- Social Impacts of Resource Extraction
The five books under review here examine social and environmental aspects of resource extraction in Latin America’s past and present. Three focus on mining and energy, the classic extractive industries, offering perspectives of a historian, a geographer, and a political scientist. These three concentrate on the Andes, a key site for mineral extraction from the colonial era to the present. Historian Kendall Brown gives a sweeping comparative overview of Latin American mining, contrasting [End Page 243] the fantastical hopes inspired by the industry with its harsh realities over five hundred years. Geographer Derrick Hindery zooms in on a single oil pipeline in the Bolivian Amazon, looking at how neoliberal and post-neoliberal politics structured the project, and how indigenous and environmental activism grew and intersected in response. Political scientist Moisés Arce compares factors leading to political protest against extractivism in different regions in late twentieth-century Peru. The other two volumes are histories that explore different aspects of resource extraction. La Frontera, by Thomas Klubock, looks at competing claims of subsistence and extractive use in Chile’s southern forests, while many of the essays in Christopher Boyer’s edited collection A Land between Waters examine different forms of resource extraction in the context of Mexico’s environmental history.
Each of the books, in different ways, highlights the conflict between Latin America’s indigenous peoples and the colonizers who have sought to extract the land’s resources. Although they explicitly transcend oversimplified or romanticized indigenist, anti-imperialist narratives or one-way tales of environmental decline, all acknowledge a centuries-long struggle between Latin America’s indigenous population and its colonizers and elites over resources and worldviews. From the early Spanish conquerors, who perplexed the natives of Hispaniola with their lust for gold, to contemporary struggles in Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile framed as indigenous defense of rural lifeways and Mother Earth against rapacious foreigners, questions of imperialism and nationalism, of extractivism versus subsistence, and of expansion and growth versus redistribution have informed struggles over Latin America’s resources. Whether framed explicitly in terms of environmentalism and indigenous rights, as they are today, or in terms of social revolution or anti-imperialism, struggles over resource extraction have been a central theme in Latin America’s past and present. None of the authors resorts to an essentialist or romanticized view of the indigenous as living in an Edenic, harmonious relationship with nature. Yet all make clear the devastating impact that Western or imperial accumulation, production, and consumption, with their attendant cultures, politics, and ideologies, have had on Latin America’s people, especially its indigenous peoples, and its natural environment.
A Land between Waters offers an impressive spectrum of work by US and Mexican historians. As Boyer explains in his introduction, the Valley of Mexico is “between waters” in several respects: the nation-state of Mexico is bounded by seas and rivers, its urban areas and farmlands are interspersed with a myriad of lakes and man-made channels, and its climate alternates between annual seasons of rain and drought. Human interaction with these waters forms a theme in many of the essays.
Although the volume encompasses Mexican environmental history more broadly, most of the essays deal with some form of resource extraction. Boyer’s introduction sets the stage by...