The map of Latin America is in full flux. The reconfiguration of territories primarily affects the 670 indigenous communities that stretch from the Rio Grande to Patagonia, according to statistics from the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean. This political, social and economic remodeling of territory has been accompanied by seemingly endless conflict and social upheaval across the continent.
In 2000, the National Intelligence Council, a support center for the CIA, forecasted this scenario in a report titled “Global Tendencies 2015,” which states, “Indigenous resistance movements in Latin America will be one of the principal challenges for national governments in the next fifteen years.” They also affirmed that, “these movements will grow, facilitated by transnational networks of indigenous rights activists, supported by well-financed international human and ecological rights groups.”
In the decade since the publication of the report, indigenous resistance movements have indeed proliferated. What the report failed to explain, however, were the factors that would drive such growth.
The reordering of territory has blurred borders in both economic and political terms with projects such as the Mesoamerica Project – previously Plan Puebla-Panama – and the Initiative for Regional Infrastructure Integration of South America (IIRSA), which both entered into force after 2000. Their primary objectives include the construction of transportation and telecommunication networks, as well as energy-generation projects such as hydroelectric dams and wind farms. They also plan to designate national parks, protected areas, Heritage for Humanity sites, cross-border conservation areas, transnational parks (also called Parks for Peace), ecological and biological corridors and networks of protected areas.
“When we think about IIRSA, we are talking about lines of communication, of channels that span 20,000 kilometers, or the entire Amazon, as a line that penetrates remote territories that have not yet been reached, where what has not yet been extracted can be accessed,” Ana Esther Ceceña, coordinator of the Latin American Observatory on Geopolitics, told Truthout. She considers the Mesoamerica Project and IIRSA as part of the same territorial restructuring strategy.
The design of these projects is indeed strategic, and “progressive” governments are presenting them as a development opportunity. “What will happen with IIRSA is that local governments will be forced to be more disciplined because they will be brought in line with global markets. There are 500 transnational companies that produce half of global gross domestic product; when one looks at IIRSA’s design and these companies’ projects, they complement one another: The groundwork is being laid for the circulation of communication, merchandise, raw materials and energy,” Ceceña said.
Latin America is currently experiencing a brand of neocolonialism based on opening new possibilities for extraction. “Capital needs a reordering of territory – considering this as a type of historical-social construction – in order to continue reproducing itself, as much in terms of materials as in power relations, of accumulation of capital and profits. The ordering enables access on a large scale to certain types of material from the earth,” added Ceceña.
According to Gustavo Esteva, founder of the University of the Earth in Oaxaca, Mexico, the current capitalist system is in crisis, and this has led businesses to use pre-capitalist methods of extraction, in the colonial vein. “They are looking toward expansion into territories that these communities have preserved,” he said in an interview with Truthout.