Panel 13: Environmental Struggles

Diana Jiménez Thomas Rodriguez, University of East Anglia, (chair)

Abstract: Mining: (Un) making the Guatemalan state 

As mining frontiers expand worldwide, critical environmental scholarship is paying increasing attention to how recognition and exclusion operate in mining imaginaries and practices. However, this emerging scholarship has yet to examine how these issues are related to processes of state making. This paper seeks to bring together these two bodies of literature together by examining the competing claims to authority that are present in mining disputes. In particular, it examines how mining can be used as a practice of state-making and how the new resource frontiers created in this process enable the emergence of resistance movements as citizenship practices. The paper examines these issues through the case of Guatemala, a country in which mining has been booming since the early 2000s, causing an large increase in mining license requests on the one hand, and local protests on the other. In brief, the paper argues that, following the 1996 Peace Accords, mining has served as a tool for the Guatemalan state to continue asserting its presence and authority in indigenous territories, as well as to maintain the unequal land tenure that has been vital for local elites. This may explain why peace here has acquired a resource-predacious character. However, as expanding resource frontiers destabilize existing institutions, these processes of state formation do not go unchallenged. Environmental movements against mining can be read as claims to territory, democracy and transitional justice. As such, the paper argues emerging movements can be understood not only as widening practices of citizenship, but also as challenges to state making practices of the Guatemalan state.

* This paper is part of preliminary work for a doctoral research project that seeks to examine the gender politics of environmental movements in Latin America through an intersectional gender lens. 

Wolfram Dressler, University of Melbourne,

Abstract: Violence and struggle: the ‘everyday’ of environmental defenders in the Philippines

A recent report by Global Witness (2018), AT WHAT COST?, documented the brutal murders of 207 land and environmental defenders in 2017––the deadliest year on record since first tracking the killings in 2015. The rise of various extractive industries, particularly oil palm plantations and mines, have proven to be the most dangerous sectors, with associated paramilitary and other enforcement units, murdering those who protect the world’s remnant forest frontiers (Global Witness, 2018). In Southeast Asia, the harassment, violence and murder of land and environmental defenders has accelerated rapidly under the Duterte regime in the Philippines. Excluding drug-related extrajudicial killings (EJKs), as of December 2017, the NGO Karapatan (2018) documented 126 murders of those resisting social and environmental disruption, with the island of Palawan experiencing an associated rise with 1 indigenous leader killed in 2016, 5 land rights defenders in safe shelter locations, and numerous others facing harassment and physical threats to their lives and livelihoods. This paper offers a preliminary window into the lived experiences, struggles and practices of the ‘everyday’ of environmental defenders on Palawan Island––those defenders who work quietly, beyond the media spotlight.  It examines the origins and strategies these environmental defenders deploy in their work, why they do what they do, and how they maintain their lives and livelihoods in the context of mounting threats against them, their loved ones and their comrades.  I foreground their own lived experiences and narratives of survival that have emerged in the context of Duterte’s populist campaign that legitimises killing in the countryside.

Saba Joshi, The Graduate Institute,

Abstract: Negotiating moral economies and institutional authority: gender, land and rural social movements in authoritarian Cambodia

In 2001, the newly liberalized, ‘reconstructed’ Cambodian state instituted land reforms that triggered land conflicts for decades to come. The 2001 Land Law enabled the state to transfer more than half the country’s arable land to private businesses, ceased customary practices of land access and dispossessed land-users that were ‘illegally’ settled on what became state-held land. The effects of these new legalities unfolded in a period when the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) consolidated its authoritarian regime, which has implied that peasants’ efforts to (re)claim their lands has encountered the immobilizing effects of neopatrimonial politics that oscillates between formal and informal institutional authority to ensure varying degrees of state repression. In this context, the prominent role played by Cambodian ‘housewives’ in social movements against land dispossession has become an important subject of academic and civil society commentary. While this literature has exposed the embodied experiences of gendered dispossession and activism, questions of how women’s movements over land are shaped by institutional dynamics (and their shifting scales under neopatrimonial rule), have been relatively less explored. In this paper, I study peasant women’s movements in two rural provinces situated in southern and central Cambodia, exploring dialectics between moral, (formal and informal) institutional authority and the gendered subjectivities that shape their claims on land. I read the dynamics of these interactions through stories of compensation and negotiations between the state, companies and activists, which exemplify the interfaces of formality and informality, of rights and gifts that shape competing claims over territories. Drawing on fieldwork conducted between 2016 and 2017, I argue that women’s claims on land are embedded in local histories of settlement and constructed with reference gendered moral economies, in face of the state’s dispossessory apparatuses which are continually constructed through negotiations between formal and informal institutional authority. 

Gerardo Torres Contreras, Institute of Development Studies,

Abstract: Mobilisation, Land Tenure and Citizenship in Eolica del Sur Wind Farm

Literature on socio-environmental conflicts resulting from wind energy in the Mexican case is biased towards the indigenous opposition to wind energy projects. Renewable energy projects, however, generate uneven outcomes and multiple reactions at the local level. This holds true for the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, area that concentrates over 90 percent of wind energy projects in Mexico and that combines indigenous areas with key historical investments in infrastructure such as the Dovalí refinery. This paper seeks to answer the questions: Why people oppose or support wind projects in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico? Along what lines of class, gender, age, citizenry, ethnicity and patterns of land ownership are support and opposition expressed? Eólica del Sur –the biggest wind farm in Latin America -provides insights on these queries because it is a contentious project that has tried to sit 132 windmills since 2006 in different indigenous towns in the region. By comparing landowners who have signed contracts with wind energy companies and opposition groups to wind energy, this paper will argue that landownership, citizenship and indigeneity are key elements that explain why people oppose or support wind energy in this case. While for landowners wind energy expansion represents an opportunity to move to secure land titles by enabling a new form of property owning citizen visible to the state, for opposition groups land should be governed according to collective and autonomous dynamics held in accordance to indigenous systems. This paper will start by depicting Eólica del Sur and its evolution in different towns of the region. Afterwards, it will investigate the different standpoints of groups and individuals who support and oppose the project.  The paper will conclude with a reflection on renewable energy development and its relation with debates on landownership, citizenship and authority in the Global South. 

Brototi Roy, UAB,

Abstract: Multidimensionality of violences: An analysis of two coal conflicts in tribal Jharkhand, India.

The tribal population (or adivasis) of India are at the forefront of many conflicts over natural resource extraction in the country and have been disproportionately displaced in the name of development for many decades. This paper aims to examine two cases from the central Indian state of Jharkhand, related to coal conflicts- one of coal mining in the Govindpur coal block in Latehar district and the other of a thermal power plant in Godda district.  Both these districts have a large tribal presence. This paper aims to understand the multiple threats and intimidation that these marginalized people face while fighting for their community forest rights against the coal project, and their motivations and mobilizations using legal and direct action. It focuses on the socio-economic power asymmetries of the different mobilizing groups in these ecological distribution conflicts. It is informed by fieldwork conducted in Jharkhand between October-December, 2017 and January-March, 2019, well as grey literature.  The paper analyzes how tribal rights and Adivasi voices are systemically subdued using a variety of methods such as false gram sabha hearings, intimidation by extremist groups, non-compliance with the resolution of public hearing, violation of forest rights act, physical threats and falsifies court cases, to name a few. It explores the multidimensionality of violences, which goes beyond physical violence, and into structural, cultural and systemic violence. It concludes that a historical non-recognition of the tribal identity and rights, despite laws and regulations, is a primary cause of such conflicts.