October 18, 2018

Book review, Extractivism: A Review Essay

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Extractivism: A Review Essay
by Bret Gustafson

Natural Resources: Neither Curse Nor Destiny
Daniel Lederman & William F. Malone (eds.) Natural Resources: Neither Curse Nor Destiny. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2007.

New Political Spaces in Latin American Resource Governance
Håvard Haarstad (ed.) New Political Spaces in Latin American Resource Governance. New York: Palgrave, 2012.

Unearthing Conflict: Corporate Mining, Activism, and Expertise in Peru
Fabiana Li Unearthing Conflict: Corporate Mining, Activism, and Expertise in Peru. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

Mining for the Nation: The Politics of Chile’s Coal Communities from the Popular Front to the Cold War
Jody Pavilack Mining for the Nation: The Politics of Chile’s Coal Communities from the Popular Front to the Cold War. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011.

October 15, 2018

Political Report # 1376 Where Is Socialism in Maduro's Economic Recovery Plan?

Recognizing that mistakes have been made in the development of this sector in the past (communes, direct or indirect social property, under worker, campesino or state control) is not an excuse to stop assuming it as a strategic task.
If there are major “mistakes” that have been made which have led to the current crisis, these are undoubtedly ones that have to do with the business class that is once again being called upon to enact the new plan, despite its links to corruption and bureaucracy.
Furthermore, this demand [of support for social or small-scale production] has constitutional backing, assumed by Chavez as the progressive implementation of article 308 of the Bolivarian Constitution:
The state shall protect and promote small and medium-sized manufacturers. I always say that we support and should go on supporting small and medium-sized private manufacturers, but communal manufacturing also fits in here, alongside the private small and medium-sized industries, mixed enterprises, different types and combinations. Going back to the beginning, the state shall protect and promote small and medium-sized manufacturers, cooperatives, savings banks, as well as family-sized companies, micro-enterprises and any other form of community association for work, savings and consumption, under collective property regime (I’m quoting from the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela), with the goal of strengthening the economic development of the country, sustained by popular initiative, training, technical assistance and necessary financing will be provided. Collective property includes collective property that is private, mixed, as well as collective social property. Direct social property is an example of this latter form of collective property. (3)

Book review, Subsoil Politics: Extraction, Nationalism, and Protest in Bolivia and Peru

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Subsoil Politics: Extraction, Nationalism, and Protest in Bolivia and Peru
by Andrea Marston

Blood of the Earth: Resource Nationalism, Revolution, and Empire in Bolivia.
Kevin A. Young Blood of the Earth: Resource Nationalism, Revolution, and Empire in Bolivia.Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.

Resource Extraction and Protest in Peru
Moisés Arce Resource Extraction and Protest in Peru. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014

October 12, 2018

Political Report # 1375 The Workers’ Party electoral struggle in Brazil

            To be anti-PT in Brazil these days, makes one a member of the country’s largest political “party.” The PT is Brazil’s famous Workers’ Party, which was formed by leftists, neighborhood activists and labor union militants in order to renovate democratic politics and escape the stale pull of Brazil’s communist parties as the country’s 21-year-long military dictatorship (1964-1985) came to a tortured end. After many attempts, the PT’s founding light, Luís Ignacio Lula da Silva, served twice as Brazil’s president (2003-2010). His protégé, Dilma Rousseff, was also elected twice for president, becoming Brazil’s first female executive, but her second term ended abruptly in a parliamentary coup d’etat in 2016.

            On Sunday, October 7, the size of the anti-PT vote became apparent when more than 49 million citizens marked their ballots for Jair Bolsonaro, a retired army captain and current Rio de Janeiro congressional representative, who is campaigning to be Brazil’s president on the ticket of the Social Liberal Party (PSL). Critics call Bolsonaro a “fascist” due to his expressions of authoritarianism, ultra-nationalism, machismo, and racism. His aggressive rhetoric and meteoric growth in popularity certainly mark him as Brazil’s contribution to the rightward tilt of politics internationally, something of a Brazilian Donald Trump. In this first round of elections, the voters’ top two choices were Bolsonaro, with 46 percent of the vote, and Fernando Haddad, the PT’s candidate, with 29 percent of the vote. The remaining electorate cast their votes for one or another of the remaining 11 candidates. In essence, 70 percent of 107 million electors voted against the PT.

            Due to polling, the overall results surprised few. Nevertheless, nearly all earlier polls had shown a rejection rate for Bolsonaro of over 60 percent. Now, a short time before the final election round on October 28, reliable polls show Bolsonaro winning with 58 percent of the vote. Many worry that a country that struggled so hard to overcome military rule is about to vote for military rule. In fact, Bolsonaro rose to rank during the later stages of the dictatorship. His vice presidential running mate is a retired Army general and another general is coordinating the work of some 30 study-groups developing policies for governing the country. Many additional military officials man each of these groups. Military men are capable of respecting the law, but leading officials in Bolsonaro’s camp express their disdain for laws and regulations, like those controlling deforestation and protecting minorities. Just about four years ago, the country passed through a period of reckoning, involving truth commissions at every level - from local institutions to the federal government - analyzing the dictatorship and its crimes on the 50th anniversary of the 1964 coup d’etat. The current resurgence of the military in politics seems in part to be a reaction, as they have stridently rejected any wrong-doing and oppose reparations for violating the human rights of their victims.

October 11, 2018

Political Report # 1374 To understand the 2018 elections

On the surface, the Brazilian presidential election seems complex. Despite the coup and Lula´s arrest, the PT seems to be the favorite in the week before the election, facing a fearsome creature of the dictatorship - Bolsonaro. What is in dispute in this election? Who is the candidate for large capital? What is the strategy of the bourgeoisie? And the answer from the left? I will now address these issues.
For the Brazilian bourgeoisie, the economy is not in dispute in the elections: whoever wins will confront the problems of neoliberalism with more neoliberalism. Whether through the utopian way of an "inclusive neoliberalism" preached by the PT, or by the ultraneoliberalism of the Toucans (PSDB) or Bolsonaro.
What the bourgeoisie contests is the political form to manage Brazilian crises. What will be the face of the institutional, legal and cultural arrangement that will replace the New Republic[2], definitively condemned.
On the immediate plane, there are two paths.
In his own words, Lula offers credibility and stability. The credibility of which he speaks is not with those from above, but with those from below: what Lula says, society will accept. In other words, Lulaism offers its capacity for persuasion and popular neutralization, as a path for order. If Dilma Rousseff was the shadow of Lula, Fernando Haddad is projected as the avatar of this policy.[3]
At the opposite, complementary pole, is Bolsonaro. How to understand him? Bolsonaro is the frightening response of a frightened society. Those who are out of work are afraid of hunger, and those who work are afraid of unemployment. Everyone is afraid of violence, and also afraid of the police.

Abstract, Interrupting Green Capital on the Frontiers of Wind Power in Southern Mexico

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Interrupting Green Capital on the Frontiers of Wind Power in Southern Mexico
by Scott A. Sellwood and Gabriela Valdivia 

Harnessing the power of wind is commonly understood as a “green”—cleaner and more sustainable—alternative to conventional extractive practices. An examination of the unfolding of wind energy projects and their contestation in southern Mexico shows that, despite the seeming immateriality of wind farming, wind energy requires epistemological and material enclosures to capture its value. The unreflexive push for these energy frontiers ignores this requirement and, in doing so, sidesteps the processes of dispossession that follow the widening and deepening of capitalist relations, green or otherwise.

October 9, 2018

Political Report # 1373 The Bolsonaro Effect

Jair Bolsonaro is an unavoidable name in Brazilian politics nowadays. In fact, it has been for a few years. A few days before election day on October 7, the most recent polls indicate that Bolsonaro is now the leading candidate in the presidential race, followed by Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT).
Bolsonaro’s political language is hatred. He often calls for the annihilation of the Left. A few days after talking about shooting PT supporters with a machine gun at a campaign rally, a man stabbed him in the stomach. As the situation in Brazil escalates, and the possibility of Bolsonaro becoming president increases, it’s important to understand more about the far-right candidate.
The “Protest Vote”
Jair Bolsonaro is a former military officer from the small Social Liberal Party (PSL) and now serves as a federal congressman. He is a far-right politician who combines liberal economic positions with inflammatory declarations against human rights. He is an anticommunist and an apologist for the dictatorship’s use of torture. His public security motto is “a good criminal is a dead criminal.” When it comes to economics, he defers to neoliberal economist Paulo Guedes, who he’s tapped to head economic policy in a Bolsonaro government.
Although the stereotypical Bolsonaro voter is sexist, racist, and aligned with far-right politics, this is not always the case. For many, voting for Bolsonaro means a renewal of hope and political energy. Some even call it a “revolutionary” or “protest vote.” Our research shows a surprising diversity of people and ideology among his voter base.
Just recently, we were discussing politics with a group of young men in a restaurant in the impoverished periphery of Porto Alegre, in the south of Brazil. Two waiters interrupted the conversation to spontaneously declare their vote for Bolsonaro. Two other men from the next table then jumped into the conversation to proudly yell “me too!” In a matter of seconds, others were chiming in, enthusiastically saying that for the first time they could support a candidate’s campaign based on “faith,” “love,” and “hope,” rather than in exchange for money or jobs - a standard practice in the clientelist politics still prevalent in many parts of Brazil.

October 8, 2018

Abstract, Environmentalism and the Globalization of the Oil Industry in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Environmentalism and the Globalization of the Oil Industry in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
by Maria Guadalupe Moog Rodrigues

The state of Rio de Janeiro has become a hub for oil and gas production and infrastructure since Brazil entered the global oil market in the 2000s. Observers have anticipated increasing tensions between environmental activists and oil companies. These predictions have not been fulfilled, despite increasing evidence of environmental degradation caused by oil production. What could be hindering environmental mobilization in defense of the environment and affected populations and against the unrestrained expansion of oil infrastructure in the state? A longitudinal case study of environmental activism in defense of the Guanabara Bay ecosystem suggests that answers must consider the combined effects of democratization, political and regulatory decentralization, and neoliberal reforms on socioenvironmental activism—specifically, its weakening as civil society organizations confront increasing burdens of participation in policy making, deeply fragmented institutional and regulatory frameworks for environmental governance, and the expansion of opportunities to engage in collaborative arrangements with corporations.

October 4, 2018

Abstract, Neoextractivism and Indigenous Water Ritual in Salar de Atacama, Chile

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Neoextractivism and Indigenous Water Ritual in Salar de Atacama, Chile
by Sally Babidge and Paola Bolados

Latin American governments are neoextractivist: they promote exploitation of natural resources as central to economic development while acting to mitigate some of the excesses of extractive activity. In the space left open by the neoliberal state in the Salar de Atacama in northern Chile, the mining industry creates its own regulatory mechanisms and provides infrastructure and “improvement” projects to indigenous communities. While these projects gain a degree of consent to water extraction and the value of water for development, indigenous people also resist the neoextractivist project. The contradictions of extractivism-as-development are evident in everyday life and articulated in ritual and cultural practice. We take the example of a ritual and work event, the limpia de canales (canal cleaning), to narrate something of local responses to neoextractivist conditions.

October 3, 2018

Political Report # 1372 Vulture Funds Stand To Make Millions In Wake Of Hurricane Maria

VULTURE FUNDS SCOOPED up hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Puerto Rican debt after Hurricane Maria hit - underwritten by Wall Street and purchased at a massive discount, according to new numbers compiled by the nonprofit LittleSis and provided to The Intercept.
Now it's time for the payoff. A deal agreed to last week between creditors, the Puerto Rican government and the Washington-appointed fiscal control board overseeing the island's finances could now funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to those same bondholders in the coming decades. There's also ample reason to suspect at least some of those funds will be siphoned from federal recovery dollars, intended to help rebuild after the storm.
According to court filings made public as a result of ongoing debt negotiations, several hedge funds have bought up massive amounts of Puerto Rican bonds in the year following Hurricane Maria, after which prices dropped. GoldenTree Asset Management, a bondholder for the Urgent Interest Fund Corporation - known by its Spanish-language acronym COFINA - owned $587 million worth of Puerto Rican government bonds before the storm, as noted in a filing dated August 18, 2017. As of another filing almost exactly a year later, the company owned $1.5 billion.
Tilden Park Capital Management, another COFINA creditor, increased the value of its holdings by $370 million over the same period. General obligation bondholders Aurelius Capital Management and Monarch Alternative Capital have increased their holdings from $39 million before the storm to $488 million as of the last filing. (Aurelius and Monarch both also hold some COFINA bonds.)
Due to complexities in the ways some bonds are valued, some hedge funds are reporting increases in bond holdings without actually purchasing more debt. Those bonds, called capital appreciation bonds, have been referred to as Puerto Rico's payday loans due to their predatory structure, in which interest is added back to principal, which increases exponentially over time. In the cases of GoldenTree, Tilden Park, Monarch, and Aurelius, the increases in reported holdings are so massive that they appear to be due to new purchases of debt.