic reorientation in Latin America but even within this regional context Ecuador stood out as one of the most resource dependent economies on the continent so this graph which is from 2010 or uh 2009 sorry or 2010 yeah from sort of the height of the commodity boom though it lasted for a few more years gives you a sense of how much of Latin America's export basket was composed of primary commodities those are commodities that don't require uh processing or industrialization it can be anything from oil to fruit to farm shrimp uh to mining minerals right so Latin America is very resource dependent south america within Latin America so excluding central america and the caribbean is even more resource dependent and Ecuador is one of the most resource dependent um in terms of its exports um in in the whole region and in particular the korea government which governed for a decade from 2007 to 2017 benefited more from oil price increases than any other prior administration since the country was democratized in 1979 while korea was in in power oil revenues financed over a third of the state budget but even before the 2014 crash in oil prices social spending already outpaced these revenues meanwhile most of Ecuador's mineral its gold and copper reserves remained unexploited and the prices for metals were historically high so it was in this context that the korea administration pursued large-scale mining as a new source of state income and in his view as a means of bringing development to local communities in the amazon and southern seattle where the metals are located underground with two such contracts for large-scale mining uh in effect the era of large-scale mining has now been inaugurated in Ecuador social movements however consistently resisted korea's attempts to expand extraction these movements included the national and regional indigenous federations which in the 1990s were considered by scholars to be among those highly mobilized movements in the entire hemisphere and indeed indigenous mobilization was key in the trajectory that brought a leftist government to power in the first place but once his extractive commitments became clear korea became a target of indigenous protests often times in alliance with local anti-mining and anti-oil groups and community water associations militant environmental organizations based in urban areas were also part of the anti-extractive coalition and they helped radicalize environ the environmental discourse of of Ecuadorian activists um so before presenting that that historic narrative and and my sort of argument that I that I gave you a little snapshot of at the at the beginning let me just say a few words about my methodology my methods are qualitative I spent 15 months in Ecuador conducting a multi-sided ethnography I'll show you the science in a moment I conducted lots of interviews with activists but also with people in the corporate sector and in different state agencies I um did participant observation of lots of events and one of the most important of those uh was a 700 kilometer long protest that started in the southern amazon and marched all the way to the capitol um and that that took two weeks and and so that was like a really interesting kind of ethnographic uh a period of observation but I observed lots of other types of events including state and industry events my field work took place primarily in three research sites so that's a little map of Ecuador which is by the way roughly about the size of colorado which I think kind of underlines how amazing the biodiversity and the landscape diversity is given what a small geographic area it is so in the northern highlands in the northern andean region is is the capital quito that's obviously a center of policy making and corporate headquarters but also the headquarters for national social movements then we have these two different sites at the bottom um at in the province of assway and the province of zamora chinchipe uh which were sites of planned mining projects what's interesting is that these two sites show you the whole range of possible outcomes on the the little box on on the left which shows you a protest against a mine and sy that's actually the same mine that I uh planned mine that I showed you photographs of earlier that mine still hasn't been developed that landscape looks exactly the same as the one that I showed you earlier um whereas on the right um the the province that borders peru in the southern amazon that mine is now in production that has a large-scale contract with a um chinese-owned uh consortium of state companies so that that gives you kind of a range of of where different projects are at in the country so to understand the historic roots and the novelty of anti-extractive movements my narrative in my book begins in the prior political period so before the emergence of this anti-extractive you know fully consolidated anti-attractive movements for the decade and a half of social mobilization that began with Ecuador's first national indigenous uprising in 1990 indigenous activists often in coalition with other popular sector groups identified neoliberalism as the target of their resistance in their struggle against neoliberalism these groups asserted that natural resources such as oil were the collective property of the people they claimed to defend lot sovereignty and life itself against the private and often foreign appropriation of national wealth so for example during massive protests against neoliberal reforms in 1994 the national indigenous federation the konai called for non-renewable and sub-soil resources in other words oil and minerals to be the property of the pluri national state that they wanted to bring into existence four years later in their proposal for the 1998 constitution the same federation stated that oil and mining should be national property thus during these years of intense protests against cuts to public spending privatization and other neoliberal reforms the national indigenous federation which was a key protagonist in a broader protest movement demanded the nationalization of natural resources for the collective benefit of the people this is what I call radical resource nationalism this vision of resources has a long history in Latin America throughout the 20th century and to the present leftist movements have seen extraction the problems with extraction through the lens of anti-imperialism and concomitantly rejected foreign ownership and demanded national resource sovereignty correa entered the 2006 presidential race riding the coattails of these mass mobilizations capitalizing on his already established antenna liberal credentials correa had served as a finance minister in a previous government and was well known as as a prominent leftist economist but with his rise to power indigenous movements and their allies abandoned their prior resource nationalist stance they re-articulated their position as the total opposition to resource extraction away from their earlier nationalist rhetoric of resources for the people so I'm going to give you a little bit of a taste of what this anti-extractive discourse and tactics kind of look like so first in July of 2010 I spoke to a prominent member of a human rights organization that focuses on environmental conflict she told me that quote extractivism extra activism was to blame for a wide range of problems in Ecuador she discussed how the sale of land to oil and mineral companies and the construction of infrastructure results in what she called a new colonization of the countryside but she also observed that the expansion of extractive front activity opened up new possibilities for collective action such as emerging alliances between indigenous groups and small farmers who may not be indigenous necessarily mestizo farmers um in the southern amazon who saw a common enemy in the advancing extractive frontier I want to note right away though that this discourse though it originated from social movements was not restricted to social movements it also circulated among actors that I call in my book quote critical bureaucrats these were members of the administration who were hesitant critical or even opposition to more resource extraction so a week after I spoke to that human rights activist I sat down with a legislative advisor talians pais korea's own political party who was later appointed to the ministry of economic policy so pretty high-ranking official in the party and in the state this um uh this advisor spoke to me of two grand projects in contradiction on one side is the development model that was promoted by the government and in particular by correa based on what this advisor called quote the super exploitation of nature and extractivism he explicitly contrasted this model with buen vivir the indigenous concept of living well now enshrined in the constitution a model he saw is not so much economic as civilizational that envisions a total reordering of the relationships between individual community and nature so I want to repose my research questions now that we have a taste of this discourse and how it represented a shift from the prior resource nationalist stance why did activists resist resource policy in these new terms and what were the political consequences so as I mentioned earlier there was a critical juncture a context in which a lot of things were changing um first was the inauguration of Ecuador's first democratically elected leftist president and then the rewriting of the constitution these two provided a political opening for the emergence of anti-extractive movements in a national referendum in 2007 Ecuador's vote Ecuadorians voted overwhelmingly in favor of convening an assembly to rewrite the constitution korea's party alianza pais won almost two-thirds of the seats during the assembly some alianza pais delegates members of other left-wing parties including the indigenous party and their movement allies began to craft a vision of anti-extractivism this framing drew on radical environmentalist proposals stating to the 1990s indigenous discourses about territorial sovereignty and collective rights and emerging environmentalist critiques of Latin America's pink tied governments the definition that these activists of uh use to define extractivism varies but to put it simply a common thread is an export-led model of accumulation an export-led model of development based on the intensive extraction and harvesting of natural resources with little or no industrialization anti-extractive activists claim that this model contaminates ecosystems centralizes political power undermines democracy and violates its constitutional rights but correa's rise to power and the rewriting of the constitution were not sufficient conditions to consolidate anti-extractivism as the critical discourse something else was important I argued that it was the promotion of a new extractive sector of large-scale mining large-scale mining was a centerpiece of korea's economic agenda in the context of booming international prices for largely untapped national reserves of gold and copper korea looked to this new sector to boost state revenue and underwrite the public investment in social services and infrastructure that already outpaced oil revenues substantial as they were but despite these potential benefits large-scale mining and especially open pit mining in sensitive ecosystems such as the amazon entails dire consequences for directly affected communities and the environment moreover the energy and transportation infrastructure that mining requires contributes to deforestation and in turn climate change as a result both promoters and detractors saw mining as a path to be taken or avoided at all costs from the administration's perspective mining would help alleviate poverty for anti-extractive activists it would further entrench economic dependency territorial dispossession and environmental degradation for both sides then an entire model of development was at stake the 2009 mining law was the first in a series of pro-mining reforms the protests that it occasioned organized by a nascent coalition of the national and regional indigenous federations radical environmentalists and local anti-mining groups were the first inkling of the coming political realignment during these protests a press release circulated by the highland indigenous federation which had played a key role in mobilizing against neoliberalism in the 1990s and calling for resource nationalism highlighted the new salience of an anti-extractive framing so I'm going to put this quote up and also read it overcoming the neoliberal model cannot be achieved with the policies of a developmentalist and extractivist model that promotes the extraction of economic resources at whatever cost and reproduces the socioeconomic structure of inequality injustice discrimination and the exploitation of human beings in nature in the context of a leftist administration anti-neoliberal discourse which had been completely salient in the prior period among activists lost some of its critical traction the government itself identified as post or antenna liberal activists in this context crafted a new language of contention focused on what they began to call the extractive model so throughout my fieldwork I saw that this new anti-extractive discourse circulated widely in activist networks at events in meetings and in media in these venues activists crafted strikingly similar narratives so for example at an event organized by anti-mining activists in the province of asshoai one of my field sites alberto acosta who had served as minister of energy and minds and the president of the constituent assembly under the korea government so again another high-ranking official in the government but left the government due to disagreements over extraction called extractivism the quote essence of development which he understood as a 500 year long history of the imposition of western modernity from his perspective overcoming extraction entails an entirely new model of accumulation a member of a radical environmental group acciona kalohika presented a very similar account during a public debate over mining in the northern highland province of imbabura she used the opportunity to delve into a sweeping history of extractivism dating it to 1534 the year of the spanish conquest of quito and what she called the moment of insertion into the world market but even within these sweeping 500 year-long accounts for anti-extractive activists the korea administration stood out as the most extractivist regime in Ecuador's history in large part due to the promotion of large-scale mining as conflict over extraction intensified anti-extractivism became the language of contention guiding movement and state strategy it circulated in symbiotic relationship with the administration's unrelenting push for new extractive projects each node in the attractive model constituted a potential target of mobilization so protest was as likely to erupt in the streets of quito at a state ministry or corporate headquarters as it was in the immediate sites of mineral and oil extraction anti-extractive movements forced the kore administration to explicitly defend extraction and here are just some quotes a kind of a sense of how correa would defend it and this often happened in his weekly presidential addresses which were several hours long and broadcast on tv and on the radio so throughout his administration and often in direct response to episodes of protests korea asserted that resource extraction is good for development and democracy because the revenues it generates benefit the majority of the population including the communities most affected by its socio-environmental consequences interestingly he in effect redeployed social movements prior resource nationalism framing by arguing that resource extraction should benefit the people and his administration put this into practice directing the proceeds from royalties and taxes to fund infrastructure and social services during his time in office poverty dropped dramatically from 37 to 23 percent but in Ecuador from the moment they emerged anti-attractive movements also caused conflict within the state so korea's position wasn't necessarily the position of all state officials official resource policy became a field of contention between bureaucrats with distinct political visions after the constituent assembly officials with anti-extractivist sympathies such as alberto acosta who I mentioned left the regime and opposition politicians began to identify as anti-mining and anti-oil so extractivism had really polarized the political landscape and so by the time I conducted field work this discourse circulated beyond social movement activists bureaucrats tasked with long-term economic planning that were still employed by the state um and working for the state claimed to mean in interviews that a post-extractive economy an imagined future in which Ecuador was no longer economically dependent on primary commodities provided a solution to persistent underdevelopment and ongoing socio-environmental conflict somewhat counter-intuitively they justify the expansion of extraction in the present in terms of the revenues that would generate to transform the economy in the future large-scale mining a sector still then in its early stages of construction was to be the beginning of an end a quote post-doil vision as one bureaucrat told me or was another official phrased it the last moment of extraction at the same time bureaucrats more directly involved with negotiating with foreign firms and attracting foreign investment were forced to respond to both anti-extractive activists and their more skeptical colleagues while still attracting that investment in the mining sector correa as I mentioned was one of the foremost defenders of extraction he branded activists as infants and traitors accused them of terrorism and this resulted in legal action against nearly 200 indigenous and environmental activists at the very end of his last term in office he deployed military and police force against indigenous communities who protested their displacement by another chinese-owned mining project so at this juncture I want to highlight a little bit the differences between my approach to extraction and the prevailing approach which is this idea of a resource curse which prevails not only in social science and the academy but also in public policy work and in media conversations according to the quote resource course states that depend on oil or mining for their revenues are likely to be authoritarian and economically unstable or underdeveloped from this perspective oil or mining rents which are taxes and royalties charged to extractive firms are the glue that holds elite coalitions together enabling them to buy off or repress civil society thus insulating them from popular pressure the result is either low quality democracies or stable autocracies in contrast to resource gross arguments my book demonstrates that oil and mining don't homogeneously or unilaterally determine political outcomes instead the consequences of extraction are highly context dependent and the interests of different actors shouldn't be assumed in advance in Ecuador as another commodity dependent left populist governments in the region resource revenues were a double-edged sword in the short term they enabled administrations like the korea government to govern from the left buoying high approval ratings and electoral victories and resulting in important reductions in poverty and inequality but in the longer term by locking in an extractive model of development they undermine broader social and economic transformations and also drove a wedge between the government and some of their former political allies also in sharp contrast to the depiction of civil society in this scholarship in my view indigenous labor peasant and environmental activists are not just passive recipients of oil spending or victims of state repression instead they are protagonists they articulated novel critiques of extraction and opened up new arenas of conflict both between movements and the state and even within the state itself as a result activists and even some bureaucrats rejected an attractive model of development altogether an outcome that would be actually inexplicable within the resource curse framework which assumes that especially elite actors will always want to continue extractive activity because of the ways that they benefit from it defying simplistic analyses of civil society and oil and mining dependent states anti-extractive movements in Ecuador were creative working through and against institutions to achieve their goals they elected anti-extractive leaders to local government they marched from the amazon to the capital they organized nature walks through the still verdant sites slated for extractive ruin and occupied mining camps erected on their dispossessed land they monitored environmental impacts and frustrated with the legal system they took the enforcement of constitutional rights into their own hands organizing the very consultations in local communities affected by extractive projects that the government had failed to implement these tactics had a deep impact on politics in Ecuador and beyond the national territory and the resources it contains literally constitute the foundation of the state in resisting the extraction of resources indigenous and environmental movements across the americas called into question the taken for granted relationship between state nation territory and resources to conclude I'll note that although my book stretches from 2007 to 2017 these topics have only grown in relevance as new forms of extraction take hold around the planet and climate change of course threatens communities territories and ecosystems currently my research focuses on the extractive frontiers of green technologies specifically lithium batteries and electric vehicles which I'm happy to discuss I've done some field work on lithium extraction in chile finally i'd like to pivot to the future of radical and left politics in the region given the fact that during the pink tide the Ecuadorian left fractured pinning movements against a government that they had initially if critically supported I want to highlight the necessity of both left governments and left movements for the foreseeable future achieving socioeconomic equality on a livable planet is the key political task for the hemisphere and the globe for all the limitations and contradictions of the pink tide without progressives in power political social and economic inequalities reinforce one another and deny a dignified life to the vast majority and for all the challenges sustaining anti-extractive movements resistance against extractive projects is vital in order to avert the worst of climate chaos despite the potential for conflict between them these two projects of progressives and government and leftist movements are fundamentally intertwined so what is the possibility of Latin American leftists reconstructing coalitions that can weave together egalitarian and ecological demands the future it's cliche to say is more unpredictable by the day but there are new policy paradigms such as uh the call for a new eco-social pact and the framework of our green america which I can talk about these are different policy frameworks articulate an inspiring vision for green and socially just regional economy thank you so much and I look forward to your questions thank you so much Thea um it's amazing how you were able to pull together in a relatively short period of time the very complex and nuanced arguments that you have in the book I can you know quick book promo can't under recommend this book uh or can't over recommend this book in fact um so for people who have questions please throw them up into the q a um and uh wondering if I could just start off at some level kind of where you ended um one of the things that I really appreciated um at the end of the book was your discussion of kind of the existential dilemmas facing on the one hand a kind of excuse me uh nationalist extractivist resource uh radical approach versus the anti-extractive particularly because korea as you discuss came to power and part on the back of social movements who subsequently were central to the anti-extractivist agenda so I guess I was curious if you could talk a little bit about um I i felt kind of teased at the end of the book where you're saying what would be great and kind of the failures of the anti-extractivist mobilization was that they were very strong on kind of demands around democracy and community participation and informed consent but kind of lacked an alternative transformational national economic vision right that there was nothing so if you weren't going to get growth versus from extractivism what was your kind of alternative and anti-extractivists as a whole didn't really seem to have that so I'm wondering what are the pathways then out of this dilemma um that would offer something more substantial in terms of an alternative vision that's not just in the fevered imaginations of left intellectuals but actually is aligned with actually existing social forces that could bring it into being yeah that's a great that's a great great question and a big one um so I'm gonna try to restrain myself to not sort of go in too many directions with it um you know I i think that the the pandemic the economic consequences of the pandemic and also the neoliberal turn of the current government who people thought was going to maybe be a continuation of correa but actually went to his right this is a former lenin moreno the current president who's a former vice president of korea's um so you have like a more neoliberal government and then you have this extreme public health and economic devastation in it and it can't be overstated like how much Latin America is probably the region of the world that has suffered the most from from the pandemic and and and the economic fallout of it so these are our circumstances that I think in some ways help create the conditions of a broader popular coalition and in other ways make it hard right and so I just want to speak a little bit to that um and then I'll see if I've sort of answered your questions so I think the ways that they create those conditions is that it was in the 1990s and early 2000s under neoliberal governments whose policies harmed a really broad array of constituencies right so working class and lower class and poor people but also like lower middle class middle class people really kind of all saw like a common problem with um these neoliberal policies that really reduced state spending um had under investment in public infrastructure just you know harmed lots of different folks across the board and it was in that context that the indigenous movement but with a lot of different allies and other popular movements was able to create this really broad social um protest that eventually in a way you know resulted in in korea's election um and in some ways those conditions repeat a little bit now because you have a sort of neoliberal those technically left but really in policy practice neoliberal government and we saw the implications of this last year um in october of 2019 when there was a massive massive social movement that erupted in Ecuador again led with the indigenous movement but with a really broad sector of society involved and there were like 10 or 12 days of intense protest against basically austerity policies um that that the moreno government had put into place in order to satisfy the imf because the moreno government had an imf uh loan agreement um and they forced them to walk back they forced this the government to concede these popular demands so this interesting moment of like the re-articulation of a really broad protest movement around like sort of bread and butter economic issues that that harmed a lot of people on the other hand as we know you know around the world it's challenging to organize during a pandemic and when people are experiencing a level of economic admiseration that is just hard to express in in Latin America um uh in some countries 40 50 60 percent of people work in the informal economy which means they just have zero social safety net um whenever you know the economy goes into a downturn and it's just really devastating we're seeing the return of forms of hunger and malnutrition and chronic poverty that some of these left governments had actually done a lot to to to reduce when they were in power so it's very challenging conditions to organize but I do think that what the moment has shown is like you know the deep inadequacy of of neoliberal um or conservative approaches to the pandemic and to the health system and to economic support and so there is the potential for like re-articulating that coalition I'll sort of leave it there but it's a great question that's great I mean perhaps we can pick up one of the themes from that so Ecuador is going to be having an election on sunday how do you see these kinds of issues playing itself out in the context of the current election yeah it's it's amazing I saw that question in the chat and I was glad someone asked it because like more than I would have predicted what my the conflicts my book discusses are front and center in the election and the re and like really much more than I would have predicted them to be um the reason I say that is that we have two different leftists on the on the ballot so we have a right wing or conservative person who's run before and lost before guillermo lasso he's like a banker and a businessman so that's him and then we have a candidate that is associated with korea and alianza pais though the party name has changed um um andres and then we have a candidate that's associated very deeply and actually makes quite a number of appearances in my book associated with the anti-attractive left jacob perez um he was his name was carlos perez when I spoke to him in in you know so just in case people search for it in the book um but I talk a little bit about why he changed his name to an indigenous name anyhow so we have like the anti-extractive left the kind of codeista or you know more like uh progressive kind of technocratic kind of left and then we have a right-wing person right so it will be interesting I'm not sure I would have to get into the weeds of like um you know uh pulling data and stuff like that if the these two leftisms that are in my book and on the ballot are like splitting the left vote or possibly because I this I've noticed in prior you know polling and and voting trends and over the past several years in Ecuador it's possible that jakub perez the anti-extractivist running is getting votes that are disaffected enough from kore ismo that they wouldn't have voted for him at all right so he's not really splitting the left maybe he's expanding a little bit the you know who's turning out I i don't know which way it goes and I think there are other people more informed about this current electoral dynamics to answer that but it but basically anti-extractivism versus something like you know resource nationalism or progressive kind of uh but but but uh um development approach to resource extraction are both on the ticket right now so I'm curious to see how it turns out great um I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit you know we have a new administration in the united states uh you know arguably one of the one of the elements that contributed arguably to to the success of uh the experiments of the pink tide was that in the early part of this century the us was like focused on the middle east and focused on kind of the war on terror and was not as engaged in this it's commonly historical intervention as commonly engaged historically in its interventions in Latin America um and so there was there seemed to be a little bit more space for those kinds of experiments than perhaps it existed certainly in the 50s and 60s um what do you what do you kind of see is the the role that the biden administration might be taking towards um Latin America kind of in general or efforts to kind of pursue heterodox uh development strategies yeah that is um that is an excellent question and I think one that we'll kind of kind of have to say time will tell because I think the experience of the Obama Administration is very mixed on a foreign policy standpoint you know there are there are some you know certainly some negatives in terms of foreign intervention in conflicts around the world that occurred on the Obama administration and I'm not exactly clear how much biden has like learned from that or will change his attack um that that issue aside um definitely there is a relief on the part of Latin American progressives and leftists that Trump is out of office obviously Trump um uh in very concrete ways like helped um increase the political fortunes of very right-wing political actors in in in the americas right bolsonaro being one of them but also his work with sort of fringe very right-wing elements of the venezuelan opposition and his attempt to like elevate you know some of those to to to power um and and working around more um dialogue based forms of of of of moderating conflicts you know it it was very concerning and having Trump out of the office means that read you know kind of right wing and fascist and conservative elements around the region like don't have someone in the white house that's gonna like elevate their fortunes um but you know I'm very curious to see what biden does he has said one thing that is positive from my perspective but I really just want to frame all this by saying I'm not exactly sure what what policy framework he'll take towards the the americas and democrat democrats in office in the white house have done lots of not good things in the americas right so I think the standard is pretty low unfortunately he has said that he wants to address root causes of migration so he wants to address things like climate change and economic disparities and under development and vulnerabilities that are driving migration and that he also wants to uh help invest through I don't know if it would be through foreign aid or through what exactly um in green technology and renewable energy in the region right so sort of offer this alternative pathway that could be an alternative to the sort of oil and and and mineral and large scale agriculture perhaps based economies that predominant in the region so we'll see if he carries through on that promise I think that you know thinking about the redistribution of economic resources in the region uh region including the u.s is is is really important I also think this would be more radical than biden is going to do but if I were president you know one thing that I think is really important to talk about is canceling debt and I and I don't mean student debt though I think we should cancel that too but what I mean is sovereign debt which is the debt that that governments owe to often either private creditors or international financial institutions like the imf and Latin America is a wash in sovereign debt to levels that I think all economists agree like are just totally unsustainable and never be paid off the issue with debt and I'll end this here is that debt kind of incentivizes extractivism in a number of ways but one key way is that if you have a lot of debt you're going to go to where you can immediately get government revenues and that's these extractive you know these global markets and extractive resources and so it really creates a short-termism in terms of economic policy and so biving could do a lot the u.s has a lot of leverage over international debt markets and
over international financial institutions um I don't think he would take such a radical step but I would love to see him do it so to pick up on this the the the last point um and try to link uh the discussion you were just having with some of your more recent work which I know is focused on kind of um the political economy of kind of green value chains as it relates to kind of transforming uh in a green fashion the kind of global economy so if we if we take the kind of the green new deal the global green new deal as a goal and objective we're going to have to have renewable forms of energy that's going to involve a lot of things including the use of things like lithium and other kind of metals that we can at this point only get by mining so how do we it's already hard enough to come up with like a heterodox development strategy how do we think about doing that in the context of um uh trying to think about you know the negative effects of extractivism when some of those resources may in fact be central to the construction of some kind of a of a new type of of green economy and so how does one manage those conflicts I i think there would be a wing of folks who maybe come out of the d growth community who would say you know we just that's too bad that's not a pathway that we can go down and so it's about de-growth and lowering consumption and so forth what what is kind of the positive vision of building a green economy that would still rely it's to some degree on extractive minerals yeah thank the amazing question and nice framing in terms of yes there's a lot of different perspectives of on this among progressives among leftists and then you know more broadly than that just to give folks a little context if people are not kind of aware of of the the bigger context of John's question um green technologies or clean technologies are the technologies that we need to develop and deploy to switch to renewable energy and also to mitigate you know the the uh the the harm that climate change has already caused right and so we're thinking about things like solar panels like wind turbine um there are also more um speculative technologies around carbon capture and things like that and what I'm studying is lithium batteries which are in your cell phones on your laptops but are also in tesla's right and so those are used a lot of what drives the demand for lithium batteries increasingly is electric vehicles they're also used to store electric excuse me renewable energy on grids that use solar or wind power because the energy is intermittent so you need to store it in some way okay so those are what lithium ion batteries are now the word lithium gives you a clue that um like anything in the world and like all green technologies these are made with things that are pulled out of the earth right and so what's being pulled out of the earth here is lithium but there's also cobalt and nickel and magnesium and a whole host of other minerals that go into making these batteries um and just to give you a sense of how significant John's question is and the sort of topic uh right now investor analysts are predicting a new huge commodity boom right I talked about a commodity boom from 2000 to 2014 and I gave you a sense of how much that changed the global and regional conjunction right right now we might be entering to another commodity boom because the amount of raw materials that green technologies require is actually enormous right so just to give you an example a tesla or I don't need to say a tesla any electric vehicle like sedan size has like 180 pounds of copper in it which is like way more copper that's wiring you know for all of the uh you know the electric motor and and driver so these are resource intensive objects even if they are extremely important to reducing carbon emissions and so it feels like a real trade-off like how do we both protect local ecosystems um respect indigenous rights um uh and also uh transition to a future in which these green technologies would be more prevalent and it's it's you know a thorny one and I'm at the beginning stages of a project around this I've done a few months of field work in chile when I lucky enough when I did field work before the pandemic um you know and so I've been and reading and sort of researching this question and I think there's you know a few ways that I would answer it really briefly one is I think that we need to really rethink um global economic exchange specifically trade right so what are the conditions under which lithium or cobalt or copper are extracted and then traded around the globe right are there ways the answer is yes are there ways to make these much more just equitable environmentally sustainable our current trade model so-called free trade I don't really like the term it's not really free for anybody except for capital mobility and investor kind of rights and so thinking about how to rewrite our trade models to make them more green lower carbon and more just and to ensure um better sourcing and better conditions for communities and ecosystems at the extractive frontiers of these supply chains right so that's one um another though and this is the bigger thing that that John the end of John's question kind of hinted towards is like rethinking a lot about how we produce and consume right and I'll just give a quick example and end here which is like you know for me this whole moment of electrifying transit of of moving away from internal combustion engines towards electric transit is a moment to actually rethink our whole transit system like why do we each need a car um uh why don't we push our transit systems towards mass transit public transit um walking and cycling um and other forms of transit because the most resource-intensive thing in terms of the minerals pulled out of the ground is a model in which everyone has their own passenger vehicle that just sits in a garage most of the day and you know isn't even really being used in any rational sense in terms of how much went into it whereas a bus at least serves many more people right and so just thinking about how do we design these transit models and what kind of transit systems do we demand in the global north so that the supply chains are less rapacious in terms of how much needs to be extracted um and I'll I'll just pause there because I could go on this is like the question of our moment but I just encourage folks when we're when we're advocating for environmental low-carbon you know policies in the u.s as I do to just think about their supply chain implications because I think different policies have really different uh reverberated in really different ways across the rest of the planet so I draw one last question the draw from the from once something submitted to the q a so you focus primarily on Ecuador these kind of issues have also been raised in similar debates in bolivia there was the recent relatively recent legislation in el salvador about ending um minerals so what kind of pat do you see there being a pathway uh the q the questioner says you know what about costa rica ecotourism agriculture those are themes that kind of jaku perez has drawn on as what uh we might think of as a maybe as a degrowth approach or a Buen Vivir approach you know is that is that really a viable strategy as an alternative pathway for sustainable prosperity yeah I mean absolutely I think that from the us to Ecuador we should be thinking of ways to shift our economies to less resource intensive less energy intensive to thinking about care as one of the most important social functions right whether that's teaching or healthcare or elder care which happens to be low resource intensive and low carbon right and so thinking about those sectors of our economy also thinking more broadly about care sectors including environmental care environmental remediation and then there's the whole renewable energy kind of sector that we need to build up right so there's a lot of different sectors that I think that they don't have zero environmental implications but they have fewer and they might also create better and more equitable social relations right so I'm all for wherever we are in the world of of thinking about you know how to build a different economic model and I think you know honestly as challenging as the circumstances are right now for all the reasons I listed earlier with the pandemic and economic dislocation crises are also potential moments to sort of do deeper re-evaluation and to maybe create different types of coalitions um you know one one thing I'll just to circle back to your to your question more specifically I mean I think that all of those ideas about you know more regenerative agriculture eco-tourism though the flying thing is not solo carbon but okay a lot of ecotourism is actually regional I mean people within Ecuador might travel drive and you know travel somewhere within the country right so you have ecotourism you have regenerative agriculture you have a research and knowledge economy and a care economy and all of those would be great and I think they should be promoted the problem is the economic resources needed to deal with you know extreme poverty which has really increased as you know in this pandemic moment and in that context I think the two things are key one is domestic within a country and one is regional or global so the domestic is we have to tax rich people more we have to do that everywhere but in Latin America wealthy people are taxed at just everyone actually is taxed as way lower rates than is like you know the oecd average or whatever so taxation rates are extremely low in Latin America and that has to change because that's another thing that incentivizes extraction because you don't have domestic kind of fiscal resources um that's and they're more sustainable economically I mean more stable than than boom and bust cycles of extractive markets so that's one thing and then the global I already mentioned which is I think there has to be a real call on the world bank on the imf and on private creditors to reduce dramatically or in my view cancel debt that is constraining fiscally the room for maneuver for progressive governments right so I don't think you can do these things just in one country even though a country like costa rica has done amazing things towards decarbonization right but I think ultimately there are changes at higher scales that need to occur and I think that's also where we come in in the global north in solidarity and sort of policy circles to kind of think about how can we put pressure on our governments or corporations to change that global picture well thank you Thea um apologies folks for apologies to you for running over a little bit and for thank you folks for hanging around with us this was absolutely wonderful presentation uh the book again resource radicals duke university press um and we hope to have you back very soon Thea if that would be okay of course uh maybe for the next project when I when I you know uh whenever you want um that would be great this is wonderful questions I i was reading some of them that we didn't get to in very informed uh discussion and questions thank you great uh so uh all right everyone we will see you next week we're back to our regular scheduled time of 12:30 uh and we look forward to seeing you here next week take care everyone thanks again Thea