Extractivism Rhymes with Militarism

Raúl Zibechi

Some very recent events on our continent represent a twist in the militarization of common goods, either legally or de facto, at the hands of governments and their armed forces, or “irregular” armed actors who roam freely when states allow them.

Chilean President Gabriel Boric militarized its southern region in response to Mapuche demands for the return of ancestral lands.

Last week it was learned that the Argentine government, through the General Staff of the Armed Forces, announced “eight campaign plans” that involve the militarization of areas of “natural resources and sovereign spaces,” such as Vaca Muerta (Dead Cow), which is the largest hydrocarbon reservoir in Argentina, the South Atlantic, and the lithium extraction zones (https://bit.ly/3zsiS1R ). Thus, the aforementioned media maintains, the government positions military resources “to protect the activity carried out by multinationals.”

It is just the latest pearl in an extensive necklace of militarizations, ranging from the governments of Mexico and Venezuela to those of Peru and Chile. These were recently highlighted by the indiscriminate violence against the Aymara and Quechua population of the south (Dina Boluarte), and by the massive involvement of the armed forces in the defense of forestry companies before the Mapuche people (Gabriel Boric).

Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro delivered control of the Amazon to the armed forces, who have “protected” it since the military dictatorship (1964-1985), but now the government of Lula da Silva seems determined to renew the environmental permit of Belo Monte, the gigantic dam in the Amazon that provoked “a humanitarian and environmental crisis in one of the most diverse regions of the planet’s largest tropical jungle ”(https://bit.ly/3Geolgt).

According to Silvia Adoue, a teacher at the MST’s Florestan Fernandes School, after meeting with the armed forces, Lula decided to “allocate the Amazon Fund to increase the presence of the Federal Police and the National Highway Police in the Amazon, that carbon credits would be invested in the surveillance of the region by the armed forces, who would also be better equipped to carry out these tasks.”

There is no mention of the possibility of reducing mineral extraction from the Amazon. Adoue concludes in the personal communication: “The greed awakened in society as a whole by the demand for minerals for industry 4.0, creates a new extractive subjectivity, which contaminates all relationships.”

The militarization of natural resources for exploitation by multinationals (common goods for the life of peoples according to us) has become a strategic feature of neoliberal capitalism in this phase of extreme violence.

Southcom commander Laura Richardson testifies before the Senate Armed Services committee on March 23rd.

The head of the US Southern Command, General Laura Richardson, stressed the importance of the common assets (“the commons”) to her country and emphasized the Lithium Triangle (Argentina, Chile and Bolivia), the gold in Venezuela, the oil in Guyana and recalled that 31 percent of the world’s sweet water is found in the region and, therefore, she said ”we have a lot to do” (https://bit.ly/3UjCAXn).

In its competition with China, the United States needs to further subordinate its backyard, in the same way as it does with Europe, although with different characteristics. As historical suppliers of “raw materials,” we must continue to subordinate the sovereignty of nations to imperial needs. Whatever the empire, it is necessary to clarify.

If militarization has a structural character, this means that for the peoples and popular sectors, rights and constitutional legality cease to exist in the areas where the military/multinational alliance operates. Therefore, appealing to such rights only makes sense as propaganda, to show that the rules defined by the system are not complied with. But it would be very irresponsible to build strategies on the basis of rights that will not be respected.

That is why we have to answer how we are going to defend the commons from the war against peoples and against life. In fact, this is one of the most complex tasks ahead of us, because there are no precedents, since the militarist turn of capitalism and the hijacking of states by financial capital have changed the rules of the game.

The peoples grouped in the CNI (National Indigenous Congress) and the EZLN have defined peaceful civil resistance, which has enormous costs in terms of attrition for the communities and one great virtue: it is the will of the peoples not to enter into a war that can only benefit capital.This month the CNI will carry out an extensive caravan through several southern states that will end with an international meeting in San Cristóbal de las Casas, under the slogan “The South Resists” (https://bit.ly/3zvXcSk). Accompanying the caravan is one of the necessary tasks to move from outrage at so much dispossession to collective action in defense of mother earth and the peoples who inhabit it.

Originally published in Spanish by La Jornada, Friday, April 7, 2023. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2023/04/07/opinion/010a1pol 
Thanks to Chiapas Support Committee for English interpretation.

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