The Political Economy of the Extractive Imperative in Latin America

10 April 2015

International workshop organized by ISS and Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation (CEDLA)

Background

One of the prominent features of contemporary development politics and policies in Latin America is the prominent role of the state in directing and powering economic development. Accompanying increased state presence in economy and society, another consensus envisions the intensification of natural resource extraction as crucial for development. This extractivist drive is especially pronounced in the countries characterizing the ‘turn to the left’, which have at the same time played host to alternative development approaches, be it the concept of ‘buen vivir/vivir bien’ or the granting of constitutional rights to nature. While Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have become emblematic of these processes, their impact can be felt across much of the region.

This convergence between state prominence and intensified extraction has emerged within a particular context in which the electoral successes of the leaders in power have been underwritten by promises to eradicate what has been seen as the two cardinal sins of neoliberal policies: persistent poverty and societal inequality. Eschewing aggressive redistribution policies, these states have instead sought to achieve rapid, poverty-reducing growth accompanied with largely expanded expenditure for social policies.

'Extractive imperative'

An ‘extractive imperative’ was thus born as natural resource extraction came to be seen simultaneously as source of income and employment generation (through investment in extractive facilities, infrastructure, etc.) but also of financing for increased social policy expenditure. According to this imperative, extraction needs to continue and expand regardless of prevailing circumstances (be it low/high prices of commodities, protests of indigenous groups, or environmental concerns), with the state playing a leading role in facilitating the process and capturing a large share of the ensuing revenues.

A vibrant debate has since emerged regarding the best way to characterize these attempts, with some commentators hailing the birth of a post-neoliberal paradigm and others asserting that we are witnessing reconstituted neoliberalism. Various continuing or new dynamics – such as increased investment from China and other forms of ‘South-South’ flows – further complicate the overall picture.

Aims

This workshop moved beyond facile dichotomies to address the political economy of the ‘extractive imperative’ and the tensions it increasingly generates in Latin America.

Specifically, the workshop engaged with these broad sets of questions:

  • How effective have these states been in reducing poverty and inequality? How important is the role of extractive industries in their growth performance and in financing social policies? How durable are these policies within the context of fluctuating commodity prices?
  • What role do environmental NGOs and activists, who were early supporters of the leaders promising an enhanced role for the state in socioeconomic development, play in this new era? What are the implications for democratic politics of the increased criminalization of environmental activism?
  • Where do indigenous and other marginalized communities fit within this political sphere that is dominated by the state and its extractivist imperative? What are the potential cleavages between national poverty reduction strategies and the manifestation of their local impacts? Can meaningful and painstakingly gained indigenous rights –including socio-political inclusion, territorial integrity and the pursuit of alternative approaches to development and well-being – be fostered within the current conjuncture?

Speakers

  • José Antonio Ocampo (Columbia) Keynote: The structural and short-term implications of commodity dependence in Latin America
  • Jean Grugel (Sheffield)
  • Alfredo Saad Filho (SOAS)
  • Eduardo Silva (Tulane)
  • Rob Vos (FAO)
  • Carlos Zorilla (DECOIN)

Panels and abstracts

Download the list of panels and the final abstracts (See Downloads below).

Downloads