Seminar: Environmental Peace-building in Latin America

About the seminar

Violence connected to the exploitation of natural resources continues unabated worldwide, but it is particularly marked in the region of Latin America. In a search for a response to violence, in this seminar we critically approach the topic of environmental peace-building in Latin America. Environmental peace-building is an emergent concept in the fields of resource governance and peace-building. Seeking to overcome the deterministic linkages made by earlier scholars between an abundance of natural resources with violent conflict, environmental peace-building advances the possibilities to govern natural resource in ways that promote more peaceful paths to societal relations. Whereas previous work on environmental peace-building has been oriented towards national and international agencies and formal policy formation, in this seminar we add attention to local context and the agency of civil society movements. By doing so we aim to consider the possibility of redefining environmental peace-building so that it is better suited to respond to the inter-linkages between national and sub-national dynamics of governance. It is in this way we mean also to reconsider some of the challenges produced by the current context of resource extraction and exploitation in Latin America. 

Resource extraction has played a fundamental role in the economic and political development of Latin American countries. The realization of large-scale extractive projects has become a key topic of public debates due to the negative material, economic and social impacts they have had on local populations and environments in areas of operation. Consequently, the expansion of the extractive frontiers- as is widely documented by social and environmental observatories across Latin America- has fueled a wave of socio-environmental conflicts. In both Central and South America, indigenous groups, peasant and social movements are in open militant and legal contestation with corporations and the state regarding the impacts and regulation of the extractive sector. In addition to the significant damage to forests and water resources caused by resource extraction, these confrontations have resulted in a series of violent confrontations during social mobilizations and are linked to a rising number of assassinations of civil society leaders and environmental activists. 

In this seminar we aim to emphasize that civil society movements not only contest the violence resulting from extractive activities, but also are frequently proponents of alternatives for environmental governance and development. These proposals are intended to advance sustainable forms of environmental management, to democratize decision-making processes and to overcome the forms of violence inherent in practices of resource extraction. Commonly, civil society groups are not unilaterally opposed to resource extraction per se, but rather interested in influence and participate in determining the terms under which extraction takes place. In this bottom-up process, natural resources shift from being an arena of mere conflict towards an arena of societal cooperation, innovation, organization and possibility. 

In this seminar the Colombian case is considered to be of particular interest and relevance given the recent process and its complex content. Despite the significant optimism generated by the recent peace deal between the government and the FARC, it is widely acknowledged in the country that violence continues. This is particular pertinent in the context of expanding extractive projects in territories inhabited by indigenous people, afro-descendent and peasant farmers. The territories opened for extraction (c40% of the Colombian territory) also include areas where armed actors and the drug cartels have over the last decade increasingly oriented themselves to the capture, control and/or taxation of mining and oil installations. Of particular importance to our discussion of environmental peace-building is the recognition that affected communities and multiple local organizations proactively respond to extraction and conflict. Indeed, we hope to demonstrate through the participation of Colombian civil society representatives in the seminar that a great deal can be gleaned from local responses. In particular, we highlight that there is a lot to be learned from the way in which they convincingly draw on and rework existing mechanisms of law and institutional governance. 

Published 16. May 2017 - 13:39 - Updated 30. May 2017 - 14:39