Anti-extractivism in Ecuador: Thea Riofrancos talks to the London Mining Network Book Club about her new book: Resource Radicals

Ecuador is a country heavily dependent on resource extraction. The previous left-wing populist government of Correa pursued mining as the strategy to bring about development and used the income from mining to reduce poverty- from 37% to 23% in about 10 years. He argued: “We cannot be beggars on a sack of gold”.

However, many people have been critical of this strategy, concerned about the environmental cost and the devastating consequences for local, often indigenous, communities. Whereas previously social movements focused on labour exploitation and ownership of the natural resources (resource nationalism), now there is a very large and militant movement which Thea calls anti-extractivism and in many ways is an alternative development model. This movement wants to move beyond dependency on mining to one based on small-scale farming, the integrity of indigenous communities and ecological preservation.  It is often referred to as “buen viver” or living well or post-extractivism.

This debate about land use strikes at the heart of Ecuadorian politics, like elsewhere in Latin America and other parts of the world. One of the issues raised is that support for anti-extractivism is uneven because of the rural/urban divide. Most mining takes place in rural areas so it is indigenous groups and farmers who are affected. Meanwhile, the benefits of the income are concentrated in the urban areas. This means that though the urban working class is not militantly pro-mining they will be hard to mobilise under an anti-extractivist umbrella, because they have benefitted from the money put into infrastructure and social services.

Thea also mentioned the way this alliance of environmentalists and indigenous peoples has come to be an inspiring force in Latin American politics. This can be seen in the eco-social pact, which came originally out of Argentina. The Rights of Nature has also been used as a useful tool by these social movements as it is enshrined in the Ecuadorian constitution.

Resource Radicals by Thea Riofrancos: Published 2020 by Duke University Press

A recording of the whole session will available soon from the London Mining Network.

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