On Indigenous Peoples and the Left

Erik points us to this article on the left and indigenous groups in Latin America. The basic argument: that development efforts of the New Left in the 21st century often find themselves in direct opposition to indigenous rights. I think the general gist of the article is correct, but I also agree with Erik’s mild objections regarding the unique position of Bolivia’s Evo Morales and with the problem with treating the recent wave of left-leaning presidents as a homogeneous group (something I’ve discussed before).

I’d simply add the case of Brazil to another example of the ways in which modernization projects and indigenous rights are often in opposition, something the article doesn’t really get to. With its growing population and production, Brazil is facing the possibility of a real energy crisis in the not-too-distant future; in order to forestall such a crisis, it has increasingly turned to massive dam-building projects, most notably, the Belo Monte dam. However, the dam continues to face opposition from indigenous groups and environmentalists alike who argue that it destroys traditional native land and fragile ecosystems. In its efforts to modernize and provide infrastructure for the country, the Brazilian government has put indigenous rights and environmental protection at risk without considering alternative forms of renewable energy (most notably, wind power, which Brazil has almost completely disregarded in spite of its plains and coastal line). And this isn’t some recent problem with democracies in the twenty-first century; there is a long history of development projects that infringe upon the land rights and basic human rights of indigenous peoples in undemocratic regimes. Nor is it a simple government-versus-natives struggle, as the state itself has FUNAI, a branch designed to assist indigenous peoples in their struggles for rights. And it’s not like indigenous peoples only face racism and damaging policies from the government; private industry itself often plays upon racist stereotypes and oppositional rhetoric to try to combat indigenous struggles for land. All of this shows that indigenous struggles with the so-called New Left are not sudden transformations of state-society relations, but part of a long historical process that has witnessed the marginalization of indigenous groups and their rights throughout a variety of regimes and political ideologies.

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About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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