Even if the rhetoric of national governments and transnational corporations might suggest that extraction has a key role to play in the economic development of emerging countries, widespread exploitation of natural resources is occurring without regard for national sovereignty, the wellbeing of local people or the environment. The principal difference between new extractivism and traditional imperialism is that the perpetrators aren’t nation states but foreign private enterprises, albeit frequently encouraged by foreign governments.
The book’s focus is Latin America, with articles on Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru, although the problems they illustrate are equally commonplace in other natural-resource-rich emerging economies. Although the majority of articles discuss extractivism in the mining sector, the authors of one of the chapters take the interesting approach of comparing the extractivist characteristics of open-pit mining and agribusiness (in this case, soy production). The inherent unsustainability of degrading vast tracts of previously fertile land, which in turn has a negative impact on health, society and the environment, is made painfully clear.
Henry Veltmeyer and James Petra lay the blame for the plunder of Latin America’s resources at the feet of the International Monetary Fund’s demands for free trade, and also the national governments whose mining policies are built around attracting foreign direct investment rather than protecting the wellbeing of their citizens. Transnational companies are demonised, inevitably, but as the editors seem to expect nothing better of them, it’s government hypocrisy and weakness that draws their most fervent criticism.
THE NEW EXTRACTIVISM: A Post-Neoliberal Development Model or Imperialism of the Twenty-First Century? by Henry Veltmeyer and James Petra, Zed Books, £19.99