Imagine waking up one day to the news that your land, which you and your tribe have subsisted on for generations, has been sold by the government to someone else. In return, you will be moved to a small plot of land without the same kinds of resources as before. This loss of land creates a domino effect of loss in other areas such as income, traditional environmental knowledge, and general stability. Through green grabbing, government entities or private investors use their power over Indigenous and Afro-descendant groups to confiscate land under the guise of environmental conservation.
Across Latin America, the centuries-old issue of land conflict is gaining new dimensions as nations are increasingly bound into globalised supply chains of resources, food and energy (Peluso & Lund, 2011). The growing influence of corporate actors has transformed struggles over who has the right to inhabit and work the land, as states respond to competing claims from powerful enterprises and rural residents, who are often poor and indigenous. This essay will examine how the authorities in Chile and Honduras have repressed the protests of communities against the appropriation or contamination of their lands by these commercial interests. Despite the many differences between these countries – Chile being one of the most peaceful and prosperous nations in the Americas, Honduras one of the poorest and most violent – they share many similarities in this respect. Via a process that Bessant (2016) calls the ‘criminalisation of dissent’, their governments have prohibited rural activism through authoritarian legislation and violence in order to serve the interests of powerful national and multinational corporations.
The following text is an excerpt from a research paper written in spring 2017. To read the full text and to see the sources used, click here.
Between 1997 and 2013, Chile experienced a shift in mortality rates of diseases considered “modern” or “western” like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The number of deaths caused by malignant tumors of the colon, sigmoid, rectum, anus, liver, pancreas, trachea, bronchus, lung, head, lymphatic tissues, hypertensive disease, cardiac arrhythmias, arteriosclerosis, aneurisms, and aortic dissections have dramatically increased in the last two decades. Within 16 years, the number of deaths from cancer of the colon, sigmoid, rectum, anus, pancreas, trachea, bronchus, lung, and head have more than doubled. Those caused by hypertension jumped from 1,700 in 1997 to 4,574 in 2013. Moreover, the number of deaths from cardiac arrhythmia more than tripled in this time (DIES-MINSAL Series Principales causas de muerte tasas según sexo Chile).
The New York Times headline on October 19 read: “Body Found in Argentine River Shakes Up Election.” Al Jazeera stated on October 22: “Santiago Maldonado’s death overshadows elections.” “A missing-person case looms over Argentina’s midterm elections,” was The Economist headline on September 7. These headlines contextualize the discovery of Santiago Maldonado’s body in terms of national politics and fail to capture the indigenous struggle at the root of his disappearance. Maldonado was present at a mapuche indigenous protest on August 1 in the Patagonian region of Argentina when he disappeared. Cristina Kirchner, the former president of Argentina who has not been shy about her discontent with Mauricio Macri’s government,has used Maldonado’s disappearance as further criticism. Ultimately, the coalition of parties of incumbent Macri proved successful in the elections despite the discovery of Maldonado’s body, securing a significant political victory by dominating “the top five population centers of Buenos Aires City, and Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Santa Fe and Mendoza provinces.” While the international community and Argentine politicians have gravitated to Maldonado’s death as a political instrument in these elections, the death has struck a different chord among the Argentine population. Widespread protests demanding his reappearance in Argentine cities occurred, and with his death an investigation must now be held to determine the cause of death and possible involvement of law enforcement.
It was pitch black save for the stars that pierced the night sky and the faint glow of bioluminescent leaves underfoot, but Manuel could see. The hum of cicadas surrounded us as we wove around the thick growth of the jungle, and I tried not to stumble over the vines that snaked up ancient trees. Pointed stick in hand, Manuel spun stories of encounters with jaguars and deceitful ex-lovers as we traipsed to the river in hopes of catching a fish to bring back to our camp, where a caiman already hung from a line alongside our hammocks.
I had just completed a U.S. State Department-sponsored Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Colombia, and two members of my cohort and I had decided to spend some of our saved stipend on a trip to the city of Leticia, which is nestled between Brazil and Peru in Amazonas, a department in the south of the country. Having already taken the obligatory boat trip down the Amazon River to see monkeys, capybaras, and birds of all hues, we tasked ourselves with planning the remainder of the trip. However, when a man stopped by our hostel advertising a jungle trek with a local Huitoto guide, we were skeptical, as we had heard horror stories of cultural tourism gone awry. Luckily for him, he was persuasive and after five minutes, we paid him a small sum to go on the trip. Luckily for us, we spent three informative days conversing with our guide, Manuel, and his grandfather and aunt about their lives in both the city and the jungle, the history of the Huitoto people, and their struggle to keep it alive.
Despite the distance from the illustrious Amazon rainforest, the Scandinavian nation of Norway has made significant investments to ensure its ongoing protection. From 2008 to 2014, under the presidencies of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, deforestation of the Amazon was in decline. However, this decline was reversed in the beginning of 2015, after Rousseff’s first four years in office, and has continued through the power grab of Brazilian business interests fronted by Michel Temer. Now, Norway is concerned that Temer’s government is backtracking significant progress in protecting the rainforest, and has announced a reduction of over half of its environmental aid in protest.
María de Jesús Patricio Martínez is an indigenous healer running for the Mexican presidency. Her hope is to fight Mexico’s rampant corruption by altering the system in which political parties, such as the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN), have dominated for decades. While it is unlikely she will be competitive with national icon Andrés Manuel López Obrador and other big-party candidates, her candidacy still represents a significant movement within Mexico’s political system.