The 2020 paradox

A multisystem crisis in search of a comprehensive response

in Regions and Cohesion
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In most of the world, we follow a production model based on economic premises from the middle of the nineteenth century, including processes of accumulation, monopolization, and privatization of a territory's common goods and of life itself, in order to guarantee the reproduction of capital. International regulations and laws that protect nature are mostly limited to reaction and repair of environmental damages caused by anthropocentric activities in the most vulnerable and impoverished nations in the world but do not often question the damage to populations, especially indigenous peoples and their ancestral territories. Latin America exemplifies this, given that the region has experienced a series of political, economic, environmental, and now health crises as it has become the epicenter of the current COVID-19 pandemic (Pan American Health Organization, PAHO, 2021).

In most of the world, we follow a production model based on economic premises from the middle of the nineteenth century, including processes of accumulation, monopolization, and privatization of a territory's common goods and of life itself, in order to guarantee the reproduction of capital. International regulations and laws that protect nature are mostly limited to reaction and repair of environmental damages caused by anthropocentric activities in the most vulnerable and impoverished nations in the world but do not often question the damage to populations, especially indigenous peoples and their ancestral territories. Latin America exemplifies this, given that the region has experienced a series of political, economic, environmental, and now health crises as it has become the epicenter of the current COVID-19 pandemic (Pan American Health Organization, PAHO, 2021).

The circumstances in which the Latin American problems developed are related to the consequences caused by decades and even centuries of external policies with limited local benefits. The analysis of the multiple situations this continent faces merit the same multiplicity of perspectives. Thus, in this special issue of Regions & Cohesion, a collaboration was carried out with the Mesoamerican and Caribbean Society of Ecological Economics, focused on promoting a multidisciplinary critical reflection from the theoretical framework of ecological economics, to bring together different specialists who propose a review of the social, economic, and political relations around problems that affect indigenous, rural, peasant, peripheral, and urban communities with multidimensional challenges.

Ecological economics is recognized as a transdisciplinary field of study, in addition to becoming a flexible academic space to present diverse diagnoses on the crises that affect society in its multiscale (local, regional, and global) and multilevel (municipal, district, state, and national government) conditions. Ecological economics is a new field of study that creates a specific category with different models, mechanisms, and work tools aimed at understanding aspects that are diametrically different from those proposed by conventional economics. It bases its perspective of reality on the interrelationships and exchanges between society and nature, and not on monetary parameters. These aspects are approached from multiple conceptual categories that allow for a broader reading of the impacts on society. In this issue we will identify important categories referred to as social metabolism, extractivism, and neo-extractivism, as well as developmentalism from a different socioenvironmental perspective, dialogue of knowledge, ecological-distributive conflicts, environmentalism of the poor, conflicts of environmental content, and political economy, among others. Ecological economics is also linked to the analysis of energy consumption with the institutional limitations that govern the public and private relations of the exploitation of nature. Through this, the most complex aspects of ecological-distributive conflicts can be understood and analyzed from a perspective that maintains interest in the social.

This issue is key for Latin America, where ecosystem and cultural diversity are its main characteristics. This region has a history marked by colonial practices of human and environmental exploitation (Rueda & Villavicencio, 2018; Quijano, 2014). Although, in theory, human exploitation has disappeared in most of the continent, some ecological exploitation practices were inherited and integrated into economic and productive models that are still in force today, devastating the enormous ecological wealth of the region, which is not only vital for its inhabitants but also vital for the world. Compared to the globe, Latin America contains more than 60% of the terrestrial and marine life, approximately 22% of the forests, and at least 30% of the sources of potable water available (Baeza & Del Villar, 2020). Despite these percentages, in recent decades the region has faced uncontrolled environmental devastation: deforestation, fires, monocultures, intensive agribusiness in the selective breeding of animal species (with the threat of extinction of the local genetic variety), desertification, and acidification of the oceans, among others.

Beyond the notable Bolivian and Ecuadorian legislative models of the beginning of this century, which have endowed and recognized nature with legal rights (with limited effectiveness); the widespread practice in the region is to follow standards of international environmental law without proposing or establishing transformative and comprehensive frameworks that recognize local community needs and promote development projects that balance human needs and environmental limits. This is due to two issues, the first one related to the Latin American industrial deregulation during the 1990s as a consequence of the debt crisis that allowed industrialized nations, especially the United States and some European countries, to demand more flexible regulations regarding environmental goods in the region. Although there was no regional environmentalist spirit then, there was also no production model based on ecological depredation. The second issue was the extractivist boom that started coincidentally in the same period as the aforementioned deregulation (Burchardt et al., 2016; Svampa, 2019). This was a phenomenon that promoted various sectors of environmental exploitation in the poorest regions of the world, a process strengthened with regulatory reforms that simplified the models for the use of nature and weakened corporate responsibility commitments.

This situation continues to this day because most of the countries in the region depend on foreign investment and the export of their raw materials in a process of reprimarization, that is, the strengthening and centralization of production and economy in the primary sectors. For this reason, it is increasingly common for local political agendas to be oriented toward meeting external demands instead of strengthening their internal markets, promoting the protection of their territories, and/or improving the quality of life of their population (Rueda & Villavicencio, 2018). This short-term vision has affected the way nature is perceived in Latin America. The defense of the environment, the territory, and its resources have not been a historical, political, or economic priority of the governments of the region, except for few and notable exceptions such as those already mentioned in Bolivia and Ecuador (Mila & Yánez, 2020). Economic growth is generally considered the main objective and measure of value of the level of success of a country, which is not always reflected in the social well-being of the most vulnerable populations.

It is in this sense that the articles in this special issue, with focus on Mexican research cases, make both theoretical and empirical contributions to our understanding of vulnerability and crisis, through implementation of the lens of ecological economics.. These articles present relevant arguments and analyses of some contradictions of the conventional economy and the traditional production system, pointing out the contexts of inequity, inequality, poverty, and conflict associated mainly with extractive practices, which are and continue to be unsustainable. The articles present scientifically and theoretically grounded critiques but also seek to contribute in a methodological and practical way to understanding the problems historically associated with the Latin American region.

The initial article by Aleida Azamar Alonso studies the case of the Newmont Goldcorp mining company's Peñasquito project, which has been operating in the community of Mazapil, Zacatecas, for more than a decade and has undergone various conflict processes at different levels. The author carries out an analysis from her own conceptualization called environmental rurality, mentioning how communities are eventually forced to negotiate with large companies since they do not have other alternatives, mainly due to structural issues. To do this, Azamar carries out a methodological study in which she characterizes and maps the affected actors in this case. Likewise, she identifies the relationships between those involved, their influences, and their interests to understand the social, political, and environmental scope of the research topic.

The second article presented by Carlos Rodríguez Wallenius studies the extractive approach and infrastructure megaprojects that the new political administration in Mexico has begun to execute since 2019, with the implementation of infrastructure works in the southeast of the country, specifically: the Mayan Train, the Dos Bocas Refinery, the Interoceanic Corridor, and other works focused on strengthening the energy policy based on fossils in order to promote the development and economic growth of this region. However, these actions have provoked rejection and conflicts in several rural and indigenous communities and with civil organizations that denounce the lack of cooperation and consultation. The author addresses local resistance to the aforementioned megaprojects that affect traditional life models and impose production processes that are alien to local worldviews; all this from a theoretical perspective of multiple crises that allow a broad analysis of this type of social resistance.

The contribution of Edith Miriam García Salazar and Mario Enrique Fuente Carrasco analyzes a socioenvironmental conflict related to the emission of wastewater, from the methodological perspective of The Global Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas) project and its categories of ecological-distributive conflicts (CED). Paradoxically, a group of farmers from Valle del Mezquital in the state of Hidalgo seem to reject the installation of an untreated wastewater treatment plant from the Metropolitan Area of Valle del México (ZMVM). This case encompasses complex political, historical, and territorial dimensions, which are aggravated by the conjunctural health emergency derived from COVID-19. The research fulfills the objective of exploring the issue of CED from the position of subsistence farmers to understand the emergence of these conflicts from the notion of (in) environmental justice within environmentalism of the poor, differentiated from the theoretical-methodological framework of the EJAtlas.

According to Joan Martínez Alier (2015), there are some relationships between ecological economics and political ecology in many socioenvironmental and sociopolitical studies in Latin America. Hence, the fourth scientific article corresponds to Denise Soares who analyzes the strategies undertaken by a community water committee in a rural town in Puebla, within the framework of the political ecology of water in Mexico. The context of this case study goes back to the history of decentralization of water and sanitation services and its relevant role in accentuating power inequalities between urban and rural territories. The article provides valuable elements to think about the challenges faced by community water committees in the management of this common good, with a view to providing a service oriented to the exercise of the human right to water and sanitation.

Last but not least, this special issue is delighted to present an original and relevant Leadership Forum. A brave female team of radio journalists (radialistas) and anthropologists, made up of: Ana Laura Salgado Lázaro, Jéssica Malinalli Coyotecatl Contreras, and Yeyectzin Moreno Del Angel, provide a contribution on the role of community radio in the fight against extractive territorial dispossession and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Radio Tsinaka is a laudable example of a communication medium that emerged from below and is committed to claiming and strengthening the indigenous identity of various communities in the Northeast Sierra in defense of their territorial and communal rights for a dignified life.

We hope this selection will be attractive to those who want to know a little more about the different aspects, realities, and multisystem crisis in Latin America that contemporary ecological economics addresses. Hopefully the reading inspires proactivity to those interested in doing or continuing to do something to improve the situation in which we currently live in the region.

Referencias

Contributor Notes

ALEIDA AZAMAR ALONSO is a doctor in international economics and development from the Complutense University of Madrid. She is currently a full-time Level C research professor at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico, and coordinator of the Master in Sustainable Societies at the same institution. She is also president of the Mesoamerican and Caribbean Society for Ecological Economics. She is also co-coordinator of the Latin American Critical Geographic Thinking Working Group of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO). She is a member of the National System of Researchers CONACYT level 1. She has published as author and co-authored different books. She has more than one hundred scientific and popular science articles published in Mexico and abroad. She collaborates with the newspapers El Universal and Cronica in Mexico. She has obtained various awards and scholarships, including the Latin American Looks Publication Award, a state of debate by CLACSO and Siglo XXI (2020), and awards for area research in 2017, 2019, and 2021 by the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, among others. Email: gioconda15@gmail.com

CARMEN MAGANDA-RAMIREZ is a research professor on environment and sustainability at the Institute of Ecology, A.C. (INECOL), and a Level 1 national researcher (SNI-CONACYT). She holds a PhD in anthropology from the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS). She has undertaken postdoctoral stays at the University of California, San Diego, Université de Lille 1, and Université du Luxembourg. She is also a coeditor for Regions & Cohesion. Her research interests revolve around the relationship between society and nature, environmental governance, participatory and coherent sustainable development, water for all, transboundary waters, and environmental security with a focus on political ecology. She dreams of a world more empathetic and interconnected with nature. Email: carmen.maganda@inecol.mx. ORCID: 0000-0001-8479-1556

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