Carmelo Ruiz: Progressive extractivism in Latin America
The New Latin American “Progresismo” and the Extractivism of the 21st Century
Posted on: 17/02/2011 by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero
The advent of progressive governments in South America in the last decade gave environmentalists the hope that this would be the beginning of a truly sustainable economic development. But post-neoliberal “progresismo” has brought new complications in the environmental front, according to numerous activists and experts.
The neoliberal period was marked by extractivism, meaning the centering of economies around the export of raw materials, such as minerals, fossil fuels and agricultural commodities. Numerous critiques came from the environmental movement and the left to the effect that extractivism is ecologically destructive and keeps the countries of the global South in misery, dependence and underdevelopment. They hoped for a transition towards a post-extractivist model, in which natural resources would be used in a rational and sustainable manner, and mainly for local use, thus facilitating a truly national, “endogenous” economic development. The new progressive constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia acknowledge this matter and are post-extractivist in orientation. Among indigenous peoples’ movements the post-extractivist posture is reflected in the philosophy of sumak kawsay, a term which translates roughly as “right livelihood” or “living well.”
Unlike in neoliberalism, in the new Latin American “progresismo” or “21st Century Socialism” the state has much more participation in the economy and directs part of the foreign exchange funds into social programs, and also China has replaced the United States as the main importer of raw materials. But little else has changed. Instead of post-extractivism now there is neo-extractivism. Extractive activities and the export of raw materials continue as before, but are now justified with a progressive discourse.