I like this rendition, used in the important nacla article below, forwarded to me by mining watch and well worth a read.
(and note, I corrected last weeks entry - it turns out secuestro express is a broader term and does not mean ATMs are involved)
Close the NGOs: Asserting Sovereignty or Eroding Democracy?
Extractives in Latin America
December 31, 2013
past weeks, the governments of Ecuador and Bolivia moved to shut
down or expel major NGOs (non-government organizations) that work on
issues of the environment, extractivism, and indigenous rights. In
Ecuador, the Ministry of Environment dissolved the Fundación
Pachamama (Pachamama Foundation) after accusing it of anti-government
activities. Despite the NGO’s own denials, President Rafael Correa
alleged that the organization was involved in protests against the
latest round of bidding for oil concessions in the Amazon. Shortly
thereafter, the Interior Ministry’s Twitter feedannounced tersely,
amidst reports of drug busts and other police actions, that it was
moving to close the NGO for “aggressions” against public order.
Pachamama works with indigenous organizations contending with
oil development. It derives significant support from the U.S.-based
Pachamama Alliance, which is in turn funded primarily by
American (non-governmental) donors. When Ecuador’s government deemed the
group’s opposition to oil bidding an action against “internal state
security” and “public peace,” it treated the NGO like a criminal,
sending a signal to environmental activists about limits on opposition
to extraction. Yet the Correa government maintains that their dissolving
of the organization is an assertion of sovereignty against the
political meddling of foreign-backed organizations. (Incidentally,
seeNaomi Klein's open letter to Correafollowing the threatened closure
of another NGO, Acción Ecológica, in 2009).
A few weeks after
Ecuador’s closing of Fundación Pachamama, the Ministry of the Presidency
in Bolivia announced theexpulsion of the organization IBIS, a kind of
parastatal NGO supported primarily by DANIDA (Denmark’s government
foreign development agency). IBIS has long worked with indigenous
organizations in Bolivia, supporting land reform, bilingual
education, and the right of “prior consultation.” The MAS government
accused IBIS of injerencia política (political meddling), though it
published no allegations of specific actions. It appears that
the government was punishing the NGO for having weighed in on the side
of CONAMAQ (an Andean Indigenous organization) and CIDOB (an
organization of Eastern Bolivian Indigenous Peoples) in recent conflicts
with the state. For the MAS government, these critiques of state policy
seem to have gone too far.
Are the governments of Ecuador and
Bolivia simply establishing limits for foreign entities, and thus
reasonably asserting sovereignty against foreign intervention? Or, is
this a deleterious move against social movements and democracy through
an attack on their bases of foreign support?
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NGO (non-government organization) is a flexible entity whose existence
has been central in the rapidly transforming politics of extractivism
and social movements in Latin America. Almost invariably, where there is
mobilization around land and nature, there are NGOs. NGOs provide legal
expertise for leaders and resources to bring communities together; they
facilitate engagement between movements and outsiders, whether
scholars, solidarity activists, industries, or the general public; the
best NGOs disseminate news, information, and research, all part
of complex political practices that go beyond their ostensibly
‘development-oriented’ origins. In an emblematic case, indigenous and
human rights NGOs in Bolivia, many backed by European progressives,
played a crucial role in supporting the rise of Evo Morales and the MAS.
so, just as government dependence on foreign capital can erode national
sovereignty, movement dependence on foreign aid can weaken the
political legitimacy of a movement, raising important critiques around
foreign intervention. From a structural level, even progressive
NGOs have goals of institutional survival that may undermine local
movements. Other NGOs, more frequently in the model of the think-tank,
are fronts for conservative ideologies, operating much like U.S.
non-profits. When they receive support from American entities like USAID
(U.S. Agency for International Development) or the NED (National
Endowment for Democracy), NGOs particularly in Ecuador and Bolivia face
critiques of complicity in foreign intervention, given the U.S.
government’s broader intentions to weaken Correa and Morales.
at least, are the reasons Bolivia’s MAS gave for the expulsion of USAID
from Bolivia earlier this year, and they likely underlie USAID’s
announced withdrawal from Ecuador. Whether IBIS and Fundación Pachamama
are shown to have played some interventionist role remains to be seen.
While Fundación Pachamama is tied closely to the United States and has
been involved in large-scale projects in whichUSAID also participated,
so have virtually every other NGO and indigenous organization, as well
as many state and private entities. According to its director, Fundación
Pachamama has never been funded byUSAID. The expulsion seems to be
a warning that comes on the heels of “Executive Decree 16,” a law passed
in June of 2013 that set new rules for civil society organizations and
social movements. Fundación Pachamama is appealing the decision in the
In the case of IBIS, the Danish-funded organization has
an almost three-decade history of what by all accounts is
popular solidarity; Denmark is not known for imperialist meddling. IBIS
did take a strange turn when it embarked on an experiment to train
locals in high-end Andean gastronomy with a Danish cook in La Paz. Yet
IBIS’ proximate sin may be its strong stance on free and informed prior
consultation. In Denmark, where the public and the government have long
advocated for indigenous rights, there is still surprise and general
confusion about this announced expulsion. As noted by Bolivian
Indigenous leader Fernando Vargas, it is paradoxical that Evo (and for
his part, Rafael Correa) were products of NGOs themselves. In a
public statement on December 24, Vargas said: “The NGOs took Evo Morales
into power…now he’s throwing them out…because he does not want anyone
to aid us technically, to orient us, so that [now] we thus have to
subordinate ourselves to the Government.” Adding salt to the wound,
the MAS government is celebrating the environmentally noxious spectacle
of the Dakar Rally, with its motorcycles and racecars that will roar
through the high Bolivian Andes in mid-January.
movements might use the expulsion of Fundación Pachamama as an
opportunity to reflect on the limits of foreign dependence, potentially
hindering the strengthening of cross-movement political ties with other
sectors of Ecuadoran and Bolivian society. Conservative observers will
relish this chance to criticize Bolivia and Ecuador. For different
reasons, the state of NGO activity is less stable in countries
likeHonduras and Colombia, both under U.S. tutelage, where activists are
routinely murdered for their support of human and community rights.
Bolivia and Ecuador, comparatively, are safer places for NGO work. In
the United States itself, the situation carries its own nuances: while
our government would surely move quickly to restrict foreign aid for
Native American opposition to extractivism, many American citizens
currently face repression of their activism because of their opposition
to fossil fuels.
Invoking the notion of sovereign control over
foreign NGOs on which movements depend, the governments of Ecuador and
Bolivia enact a double standard: they exercise ‘sovereignty’ in order to
guarantee privileges to other foreign entities upon which they
themselves are dependent—namely, foreign oil and gas industries. Often
through executive decree, these governments are rewriting the law to
appease the contractual terms and time frames of exploration, drilling,
and commercialization demanded by foreign companies. The crackdowns
undermine citizen rights in favor of industry rights: once the state
deems extraction inevitable and legal, it can brand even moderate
citizen opposition as outside the law. Whether this happens under
right-leaning or left-leaning governments in the Americas—or
in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, or the tar sands fields—is immaterial. As
Timothy Mitchell argues in Carbon Democracy, a government dependent on
a narrow-based fossil fuel economy tends to rely on narrow-based legal
and political orders—in other words, the erosion of democracy.
Gustafson teaches anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis.
Among other concerns, he studies the politics of energy and
redistribution in Latin America, with a particular focus on Bolivia,
Brazil, and natural gas.