latin american graduate organization

providing fellowship, education, and recreation for tulane graduate students interested in latin america

The Land and Its People: Rights, Responsibilities, and Conflicts

Saturday, February 7, 2015
10:00am – 11:15am
Jones Hall 100A Greenleaf Conference Room
Moderated by: Dr. Kris Lane, Department of History, Tulane University

Ancestral Land or Corporate Land: Conflicts over Identity and Territory in La Guajira, Colombia
Emma Banks, Vanderbilt University

In La Guajira, Colombia, indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and campesino people struggle to defend their land threatened by the Cerrejón coalmine. These communities face a common problem, but must advance their claims through three different legal regimes. The 1991 constitution recognizes ethnic territories, and provides a framework for indigenous and Afro-Colombians, but not for campesinos, to protect their ancestral territories. Furthermore, the state that guarantees these rights also supports a national economic development plan based on mining, two seemingly contradictory responsibilities. Drawing on fieldwork with communities surrounding Cerrejón and analysis of key legislation, this paper explores how both the state and corporate actors manipulate multicultural legal norms to disenfranchise communities and control territory. It also illustrates how communities propose an alternative to narrow state definitions of ethnicity. Although framed as an attempt at recognizing ethnic rights, this paper views the state’s recognition of ethnic communities as a vehicle for regulating land in La Guajira in favor of Cerrejón. Wayuu indigenous communities have successfully claimed their ancestral territories, but as a result have come under greater state control. Legislation for Afro-Colombian and campesino communities falls short in La Guajira, denying their rights to territory and self-identity. In contrast to state legislation, ethnic claim-making “from below” is an attempt to assign land a cultural value and protect it from economic exploitation. The complex struggle over both territory and identity in La Guajira reveals how powerful actors and disenfranchised minorities mobilize multicultural values for disparate goals.

Fenced in Place: Discourses and Practices around Female Workers in China’s Hydropower Projects in Ecuador
Ruijie Peng, University of Texas at Austin

This study explores re/production of social and spatial relations in the biggest ongoing Chinese hydroelectric project in the Amazon watershed in Ecuador. With China’s near dominant role in development investment in Ecuador, the paper relies both on structural analysis of Chinese investment and original and ethnographic accounts and reflections from fieldwork in order to elucidate processes of integration or segmentation Chinese projects entail in the project. Due to different labor regulations, cultural norms and natural environment, Chinese-led development project experience a set of spatial segregation and labor segmentation based on national, ethnicity and gender lines. This produces a new development and management logic that both resembles traditional capitalist insertion in local economy yet distinguishes itself with different types of labor and environmental implications. However, instead of reproducing an imperial model of resource exploitation, China’s engagement with Ecuador and Latin America in general in development has created a new realm of contested social relations and interactions. For example, up to 20% of the workers and other staff have been brought from mainland China to work with Ecuadorians under a labor regime that creates more disadvantages for Chinese labor force than its Ecuadorian counterpart. Does Chinese investment and development in Ecuador represent a different paradigm than global capitalism’s engagement in production and profit? What spaces and social relations produce and are produced by South-South cooperation in development? Reflections from this work urge state and non-state actors to rethink ways in which Chinese state-led investments, Latin American states and grassroots advocacy groups can achieve more equitable and sustainable resource development.

This Isn’t Child’s Play: Delineating Mobility and Property in the Eastern Andes, 1630-1651
Nathan Weaver Olsen, University of Minnesota

In February of 1650, a property dispute between two brothers-in-law, Lorenzo de Chavez Orellana and Juan Sanchez de Aguilera, escalated into a fistfight as the local lieutenant general attempted to give Sanchez formal possession of what Chavez claimed to be his land, in full view of the Chavez family home. Of course on one level, the fistfight, which the Lieutenant General did not mention in his official report, was simply a physical manifestation of rising tensions between the two men. But on another level, this fight in a sparsely populated valley in the eastern Andes was a battle between proxies representing different notions about the origin and meaning of property rights, local citizenship (vecindad) and personal reputation. While Sanchez temporarily won possession of Chavez’s land, he would ultimately lose out in his effort to separate Chavez from his property, and did not prevent the sale of Chavez’s land to the regionally powerful don Pedro de Cuellar Mimbreño. The loss signified a change taking place in the valley in which years of military service in defense of the frontier no longer trumped literacy, documentary evidence, and the knowledge of Spanish civil legal codes. In this talk I will discuss how changing ideas about personal property in the seventeenth-century Andes help us to better understand how frontier spaces became bordered places, and the social implications of such changes for frontier communities.

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latin american graduate organization