Might the Keys to Peace Open the Doors to Extractivism?: Reflections on Colombia's Post-Conflict Extractive Economy

Might the Keys to Peace Open the Doors to Extractivism?: Reflections on Colombia's Post-Conflict Extractive Economy

Richard Clayton Doughman (Universidad del Rosario, Colombia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9675-4.ch022
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The present paper explores what the ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército Popular (FARC-EP) may mean to Colombia's growing extractive economy. Militarization during the decades-long conflict and the spike in rural, state and paramilitary violence under former President Alvaro Uribe Vélez's (2000-2008) have left an unequal land structure favorable to resource extraction by foreign multinational corporations. Concessions for mining and oil exploration now cover a large percentage of Colombian territory, and the policy environment has become ever more welcoming to foreign capital. While armed conflict has opened new territories for resource exploitation, the instability it has created could deter long-term foreign investment. This paper hypothesizes that current President Juan Manuel Santos's pursuit of peace with the FARC-EP aims to enhance conditions for intensified resource extraction in Colombia in consonance with the regional trend toward a recolonization of Latin America's natural commons.
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In September 2012, the Government of Colombia under President Juan Manuel Santos announced the signing of a General Accord to End the Armed Conflict in Colombia, formally entering into peace negotiations with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). Though talks to agree upon an agenda for the peace process began in secret earlier in 2012, the public announcement of peace talks marked a surprising shift in recent policy toward the guerrilla group. Santos's bid to end the country's civil war comes after a period marked by the bloodiest fighting in the history of the decades-long conflict. Santos himself, both as President and earlier as Minister of Defense under former President Alvaro Uribe Velez (2002-2010), has backed an aggressive military offensive against the guerrilla group that drastically reduced the guerrilla's ranks while killing a number of its top military officers in a series of highly publicized and controversial, precision strikes.1

The military's campaign to reassert control over the nation's territory and the glut of paramilitary violence that has accompanied it have left behind a wake of gross human rights violations: massacres, torture, forced migration, mass graves, rape and the intimidation of local communities. Since 1985 over 5.7 million Colombians have suffered forced displacement within the country leaving behind over 6.5 million hectares in abandoned lands. Over the past 15 years, conflict has displaced an average of 296,988 Colombians each year, consistently placing the county among the world leaders in this category (Consultoría para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento, 2013).

Parallel to the country's militarization, former President Uribe advanced a series of neoliberal reform policies aimed at opening Colombia to foreign investment, particularly investment in the exploitation of the country's wealth of natural resources. As military and paramilitary forces gained control of new territories, foreign capital poured into the country's growing oil, mining and biofuels sectors, often in the very territories refugees had fled. Between 2002 and 2010 over $57 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) entered Colombia, with over $30 billion in the mining and oil sectors alone2. The annual average of FDI during Uribe's presidency was over twice that of the previous five-year period. (Banco de la República, 2014). Eager to shake its label as a failing state, Colombia looked to replicate the same export boom enjoyed by many of its Latin American neighbors who have ridden sustained, high commodity prices to rapid rates of economic growth, though often at the cost of heavy, primary sector dependence, social conflict and environmental destruction.

President Santos's economic policies have largely been a continuation of his predecessor's. His 2010 National Development Plan names the agribusiness, transportation infrastructure and mining/energy sectors as among the “locomotives” that will drive economic growth and turn Colombia into a competitive player in the world economy. While peace talks are ongoing, no cease-fire has been declared; violence still grips the nation's countryside, and guerrilla groups often target economic infrastructure despite substantial efforts by the armed forces to protect it. Security risks associated with operating in Colombia weigh down efforts to lure foreign investment, thereby limiting capital accumulation based on raw material extraction and export.

This paper seeks to explore the potential impacts of the Colombian government's peace negotiations with the FARC on the country's extractive economy. It recognizes the fundamental role that state and paramilitary violence have played in the expansion of the extractive economy over the past decade, acting as a guarantee for territorial control and allowing capital to penetrate areas of the country where previous conditions limited accumulation. At the same time, it suggests that the current peace talks reflect the Santos administration's recognition that continued violence is no longer functional to medium and long-term capital accumulation in Colombia, and that the administration's pursuit of peace aims to establish better conditions for capital accumulation through intensified resource extraction.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Extractivism: A term of growing use in Latin America academia and social movements to describe economic activities that remove of large amounts of a nation's natural commons for sale on the world market with little or no processing. Extractivism has increasingly formed the base of Latin American economies under neoliberalism.

Neo-Extractivism: The term refers specifically to policies followed by certain left-leaning Latin American governments that have come to power outwardly rejecting neoliberal policies such as privatization and monetary orthodoxy, but have relied heavily on extractivist activities as a means of financing social reforms. Ecuador under Correa, Venezuela under Chávez, Argentina under the Kirchners, and Bolivia under Morales are some obvious examples.

Accumulation by Dispossession: Developed by David Harvey and derived from Marx's description of the primitive accumulation of capital, the term refers to the fraudulent or forceful appropriation of natural or social commons by capital and their subsequent conversion into commodities.

Militarization: Refers not only to the strategic placement of troops and military installations in a given territory, but also a re-conception of that territory in purely military terms, that is a territory to be secured against an enemy threat.

Commodity Export Dependence: A condition within an international division of labor in which peripheral national economies rely heavily on the export of raw materials with little or no valued added, placing them on unequal terms of exchange with central nations that export high value-added goods.

Natural Commons: A purposeful re-definition by many social movements of the purely instrumental category “natural resources” used in development literature. The term refers to elements in the natural environment, held in common and sheltered from the market, because their value to the well-being of the community exceeds any monetary value that could be ascribed to them.

Recolonization: Making reference to the region's colonial past, the term describes the advances of foreign capital in appropriating Latin America's natural and social commons under neoliberal policies.

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