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Conflicting dilemmas: economic growth, natural resources and indigenous populations in South America

María A. Guzmán-Gallegos , 3 November 2014

South American countries have experienced impressive economic growth in the last two decades. This growth, based on natural resource exports and increasing natural resource extraction, is largely dependent on the expansion of the economies of Brazil and China. The cautious optimism that current economic growth may lead to more equitable development is haunted, however, by increasing social unrest that on several occasions has engendered violent responses both by the state and those who protest against extraction activities.

The report discusses how ongoing social conflict relates to prevailing and contested ways of revenue redistribution and social investment that generate and enforce territorial inequalities and promote political patronage and clientelism. It sheds light on current debates about the limits to corporate social responsibility. It also suggests that ongoing social unrest must be seen in relation to the current reconstitution of the nation state and the redefinition of democratic political spaces brought about by the emergence of new local and transnational actors such as the indigenous movement and environmental organisations. In these processes indigenous livelihoods and rights, on the one hand, and environmental effects associated with natural resource extraction and rapid modernisation, on the other, have become issues around which social movements and civil society organisations have coalesced.

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