Latin Americans debate ‘extractivism’




In a comprehensive review article in the Fall 2014 issue of Green Social Thought, long-time Left Green activist Don Fitz offers an insightful analysis of the current debates over ‘extractivism’ in Latin America.  While most environmental and indigenous activists are highly critical of the elevated levels of resource extraction that are occurring under nominally leftist governments in South America, proponents argue that it is unrealistic to reverse this trend, now that countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru are aiming to use the proceeds from oil and mineral extraction to benefit their majority populations. Fitz’s article also serves as an introduction to four reprints offering very different perspectives on this question.

The table of contents can be downloaded here, and Fitz’s article here.  These are available only as pdfs from the magazine, not as separate web pages; links to each article can be found on the GST home page.

Don Fitz’s article begins:

The controversy over extractivism in Latin America has become a lot hotter. Though social justice and environmental activists have sought a partnership for years, this could become a wedge issue. The debate is core to our conceptualization of what type of society we are working to build and how we plan to get there.

Historically, social justice advocates have pointed to economic growth as the road to eliminating poverty. Inspired by authors such as Andre Gunder Frank and Eduardo Galeano, they understood that “underdevelopment” is not a result of Latin American countries’ lagging behind Europe and the US. It has flowed from their wealth being drained as they produced raw materials for rich countries. Could they break out of the “underdevelopment” cycle by keeping the profits from extracted raw materials?

A new generation of Latin American authors has challenged the focus on extractivism because of the damage it does to indigenous cultures, the environment, and the health of current and future generations. Yet, their challenge is itself being challenged by those who insist that governments such as those elected in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Brazil are improving the quality of life of millions of people by retaining a much greater proportion of extracted wealth.