The relation between militarisation and extractive industries: antimilitarism and the right to peace from a Latin American standpoint


Laboratorio de Paz (Peace Laboratory)

The purpose of this essay is to weave a link between the increasing militarisation witnessed in different Latin American countries and the extractive model of production, promoted as a blueprint for development in the region, with special attention given to the last decade. To do this, we will explain ‘the right to peace’ and also define “extractivism”. Furthermore, we will give a summarized account of the Latin America’s antimilitarist movement to then draw together useful ideas for human rights activists who welcome the proposed demilitarisation of the region.

The human right to peace

Since the year 2005 a group of experts, interested parties and activists have been meeting in Spain to agree on a declaration aiming to gain official recognition for the human right to peace. After conclaves in the cities of Guernica, Bilbao, Madrid, Barcelona and Seville, they agreed upon an accord named the Luarca Declaration (LD), which to date constitutes the greatest effort for its conceptualisation. The LD is made up of a preamble and two parts, the latest ‏ version of which was published in 2006 since when it has been suggested that the United Nations include it among international human rights accords as a mandatory requirement for Member States.

The first idea to arise from the LD is that the right to peace does not develop simply in the absence of war and conflict but also necessitates the fulfilment of other inherent preconditions. Paragraph 2 of its preamble establishes that it recognises the positive conception of peace that goes beyond the strict definition as the absence of armed conflict and is linked to the social, economic and cultural development of peoples as a condition for the satisfaction of the basic human needs, to the elimination of all types of violence as well as to the true respect of all human rights. Consequently, paragraph 13 declares that as long as poverty and a system that perpetuates it exist, peace will be a mirage. “Considering that the promotion of a culture of peace, the global redistribution of resources and the attainment of social justice should contribute to establishing a new economic world order which enables achieving the proposals of the present declaration to eliminate the inequality, exclusion and poverty that generate structural violence incompatible with peace at national and international levels.” Another aspect that it views, as structurally violent, is impunity. Paragraph 15 points out: “conscious of the end of impunity as a tool for peace it also requires that all military or security institutions be completely subject to the rule of law, fulfilling their obligations that derive from international law regarding human rights and international humanitarian law and the attainment of peace, and that, however, military discipline and carrying out the orders of one’s superiors should be subordinate to the achievement of these objectives.

One of the things the LD focuses on is the production and traffic of arms of any kind which “endangers peace and security and hampers the exercise of the right to development. Furthermore it considers respect for the‏ environment a necessary characteristic for the ending of violence and that “the pursuit of peace is intrinsically linked to respect for the environment, just as it is to economic social and cultural development of all people who are environmentally and humanly sustainable.” 

Different guarantees are brought to light in the contents of the right: right to peace and Human Rights education; to human security; to live in a safe and healthy environment; to civil disobedience and conscientious objection; to resist and oppose barbarity; to refuge; to emigrate and participate, to the freedoms of thought, conscience and religion; to real resources that protect against violations; to disarmament; to development; to a sustainable environment and correct information. In the right to civil disobedience and conscientious objection, the right to civil disobedience is recognised when faced with activities which supposedly threaten peace, the right to obtain the statute of conscientious objector when faced with military duties imposed by Member States and the right to not participate in and denounce scientific research for the development and production of weapons of any kind. Other interesting considerations include the right to disarmament. This law establishes that individuals or peoples should not be considered as enemies by any states and that resources released by disarmament should be used for the common good.

Section 2 of article 6 referring to “the Right to resist and oppose barbarity” establishes that “individuals and peoples have a right to oppose to war, war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of human rights, the crimes of genocide and aggression, all propaganda in favour of war or the incitement to violence and violations of the human right to peace, as defined in the present declaration.”

The LD therefore defines the human right to peace in accordance with associated rights and obligations. At first glance, it may seem to lists rights already included in existing instruments and, in truth, many analysts deem the human right to peace to be a “composite right”.

Uniformed extractivism

The term 'extractivism' should be interpreted as a way of organising the economy of a country based on four characteristics:

  • A high dependency on intensive extraction of natural resources
  • In great quantities (tendency to use a single product/crop)
  • low processing (added value)
  • destined for sale abroad (exportation)

The current growth of extractivism in the region is occurring regardless of the ideology of the national governments who have strengthened the role the state plays in regulating the capital within their territories. So, together with transnational companies, nation states have become a major contributory factor in encouraging extractivism in the region.

Between 2003 and 2013, while the rest of the world was experiencing a wave of economic crises, Latin America in contrast showed good economic signs. The continent benefited from the so-called boom in the price of raw materials due to the fact that its main exports were historically, and still are to this day, energy resources such as petrol, gas and coal. In 2011, for example, of the 20 biggest Latin American companies, 13 belonged to the petrol, gas, mining, and iron and steel sectors. The money that entered these countries as a whole served to reduce of the poverty rate in the region. In 2012 the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), stated that the poverty rate in the continent was at a 30 year low at 28% of the total population.

However the high revenue was not used solely for social programs aiming to lower the rate of extreme poverty but was also used to modernise the Armed Forces of Latin American countries through a significant increase in arms purchases. In a study conducted by Laboratorio de Paz, based on figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), it was learnt that Latin America had increased its arms purchases by 150%, spending a sum of $13,624,000 between 2000 and 2010. Military spending worldwide in 2012 was 1.7 billion dollars, or 2.5% of the gross national product. In Latin America spending on defence was approximately 4%, higher than the world average.

Here we can see a clear relation between the expansion of a raw material-exporting economy based on intensification of the extractive industries both for governments on the “left” as well as the “right” and the increase of militarisation in their territories. On this topic the Uruguayan researcher and journalist Raúl Zibechi declared “there is no extractivism without the militarisation of society... this is not an error, militarisation is part of the model. There is no open mine or mega mining projects without militarism. You cannot see it in the city where you live, if you live in the city, but if you draw a little closer you will see an increasingly militarized environment.”

We understand militarisation to mean not only the heavy presence of armed forces personnel in a given territory but also by the growing influence of military values within society. If we classify the 2003 and 2013 period between the years in Latin America as the “extractivist decade” we can say that following these 10 years the region has become much more militarised. This militarisation is felt not only in the high budgets apportioned for the running of the armed forces and the increase of arms purchases but also in a systematic criminalisation of peaceful protest, social movements and the popular leaders who drive them that is common to many countries. This process of criminalisation includes the amendment, and presently the proposal, of laws, that render criminal the strategies used in struggles throughout the history of Latin American popular movements such as road closures or the use of masks or hoods by demonstrators. Latin American governments of different ideologies such as Chile, Argentina, Venezuela or Ecuador have approved antiterrorism laws influenced by the spirit of September 11 in the United States and the Manichean and militarist vision through which the Bush Administration contemplated the fall of the Twin Towers.

The growth of extractivism and militarism has, however, generated widespread social resistance across the continent. When you observe the reasons for which the Latin American population is mobilising for its rights, we find that indigenous and rural communities are lead the protests against major mining projects in militarised territories. According to the Observatory of Latin American Environmental Conflicts (OLCA) during the year 2012, for example, there were 184 regional active conflicts, five of which were cross-border, affecting 253 communities. Many of the main demands of those movements are related to the lands they live on: the demarcation and handing over of territories belonging to indigenous communities, the demand for the right to be consulted before the implementation of energy extraction projects, the publication and dissemination of environmental impact assessments and mobilisation because of land, water and air pollution caused by extractive activity. In recent times, many indigenous and rural leaders as well as human rights activists have been detained for participating in demonstrations and are being put on trial in courts that do not guarantee independent justice. Some demonstrators have been killed by the police or military and their deaths remain unpunished through a failure to sanction those responsible.

Latin American Antimilitarist movements

During the eighties, many Latin America countries were ruled by military dictatorships or were suffering the after-effects of civil war in their territories. It was the Cold War era during which the United States considered Latin America a region within its sphere of influence, its “backyard”. Its steady but traumatic democratisation was accompanied by antimilitarist sentiment that developed among large swathes of its youth and began to be expressed in organizations and politics.

An initiative of religious inspiration, Service, Peace and Justice (SERPAJ), born in 1974 in Colombia, spread to various Latin American countries where it was responsible for promoting values such as active nonviolence, the culture of peace and conscientious objection (CO) to military service as a right which could and should be demanded from the authorities. Many of its offices such as those in Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina were the catalysts to starting a local CO movement but it was in Paraguay that they were most developed and made significant advances: in 1992, they succeeded in having the conscientious objection formally recognized in one of the articles of Paraguayan Constitution. The following year, the first people declared themselves as objectors, gaining media attention and the broadcasting of their message. In 1994, Asuncion hosted the first Latin American CO meeting where they agreed to the creation of the Network of Conscientious Objection in Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLC) which, before the internet became commonplace, managed to coordinate activities in different countries and edit the ‘Objetando’ (objecting) magazine. The different groups that incorporated themselves to the ROLC widened the subject of CO to a broader criticism of militarism for which over time the network became the Coordinator of Conscientious Objection in Latin American (CLAOC) which existed until 2004. Various reasons may explain its decline. The first is that many countries gradually have prohibited conscription, the main enemy against which activists rallied- and have approved CO in different laws. Secondly, the autonomy which the CLAOC wanted vis-a-vis non-governmental organizations consequently meant fewer economic resources to conduct campaigns and organise meetings. Since 2005 War Resisters’ International has tried to promote, with relative success, an antimilitarist network in Latin America encouraging meetings, joint declarations and training in non-violent direct action.

Three main trends developed within the CO movements of Latin America: the religious, the anti-imperialist, and the anarchist. SERPAJ represents the first trend, who were influenced by “liberation theology” for which CO was a moral obligation derived from the commandment “thou shalt not kill”. The anti-imperialist trend was shaped by groups with Marxist leanings that tactically rejected compulsory military service but were quite in favour of a ‘patriotic’ or ‘popular’ army such as those that carried out guerilla warfare during the struggles for national liberation. These groups were particularly active in denouncing the presence of North American military bases and the School of the Americas, a place in the United States where much of the Latin American military leadership was trained. In third place, with fewer numbers but with a total understanding of the consequences of militarism were the anarchists who rejected the proposal of alternative service to states but accepted being part of local coalitions that confronted some of the concrete expressions of militarism in daily life

The Challenges

The challenges facing antimilitarists in Latin America are manifold, however the proposed conceptualisation for the ‘right to peace’ expressed in the Luarca Declaration represents an opportunity to have a conceptual basis that would be able to link it with the work of other social and popular organisations on the continent.

Having the Luarca Declaration as a conceptual umbrella, the process of state militarisation as an inherent part of the extractivist economic plan generates a concrete field of work for peace activists. Some effort should be made in the direction of continued reflection and research, drawing a clear the link between these two dimensions; Extractivism as a model of hegemonic development following the end of neo-liberalism in the region and militarisation of bodies and territories, a link which is not always clear neither for activists nor for society itself. Some of these contributions can feed the debate which is presently developing in regional and global organs for the protection of human rights that, as a result of the effects of petrol activity and mining, is seeking to apportion the responsibility of business entities, in particular, to respect human rights.

Secondly we believe that radical antimilitarism, which is the idea of a society whose functioning is based on values different from those of militarism, can bring a fresh point of view and create analyses and proposals that would overcome the limits of the debate currently viewed from the left or the right, categories which we know today overlap, at least in the case of Latin America, in the cult of the army which said ideology considers differently as a threat of the use of force and the state monopoly on the use of weapons as a method to resolve conflict.

Lastly there is accumulated experience in the use of nonviolent direct action to promote cultural social and political change in society. Given its own history and figures of national liberation movements that confronted different colonialisms with armed struggle, the guerilla wars and the guerilla leaders or militarists such as Che Guevara or Simon Bolivar still serve as models for the social movements in the region. Part of the criminalization strategy of the States is to impede the democratic and peaceful mechanisms of protest because of which protesters resort to violent methods which are then used to carry out propaganda campaigns of criminalisation precisely because of the “violent” or “terrorist” character of those are protesting which results in the isolation of the protesters and the fragmentation the movement itself. Antimilitarists can and should accompany these movements to increase the chances of impact through nonviolence.

Programmes & Projects
Police militarisation theme

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