Participation on the Edge: Prior Consultation and Extractivism in Latin America

Gisela Zaremberg, Marcela Torres Wong


Violent conflicts between indigenous groups, multinational companies, and governments over the control of lands potentially containing valuable minerals and hydrocarbons are proliferating in Latin America, as well as elsewhere around the world too. In 1989 the International Labor Organization (ILO) approved ILO Convention 169, which mandates the implementation of prior consultation (PC) with indigenous peoples about any project that could potentially affect their territory. Many interpretations regarding the aims and scopes of PC exist. Some environmental sectors see PC as a mechanism to prevent the implementation of ecologically unsustainable projects in indigenous territories. Part of the indigenous rights sector, however, sees PC as a platform via which to negotiate financial resources for indigenous communities. On the side of governments and multinational companies, PC represents a means to diminish violence and advance projects under more stable political conditions. By examining mining and hydrocarbon projects in Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico, the authors compare cases in which PC takes place and ones where it is not applied. A typology of the outcomes in relation to 1) the prevention of industrialized resource extraction on indigenous lands, 2) redistribution of economic benefits produced by extractive projects, and 3) diminishment of the state repression associated with extractive projects is offered. Findings show that in many cases all three of these results are not simultaneously achieved; the authors explain why some outcomes might be obtained in certain instances and not in others. Finally, the article offers an overall assessment of PC results in light of participation theories.

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