Book Review: ‘Oil Sparks in the Amazon: Local Conflicts, Indigenous Populations, and Natural Resources’›August 18, 2014 // By Roger-Mark De Souza
Since the early 1990s, the rising price of crude oil and other key natural resources – and the resulting drive by governments and private companies to extract those resources – has led to sharp conflicts in Latin America. At the core of these disputes is the clash between national economic interest and the rights of indigenous people inhabiting the land where most natural resources are located.
›March 27, 2014 // By ECSP Staff
Increasingly disruptive protests are likely if oil, gas, and mining companies and national governments don’t pay closer attention to indigenous populations’ needs as Western Amazon basin resources are developed, an expert warned.
Water, energy, and food – this “nexus” of interrelated resource issues continues to garner attention from analysts, policymakers, and the media. Over the next four decades global population is projected to increase to about 9.6 billion and, worldwide, demand for water is projected to increase 55 percent; energy, 80 percent; and food, 60 percent. In a new video about the first of a series of workshops on this nexus, the International Union for Conservation on Nature and the International Water Association explain how they are working to bring together private and public sector water infrastructure experts from across Africa and the world to build partnerships and create some consensus on a “nexus-based approach” to managing scarce resources.
›December 13, 2012 // By ECSP Staff
Five hours by truck and mule from the nearest town, a rumbling generator cuts through the silent night to power large spotlights as botanists crouch and kneel on large blue tarps spread across a cow pasture. It’s nearly midnight, and the team works urgently to describe every detail of the dozens of colorful orchids, ferns, and other exotic plants they have collected that day in Las Orquídeas National Park, one of the single most biologically diverse places on the planet.
›November 7, 2012 // By Payal Chandiramani
“Resilience is the capacity of individuals and institutions to cope and adapt in the stress of chronic violence in ways that allow them room for maneuver and hope for the future,” said Diane Davis, Harvard professor of urbanism and development, in an interview at the Wilson Center.
›A new study on the intersection of violence and economic development in cities breaks new ground by examining how communities respond to and cope with extant violence, rather than focusing on the root causes of violence in a given area. Authors Diane Davis, Harvard professor of urbanism and development, and John Tirman, executive director of MIT’s Center for International Studies, spoke at length about the origins, methodology, and findings of the report, Urban Resilience in Situations of Chronic Conflict, at the Wilson Center on July 12. The report was supported by USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation.
“We made the decision that we weren’t going to produce yet another research project or study on the root causes of violence, because there is a lot of incredibly good work on that [already],” said Davis. “We wanted to take a totally different angle…to try to think about taking a more pragmatic approach that builds on how everyday people, who live with violence, respond.”
To do this, Davis and Tirman focused their research on seven cities around the world with histories of chronic violence, creating a case study for each and then comparing results. (An eighth city, Karachi, was jettisoned because it was deemed too unsafe for research.) The comparative process allowed Davis and Tirman to develop a basic theoretical framework for how different factors increase or decrease a community’s resilience to violence.
The term “resilience” lies at the heart of the new study. “The idea of ‘bouncing back,’ or returning to normalcy, is [generally] the measurement standard for looking at resilience,” Davis said.
However, she was quick to point out the problems with such a simplistic definition. “[In] cities of the developing world…things are in flux. So it’s really hard to know what a ‘bouncing back’ is if things are constantly changing.”
“Also,” she added, “in many of the environments we were looking at, violence is a consequence of the way things were under normal conditions. So you don’t necessarily want to bounce back to those conditions that were producing the violence in the first place.”
Davis and Tirman sidestepped these problems by letting their research define successful resilience, rather than trying to fit their results to a prefabricated definition of the word. In doing so, they were able to identify several important commonalities in the cities and communities that displayed the most positive resilience to violence.
“Our findings suggest that resilience appears at the interface of civilian and state action,” Davis writes in the report. She underscored the significance of civilians as facilitators in both developing and implementing better security policies: “People who live in violence know more than academics or policymakers about what they can and can’t do to deal with the problem of violence,” she said.
Focus on Community
Davis and Tirman pointed out that the most successfully resilient cities they studied – Mexico City, Managua, and especially Medellín – seemed to have a number of civilian/state relationships defined “from below,” rather than the more problematic “top down” approach. This means that civilians and communities were participating on their own terms, collaborating with city planners and with law enforcement agencies to get their needs met rather than simply being what Davis called “yes men” to higher authorities.
Physical space – what Davis referred to as “the weight of the spatial” – also played a very significant role in Urban Resilience. She and Tirman made the conscious decision to incorporate physical planning and design into their research, eschewing the more typical sectoral approach to violence and security.
This methodological break from the existing literature was particularly useful in demonstrating that violence-plagued communities are often themselves the most important agents of resilience. “Citizens have to be able to make real decisions on their own,” Davis stressed in the Q&A; session that followed her and Tirman’s presentation. “[They] have to feel that ownership, that autonomy of the decisions in their neighborhood, even if they’re bad [decisions], because that’s what ties them to each other.”
“We think the starting point for generating resilience is really supporting and enabling communities to make dense horizontal relationships with others in their neighborhood, across sectors, that allow them to push back against perpetrators of violence.”
In other words, while the state can play a significant role in helping communities to mitigate violence, successful resilience ultimately requires the commitment and participation of the communities in question.
“The state might have a security program, it might have a planning program, but every decision has to be made with an understanding of what’s good for that particular neighborhood,” Davis said.
Places People Want to Protect
Davis was very succinct in offering recommendations based on the study. For policymakers and urban planners, she said resilience is formed by “a combination of good governance, security reform, and…inclusive urban planning.” Citing examples from Mexico City, Medellín, and elsewhere, Davis pointed to planning policies like mixed land use, greater pedestrian accessibility, and more parks and public spaces as ways that authorities could engender the kind of community pride so crucial to the development of positive urban resilience.
“[Focus on] generating vibrant public areas where people feel invested in protecting [them] and making them better,” she advised.
While many scholars have tended to look either at the state or local communities in isolation when considering violence and resilience, Davis argued that reducing violence was “a shared objective.” She thus stressed the importance of “co-production of security,” reiterating the overall notion that state and community actors need to work side-by-side in a form of what Davis and Tirman called “cooperative autonomy.”
In addition to Urban Resilience in Situations of Chronic Violence, Davis also authored the supplementary Toolkit for Urban Resilience in Situations of Chronic Violence. Both documents can be found on the MIT’s website. Davis and Tirman hope to add the seven individual case studies to the site soon.
Event Resources:Bogota at night,” courtesy of flickr user WanderingtheWorld (Christopher Schoenbohm); charts courtesy of Davis and Tirman.
›November 14, 2011 // By Kayly Ober“The only risk is wanting to stay,” beams a Colombian tourism ad, eager to forget decades of brutal internal conflict; however, the risk of violence remains for many rural communities, particularly as the traditional fight over drugs turns to other high-value goods: natural resource rights.
La Toma: Small Town, Big Threats
In the vacuum left by Colombia’s war on drugs, re-armed paramilitary groups remain a threat to many rural civilians. Organized groups hold footholds, particularly in the northeast and west, where they’ve traditionally hidden and exploited weak governance. Over the past five years, their presence has increased while their aims have changed.
A recent PBS documentary, The War We Are Living (watch below), profiles the struggles of two Afro-Colombian women, Francia Marquez and Clemencia Carabali, in the tiny town of La Toma confronting the paramilitary group Las Aguilas Negras, La Nueva Generacion. The Afro-Colombian communities the women represent – long persecuted for their mixed heritage – are traditional artisanal miners, but the Aguilas Negras claim that these communities impede economic growth by refusing to deal with multinationals interested in mining gold on a more industrial scale in their town.
For over seven years, the Aguilas Negras have sent frequent death threats and have indiscriminately killed residents, throwing their bodies over the main bridge in town. At the height of tensions in 2010, they murdered eight gold miners to incite fear. Community leaders know that violence and intimidation by the paramilitary group is part of their plan to scare and displace residents, but they refuse to give in: “The community of La Toma will have to be dragged out dead. Otherwise we’re not going to leave,” admits community leader Francia Marquez to PBS.
La Toma’s predicament is further complicated by corruption and general disinterest from Bogota. Laws that explicitly require the consent of Afro-Colombian communities to mine their land have not always been followed. In 2010, the Department of the Interior and the Institute of Geology and Minerals awarded a contract, without consultation, to Hector Sarria to extract gold around La Toma and ordered 1,300 families to leave their ancestral lands. Tension exploded between the local government and residents.
The community – spurred in part by Marquez and Carabali – geared into action; residents called community meetings, marched on the town, and set up road blocks. As a result, the eviction order was suspended multiple times, and in December 2010, La Toma officially won their case with Colombia’s Constitutional Court. Hector Sarria’s mining license as well as up to 30 other illegal mining permits were suspended permanently. But, as disillusioned residents are quick to point out, the decision could change at any time.
Much like the people of La Toma, the indigenous Wayuu people who make their home in northeast Colombia have also found themselves the target of paramilitary wrath. Wayuu ancestral land is rich in coal and salt, and their main port, Bahia Portete, is ideally situated for drug trafficking, making them an enticing target. In 2004, armed men ravaged the village for nearly 12 hours, killing 12, accounting for 30 disappearances, and displacing thousands. Even now, seven years later, those brave enough to lobby for peace face threats.
Now, other natural resource pressures have emerged. In 2011, growing towns nearby started siphoning water from Wayuu lands, and climate change is expected to exacerbate the situation. A 2007 IPCC report wrote that “under severe dry conditions, inappropriate agricultural practices (deforestation, soil erosion, and excessive use of agrochemicals) will deteriorate surface and groundwater quantity and quality,” particularly in the Magdalena river basin where the Wayuu live. Glacial melt will also stress water supplies in other parts of Colombia. The threat is very real for indigenous peoples like the Wayuu, who call water “Wayuu gold.”
“Without water, we have no future,” says Griselda Polanco, a Wayuu woman, in a video produced by UN Women.
The basic right to water has always been a contentious issue for indigenous peoples in Latin America – perhaps most famously in Cochabomba, Bolivia – and Colombia is no different: most recently 10,000 protestors took to the streets in Bogota to lobby for the right to water.
Post-Conflict Land Tenure Tensions
Perhaps the Wayuu and people of La Toma’s best hope is in a new Victims’ Law, ratified in June 2011, but in the short term, tensions look set to increase as Colombia works to implement it. The law will offer financial compensation to victims or surviving close relatives. It also aims to restore the rights of millions of people forced off their land, including many Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples.
But “some armed groups – which still occupy much of the stolen land – have already tried to undermine the process,” reports the BBC. “There are fears that they will respond violently to attempts by the rightful owners or the state to repossess the land.”
Rhodri Williams of TerraNullius, a blog that focuses on housing, land, and property rights in conflict, disaster, and displacement contexts, wrote in an email to New Security Beat that there are many hurdles in the way of the law being successful, including ecological changes that have already occurred:
Perhaps the biggest obstacle is the fact that many usurped indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories have been fundamentally transformed through mono-culture cultivation. Previously mixed ecosystems are now palm oil deserts and no one seems to have a sense of how restitution could meaningfully proceed under these circumstances. Compensation or alternative land are the most readily feasible options, but this flies in the face of the particular bond that indigenous peoples typically have with their own homeland. Such bonds are not only economic, in the sense that indigenous livelihoods may be adapted to the particular ecosystem they inhabit, but also spiritual, with land forming a significant element of collective identity. Colombia has recognized these links in their constitution, which sets out special protections for indigenous and Afro-Colombian groups, but has failed to apply these rules in practice. For many groups, it may now be too late.As National Geographic explorer Wade Davis said at the Wilson Center in April, climate change can represent as much a psychological and spiritual problem for indigenous people as a technical problem. Unfortunately, as land-use issues such as those faced by Afro-Columbian communities, the Wayuu, and many other indigenous groups around the world demonstrate, there is a legal dimension to be overcome as well.
Sources: BBC News, Colombia Reports, International Displacement Monitoring Centre, PBS, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, UN Women. The War We Are Living, part of the PBS series Women, War, and Peace, was instrumental to the framing of this piece.
Image and Video Credit: “Countryside Near Manizales, Colombia,” courtesy of flickr user philipbouchard; The War We Are Living video, courtesy of PBS.
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