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Political Economy

G05(a) - Politics of Resource Extraction

Date: Jun 4 | Time: 01:30pm to 03:00pm | Location: SCRF 1022

Chair/Président/Présidente : Liisa North (York University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Liisa North (York University)

Session Abstract: There is a wealth of case study oriented scholarship on conflicts that highlight the most egregious effects of commercial resource extraction on ecologies and local populations; yet, there is a distinct role for political scientists in examining the wider policy and political processes that define recourse conflicts as a broader phenomenon. Bringing together scholars from the subfields of IPE, comparative politics, and IR, this panel seeks to examine the pluralism present in political science scholarship regarding the study of resource extraction and associated conflicts. With a cross-national focus on select Latin American countries and highlighting the activities of Canadian-led commercial mining operations, the panel will cover the various social, political, economic, and gendered themes that shape the modern politics of resource extraction.

Violent Norms in the Implementation of Tahoe Resources’ San Rafael Mine: Simon Granovsky-Larsen (University of Regina), Caren Weisbart (York University)
Abstract: In 2013, seven unarmed Guatemalan protesters were shot by security guards employed by the Vancouver-based mining company Tahoe Resources. The incident led to legal action taken in British Columbia by the Guatemalan survivors. This paper analyzes over 200 pages of documents entered into that trial, as well as Guatemalan government documents accessed through freedom of information requests, to explore the networks of power used to sustain Tahoe’s San Rafael silver mine. We argue that violence connected to the San Rafael mine—including the 2013 shooting as well as the murder of numerous opponents—relies on an assemblage of highly organized, militarized, and often government-affiliated actors fuelled by legal structures and formalized institutions intended to ensure the smooth implementation of mining operations in the face of community opposition. We highlight two processes apparent from our reading of the accessed legal and institutional documents. First, the case elucidates the informal connections between—and coordinated actions of—a Canadian mining company, the Guatemalan government, Guatemalan security forces, and non-state armed groups. This, we argue, points to the importance of parainstitutional violence for achieving goals of the Guatemalan government and transnational companies. The second area uncovered by the Tahoe case involves the various legal norms and specialized institutions utilized in Guatemala and Canada to protect transnational economic interests. Documentation of these processes through the Tahoe case sheds light on the organization of violence in contemporary Guatemala, on the violent practices of extractive industries, and on the struggles for justice rooted across multiple legal systems.

Mexico’s rural transformation: counterreform and the rise of the mining concession: John Hayes (McMaster University)
Abstract: Mexico has undergone a transformation of the national political economy, with lasting effects on the ecologies, industries, and populations of rural areas. President Salinas de Gortari’s six-year term (1988-1994) was defined by a series of counterreforms, which weakened key institutional developments for rural populations that were brought forth in the aftermath of the Mexican revolution of the early 20th century. Notable changes enacted by Salinas were the mining law and the agrarian reform laws of 1992, along with revisions to article 27 of the constitution concerning land redistribution, which, taken together, ended the seven decades-long guarantees of protection of the agricultural commons. Based on these changes, the federal government now grants legal precedence to commercial permit holders operating on commonlands over the title holders to those collective lands, which has resulted in heightened social-environmental conflict and repression of mining resistance in the 21st century. Drawing from census data and government legislation, this paper seeks to clarify the extent to which rural transformation occurred under the Salinas counterreforms and how these changes help explain the pivot from an agriculturally intensive rural sector of small-scale producers to an economic model of subsoil extraction.

Visualizing the Role of Culture in Women’s Anti-mining Activism: The Case of the El Estor Struggle in Guatemala: Rebecca Tatham (University of Guelph), Brennan Field (University of Saskatchewan)
Abstract: The purpose of this article is to explore how the local cultural landscape gives meaning to Indigenous Mayan Q’eqchi’s women’s anti-mining activism, through the utilization of photo-elicitation interview data gathered with women anti-mining activists at the El Estor struggle in Eastern Guatemala. Conducted in 2017 with 12 women activists from three different communities, their photographs and narratives foreground a series of gendered cultural motifs related to Mayan Cosmovision, traditional attire, customs, and acts of solidarity. The results of this paper reveal the need to interrogate the concept of culture in mainstream social movement theory, which remains largely gender-blind. It also considers the analytical and conceptual utility gained through the use of this method, particularly in its ability to elucidate both the subjective and gendered aspects of culture, which underlie Indigenous women’s struggle against large-scale mining.

The Politics of Artisanal Mining: State Unevenness and Bottom-Up Resistance in The Andes: Zaraí Toledo Orozco (University of British Columbia)
Abstract: Despite a period of economic growth and bureaucratic expansion in the last decade, Andean states still struggle to assert their territorial presence evenly in more remote areas. The rapid and unregulated expansion of artisanal mining (ASM) in the periphery of Andean states is a distinctive example of the long-lasting difficulty to exert full social control throughout the nation state. This challenge is particularly striking considering that ASM – labour-intensive, low-tech, and mostly run by excluded populations – challenges the state’s monopoly over minerals and does not make any fiscal contribution, while leaving costly environmental liabilities. This paper asks: what is preventing states that are highly dependent on mineral extraction from asserting predominance over areas where they have vital interests? Drawing on ethnographies in mining communities and interviews with policy makers, state representatives, and miners in Peru and Bolivia, this study argues that ASM associations enjoy pockets of autonomy, which shield them from state regulation. Their origins, however, vary between the two cases. In Peru, low level of state control is explained by the fact that local governments that rely upon the socioeconomic contribution of ASM at the local level act as a buffer against national policies that want to eradicate the activity. In Bolivia, where ASM associations exhibit a higher level of organization and are formally recognized by the state, miners have become an influential political actor. This paper aims to highlight the existence of different forms of resistance and counter-powers that developers face, particularly in historically forgotten areas.