Going green : sustainable mining, water, and the remaking of social protest in post-neoliberal Ecuador



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This dissertation examines the reconfiguration of popular environmental politics in the context of so-called sustainable mining development in Ecuador. Progressive governments in Latin America herald sustainable mining initiatives as the lynchpin to development capable of generating revenues to finance social welfare programs and protecting the environment. If this is so, my dissertation asks, then why has a proposed sustainable gold mine provoked such bitter opposition from dairy farmers in the parish of Victoria del Portete?

My dissertation follows a group of indigenous and mestizo dairy farmers in the southern Ecuadorian Andes to understand why they oppose gold mining in their watershed and traces the cultural and political transformations that followed from their activism.
I make four key arguments in this dissertation. First, I argue that sustainable mining plans place a premium on local water resources and have the effect of rearticulating local water disputes. Whereas owners of small and large dairy farms have historically disputed local access to water resources now they have created a unified movement against the proposed gold mine project. Second, I argue that knowledge practices and political discourses enabled farmers with varying claims to ethnic ancestry and socio-economic standing to establish connections with each other and with national indigenous leaders, Catholic priests, artists, and urban ecologists. Together they have formed a movement in defense of life. My analysis extends common understandings of the nature of human agency and political life by examining the role that non-human entities play in shaping contemporary environmental politics. Third, as a result of the mobilizations, new socio-environmental formations have emerged. The watershed has become a sacred place called Kimsacocha, which is venerated by farmers through new cultural practices as the source of life. Finally, the mobilizations in defense of life have re-centered indigeneity in unexpected ways. Farmers with and without indigenous ancestry as well as their urban allies are now claiming an indigenous identity. Unlike previous understandings of identity in the region, indigeneity does not denote a shared racial, cultural, or class position but refers to a particular way of understanding and relation to the environment.