Resource Conflicts and Popular Imaginaries in Twentieth-Century Latin America
Conference on Latin American History 6
In the early twenty-first century natural resources remain central to global debates over economic development, wealth distribution, property rights, democratic participation, indigenous rights, climate change, and environmental justice. They provide a lens through which to understand many of the most important conflicts in human societies. This comparative panel will examine extractive industry and natural resource contention from a historical perspective, analyzing their role in shaping Latin American politics, economies, and societies in the twentieth century. The papers will focus particular attention on the relationship between popular mobilization and government policies regarding the extraction and use of minerals and hydrocarbons, exploring how mobilization in the countries under study has influenced natural resource policies and how the forms and emphasis of that mobilization have changed over time. Recurring themes will include resource nationalism and its conflicting meanings, the relationship between national elites and communities near extraction sites, the role of foreign companies and institutions, the role of popular imaginaries and visions of resource-led development (including those that have rejected resource-led growth itself), the alliances and tensions among popular-sector constituencies produced in the context of resource struggles and debates, and the environmental consequences of various resource policies. Given the continued dependence of so many Latin American economies on extractive industry and the centrality of natural resource conflicts and resource nationalism in politics throughout the region, now is a particularly appropriate moment to examine these questions from a historical perspective.
Two of the panel’s papers explore the rise of coal, and later oil, in Mexico. The first examines how fossil fuels shaped the process of industrialization in central Mexico and the social and environmental changes that resulted during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The second looks at the relationship that petroleum workers developed toward rural land in northeast Mexico in the 1930s, analyzing the rhetoric of resource nationalism that these laborers employed in their petitions for land.
Two papers then examine resource conflicts and popular imaginaries in Bolivia during the era of the country’s revolution (1952-64). One examines the role of oil nationalism in the city of La Paz, showing how conflicts over national oil policy became a focal point for broader debates about economic development and distributive justice. A second looks at the revolution from the perspective of water conflicts in Cochabamba, demonstrating that government water reform efforts favored rural producers over urban consumers, thereby setting small producers and urban residents against each other and contributing to the breakdown of the peasant-urban alliance and the erosion of revolutionary hegemony by the early 1960s.
A third paper on the southern Andes examines the role played by minerals and extractivism in the making of the national imaginary and subaltern cultures of resistance in Peru. Focusing on the mobilization in opposition to the Conga mining project in northern Peru, it discusses the incidence of anti-extractivist struggles in debates pertaining to modes of development, citizenship, indigeneity, nation, and nationalism.