Social Explorations of Resource Extraction

Muzo: Colombia’s Emerald Kingdom

By Bram Ebus

Muzo, Colombia – It is here where clouded forests overgrow the mountain slopes in which world’s most valuable emeralds are hidden. For much of history, Colombia has been the global provider of emeralds, though in the last decade it has given way to Zimbabwe and Brazil. In an attempt to organize mining and to not miss out on the profits of emeralds that often are smuggled out of the country, the government decided to formalize the sector in 2001.

As often is the case, the presence of precious resources like emeralds are a catalyst to conflict. The shiny green gemstone brought many lawless barons to the region and the heavily fought-over emeralds caused one of Colombia’s most bloody eras. One of these barons, the (late) emerald czar Victor Carranza, formed an army of mercenaries in the region during the 1970s and 1980s and can be seen as the creator of one of Colombia’s most lethal paramilitary forces. His private army originally functioned to protect his business against emerging guerrilla threats in the region, but as more families in the emerald sector started to surround themselves with men with guns, a war was at hand. Nobody was able to compete with Carranza, who despite the many attempts on his life died of cancer at the age of 77 in 2013.

In the current day and age, the mining panorama underwent some changes due to the governments efforts to regain control over the mining industry and its profits, and to end the ´wild west´ times in the western Boyacá region, where thousands occupied the rivers. Colombia hoped that mining could be one of the new ‘motors of the economy’ and a new mining legislation was approved in 2001, forcing the sector to formalize. Carranza, still alive at that time, agreed and ‘legalized’ his operations, but not everybody had his connections or means to legalize. New national and foreign companies now operate the largest mines around Muzo, some of them have been bought from the Carranza family. The upside is that official work, fixed wages and social securities are generated, but many of the 10,000 inhabitants that depend on informal mining – the barequeros – are being pushed out of the sector. As Mayor Bohórquez says: “Everybody wants to work the mines, but I will tell you, there are not enough beds for so many people.”

This photo essay shows a glimpse of Muzo’s transition process and documents the remains of a rough mining culture (enter full screen for optimal viewing).


When the Bulldozer comes – Burning bridges or renaissance in the making?

Kai Roder, University of Leipzig

For over a decade the Tanzanian state has tried to enlarge its share of mineral revenues generated by foreign large-scale mining (LSM) companies. Previous reforms – such as increased royalties and the mandatory stock listings of LSM companies in Tanzania – had not yet been implemented or did not provide the desired results. Consequently, the Tanzanian government under president Magufuli recently decided to look after the issue once again, thereby drawing upon a discourse of resource nationalism. According to the main argument, all natural and mineral resources found in Tanzania (such as gold, oil & gas, uranium and diamonds) belong to Tanzanians who in turn should profit from them. Consequently, an export ban on gold and copper concentrates, Tanzania’s main mineral export, was launched in March 2017. This ban on concentrates was supposed to result in the development of value adding activities in the country, particularly via the construction of smelters. Moreover, this export ban kicked off a series of events that are about to turn LSM in Tanzania upside down. Continue reading

Negotiating Mozambique’s new commodity frontiers from the perspective of a conservationist

By Kate Symons, University of Edinburgh.

[C]onservation is not a priority….. they [Frelimo] want economic growth at any point. So if they find …… coal and gas and other minerals it doesn’t matter where they are found, their priority is to develop those industries and I think they will worry about ecosystems ……. as an afterthought. Right now their main focus is growth, economic growth. (Interview with government official, discussing the governing party’s view of conservation in the context of a resources boom, 14 May 2014).

Politics, says anthropologist James Ferguson, is about getting what you want. And the practice of politics is about engaging particular strategies and discourses – ‘arts of government’ – to achieve particular ends. During fieldwork in 2013 and 2014 in Mozambique, I spent time with conservationists who were increasingly anxious about the country’s resources boom. Extractives-based accumulation is currently intensifying throughout the country, and sites frequently overlap with conservation areas. For example, the Cabo Delgado gas fields lie largely within WWF’s Rovuma Basin Bioreserve. In Niassa National Reserve, widely viewed as one of Mozambique’s most important protected areas, there are rumours of an alteration to the reserve’s boundary in order to permit ruby mining. In the Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve (PPMR), where I spent six months, there has for several years been the threat of a deep-water coal port, with significant ecological consequences for the marine reserve.

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Criminalization and violence in natural resource conflicts in Guatemala

Elisabet Dueholm Rasch, Wageningen University and Research

July 4, 2012 (Santa Cruz el Quiché). The CPK (K’iche Peoples Council) is attacked by armed individuals during a peaceful manifestation, saying they are looking for Lolita Chávez, environmental human rights activist.

September 18, 2015 (Sayaché, Petén). Rigoberto Lima Choc, environmental activist, is shot dead in front of local court house.

July 22, 2016 (Guatemala City). Seven ancestral authorities from Santa Eulalia who were detained because of their advocacy against two electric power dams in their community, are released from prison after sixteen months of detention. Continue reading

Australian gas: between a fracked rock and a socially hard place

Kim de Rijke, The University of Queensland

Australia´s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s response to the looming east coast gas shortage has been to secure a promise from gas producers to increase domestic supply. The Conversation

In a televised press conference last month, he said:

We must continue the pressure on state and territory governments to revisit the restrictions on gas development and exploration.

But if an onshore gas boom is indeed in the offing, my research suggests that gas companies should tread carefully and take more seriously the social context of their operations.

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The Philippine mining clampdown that wasn´t

By Boris Verbrugge, Radbout Universiteit

On February 2, 2017, Philippine Environment Secretary Gina Lopez, who has the full backing of the country’s controversial president Duterte, announced the closure of 23 large-scale mining operations. Two weeks later, on February 14, she announced the cancellation of 75 large-scale mining contracts, as a “valentine’s gift to the people”. These decisions followed a 6-month long environmental audit, which revealed that these operations were in severe violation of environmental laws. This, in itself, should not come as a surprise in a country that is infamous for its stringent laws, and for its inability – or unwillingness – to enforce them. What is surprising is that this administration seems hell-bent on enforcing the law, with the risk of alienating powerful domestic and foreign mining interests. So, how to make sense of this seemingly dramatic turn of events?

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Paradise – a living hell: mining, power and dispossession

By Hedda Askland, The University of Newcastle

The sun was glittering on the Goulbourn River. The cicadas were loudly calling in the 40 degrees heat. The constant hum of their mating song intertwined with the sound of my two sons, trying to cool down in the lukewarm water. Looking upstream, Paul (a pseudonym) sighed. ‘There never used to be water in the river on days like today. The river would be dry during summer. Now, the mines are discharging over 19 megaliters per day! The water is clean enough but there’s just too much of it. The mine manager says “its just water” and, whilst one part of me agrees the other disagrees. It’s not just water. The river has changed, the flow has changed. Nothing is the same.’
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The creation of a “lessons learned place” – Notes on doing research in the coal mine area of Tete, Mozambique

By Nikkie Wiegink, Utrecht University

“More studies, more studies! Ok, it is necessary to do those studies, but to what end?!” Carlos (a pseudonym) was furious. It is October 2016 and one of my first discussions with Carlos in which I ask him about his opinion on a critical report of Oxfam on the living conditions in Mualadzi, a resettlement area where 736 households have been relocated for a coal mine of the Australian company Rio Tinto (later taken over by an Indian consortium called ICVL) in Moatize, Tete province Mozambique.

Only recently, Tete was described as the “El Dorado of coal” (Kirshner and Power 2015) and with grant investments by companies such as Vale and Rio Tinto it was seen as the start of Mozambique’s promising extractive future. Yet, due to the low coal prices, transportation difficulties and, more recently, a series of attacks on coal trains by armed combatants, the boom has turned into somewhat of a bust. Nevertheless, the impact of the coal industry in Tete is tremendous and the involuntarily resettlement of thousands of people is one of its more controversial consequences. The governance practices that surround these dislocations are a topic of my research on the extractive industry in Tete, hence my discussions with Carlos, a reassentado (resettled person) from Mualadzi, about the Oxfam study.

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Why aren`t you more angry? Fossil Fuels and Community Life on Mexico’s Gulf Coast

By Svenja Schöneich, GIGA

When starting fieldwork in the Emiliano Zapata community in the state of Veracruz, Mexico in 2016, I was mainly interested in conflicts about hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking” – the practice of fracturing the subterranean rock deep below the surface to extract oil and/or gas. Fracking has been a topic of concern in Mexico since the approval of a series of constitutional amendments in December 2013 known as the Mexican Energy Reform. This reform, which enabled foreign investments in oil and gas exploration and production, led to a growing number of fracking projects in the country. However, the last decade has seen more and more conflicts related to fracking, especially regarding its environmental impacts. Fracking is said to trigger seismic events and major ground water and air pollution, thus damaging flora, fauna and the population living near fracking sites.

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The Lost Gold of Burkina Faso – A Parliamentary Inquiry into the Mining Sector

By Katja Werthmann, Institute of African Studies, University of Leipzig

Recently, Burkina Faso celebrated the second anniversary of its popular uprising on 30 and 31 October 2014 that put an end to the Compaoré regime after 27 years. Parliamentary and municipal elections were held in November 2015. The new government under President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and Prime Minister Paul Kaba Thiéba faces a number of daunting challenges and expectations. One of the challenges is a reorganization of the mining sector. According to a report published in October 2016 by a parliamentary commission of inquiry on mining titles and the social responsibility of mines, the Burkinabè state suffered a profit loss of almost a billion US dollars between 2005 and 2015 due to corruption, mismanagement and speculation in the mining sector.

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