An Introduction to the symposium on Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America
An article published in Third World Quarterly in 2008 was our initiation into collaborative work on Canadian mining imperialism and the popular forms of resistance it systematically engenders in Latin America. The first seed. After a lengthy stretch of germination, this led almost a decade later to our new book, Blood of Extraction: Canadian Imperialism in Latin America. In the preliminary stages, when Blood of Extraction wasn’t even yet a fully-fledged idea, Todd was working on the manuscript which would become Imperialist Canada (2010), and Jeff was trying to map out the cycle of left-indigenous revolt in early twenty-first century Bolivia and the rise to the presidency of Evo Morales. This eventually took shape in Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia (2011), and From Rebellion to Reform: Class Struggle, Indigenous Liberation, and the Politics of Evo Morales (2011).
Focused collaboration on Blood of Extraction began in earnest in 2010, and in many ways flows logically out of those earlier books. Imperialist Canada sought to explain Canada’s settler-colonial and capitalist foundations in the racist dispossession of indigenous peoples and its eventual rise to a secondary imperialist power within the hierarchical world-capitalist system. Through the prism of Bolivian history, Red October and From Rebellion to Reform, meanwhile, tackled questions of Latin America’s subordinate incorporation into the world market, the historical formation of capitalist states in the region, and the often radical struggles of subaltern classes and oppressed groups within, against, and beyond domestic capitalist states and the machinations of various imperialisms.
Our fundamental analytical and empirical concern in Blood of Extraction is the role assumed by the Canadian state within the worldwide system of capitalist imperialism in relation to Latin America. Capitalist imperialism is characterized by deep structural inequalities between regions and countries of the world. These inequalities are exacerbated by the uneven development of global capitalist relations, and are reproduced through the active policies adopted by imperialist states and powerful international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Capitalist imperialism involves the draining of the wealth and resources of poorer countries to the benefit of capital of the Global North, at the cost of the majority of the peoples of the Global South.
Doing the Research
We started our research with a number of questions. What are the specific ways in which this systemic dynamic has played itself out in Canadian-Latin American relations? What forms have Canadian capitalist expansion and Canadian state interference in Latin America assumed in recent decades? How have Latin American workers, peasants, and indigenous communities – dispossessed and exploited by Canadian capital – responded in turn? What precisely are the contours of this dialectic of accumulation by dispossession and popular resistance?
We began with Statistics Canada databases of Canadian foreign direct investment and the industry journals of the mining sector. We surveyed the secondary literature in Spanish and English, and trolled through the archives of newspapers and magazines throughout the Americas. This was the work of the sleuth and the economist, detecting hidden truths beneath official lies, drawing connections, and constructing models of Canadian interests and investments throughout the region.
Patterns emerged. In 1990, Canadian foreign direct investment into Latin America and the Caribbean stood at only $2.58-billion (CAD) in stock (that is, cumulative Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows). It rose to $25.3-billion (CAD) in 2000, an increase of 880 per cent, and to $59.4-billion (CAD) – amidst the deepest global economic recession since the 1930s – in 2013, an increase of 134 per cent from the year 2000, and 2,198 per cent from the year 1990. The figures for 2000 and 2013, moreover, are certainly an underrepresentation of the extent of Canadian capital’s penetration of the region, as Statistics Canada’s data, from which these figures are primarily drawn, do not include Canadian investment that is routed through the Caribbean Offshore Financial Centres (OFCs), which, if it did, would likely double-to-triple the figures for some countries given how strong Canadian financial capital’s presence is in the Caribbean OFC, as we note below. Canadian investment is occurring across a range of sectors. Canadian textile manufacturers and oil and gas, pipeline, and construction companies play prominent and controversial roles in the hemisphere. But it is clearly in the financial and mining sectors where Canadian companies are most prominent. The motivation underlying all of this investment is profit, at whatever cost to the human rights and the environment. The purpose of Canadian foreign policy in Latin America is in turn to enable and enhance the profit-making potential of Canadian multinational firms, above all in finance and mining.
Next we turned to access-to-information requests. Sifting through the thousands of pages of documents generated through such requests over a number of years revealed precisely how the different apparatuses of the Canadian state – the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Foreign Affairs, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) (as of 2015 Foreign Affairs, CIDA, and International Trade are now part of Global Affairs Canada), National Defense, Natural Resources Canada, Health Canada, and Canadian embassies throughout the region – sought systematically to intervene in domestic Latin American affairs on behalf of Canadian capital. Most of the relevant activities we uncovered passed without mention in the mainstream Canadian media.
Canadian Foreign Policy in Latin America
In recent years, the Canadian state has lent its support to a repressive post-coup regime in Honduras; it has provided military and ideological backing for a repressive regime in Colombia, one which boasts the hemisphere’s worst record on human rights; it has aggressively interfered in the domestic affairs of left-of-centre Latin American governments, such as that of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Rafael Correa in Ecuador; it has supported ecological destruction and the dislocation of vulnerable populations in the region through its support for Canadian natural resource companies; it has provided cover for exploitative working conditions in the factories of Canadian companies operating in the export processing zones of Central America; it has sought to delegitimize, coopt, or coerce popular movements that have directly challenged the economic interests of Canadian capital – this is the reality with which any honest study of Canada’s growing political and economic engagement with Latin America must start. These are not extreme or isolated examples, we discovered, unrepresentative of the broader character of Canada’s foreign policies in the Americas. These trends are at the core of Canadian foreign policy in Latin America, animating the dialectic of Canadian capitalist expansion and popular resistance in the region.
Finally, we turned to interviews with trade unionists, indigenous activists, peasant militants, human rights lawyers, feminists, and environmentalists. [Ed.: see Bullet Nos.: 679, 681, 682, 683, 687.] During repeated trips to Honduras, Guatemala, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia we spoke to people on the frontlines of the many open battles against Canadian capitalists and diplomats which are ongoing throughout Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina. Our interview material demonstrates decisively that the indigenous and peasant communities dispossessed by Canadian mining companies, and the women workers in the sock and t-shirt factories exploited by Canadian capital, are not meek and passive victims of imperial abuse. They are fighting back in myriad creative ways, with often astonishing courage and commitment. This book aims to contribute in a small way to their multifaceted efforts of dismantling the architectures of coercion and exploitation.
Blood of Extraction begins with an introductory chapter theorizing Canada’s position in the imperialist world order today, and shows specifically the drivers and dynamics of Canadian imperialism in Latin America. In the rest of the book, we trace the increasingly aggressive insertion of the Canadian state and capital into the complex political economy of Latin America, with a particular focus on two sub-regions: Central America and the Andes. Canadian capital, especially in banking and natural resources development, plays a leading role in capitalist accumulation throughout the Americas, while the Canadian state is assertively pursuing the conditions amenable to Canadian investors: liberalized markets, weak environmental regulatory regimes, and contained or repressed social movements.
The first section of the book looks at the dynamics of capitalist expansion and resistance as they have played out in Central America. Canada has positioned itself as an important player in the Isthmus, supporting reactionary forces, including the pro-coup actors in Honduras. The section is anchored by the chapter on Honduras, which pivots on the 2009 coup against democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, but also includes a detailed account of Canada’s political-economic intervention in Guatemala and the rest of the region. The second section of the book looks at the Andes. Canadian capital has major interests in Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia, while the Left resurgence in Latin America has been strongest in the central and northern Andes. Thus there is a great deal at stake for Canadian investors in a region where their interests are regularly challenged by strong social movements and, occasionally, governments. As our chapters covering Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela argue in detail, the Canadian state has worked assiduously to weaken Andean social movements and the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan governments, while simultaneously seeking to strengthen diplomatic and military ties with conservative governments in Colombia and Peru. •
Canada and the Changing Structures of Global Power
Gordon and Webber’s new book is a major contribution to the study of Canadian political economy and foreign policy. Focusing on Canada’s new role in Latin America, their book thoroughly undermines mainstream perspectives on Canada’s interventions in the region – for example, those emphasizing democracy promotion, counter-narcotics, development assistance, and American dictates. Instead, the authors demonstrate that the economic and political interests of Canadian capital – particularly the interests of profit – drive Canadian foreign policy in the hemisphere.
In making this point, Gordon and Webber extend a line of academic and activist research that paints Canada as an imperialist state in the current world order. In this perspective, the Canadian economy is a relatively high-tech form of advanced capitalism; Canadian capitalists command and control an independent base of assets and revenue streams in the national economy; Canadian executives are constituted as a class through a dense network of interlocking corporate directorates; and Canadian business profits increasingly derive from foreign direct investments on a global scale.
Furthermore, while the Canadian state has always been structured and managed with the interests of capital in mind, it has become even more so in the neoliberal period – for example, by cutting social programs, disciplining unions, and signing international economic agreements that serve corporate profits over working-class life and the environment.
As resistance to neoliberalism has proliferated, the Canadian state and its principal allies have also engaged in disciplinary militarism toward any perceived threats to capital. In this context, the Canadian state, under Liberal and Conservative governments, has developed both a policy framework and an institutional capacity for a new grand strategy of armoured neoliberalism: a fusion of militarism and class warfare in Canadian state policies and practices around the world (see my book, Joining Empire: The Political Economy of the New Canadian Foreign Policy, 2014).
Gordon and Webber develop this line of analysis in significant ways. First, they insist that Canadian foreign policy in Latin America be viewed in relation to global dynamics of economic, political, and military power. For the authors, “[w]hat such an analysis reveals, is that Canada is one of the richest countries in the world, and it is operating within a global system of imperialism that continues to
systematically benefit capital from the Global North at the expense of the people and ecologies of the Global South” [p 4].
In making this point, the authors extend the Marxist theory of imperialism to include ecological relations. As they put it, “[i]mperialism is an ecological phenomenon: it is shaped by ecological regimes, such as the ways in which certain natural resources have become central to capitalist accumulation and the geographical location of these natural resources, while it in turn transforms (usually destructively) local and regional ecologies in pursuit of profit” [p 9].
Importantly, the authors insist that racism is also integral to the economics and ecology of imperialism. In this regard, they focus on the dispossession of indigenous peoples; the new border regimes that create apartheid-like zones of cheap labour around the world; and the systematic use of military violence by the North against the South.
With this deeper understanding of imperialism, the authors map and analyze the particular position of Latin America in the global hierarchy. In particular, they critically interrogate the “extractivist, export-driven, commodity-fuelled growth regime” [p 27] that has guided recent development strategies in the hemisphere. For Gordon and Webber, the extractivist model is premised on the dispossession of indigenous peoples and poor peasants, and entails vast destruction of forests, farms, and water supplies. This ‘blood of extraction’ has fostered a new dependency in Latin America, characterized by a boom-and-bust commodity cycle, de-industrialization, mass poverty and unemployment, and the repatriation of ‘super-profits’ by multinational corporations in the resources sector.
In this context, a new “dialectic of capitalist expansion and popular resistance” [p 2-3] has emerged. Indeed, Latin America has witnessed a wave of contentious resistance to neoliberalism by indigenous peoples, working classes, and other social movements. The response of the United States and its regional allies has been what Gordon and Webber call militarized neoliberalism: “violence, fraud, corruption, and authoritarian practices on the part of militaries and security forces,” as well as “murder, death threats, assaults, and arbitrary detention against opponents of resource extraction” [p 28].
The authors are right to examine Canadian foreign policy in Latin America in this light. Indeed, as part of the extractivist boom, Canadian direct investment has poured into the region, reaching approximately $60-billion (CAD) in 2013 [p 15]. Canadian corporations in the resources sector – particularly in energy and mining – have led this investment invasion. The key motivation of these companies is not economic development, but profit. In fact, the authors reveal that several Canadian mining companies have earned nearly a fifty per cent rate of profit on their investments in Latin America – most of which is repatriated to Canada instead of reinvested in endogenous growth processes in the region [p 17].
Finally, the authors demonstrate the state-capital nexus by documenting the unfettered support of Canadian governments for Canadian corporate expansion in the hemisphere. As the authors reveal, “the depth and extent of Canadian capital’s penetration of Latin America would never have been possible without the backing of the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Affairs, including the embassies, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), National Defense, Natural Resources Canada, and Health Canada – the true nature of the so-called ‘whole-of-government’ approach to foreign policy in action” [p 284].
To quell resistance to this agenda, the authors analyze the new toolkit of Canadian foreign policy in the region, including the redirection of development aid toward resources extraction and the use of Corporate Social Responsibility to obfuscate the class exploitation and ecological destruction that attend the internationalization of capital.
Yet, if such policy tools fail, the Canadian state has increasingly shown support for authoritarian repression, including the 2009 military coup in Honduras. As part of the same agenda, it has also participated in joint military exercises with, and sold arms to, security services in Colombia, Peru, and Guatemala. In these ways, the blood of the state is inextricably linked to the blood of extraction.
Gordon and Webber’s analysis rests on sound theoretical reasoning and empirical research, and should become a seminal text on Canada’s role in Latin America. As academics and activists continue to build a theory of Canadian imperialism, however, several questions must be asked. First, while the world economy and state system are still defined by hierarchy and domination, including the “draining of the wealth and resources of poorer countries to the benefit of capital of the Global North” [p 7], new configurations of economic and political power require fresh analysis. The rise of China and several other industrializing powers in Asia has dramatically shifted the structure of labour, production, and class formation in the world economy, and led to variegated patterns of capitalist development in Asia and around the world, including in Latin America. If North-South relations are shifting in such ways, how does the concept of imperialism remain relevant?
For example, as Branko Milanovic has shown in his new book, Global Inequality (Harvard University Press, 2015), the winners of globalization are both the plutocrats of the North and the rising middle class of Asia, which has experienced real income gains over the past two decades, closely tied to market reforms in China under strong state direction. Milanovic also shows that inequality between nations has declined recently, and that inequality between individuals without regard to nationality has increased. In this context, Marxist analysis must pay close attention to diverse patterns of capital accumulation and class and state formation.
The question of U.S. hegemony must also be addressed more directly. Across the field of international relations, there is currently a debate on U.S. decline and the prospect of ‘multi-polarity.’ Gordon and Webber show that U.S. capital remains the dominant source of foreign direct investment in Latin America, but they do not engage issues of geopolitical and economic competition in the region. Related to this, how does Canadian foreign policy fit into the changing structure of power, both globally and in Latin America? Does it operate fully independently in a ‘post-hegemonic’ region, or does it often dovetail with American objectives? The authors should address these issues in future work.
The authors should also engage with the research of Canadian political scientists Laura Macdonald and J.Z. Garrod, who questions the thesis of Canadian imperialism in Latin America. In a recent publication, they argue that there is no longer a North-South divide in the world economy; that many mining companies headquartered in Canada are actually directed by Southern-based capitalists; that the notion of Canadian imperialism makes too strong a link between national mining firms and the state; that the global mining industry is now less nationally based and more integrated with transnational value chains; and that global mining firms use Canadian headquarters for propaganda purposes. For Macdonald and Garrod, then, ‘imperialism’ is an unhelpful term for explaining Canada’s role in the new extractivism. While Gordon and Webber clearly demonstrate the
state-capital nexus, future research should look more closely at the organizational structure of mining capital in Canada and around the world.
Finally, as part of building a left critique of Canadian corporate expansion, it is imperative to confront and debunk the mainstream theories of economic globalization more forcefully. The authors touch on this in the Introduction, but the text could have benefited from a more thorough critique of liberal and institutionalist theories of trade, investment, and multinational corporations.
These issues aside, Blood of Extraction is a valuable addition to scholarship and activism around Canada’s changing role in Latin America. As Gordon and Webber conclude, “the only thoroughgoing framework capable of understanding both the drivers of Canadian foreign policy in the region and their consequences for local populations is one that situates Canada as a secondary imperialist power within a global system which systematically benefits capital from the Global North at the expanse of the people and the environment in the Global South” [p 283]. •
Jerome Klassen is a Research Fellow with the MIT Center for International Studies. He is author of Joining Empire: The Political Economy of the New Canadian Foreign Policy, and co-editor of Empire’s Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan, both with University of Toronto Press.
The Central American Angle
Before Blood of Extraction, no book had approached the theme of Canadian imperialism in Central America in its entirety, and with good reason: Canadian influence has become so central to the politics of accumulation, repression, and resistance in the region that even tracing a mental map is a dizzying task. Gordon and Webber, in this hundred page section, achieve that mapping in a coherent narration that amounts to the most complete record composed to date. The three chapters, which cover Honduras, Guatemala, and the rest of the isthmus respectively, paint a picture of the expansion of Canadian capital at any cost, including the active pursuit of favourable political and legal conditions and a willful shrugging off of massive human rights abuses.
The book is important for having collected information from every corner of news, industry, and activist publication, but its greatest contribution lies in the use of documents released through access to information requests in Canada. Here Gordon and Webber show the backroom involvement of Canadian officials and tycoons in ensuring the political conditions for the continued profit of mining companies. Blood of Extraction uses sets of briefings and emails to prove beyond any doubt that Canadians regularly exert influence over local political and legislative processes.
In one example, Canadian government representatives are shown to be active in securing conditions for the consolidation of Honduras’ illegitimate post-coup government; one Canadian official even travelled to Brazil to directly pressure ousted president Manuel Zelaya to contain protests and support elections. Similarly, in discussing the lead-up to Guatemala’s response to a ruling against Goldcorp by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Gordon and Webber expose a flurry of meetings between officials from the Canadian and Guatemalan governments, Goldcorp, and the IACHR.
The material accessed through information requests has left other researchers and activists with an unprecedented tool. Gordon and Webber cite the reference code for every accessed document in the book’s footnotes, providing the rest of us a guide to available material. Once a request for information has been completed in Canada, anyone can follow up and request access to the same documents using their corresponding codes. Where the initial search for information is a game of guesswork in the dark, the keys left in the back pages of Blood of Extraction make it easy for others to follow up in search of further answers.
Blood of Extraction only falls short in its lack of information on the role of local elites. Granted, the stated focus is an exploration of the roles played by Canadians, but the book leaves readers with an impression of Canadian-led imperialism rather than mutually-beneficial alliances. Elites in each Central American country are heavily invested in their local extractive agendas, however, and also act transnationally across the region. Remilitarization is likewise driven first by domestic interests, but it has found a happy partner in the social conflict generated by Canadian mining. The case of Tahoe Resource’s San Rafael mine in Guatemala, for example, has been shown in Guatemalan and Canadian courts to involve not just local investors but kick-back schemes benefitting landowners and politicians, while also allowing for the creation of a new institution for counter-insurgent intelligence-gathering. At play here is much more than Canadian interests, and Blood of Extraction would only have been strengthened through a more detailed examination of the ties between Canadians and Central American economic, political, and military elites.
This critique aside, the depiction of Canadian mining operations within the context of Central American political economies is outstanding, and the book will surely remain a cornerstone of critical work on the region for some time. •
Simon Granovsky-Larsen is an Assistant Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Regina. His research focuses on social movements and political violence in post-conflict Guatemala, and he is currently documenting ties between paramilitaries and extractive industries.
Accumulation by Dispossession, Expanded Reproduction, and Class Transformations in Latin America
Of the plethora of literature written in recent years on the contemporary dynamics of imperialism and the world capitalist system, Todd Gordon and Jeff Webber’s Blood of Extraction stands out as a particularly thought-provoking and empirically rich contribution. In contrast to both mainstream liberal commentators who consider Canada a peaceful ally to Third World countries, and political economy commentators who once dubbed it the world’s richest dependency, the authors seek to demonstrate Canada’s role as a major imperial force on the world stage. Contemporary imperialism is theorized as a series of political interventions by this imperialist state in the form of often militarized neoliberal policies designed to pave the way for the entrance of Canadian capital in Latin American countries, with the outcome of reinforcing uneven capitalist development between the countries of the North and those of the South. The particular dynamics of Canadian imperialism relate to the extraordinary expansion of Canadian mining corporations in Latin America, a process characterized as accumulation by dispossession, which has brought both ecological devastation and the dispossession of rural communities from their lands and resources. The authors describe in impressive detail how Canadian state has modelled itself as an active imperial agent operating in Latin America, aggressively facilitating the entrance of its mining corporations into territories through an array of strategies seeking to liberalize markets, prevent “resource nationalism,” protect foreign investments, reconstitute property regulations, weaken environmental protections, and contain or actively repress social opposition.
For the purpose of this symposium, I would like to draw attention to some of the most significant contributions of the book to the current debate, and invite the authors to provide greater clarification on the implications of their analyses and observations. The first contribution is the application of David Harvey’s concept of accumulation by dispossession to the contemporary dynamics of extractivism in Latin America. Accumulation by dispossession refers to the increased adoption of extra-economic strategies for accumulation, including fraud, coercion, and predation as an ongoing feature of capitalist expansion in these territories – in distinction to the “normal” process of capital accumulation. In particular, this is associated with what the authors call “militarized neoliberalism,” a dynamic which adopts varying characteristics in different countries, with key examples including Alvaro Uribe’s “democratic security” policy in Colombia and the “war on drugs” in Mexico, Central America, and Colombia. The key strength of this analysis is to demonstrate how the expansion of global capital into Latin America requires a parallel expansion of state and military power to open up territories to extractive capital, dispossess communities from their lands, and contain social protest. The authors’ focus on the political and military mechanisms through which Canadian capital creates the conditions for its expansion, including the incredible number of ways Canadian corporations, often with the help of the state, are appropriating communal lands and resources to subject them to the logic of global capital, is a commendable development for contemporary understandings of Marx’s notion of primitive accumulation.
Yet, granting there is something distinctly “predatory” about the contemporary dynamics of Canadian mining in Latin America, the implications of this notion require further clarification. The complexities of the processes involved are frequently bypassed, with problematic consequences for the application of the theoretical framework to the case studies.
“Normal” Processes of Capitalist Development
While the authors lay out the notion of accumulation by dispossession in the theoretical introduction, the remainder of historical and empirical analyses of the book presents an array of processes that make no clear differentiation between accumulation by dispossession and “normal” processes of capitalist development.
Some examples include the relocation of production in the maquiladora and tourist sectors in Central America, which represent normal practices of capitalist cost cutting, or the growth of agribusiness displacing small and medium farmers, which is again a normal feature of capitalist competition. That is not to deny the brutality of these processes or the mechanisms of violence that are frequently invoked, but rather to state that these are very different dynamics than, for example, the dispossession of peasant and Indigenous communities from communal land or even the privatization of state industries.
A further issue is that, in many of the cases of dispossession of communities, it would seem that capitalist social relations are already in place, rendering the usefulness of the notion of accumulation by dispossession unclear in these scenarios. The application of the notion of accumulation by dispossession could be clarified with a more systematic treatment of the theoretical concepts of the book in the empirical and historical analyses of the case studies.
Another point that glares from the case studies is that the use of violence, predation, and fraud is by no means restricted to the contemporary phase of extractivism in Latin America, but rather would appear to be the modus operandi for capitalist development throughout the history of the region. As the authors point out, much of the contemporary militarization derives from the Cold War struggles, in which militarized interventions by the U.S. and domestic elites were simultaneously aimed at both containing the communist threat and opening up territories to capital accumulation. In this sense, the book raises many interesting questions about what is distinctly new about the contemporary mechanisms of accumulation by dispossession in Latin America, and the dynamics of continuity and change from those of the past, which would benefit from more detailed interrogation from the authors.
A second issue I would like to raise is the focus on capitalism as a predatory or externally imposed force in Latin America. This paints a picture whereby Canadian imperial capital accrues wealth by exploiting and dispossessing the people of Third World, but it fails to deeply or systematically examine the internal transformations taking place in these countries, both in terms of the realignments in the state apparatus and shifts in class relations.
The changing position of Latin America in the international division of labour is associated with a major reconfiguration in social relations inside these countries. These internal changes include the emergence of a capitalist class that is increasingly linked to transnational capital, whose structural power inside each country has been significant both in the configuration of neoliberal states and for the power struggles of progressive or radical governments who have supported the “commodities consensus” to a certain degree, but also engaged in a struggle over the distribution of the rent. Alongside this has been a massive expansion of the surplus rural labour force, as well described by the authors, but also the creation of a unionized stratum of the workforce oftentimes supportive of extractivism – the so-called “labour aristocracy” – which complicates the question of class organizing in extractivist economies. While the case studies offer glimpses of these processes at work, the implications in relation to the internal social transformations are insufficiently explored. In my view, this oversight is related to a theoretical framework that tends to over-emphasize capitalism as a top-down or external force, while the “normal” processes of capitalist development – what Harvey calls “expanded reproduction” – and class formation receive little theorization.
To sum up, Todd Gordon and Jeff Webber’s Blood of Extraction offers an insightful and challenging interpretation of an impressively wide range of key issues related to the dynamics of Canadian imperialism and extractive capitalism in Latin America today. It provides a fruitful basis for further debate and scrutiny that deserves a wide readership. •
Kyla Sankey is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. Her research interests include Critical Development Studies, Latin American Political Economy, Labour, Social Movements and Rural Sociology. Her doctoral research explores the contemporary dynamics of the agrarian question and peasant social movements in Colombia.
Extractivism, Socio-Ecology, and North-South Solidarity
Blood of Extraction is a comprehensive study of Canada’s economic entanglements with Latin America’s resource industries. By tracing Canadian capital investments and flows, the authors also sketch the influence of Canadian foreign policy upon Latin American state-making, arguing that “transnational capitals root themselves in the nation-state opportunistically and flexibly.” This idea of flexibility is crucial to understanding foreign investments and extractivism today; at the same time, the flexibility of capital, military might, and new forms of disposability also leave social movements in a precarious position in a moment of radical retrenchment of Leftist politics.
Gordon and Webber trace the rotating door of capital/resource investments and arms/militaristic flows that overtly or covertly protect these interests. As the authors rightly point out, there is nothing new here. This embeddedness of capital and arms flows is part of the historic arc of resource extraction and long legacies of colonialist violence (especially around violence upon bodies, lands, collective ideals, and alternative economic systems). Whether it is Canadian influence in Colombia (through extractive industries such as oil and mining) or Canadian transnational mining companies in Peru (gold), the authors sketch the ways in which multinational capital in mining plays a major role in perpetuating civil war in Colombia and military and para-military terror in regions like Peru and Ecuador. In all cases, the long shadows cast by colonial violence (or the raping of lands, Indigenous women, and a way of life) come to the fore through resource extractivism tied to new forms of weapons trade and militarism. As Gordon and Webber articulate in the Colombian context, “Once embedded in these environs, the violence that this capital requires as a regular feature of its accumulation process – to clear the land to crush armed insurgents and to terrorize unarmed social movements opposed to extraction in their territories – quickly dispels any illusions that Canadian companies might be in any sense neutral bystanders in quintessentially Colombian armed conflict.” And here we see how the violence in the countryside is integrally linked to capital flows; violence enables extractive capitalism to expand, to deepen, and even to flourish.
In all contexts of the Andes, the nefarious social-ecological impact of extractivism has left a trail of ecological, social, and communal destruction, which the authors refer to with the invocation of David Harvey’s concept of “accumulation by dispossession.” In all of the Andean regions, we see how hydrocarbon exploration, mining for minerals, and agro-industrial expansion of mono-cropping has exacerbated a process of capital accumulation outwards, leaving Canadian capitalists with massive profits, all the while leaving unmitigated ecological impacts to lands and to local and regional water supplies. These disruptions affect ways of life and local economies around small-scale farming and fisheries. In all cases, the question of legality and illegality and state and capital embeddedness has pushed the territorial bounds for resource-based extraction into national parks, forest preserves, and deeper into the Amazon. Many of these efforts to expand into natural parks have resulted in Indigenous uprisings but have not ultimately slowed the influence of U.S. and, in this case, Canadian resource investments.
A few questions remain: a) how do we begin to create “humanistic” scales to measure these social, ecological, environmental impacts as capital investments are measured as net GDP growth for all these states? b) How do we capture in our analyses (beyond qualitative data) this trail of horror and destruction and measure the urgency of these problems? c) how do we use these new metrics to hold U.S. and Canadian resource capitalists accountable?
Resource Extractivism and the Climate Crisis
Resource extractivism and super-profitability of non-renewable fossil fuel industries is ever more concerning in an era of diminishing natural resources and the climate crisis. The Andean region – as a result of glacier melt, population density, and mismanagement of water supplies – is running out of water. Currently, in what is perhaps the worst drought the country has seen in 25 years, Bolivia is in a national state of emergency and under state-mandated water rationing in cities like La Paz. We will see more and more of these kinds of natural and man-made disasters in the coming years without a centralized and effective state apparatus to deal with such problems.
I’d like to turn toward the state of social movements in the region in a moment of rightward pendulum swing (from Colombia to Venezuela to Brazil). It is already clear that there will be resource extraction regulation will decrease, states will be controlled by non-renewable fossil fuel giants, and U.S. and Canadian foreign influence will fuel military and para-military initiatives in the region. We have already seen the increased and hyper-militarization of resource-based capitalism in places like Brazil and subsequent repressions of protests and resistance. So what does this mean for social movements in the region, for Indigenous peoples, and for alternative socio-ecologies?
While sporadic resistance to mining is quite common in the Andes, no mass environmental movement has galvanized organized labour or united people across rural/urban divides or ethnic differences. But it seems like there will be a need to reconfigure movements across class, gender, race/ethnicity, and landlessness to work independently of the center-democratic Andean states (like those under Correa and Morales) and to map out a vision for sustainable alternatives and controls on foreign capital. But none of this seems feasible without a larger, more sustainable movement. Canadian and U.S. climate and resource-based movements have been at the forefront of anti-pipeline, anti-tar sands resistance, and it’s important to consider the ways in which this is the right moment for anti-fossil fuel movements to cut across these geographic divides. The time is ripe to attack these companies on our home ground and rethink our economic articulation with them. How and in what ways do our consumptive lives link back to these trails of destruction (politically, economically, and militaristically) in the Andes? What might North/South solidarity look like in this era? •
Nicole Fabricant is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Towson University in
Towson, Maryland. Her research and teaching interests include extractive industries and social movements in Latin America and the USA. She has written two books on Bolivia, Mobilizing Bolivia’s Displaced: Indigenous Politics and the Struggle over Land, and Remapping Bolivia: Resources, Indigeneity and Territory in a Plurinational State, with Bret Gustafson. She is part of the editorial board at NACLA Report on the Americas, and Latin American Perspectives.
Hegemony, Primitive Accumulation, and Anti-Imperialism from Below: A Response
Todd Gordon and Jeffery R. Webber
Sincere thanks to all the contributors to this symposium. It is a rare and gratifying privilege to have such serious interlocutors read and comment on our work. Each of these careful and judicious interventions has prompted us to think more deeply and further refine the arguments we make in Blood of Extraction.
U.S. and Chinese Power in Latin America
Of the many important questions Jerome Klassen raises in his commentary, we are going to address two.
First, the matter of the strength of U.S. hegemony in the region and how Canada fits into this broader picture. U.S. influence in the region needs to be understand in relation to other imperialist powers, such as China, and to Latin American countries themselves.
Without question China’s influence in the world has grown over the last three decades, as Chinese capital (whether private or state-owned) has expanded beyond Chinese borders in search of raw materials to feed its rapidly growing industrial base and in search of markets for its manufactured goods. In one reflection of this phenomenon, Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has increased in Latin America, particularly in the extractive sectors. But as the latest report on FDI from the Economic Commission on Latin American and the Caribbean notes, in 2015 the U.S. accounted for over twenty-five per cent of FDI flows into the region. No country from outside the region has the scale of foreign investment stock in it that the U.S. does.
China’s importance to the region as an importer of raw materials grew dramatically during the commodities boom of 2003-2011. This demand in fact played an important role in what some critics have described as the reproduction of a problematic Latin American development path based heavily on the export of primary products to foreign markets, and on foreign investment to produce those products in the first place. The danger of this path – of relying on a traditionally volatile global market in raw materials exports – has became painfully obvious since Chinese demand slowed sharply beginning in 2012. China’s trade influence has thus waned, while, at the same time, unable to extricate themselves from dependence on raw materials exports, many Latin America countries are now faced with slumping economies, low profitability, and heavy foreign debt liabilities. This is particularly true of Venezuela and Ecuador.
So we should be careful not to overstate China’s role in Latin America. Its economic influence is still relatively small compared to that of the U.S., and it has nowhere near the diplomatic or security weight that the U.S. does.
In terms of U.S. influence vis-à-vis Latin America, it has declined to some degree over the last two decades, but it is wrong to characterize the region as post-hegemonic. The pink and red tide governments managed through the 2000s to establish greater political distance from the U.S. than in the past, creating Latin American financial and political institutions that exclude the U.S. and Canada, such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). Venezuelan and Bolivian governments, in particular, gained sympathy from many Latin Americans for their denunciations of U.S. imperialism.
Yet Mexico, the Central American isthmus, Colombia and Peru never withdrew from the orbit of direct U.S. political or economic influence. These ties have remained relatively strong. But even with the pink tide governments, serious cracks in their efforts at greater independence have appeared in recent years. Brazil, largest driver of economic autonomy from the U.S., and the largest economy in the region, is mired in a deep economic crisis; and the removal of Dilma Rousseff in a “white” coup this year, and her replacement with U.S. ally Michel Temer, has reinforced American power vis-à-vis Brazil. The rise of Mauricio Macri in Argentina added to the list of U.S. allies in the region, and the ongoing economic and political crisis of the Bolivarian project in Venezuela, also force us to cast a critical eye on claims of post-hegemony.
Canada’s Objective Independent Interests
With respect to how Canada fits into the “changing structure of power,” again we want to be cautious not to conflate the decline in American power with the end of U.S. imperialism. Insofar as the U.S. remains a – or the – dominant imperial power in the world, and a longstanding ally and major trading partner of Canada’s, American power is important to Canadian interests. However, Canadian foreign policy isn’t reducible to what the U.S. does or wants, though their aims often coincide.
Canadian capital has its own objective interests. Canadian foreign policy is designed to promote and defend those interests; and it is especially active and independent in one-to-one relations with countries in which Canadian investment interests are strong. At the same time, viewed from the perspective of Canadian state managers, it also makes sense for Canada to align itself with U.S. hegemony given the latter’s role in Latin America (and globally). Such cooperation serves Canada’s self-interest. But when it comes to dealing with something like natural resources sector reform, such as a mining law, or supporting a particular investment project, Canada does so on its own initiative, whether or not its interests coincide with those of the U.S. in any given case.
Militarism is one area where Canada is more explicitly aligned with and dependent upon U.S. leadership. Given the global scope of the U.S. military and, in relation to Latin America its deep connection with militaries throughout the region, Canada benefits from close cooperation. Canada’s independent initiatives in the realm of militarism are small – though not insignificant – as we can see in the ties Canada has built with the Colombian military or funding security apparatuses in Guatemala and Honduras.
Decline of the North-South Divide?
Second, Klassen encourages us to engage the recent work of Laura MacDonald, and particularly her suggestions that there is no longer a North-South divide in the world economy, and that mining companies cannot be so easily identified with a nation, including in the case of Canada. As our response to the issue of U.S. influence in Latin America suggests, the claim that there is no longer a meaningful North-South divide in the world economy is wrong. Systematically investment capital that moves between these regions moves from North to South while profits move in the reverse direction. There are exceptions, but the broad trend remains. Nor is political intervention by countries of the South into the North remotely comparable to that of the North into the South. Even the largest Latin America economy, Brazil, cannot shape political outcomes or exert military influence in the U.S. or Canada in the way the latter countries, especially the U.S., do in Latin America, or in Brazil itself. Moreover, as we note in Blood of Extraction, there have been two violent coups in the Western Hemisphere since 2004: Haiti and Honduras. Canada played an active role in both of these. The North-South divide, while not exactly as it was thirty years ago, remains relevant.
With regard to the complexity of identifying the nationality of capitalist firms, while foreign mining capitalists set up company headquarters and place themselves on the Toronto Stock Exchange because of Canada’s permissive regulatory and tax systems for the extractives sector, the reason the systems have developed as they have in the first place is precisely because Canada has a strong mining sector with extensive international interests. Most mining capital that flows from Canada to foreign destinations, whether exploratory or for large projects, is still Canadian. We are careful to point out that by “Canadian” capital we mean capital that has a clear and identifiable Canadian owner, whether as an owner of a private company or as a majority or minority (with controlling influence) shareholder of a publicly-traded company. In this strict sense, as Bill Burgess and Paul Kellogg have also pointed out, the notion of “Canadian capital” remains centrally relevant to any serious understanding of Canada’s national political economy as well as the international projection of Canadian capital. Some Canadian extractive companies establish foreign subsidiaries, it is true, but the subsidiary is still ultimately controlled by the Canadian parent. Subsidiaries are a business strategy for foreign operations, and a means to create legal distance from criminal practices abroad. In the garment sector, Canadian companies often subcontract to local capitalists, but the main investment capital, and thus the profits, are Canadian.
Primitive Accumulation and “Normal” Capitalism
Kyla Sankey makes two central criticisms in her incisive and penetrating commentary on our book. The first turns on a claim that we fail to make a “clear differentiation between accumulation by dispossession and ‘normal’ processes of capitalist development.” In fact, we are careful to note in our introductory chapter that Harvey’s concept of accumulation by dispossession (his reworking of Marx’s “primitive accumulation”) is “perhaps rather too all-encompassing.” Still, we agree in hindsight that we could have been more precise throughout the book in delineating where this process begins and ends, and in identifying where exactly Harvey stretches the concept beyond reasonable bounds.
We would certainly not wish to suggest that “the relocation of production in the maquiladora” sector amounts on its own to accumulation by dispossession, as Sankey believes we argue. The theoretical ambiguity in our opening definition may have encouraged such a misreading. Where accumulation by dispossession was necessary vis-à-vis the growth of the maquiladora sector in Central America was specifically in the relatively recent wave of intensified de-peasantization and proletarianzation (particularly of women), such that a reserve army of labour was made available for factory exploitation. Such a labour force is never naturally occurring – a given, static input for capital – but has to be made and remade through various iterations across distinct moments of capitalist development. So, we thank Sankey for her observation and agree that our book would have benefitted from more precision on this score.
However, when Sankey goes on to argue that in contexts where “capitalist social relations are already in place” the “usefulness of the notion of accumulation by dispossession is unclear,” we encounter an area of actual disagreement. From our perspective, the error here is in thinking of primitive accumulation as merely a one-off precondition for the introduction of capitalist social relations, after which “normal” accumulation assumes the mantle. We would insist, rather, that primitive accumulation remains a continuous feature of “mature” capitalist development due to the ongoing conflictive character of capitalist social relations. Once made, the job isn’t over. Primitive accumulation doesn’t recede to the past. It plays an integral role in the ongoing reproduction of capitalist social relations.
Latin American Transformations
The second criticism of Sankey’s rests on the claim that our book “fails to deeply or systematically examine the internal transformations taking place in these countries, both in terms of the realignments in the state apparatus and shifts in class relations.” In particular, Sankey calls for greater attention to the role of a capitalist class in Latin American countries, which is “increasingly linked to transnational capital,” on the one hand, and “the power struggles of progressive or radical governments who have supported the ‘commodities consensus’ to a certain degree, but also engaged in struggle over the distribution of rent,” on the other.
Sankey’s argument in this area parallels the one objection made by Simon Granovsky-Larsen in his perceptive commentary. He also thinks Blood of Extraction lacks “information on the role of local elites,” and “leaves readers with an impression of Canadian-led imperialism rather than mutually-beneficial alliances.”
It would have taken us well outside the subject matter of our book – indeed it could easily have required an additional book altogether – to deal seriously with the complex transformations of class structures and state forms in Latin American countries in recent decades. Nonetheless, we agree that we that we did not take sufficiently into account the role of mutual (although asymmetrical) benefits, cooperation, and alliances between specific sections of Latin American capitalist classes and Canadian imperialism. Our argument would have been strengthened if we had spent more time unpacking “the ties between Canadians and Central American [and South American] economic, political, and military elites,” as Granovsky-Larsen points out. In future work, we may want to think about this more seriously through the theoretical prism of sub-imperialism, as well as Lenin’s links in the imperialist chain.
On Sankey’s point about the distinctiveness of “progressive or radical governments,” we actually pay significant attention to their contradictory relationship to Canadian imperialism, and their inconsistent relationship to rent distribution, especially in the extensive chapters on Venezuela and Ecuador. One of the novelties of our book was to treat Latin American history as deeply complex – never reducible to a product of imperialism – and to depict Latin Americans themselves as much more than merely passive victims. This was our intent, at least, with the focus on social movement struggle that runs through our text.
We also wanted to think more thoroughly through the question of anti-imperialism, which too often tends to be reduced to the activity of left-governments. While these governments have sometimes come into conflict with Canadian imperialism, at other times they have worked together with Canadian capital and repressed dissident, radical sectors of their own populations.
For us, the real frontlines of anti-imperialism in contemporary Latin America are grassroots socio-ecological movements, often indigenous and peasant-based. These movements sometimes find themselves in the uncomfortable and paradoxical circumstance of facing repression from their own “anti-imperialist” governments for confronting multinational mining capital directly.
Let’s end on the same note as Nicole Fabricant’s intervention, on the question of North-South solidarity. What forms might this assume? For us this means, first and foremost, building an uncompromising anti-imperialist, eco-socialist struggle within the Canadian state. Initial signals of what this should look like can be seen in the militant direct actions of the Idle No More indigenous movement, the struggle against the Tar Sands, and the anti-mining coalitions springing up around the country. Just across Canada’s southern border, the recent heroism of the Standing Rock Sioux and the broader movement of solidarity against the Dakota Access Pipeline also points us in the right direction. Our anti-imperialism, following José Carlos Mariátegui, must also be thoroughly and uncompromisingly anti-capitalist. We need to be sufficiently subtle in our analyses to be able, when necessary, to criticize leftist governments in Latin America that unfold the banner of anti-imperialism as a cover for extractive capitalism, in alliance with multinational capital. As we write these words, this has come to mean lending our solidarity with the Shuar revolt against mining expansion in their Amazonian territories in Ecuador and condemning Rafael Correa’s militarization of the region on behalf of Chinese mining imperialism. •
This symposium was brought together by Tanya Andrusieczko for Briarpatch where it was first published.