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Nine frequent questions about militarism and large scale mining in Latin America

Peace Laboratory (Venezuela)

1) Why is it important to talk about mining projects today in Latin America?

Anyone who is interested in the principal causes of unrest that involve current social movements in Latin America will be able to confirm that they are generated around two related themes: the commercialisation of so-called common goods (water and natural resources) and the rural and indigenous resistance to large mining projects.

A quick regional look reveals this: In Bolivia the government initiative of building a road that crosses the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (Isiboro Secure Indigenous Territory and National Park, TIPNIS) has generated an important popular resistance. In Cajamarca, Peru, at least four people were murdered when protesting against the Conga Project of the Canadian Newmount Mining Corporation. In Argentina demands have related to the overturning of an anti-terrorism law and the requirement of a comprehensive reform of the Mining Code and abolition of the Mining Investment Law. In Ecuador citizen pressure managed to get the state condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for having violated the right to consultation in the case of the promotion of extractive projects inside the Sarayaku territory, as well as the trial of Chevron for the generation of environmental problems as a product of their activity inside the country. In Guatemala various indigenous communities are denouncing the unconstitutionality of the Mining Law. In Venezuela the Pemón, Wayuu and Bari indigenous peoples are demanding the demarcation of their land, and rejecting the increase of coal exploitation. In all these countries the campaigns have led to state policies of criminalisation of protest.

Current economic globalisation requires the countries of Latin America to continue building their role as reliable suppliers of natural resources and energies to the world market, independent of the ideological character of their governments. Five indigenous organisations of the region (Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas (Andean Committee of Indigenous Organisations, CAOI); Confederación de Pueblos de la Nacionalidad Kichwa del Ecuador (Ecuadorian Confederation of Peoples of Kichwa Nationality, ECUARUNARI); Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu (National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu, Conamaq); Organización Nacional Indígena de Colombia (National Indigenous Organisation of Columbia, ONIC); Confederación Nacional de Comunidades del Perú Afectadas por la Minería (National Confederation of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining, Conacami]) circulated a manifesto in March 2012 in which they stated: “The openly neoliberal governments as well as those called alternative or progressive ones agree in insisting on neoliberal extractivist capitalism that despoils and plunders Mother Earth, infringes on human rights and associations of indigenous people, and criminalises their leaders, authorities and directors.”

2) The countries of Latin America are promoting their own mechanisms of integration, such as ALBA and Mercosur. Isn’t this good for fighting globalised capitalism?

All the processes of regional integration advanced today in Latin America have as their first objective the integration of the national markets to compete, in better conditions, in the international market. However, it’s not ALBA or Mercosur that is the most important model of regional integration currently in development, but one called Integración de la Infraestructura Regional Sudamericana (Integration of the South American Regional Infrastructure, IIRSA), a project that covers the areas of transport, energy and telecommunications in order to promote commercial opportunities in South American territory, understood as a big market, building major engineering works to improve and increase the capacity for the export of natural resources and energy.

3) When did the IIRSA come into being and who finances it?

This initiative was created in the Meeting of South American Presidents in August 2000 in the city of Brasilia, Brazil. It was President Fernando Henrique Cardoso who promoted the invitation to approve a discussion forum on a future economic zone of South American integration, proposing necessary macroeconomic co-ordination “with a view to expanding the physical infrastructure of integration”. At that meeting the IIRSA was adopted by 12 South American presidents. Both technical co-ordination and operation was delegated to three banks: the Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo (Inter-American Development Bank, BID), the Corporación Andina de Fomento (Andean Development Corporation, CAF) and the Fondo Financiero para el Desarrollo de la Cuenca del Plata (Financial Fund for the Development of the River Plate Basin, FONPLATA). Besides the active role in the financing of studies and projects related to the IIRSA, these financial institutions have facilitated and promoted private sector participation.

4) What are the interests promoted by the IIRSA?

In tune with economic globalisation, the objective of increasing the flow of capital is placed above promoting the flow of people and the integration of populations. The economic axes pertain to large complexes of extraction of natural resources (sectors such as: mining, agro industrial - basically GM monocultures, forestry, etc) and/or delivery of services ( large scale infrastructure projects, transport, electric energy, gas, water, etc.).

5) The IIRSA also talks of Latin American “integration”. What does this consist of?

The “integrationist” vision of the IIRSA is composed of 10 axes that transcend national borders with the aim of “supporting” business chains and serving as a basis for the harmonisation of regulatory systems among Latin American countries. The axes are the fundamental instrument of the IIRSA initiative for achieving their development objectives. The 10 defined axes of integration are the following: 1) Eje Andino/Andean Axis (Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela); 2) Eje Andino del Sur/South Andean Axis (Chile, Argentina); 3) Eje de Capricornio/Capricorn Axis (Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil); 4) Eje del Amazonas/Amazon Axis (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil); 5) Eje del Escudo Guayanés/Guiana Shield Axis (Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Surinam); 6) Eje de la Hidrovía Paraguay-Paraná/Paraguay-Paraná Waterway Axis (Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay); 7) Eje Interoceánico Central/Central Inter-Oceanic Axis (Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Peru); 8) MERCOSUR-Chile Axis (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil); 9) Peru-Brazil-Bolivia Axis; 10) Eje del Sur/Southern Axis (Argentina, Chile).

6) In what way do extractive projects affect the environment in Latin America?

South America has reached very high degrees of modification of its natural environment. A study carried out in 2010 placed Brazil in first place, among 228 countries, for its absolute environmental impacts, above the USA and Brazil. That position is due to its high rate of loss of forests, deterioration of natural habitats, high number of threatened species, and intensive use of fertilisers. Among the first twenty countries with the highest levels of environmental impact at a global level, Peru, Argentina and Colombia are also found. The principal causes of environmental deterioration in South America are the very high levels of deforestation, the advance of the agricultural frontier (including livestock and agriculture), a predatory extractivism, from mining and oil, and the advance of monocultures.

7) In what way does Latin America contribute to climate change?

According to studies, South America’s contribution to total global emissions of CO2 is 3.11%. The largest contributor of the region is Brazil, which is in 17th place in the world ranking. If the emissions are considered per capita the largest contributor is Venezuela, which is in 55th place in the world ranking. Moreover South America’s emissions of greenhouse gases taken together represented more than 11% of total global emissions. Unlike what happens in the rest of the world, in South America it isn’t energy consumption, but high rates of deforestation and agricultural activity that are responsible for the large volumes of emissions.

8) What is the relationship between militarism and extractivism in Latin America?

The Uruguayan writer Raúl Zibechi has said that “There’s no extractivism, there’s no mining, there’s no soya, there’s no monocultures, without the militarisation of society… This is not a mistake, militarisation, it’s part of the model. There’s no opencast mining, mega mining without militarism.” In each of the countries, the deposits of oil, gas, coal, diamond, gold, bauxite and the rest of the minerals destined for export are guarded by the national armies, so the indigenous communities and farmers who resist are faced by the armed forces.

9) Does a relationship exist between military spending and the development of extractive projects in the region?

As SIPRI figures demonstrate, Latin America is one of the regions of the world that has maintained a high level of arms purchases in recent years. Moreover, as in Argentina and Venezuela, anti-terrorism laws are being enacted following the pattern created in the USA and, as in Ecuador and Bolivia, social and indigenous activists who reject extractive projects have been accused of “terrorism”. The strengthening of the armed forces, which includes a high budget for the purchase of weapons, is first a symbolic strategy to maintain governance and deter anti-extractivist protesters and, secondly, a real chance to suppress and disrupt protests against major mining projects.

Translation: Edward Neidhardt