Friday, March 29th 2019.
The Paradox of the resource-rich countries
It is widely known that many countries especially in South and Central America are struggling to develop and find a way out of widespread poverty despite their richness in primary resources such as oil, gold, silver, minerals and fertile farmland. This seems like a paradox but has to do with the extractivist activities these countries base most of their economy on. Many of these resources are extracted and exported as primary resources without the addition of any value into the more developed countries in the northern hemisphere of the planet. That this extractivism has not really helped in elevating these countries’ populations out of poverty and allowing for social and economic development is clear. The paradox that the most resource rich countries in the world are the ones with the least economic prosperity, remains. Additionally, to the little economic benefits these practices generate, they are damaging the environment, stripping people of their lands and violating human rights. In the last years, some of the more progressive governments in South America have recognized these negative impacts and realized the contradiction they present to their political ideologies and aims. But instead of working for a deeper and more structural change in the way these countries organize their economies beyond the extraction of primary resources, they continued with the extraction but in a new disguise; neoextractivism was born (Acosta, A. 2013).
How neo is neoextractivism?
Neoextractivism can be understood as a form of extractivism in which the state aims to take more control over the management of the resources. Other than in privately conducted extraction the surplus revenues from the neo-version controlled by the state, are promised to be invested in large-scale development programs. These new governments argue that extractivism is indispensable for economic, social and political development and is therefore justifiable since the benefits are invested in development programmes. (Acosta, A. 2013)
According to scholars such as Alberto Acosta however, neoextractivism does not improve the main problems that arise out of the practice of extracting resources on a large scale. He says, it does not change but intensify the fragmentation of territory and negative impacts on the environment and the practices that harm local communities remain problematic. (Acosta, A. 2013)
Maristella Svampa also writes about the topic. She writes about “the dispossession and accumulation of land, resources, and territories, principally by large corporations, in multiscalar alliances with different governments.” (Svampa, M. 2015, p.66) and furthermore defines neoextractivism as “the pattern of accumulation based on the overexploitation of generally nonrenewable natural resources, as well as the expansion of capital’s frontiers toward territories previously considered non-productive” (Svampa, M. 2015, p.66). For her, the overexploitation of non-renewable resources is a key aspect of neoextractivism. The resources associated with this are mainly gas and petroleum as well as minerals, metals and agricultural products such as soy and corn.
When reading about these concepts, about the types of problems that arise from them and about the different forms of civil resistance that are emerging as a response, I realized that what was described especially in Svampa’s article “Commodities Consensus: Neoextractivism and Enclosure of the Commons in Latin America” has many similarities with the case of the construction of the beer brewery by the multinational company Constellation Brands in the city of Mexicali, Mexico. In this case, the main resource that is extracted and that causes great civil disobedience is: Water.
Is water a resource affected by neoextractivism? – the case of Mexicali
In the following, I want to further explain the case of Constellation Brands. I want to argue that this case can and should be seen as a case of neoextractivism. Agreeing with this argument would call for the necessity that water should also be seen as a primary resource affected by neoextractivism and should be given greater attention.
Constellation Brands is a multinational company and one of the biggest beer producers is the world. To date, they run two beer factories in Mexico in Obregon, Sonora and in Nava, Coahuila. To date, the company is in the process of constructing a third brewery in Mexico namely in the Baja Californian City Mexicali. (“Despite ‚Challenging‘ Environment”, 2019).
The biggest criticism towards this enterprise is the environmental damage this factory will cause to the area. Overall, the estimated annual use of 20 million cubic metres of water has resulted in strong discontent among the citizen of Mexicali and its surroundings. What makes this project even more questionable is the fact that the area around this city is very dry, the city already faces severe problems when it comes to providing enough water to its citizen. The company tries to appease the citizen by promising the creation of jobs and capital for the local community. Looking at the numbers however it becomes clear, that this factory will bring more damage than benefit, the factory will only create 750 more jobs, which is a low number compared to the thousands of litres of water they will consume. (“Cervecera de EU”, 2018).
This really reminds of a quote by scholar Gudynas cited by Acosta which says that “neo-extractivism maintains ‘involvement in the international market in a subordinate position that serves the globalisation’ of transnational capitalism” (Acosta, A. p.72).
Another aspect Svampa writes about is the undermining of democracy and the ignoring of the citizens’ voices in the designing and decision making over such projects. She writes that “the large scale of such projects not only challenges the existing economic and social structures; it also curtails democracy in the sense that the population has no say in the development of projects.” (Svampa, M. 2013, p. 199). This is exactly the case in Mexicali. People feel overrun and ignored by politics and even the many protests, petitions and the calls for boycott do not seem to change the situation.
The anger of the activists who fight against the construction of the factories since more than a year is big. Protests occurred in which protestants were injured by police forces who blamed them for having committed acts of vandalism. (Perez, R. 2018).
This is again in line with what Svampa writes. She states that the current developments in South America “reflect the tendency to consolidate a model of appropriation and exploitation of the commons, which advances on populations through a top-down logic, threatening the improvements in the field of participatory democracy and inaugurating a new cycle of criminalization and violation of human rights” (Svampa, M. 2015, p. 67/68). The access to water is a human right and if the claims of the activists are true, the construction of this factory will present a violation of these rights since it will impede the access to sufficient drinking water for everyone in the area. These parallels show that the complications around the extraction of “traditional” primary resources, including the struggle for the protection of their rights by the local people affected by these practices, and the extraction of water are very similar.
Even the argument that the concept of neoextractivism is only applicable to non-renewable resources is obsolete in the case of water since the renewability of this resource highly depends on the sustainable use and management of it which is definitely not guaranteed when extractivism is overexploiting these resources.
In conclusion, I argue that water can and should be considered a resource affected by neoextractivism. Especially with the current environmental developments, the demand for water will increase drastically while the access to it will be ever more difficult. Water extraction by big private companies for the production of goods mainly consumed in the western world, is a global problem and demands more attention.
Acosta, A. (2013). Extractivism and neoextractivism: two sides of the same curse. Beyond development: alternative visions from Latin America, 61-86.
“Cervecera de EU se chupará 20 millones de metros cúbicos de agua al año, si Mexicali se deja” SinEmbargo, 15. April, 2018. https://www.sinembargo.mx/15-04-2018/3408051-> last accessed: 03/29/2019
“Despite ‚Challenging‘ Environment, Constellation Brands Keeps Building Its Mexicali Brewery.” Mexico-Now, 25. Jan. 2019, https://mexico-now.com/index.php/article/5042-despite-challenging-environment-constellation-brands-keeps-building-its-mexicali-brewery -> last accessed: 03/29/2019
Perez, R. “’Boycott Modelo Beer!‘ Mexicali Resiste Fights for Water Rights” 13. February. 2018. Telesur HD, https://www.telesurenglish.net/analysis/Mexicali-Resiste-boycotts-Constellation-Brands-Grupo-Modelo-20180213-0009.html-> last accessed: 03/29/2019
Svampa, M. (2013). Resource extractivism and alternatives: Latin American perspectives on development. Beyond Development: Alternative Visions from Latin America, 117-143.
Svampa, M. (2015). Commodities consensus: Neoextractivism and enclosure of the commons in Latin America. South Atlantic Quarterly, 114(1), 65-82.