Blog entry and photostory: “From Enron to Evo: Pipeline Politics, Global Environmentalism, and Indigenous Rights in Bolivia”

Dr. Hindery at the Don Mario gold mine, formerly controlled by exiled president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. Depicted is a tree nursery used to reforest the path cleared for a 4 kilometer pipeline that brings gas from Enron/Ashmore and Shell’s Cuiaba pipeline to the mine.

By Derrick Hindery

From Enron to Evo was published in June 2013 by the University of Arizona Press as part of the First Peoples, New Directions publishing initiative. Through this initiative, funded by the Mellon Foundation, four university presses, including University of Arizona, agreed to publish approximately 50 books that “ … exemplify cutting edge Native American and Indigenous studies scholarship.” From Enron to Evo received an honorable mention for the 2014 Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) in Pursuit of Social Justice Global Division Outstanding Book Award. It is now available in paperback, and in e-book format: A Spanish version will be published in the coming months by Editorial Plural (La Paz, Bolivia). A short excerpt that includes a few paragraphs from the foreword, written by Susanna Hecht, as well as a portion of Chapter 1 can be found at the following link: A longer excerpt can be found at: Please also note the photo essay that accompanies this entry. The following is a summary of key highlights.

Drawing on in-depth ethnographic research conducted over the past sixteen years, From Enron to Evo traces how Bolivia’s indigenous peoples mobilized in the face of pipelines and mines fueled by the neoliberal economic reforms of the 1990s, and later by statist policies crafted by the administration of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president. I argue that many of the structural conditions created by neoliberal policies—including partial privatization of the oil and gas sector and deregulation—still persist under Morales’s model of resource nationalism, as do mushrooming synergistic impacts on indigenous peoples and the environment.

From Enron to Evo is particularly timely given the global boom in extractive industries, which is under-researched. As noted by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, natural resource extraction and other development projects are among the foremost concerns of indigenous peoples the world over. In addition, as geographers Anthony Bebbington, Jeff Bury and Emily Gallagher have recently argued, research on the causes, nature and effects of resource extraction constitutes a vital new frontier in the field of political ecology. Building on the work of Jamie Peck, I employ political ecology to go beyond merely exploring the underlying principles of neoliberalism in an effort to show the dialectical relationships between extractive-oriented development models (focusing on neoliberalism and statism), their social and environmental impacts on the ground, and indigenous social mobilization.

From Enron to Evo is based on extensive interviews with indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, industry and state institutions as well as in-depth analysis of Bolivia’s recent 2009 constitution, new laws and regulations related to indigenous rights, development and the environment. My analysis demonstrates how indigenous peoples, while mindful of gains made during Morales’s tenure, are increasingly dissatisfied with the administration’s development model, particularly when it infringes upon their rights to self-determination, land, consultation and consent over development and conservation activities that affect them. Centering on a long-term study of Enron and Shell’s Cuiabá pipeline, combined with other key contemporary cases of resource extraction, I dissect and analyze the dynamic and pragmatic strategies indigenous peoples employed to cope with adverse impacts, maximize benefits and advance their own aims. I argue that these cases reflect what I term dynamic pragmatism, a flexible decision-making approach that considers practical consequences in light of changing social, historical and environmental circumstances. I contend that through this approach, indigenous peoples strategically use their Indigeneity, judiciously interact with allies, carefully choose multi-scaled mobilization tactics, and thoughtfully deliberate whether to consent to “development.” For instance, in the Cuiabá case, the Chiquitanos and Ayoreos, though initially opposed to Enron and Shell’s pipeline, ultimately acquiesced in exchange for a compensation program they hoped would guarantee land tenure and improve living conditions.

In the book I expose the contradictions of the development model afoot under Evo—Andes-Amazonian state capitalism—by illustrating how competing tensions between modernist ideologies and indigenous cosmologies manifest themselves in fractured state institutions, contradictory laws, splintered indigenous movements and a government bent on extractive development. I contend the model privileges a Western view of modernization and industrialization over indigenous cosmologies of respect for Mother Earth and living well (Vivir Bien) that are ironically enshrined in the new constitution. I show how in practice, the state’s rights and the pretext of collective societal interest often trump indigenous rights and environmental protection. I further argue that although the Morales administration has increased the state’s share of the economic surplus generated from extractive industries and redirected it toward social spending, this move has paradoxically made indigenous peoples more dependent on extractive industries.

I find that despite the persistent progression of an extractivist development model under Morales, indigenous groups continue to master the rights gained since the mobilizations of the 1990s, and, with the aid of supporters, are becoming increasingly savvy at using new legal tools—e.g. the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the 2009 Constitution—in combination with direct action and electoral politics, to compel states, corporations and international financial institutions to respect their rights.

A substantial part of the book focuses on the controversial case of a $20 million conservation program funded and controlled by the oil corporations and conservation organizations that backed construction of the Cuiabá pipeline. The program, which convinced the US government to grant a $200 million loan to Enron, excludes the Bolivian government and indigenous groups from the governing board. I argue that it shows the persistence of fortress-style conservation and neoliberal environmental governance in an era in which community-based conservation is reputedly the norm.



Derrick Hindery is Associate Professor in the Departments of International Studies and Geography at the University of Oregon.


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