From the defeat of the coup government in Bolivia, the election of Xiomara Castro in Honduras, and the rise of Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, to the historic election of Gustavo Petro in Colombia and the return of Lula in Brazil, left-leaning governments are changing the political landscape of Latin America. However, even more progressive parties and ruling coalitions have failed to rein in the violence of the resource extraction economy and the domineering power of international capital flowing through mining, drilling, and deforestation operations across the hemisphere. Indigenous and environmental activists from Ecuador to Bolivia say that today’s extractivist economy perpetuates the violence of colonial domination, and warn that things are only going to get worse over the course of the 21st century. 

In the latest installment of The Marc Steiner Show‘s special collaborative series with the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), we speak with a panel of Indigenous leaders, environmental activists, and scholars about how extractivism has come to dominate the politics and economics of Latin America, and what forms the anti-extractivist resistance is taking at the local and international level.

Patricia Gualinga is an Indigenous Kichwa leader and lifelong defender of the Amazon rainforest in her community of Sarayaku, Ecuador. 

Pablo Poveda is a radical economist who works at the Center for Studies of Labor and Agrarian Development (CEDLA), a non-profit think tank in La Paz, Bolivia.

Teresa A. Velásquez is an associate professor of anthropology at California State University, San Bernardino, and the author of Pachamama Politics: Campesino Water Defenders and the Anti-Mining Movement in Andean Ecuador

Studio Production: Kayla Rivara
Post-Production: Tom Lattanand, Bret Gustafson, Marc Steiner 
Audio Post-Production: Tom Lattanand
Translation by: Bret Gustasfson, Adriana Garriga-López, Maria Haro Sly
Voiceover Readers: Adriana Garriga-López, Rael Mora 

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For more in-depth coverage of Ecuador and Bolivia from NACLA, please visit


Marc Steiner:  Welcome to the Marc Steiner Show here on The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner, and it’s great to have you all with us. The Real News and the North American Congress on Latin America, known as NACLA, have launched a podcast series to probe the contemporary issues in Latin America that affect Latin America and the entire planet. In our opening segment, we saw the emergence of the pink tide in the early 2000s, with left-leaning presidents winning in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina. And now we’re in the midst of another pink tide. We saw Lula freed from prison, which we just talked about, coming back to power in Brazil, and then the election of young progressives like Gabriel Boric in Chile. In Mexico, Lopez Obrador. The amazing victory of the former revolutionary fighter, Gustavo Petro in Colombia, and the ongoing dominance of the socialist MAS party in Bolivia, first with the Indigenous Evo Morales and now with Luis Arce.

Now, despite the victories of the left, South America remains deeply divided, and the new governments of the left must address serious economic challenges that a legacy of imperialism and the intervention of the US over these last 120-plus years. And today it continues. The exploitation of natural resources created a dependence on what we now call “extractive economies.” Whether it’s mining for minerals, drilling for oil or gas, or destroying forests – Like the Amazon being turned into pastures for cattle, and fuels for soy that bring with it a total social environmental destruction, devastating many people in these countries and the environment around them – It threatens the entire planet. 

These resources extracted from the earth are usually exported without any processing. So when global prices are high, things can look pretty good, but if the price of commodities drop, economies can go into a tailspin like what happened in Venezuela when the price of oil plummeted. So the effect of extractionism and extraction is really far-reaching. Mines produce toxic waste, contaminating water supplies. Oil and gas do the exact same thing, and they don’t even create any widespread employment. Deforestation exacerbates climate change, creates inequality that pushes small farmers off their land. On top of that, extractive industries create social conflicts that are often experienced most severely by women, who are marginalized from their labor opportunities that do exist, and also at the moment, as always, have to confront sexual violence. 

So how is the second wave of left and progressive governments confronting their dependence on extractivism? How does that affect the economies? Can they change the dynamic and obtain control? Can they avoid the negative environmental and social impacts? And how are the social movements and activists responding to all of this? What are the alternatives, if any, and what would a real progressive government look like?

Well, that’s what we’re going to explore today. And to help us wrestle all of this, my co-host is Brett Gustafson. He’s co-executive editor of NACLA. He’s a political anthropologist, professor of Sociocultural Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. And his latest book is Bolivia in the Age of Gas, that traces the struggles of natural gas in Bolivia under the 14 years of Evo Morales. And he’s done extensive work with Indigenous people in Bolivia as well. So welcome, Bret, great to have you with us.

Bret Gustafson:  Thank you, Marc. It’s great to be here. I’ll introduce our guests today. We’re very happy to have guests from Ecuador and Bolivia with us. In Ecuador, the left-leaning president, Raphael Correa, led the country for a decade. While many celebrated his efforts to redistribute wealth, he also expanded mining and oil activities, and he often attacked and criticized, even criminalized, the environmentalists and Indigenous organizations who questioned these activities. And now the country has shifted back to the right with a new president. 

Today our guests include Patricia Gualinga, who is an Indigenous leader of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku Ecuador. She’s also the international relations director for the Kichwa First People of Sarayaku, a region that has been fighting for rights and for the environment for many years. We also have Teresa Velasquez, an anthropologist and professor at Cal State Santa Barbara, who has studied anti-mining movements in Ecuador and the Andes, and is the author of Pachamama Politics: Campesino Water Defenders and the Anti-Mining Movement in Andean Ecuador. Welcome to you both. And from Bolivia, we have Pablo Poveda, who is an economist who works for CSLA, the Center for Studies of Labor in La Paz, Bolivia. Welcome, Pablo.

Marc, you were thinking about the longer colonial history and the colonial legacies behind extractivism. Do you want to tell us a little bit more about what you were talking about?

Marc Steiner:  As I was thinking about the crisis with extractivism in Latin America, I thought about how this really is a 400-year legacy. It begins with the Spanish and the Portuguese and the exploitation of the land, and the genocide against Indigenous people, and the mining for gold and silver, and all that comes with that. It is important to think through that, including the 120-plus years of US imperialism throughout Latin America and the effect that has had. So there’s a historical root that gave rise to what we’re facing today with all these issues. And I thought that I’d like everybody to jump in on this and give their thoughts on what this means. But I want to start with Patricia to talk about what that historical legacy means and how it affects this moment.

Patricia Gualinga:  [Translated from Kichwa] Well, for Indigenous peoples, the issue of extractivism has been terrible, fatal. It has violated the people’s rights, it has destroyed our nature. And really, in some ways, the states and the companies have not followed the law, the constitution, or even the court rulings that we have been able to achieve in response to these violations. For us, extractivism is lethal. It implies the disappearance of the peoples, and it implies the violation of all our human rights.

Marc Steiner:  Pablo, if you want to leap in on this as well, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Pablo Poveda:  [Translated from Spanish] Extractivism is a historical consequence in Bolivia. First, capitalism was not born from the internal contradictions of the Bolivian economy, but rather came from the outside. Therefore, there was no development of a strong internal economy, and there was no mass expropriation of land for campesinos, which led to the rise of capital. And now these forms of backward production, which the ruling mass party refers to as the “plural economy,” are functional to both capitalism, exploitation of labor, and exploitation of nature. That’s why, from this perspective, we define Bolivia as a backward country with a mixed economy that lives largely off the rents, or the revenues, generated from the exploitation of natural resources.

This history sets the foundation for present-day extractivism and the cycle of gas extraction from 2000 to 2022. And this is under the complete hegemony of transnational capital. There’s no local bourgeois involved. Nonetheless, the economy entered into an accelerated downturn beginning in 2015. At its highest point, exports were over $6 billion per year, and now the income from gas is only around $2 billion per year.

We’re also experiencing a cycle of gold extraction from 2011-present under the control of private mining cooperatives, which is a form of backward production that the current government is promoting in alliance with capital from China and other countries in the region. Compared to the sale of gas, which at least leaves 50% revenues to the national government, this mining cycle does nothing for the state. Gold mining largely operates through illegal means, and it has a major environmental impact because it uses mercury for processing the gold. Bolivia has become the main global importer of mercury in the world since 2020. In conclusion, Bolivia cannot overcome its primary position as a country dependent on revenues from exporting unprocessed raw materials in a framework of capitalist relations of production. And now, Bolivia is waiting for the renewable energy transition to exploit new raw materials, like lithium.

Bret Gustafson:  Thanks, Pablo. That was a really great historical overview of Bolivia with parallels in Ecuador. It really helps us to think about these cycles of extraction; from silver to tins, to oil to gas, now to gold, maybe to lithium next, and also that relationship with foreign capital. This is a theme we definitely want to come back to, Marc. So thanks so much for that historical overview. We’ll circle back to Bolivia in just a moment, but I’d like to turn to Patricia now to tell us a little bit more about the current relationship with the government in Ecuador.

Patricia Gualinga:  [Translated from Kichwa] The Indigenous people and the Indigenous Movement have not had any government that really listens to their proposals. There has always been confrontation over the topic of extractivism. In this part of the Amazon, it’s the extraction of oil. In the south of the Amazon, it’s mining and the issue of water. This government is no different from the previous government or the one before that. This government is also extractivist, and it is right-wing. There have been strong Indigenous mobilizations where people have lost their lives. 

The problem is that the entire economic model in Ecuador is based on extractivism: whether it’s oil, mining, forestry, the list goes on. In this sense, there is a very strong struggle. We are waging in our territories. In the north, we have weekly reports of oil spills in the Amazon, mostly from pipeline failures that are contaminating water sources. And in the south, where our Shuar brothers and sisters are, we know that there is open-pit mining where there are all kinds of rights violations.

The tactics are always the same. They try to divide the local people with promises that are never upheld. The government stigmatizes the leaders who protest, persecutes, and criminalizes them. This has intensified in recent years. There has always been repression, but with the previous government of Correa this became much more visible, and the new government has followed the same recipe. So for us, whether governments of the left or the right come into power, we have not seen great changes, because the model is always built the same way. Some of them let us speak, some of them prohibit us from speaking, but they always violate our rights.

Bret Gustafson:  Well, that’s a wake-up call to many people on the progressive side of things. You sometimes celebrate the election of left governments. Might we say that the arrival of the left changed anything at all in relation to this longer history of extractivism, whether in Ecuador or Bolivia?

Patricia Gualinga:  [Translated from Kichwa] I don’t doubt that the governments receive funds, but this entire extractivist practice has generated corruption at all levels. We cannot say that we are living in a country where these returns are reaching the most needy. There is an overwhelming level of corruption that has led to Ecuador being in a profound crisis – A total crisis – And things have become very polarized. In recent years, there has been terrible polarization. Either they want to put us on the right or they want to put us on the left, and they have forgotten that we Indigenous people are not one or the other. I don’t consider myself of the left or of the right. We are people who demand social justice, respect for the rights of nature, and the real implementation of a plurinational state.

Everybody knows that corruption in these governments has also penetrated the justice system. So if we try to work through the justice system, we don’t know if we are going to achieve justice. As we have seen over time, those who have power, regardless of what political line they come from, also control the justice system. So we are in a situation in which extractivism has led us to a state of corruption of the government and the multinational corporations know this. They are interested in that because this facilitates their extraction of resources from the Indigenous territories and from the peoples in resistance. It is very sad to have to say these things about our country, but we have to tell the truth.

People sometimes say, oh no, we’re on the left, and capitalism is the problem. But my question is, which capitalism? Because many times they refer to the US, but I see that many of the mining companies are Chinese, or they come from Russia, and also from the US and other moneyed countries. So what capitalist are we really talking about? From my perspective, we have to say that there has to be social justice, transparency, and that we have to battle corruption so that the benefits, whatever they are, reach the people that really need them in the [foreign language], the campesinos, the Indigenous people that really need them.

Marc Steiner:  So I’d like to jump in for just a second. I’d like to hear what both Teresa and Pablo have to say, and jump in a bit to talk and respond to what Patricia was saying in terms of the left and right divide. It raises all kinds of questions about the power of capital across the globe, how it affects everything. No matter if it’s the left or the right in power, it seems to hit almost every country. So I’d like to explore that first. And let’s go, Teresa, why don’t you start?

Teresa Velásquez:  Well, yes, of course. I completely agree with Patricia when she says that the government of Correa followed the same pattern as the previous governments. Both neoliberal government and the so-called socialist government bet on mining as a tool of development, as a model of development to “reduce poverty.” And this puts at risk the watersheds and the territories of Indigenous people, Ecuadorians, and small farmers. And of course there’s some minor differences between the past or current neoliberal government right now and the Correas government. 

Both have opened the doors to foreign mining companies, but there is still a difference at the very beginning of Correa’s political project when it was still a broad-based coalition movement and people like Alberto Acosta were part of the government. We saw an openness to the demands of the anti-mining movement in the early years. For example, in April 2008, the constituent assembly admitted a decree that reverted those mining concessions that were granted without having had prior and informed consultation with communities, or that were located in an ecologically insensitive zone.

This was known as the Mining Mandate, and it should have been applied to the most contentious projects in the region such as the Quimsacocha Project, which is now known as the Loma Larga Project, Rio Blanco, which is also in Azuay, and other ones that were located in Intag and in the southeastern areas of the Amazon. But because Correa did bet on mining, he never implemented the Mining Mandate. This decree has been completely violated, and was substituted by a mining law that sought a developmental extraction with a little bit more participation from the state. So the government created a national mining company to seek greater participation in the profits generated by mining activities, rather than completely end or overturn those mining concessions that were causing so many problems.

Of course, for the anti-mining movement, the contradictions of the Correa government were obvious. On one hand, there was this government that was supposed to be a progressive government of the so-called “Citizens Revolution” leading an agenda for political and economic change. And while the constitution that came from this process did incorporate some important advances that support the Indigenous and environmental agendas, changes like recognizing Ecuador as a plurinational country reflected the longstanding demand of the Indigenous movement. The constitution also recognized the right of what is called the “good living” or “buen vivir” or the “sumak kawsay” as well as the rights of the Pachamama, or Mother Earth. They were also called the Rights of Nature. However, this did not fundamentally resolve the problem of the economic model. The economic model continued to be based on extractivism.

Marc Steiner:  That was really interesting. Now Pablo, could you talk briefly from your perspective about what’s happening in Bolivia?

Pablo Poveda: [Translated from Spanish] Yes, of course. This progressive government of the MAS in Bolivia emerged from a political crisis of neoliberalism, and, of course, accompanied by the social movement. The MAS party represents itself to the movements as a savior, the party that is going to overcome the extractive model of exporting raw materials of the Bolivian economy. In reality, what has happened is that it has made itself functional to capitalism so that the exploitation of natural resources continues. Of course, we have livable [inaudible] with regards to the prices of gas and other export products that permitted the government to somewhat avoid social conflicts. When the situation changed and the prices fell, the government showed itself as almost fascist, repressing the social movements.

This is the current situation: This government promised to overcome the extractive model of the economy and lead us to live well, and that there will be industrialization. However, economically, the results are terrible. The cycle of gas is coming to an end. Traditional mining is in a downturn. The total nationalization of mining was proposed, but that did not happen. There has been a proposal for two big projects. 

One is the extraction and industrialization of lithium by the government, and the other is the industrialization of iron with investments of millions of dollars. But they’re not profitable, and it has not happened. They say they’re progressive, but it is with capitalist content. When it comes to employment, 80% of the Bolivian population works in the informal economy, meaning they create their own jobs. And of that 80%, 87% are women. Therefore, we don’t see any results for the future. In fact, we see that extractivism is going to be intensified with the energy transition, which requires new materials to develop new technologies.

Marc Steiner:  Bret, can you pick up on that a little bit?

Bret Gustafson:  Yes, thanks Marc. And thanks, Pablo. That’s really eye-opening for us to hear, that in many ways the governments of the left, while they may have redistributed some of the money from extractivism in new ways, that the overall system does not really appear to have changed very much.

Marc Steiner:  So this has been a really important part of our discussion. It has unveiled a lot of contradictions, and they’re really important to explore even more deeply. I’d like all of you to comment on this. Pablo, then Patricia and Teresa come back in, explore what all this means. If there’s people listening to our podcast at the moment, many of them would be on the left. 

And I want to be clear about what we’re talking about. And we’re talking, it seems to me, in some ways about the huge power of capital across the globe, and even in Latin America, that affects the political life and the economy of those countries, no matter who’s in charge, no matter which party wins. So are we saying we’re not seeing any difference at all? I’d like to explore what that means, and I parse that out because it’s a very complicated and important subject.

Teresa Velásquez:  So it’s more about how do we re-envision socialism? How do we re-envision the left? And from the perspective of the anti-mining movement, what’s more important is that whoever’s elected is moving away from the extractive economy, and that includes oil, mining, gas, extraction of forest, and things like that. Their alternatives would be agroecology, community-based tourism, redistribution of land, redistribution of water. So some of those coincide with the socialist or progressive principles, but it’s not the left that we have seen necessarily in Ecuador and other parts of Latin America, because they’ve stayed within the same model of extractive development. 

So what people are asking and pushing for is a redistribution of resources and of power and a truly democratic system that’s going to consider the voices of communities, of women, of Indigenous peoples, of Afro-Ecuadorians; the people who really have borne those effects of the extractive industry and everything that’s come with it, the pollution and the struggles over territory and water.

Marc Steiner:  So Patricia, what do you think about this? Is there no difference at all between the left and the right and the governments that they run when it comes to extraction? Is it all the same?

Patricia Gualinga:  [Translated from Kichwa] There is a difference in discourse. Some come with a beautiful way of speaking. So outside of the country, they are very much loved. But within the country they apply the same formula when it comes to extractivism, whether they are of the right wing or the left wing, they have all used the extractivism economic model, or they come with very strange proposals. But no government has known the state and the people that they govern. In Ecuador we are so diverse. They come to impose an ideology and a way of governing that does not correspond with what we are really living. And in the era of Correa there was an oil bonanza. They say right now we are in an oil bonanza, but they spend and spend and spend. And the whole time we are in crisis.

The issue of healthcare, for example, is in a total state of crisis in the country. Many people complain that they go to the hospitals and there is no medicine, there are no supplies to provide care. It’s a huge crisis. This is the basic level. In Ecuador, we don’t have universal social security. Only people who put in years of formal work have social security. Therefore, it’s a country that has been in an economic downturn, and it’s not doing well.

Yet, there is always talk about all the resources. Right now we’re talking about extractivism, and then there’s the environmental issue. All of the forests that we Indigenous people are protecting are now becoming a business; green business. And who’s receiving the benefits of that? It’s the government. And with a new discourse, oh no, we’re not going to destroy nature, but you have to be part of this green business. So for us, as Indigenous peoples, each millimeter of rights has been fought for with deaths, with struggle, with so much struggle. But I do believe that we have a holistic vision that could transform the vision of our country and make it more equitable with greater solidarity.

Bret Gustafson:  Thanks Patricia. And for those in our audience who may not be familiar with these names, Rafael Correa, who Patricia mentioned, was generally considered to be on the left, but as Patricia is saying, was fairly unfriendly to the positions of Indigenous peoples and others who were opposed to more extraction. The current president of Ecuador is a fellow named Guillermo Lasso, and he is definitively on the right, so things aren’t getting better there. Patricia, did you want to go on?

Patricia Gualinga:  [Translated from Kichwa] That is not happening because the government of Correa, what it did is actually weakened the Indigenous peoples through personal attacks. They imprisoned various leaders, especially from Morona Santiago, especially from the mining areas. They were locked up as if they were the biggest crime busts. Two Indigenous leaders were put in maximum security prisons, and then the government tried to get all of the Indigenous people to speak in their favor. There could not be a critical voice without repression. We’re talking about a government that enjoyed credibility at the international level because it was said to be of the left, but it actually repressed Indigenous people. The Indigenous people were good as long as they supported the government. We were the bad ones because we were saying we did not want oil to be extracted. We wanted our rights and, therefore, we were the bad ones.

Under the current government, the government of Lasso, we have mining decrees and the expansion of extractivist economic activities. The government has not taken decisions to generate social justice in the country. There’s great amounts of crime. This government entered office with its hands tied with many promises, and it cannot act. Therefore, in these years we have lived government after government, the misery that has been generated towards Indigenous people. And overall, the persecution of Indigenous people has never ended since the colonial period. This is our reality.

Marc Steiner:  This has been really fascinating. So let me come back to you, Bret, for just a minute here, because in terms of what we’ve covered in this conversation so far, which always happens in great discussions, they don’t always go where you think they’re going to go. So let me ask you where you’d like to take this now.

Bret Gustafson:  Well, Marc, we’ve hit on a lot of points that we were hoping to. The big one being that this is the challenge of confronting the power of capital. And obviously, we see a lot of similarities between left and right governments when it comes to extractivism, even if there are some significant differences in government support for the poor, and we can’t forget about that. We’ve also talked about the corruption that comes with extractivism, as Patricia mentioned. 

Pablo draws our attention to the global crisis that capitalism appears to be in. So listening to Pablo, we have the potential for some revolutionary change, but as Pablo was saying, he doesn’t really see that we have revolutionary subjects anymore. But listening to Patricia, it does sound like Indigenous peoples have continued to struggle to carve out their own political spaces, some types of limited autonomy to chart their own futures. So we don’t want to be too pessimistic about the current moment.

Marc Steiner:  Now, you’re right, Bret. All we’re talking about here is the intense power of international capital. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge. How do we build another future is the question. It’d be interesting from all of you, from your perspectives, from the places you live in, the places you struggle in: what do you think about what you’re fighting for and how different it is in terms of each of your struggles and how things could change? Could they be different? What would it look like?

Patricia Gualinga:  [Translated from Kichwa] The situation is very complex. We have attended several United Nations conferences, for example, the Climate Conference. And since the Paris Conference, the ones that have doubled or tripled their participation in these spaces are the extractive companies like oil and mining. They try to prevent any forward movement in climate negotiations for the benefit of the environment. And that’s terrible, because we have very minimal influence in those conventions. Those companies also fund the meetings and they are in constant communications with governments. If things continue in this way, there really won’t be a real possibility of change.

We try to build up from the grassroots to propose different visions that are friendly to the environment and that have social justice at the center in terms of a relationship with nature that is completely different from the one that exists now. Sometimes people ask me why I participate in these conferences, and I say, really it’s to bother them, it’s to interrupt, to tell them that we are here, we’re not going to allow them to continue to work in this way as though we don’t exist. We’re going to continue to be in resistance. 

The solution really comes from strong communities that have autonomy, that have a vision of conservation. But that conservation must connect with the global level, with global benefits. The benefit of environmental conservation, but also equilibrium; eco-systemic balance. I dream. I belong to a nation of 1,350 people. That isn’t even as big as a school in a Western country. However, we are fighting so that our people can live well, that we can live sustainably, and that our vision can transform the vision of the Western world that is based on fossil fuels. You might say that this is a utopian vision, but this is our utopian vision.

Marc Steiner:  No, no, no. Patricia, that was good. It’s important. We have to have those utopian visions for the future, what the future could be like. Pablo, come in for a minute. And then Teresa, please jump in after that. Pablo, you as a Marxist and a Marxist activist and theoretician, how do you see these contradictions that Patricia raised? It’s really important to probe into that. I’m curious from your perspective on that, and then I want Teresa to round it out. Pablo.

Pablo Poveda: [Translated from Spanish] Yes, we are in a moment after the composition of capitalism. And if we do not overcome capitalism, I don’t think it’s a technology problem. Technology is good. We’re in the fourth industrial revolution, and it’s a wonderful opportunity for the hope of humanity. The problem isn’t that; the problems are the social relationships of production. These debates that are about the overcoming of extractivism are taking place within the frameworks of capitalism, and we have to overcome that. Unfortunately, these populist governments have taken backwards steps and have damaged the perception of the left and of Marxist movements at the international level. And they have been based in an ideological discourse.

It is about generating an enemy in whoever questions their proposals, and that leads to polarization, racism, confrontations between the communities, between the people in the countryside and the people in the city. It’s a very arduous task. And with regard to the social subject, the revolutionary subject, the Bolivian working class and mining and oil are well paid. These are not the same conditions that led to the revolution of 1952 in Bolivia. We should bring together the different sectors of society in the search to save the planet and really seek an energy transition that stops climate change, that overcomes capitalism, and brings together different parts of society. But I see it is very difficult to use this panorama, especially because after the pandemic, everybody wants to reactivate the economy, and they want to reactivate by exploiting even more nature and workers. It is a very hard and a very long task for a society that wants to liberate humanity from capitalism.

Bret Gustafson:  Those are really amazing observations. I just want to jump in quickly, Marc. As it often seems to happen, sometimes here in the US, we often look to Latin America for the solutions that we want. We want there to be a progressive transformation. I really appreciate it, Patricia, talking about the contradictions of the international climate negotiations. The fact that the wealthier countries are to blame. Maybe we shouldn’t always be looking for solutions in other countries here in the US. We need to also be a little more militant in our opposition to extractive economies that we live under and that our consumption maintains elsewhere.

Marc Steiner:  That’s a really strong point. Teresa, do you want to pick up on that for a moment?

Teresa Velásquez:  Yeah, I’m thinking of my students right now. We can educate them, help them make the connections around extractivism, water contamination, climate change, racism in both North and South America, and empower them to take action. From my perspective, I believe that this vision of the future also comes from Indigenous people in the US and in Latin America. So this vision is for a more sustainable future. It also has to be anti-racist. The future has to be anti-genocidal. It has to support the life of human beings and also non-human beings. 

And especially in Ecuador and in the US, it has to include the right to protest. The Ecuadorian constitution protects the right to protest, but despite that, we see how the most visible leaders are insulted and criminalized. So this future also has to include the right to protest and the right to have a much more profound democracy and support for more sustainable projects like agroecology, farming, community-based tourism, and other economic priorities that have been put forward by the Indigenous movements in both North and South America.

Marc Steiner:  Let me jump in for a second here. A little sidebar that I was just thinking about and listening to what everybody was saying when we think about where the future might take us and you all think it might take us. I realize under my shirt is a Che Guevara shirt I’m wearing today. Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution was, in some ways, a really different time, a different era. It was many years back, it was in my youth. I’m 76 now, so it’s a different time. So to pick up on that, and Bret please jump in here, I want to jump in and talk about where you all think the future will take us now. Where would it take us? How can we get there? What does it look like?

Bret Gustafson:  Those are tough questions, Marc. I wish I had the answer to that myself because you’re right, it is a different generation, and now we’re seeing more militants and more aggression from the right wing. And it seems like in some ways, the left is not sure what direction to go in. And there’s some, at least in the Latin American context, there’s a tension between an older school of left thought and newer concerns largely tied to the environment. And our guests have all made some great points. We want a future that’s not racist. We want a more egalitarian future. We want a future that’s not about ecological destruction. How do we get there? That’s a question that I don’t think I have an easy answer for.

Marc Steiner:  I don’t think any of us do at the moment.

Bret Gustafson:  I know that it’s going to take organization. I know that it’s going to take a shift. I see a lot of hope in young people in the working class in the US. I see a lot of hope in the connections being made between anti-racist movements and environmental movements. No, it’s not the big green movements that are now on center stage. We see all kinds of movements on the front lines all over our country, connections between the movement for the climate, movements against police violence. This is definitely the key way forward, making more connections between different kinds of movements.

Marc Steiner:  I agree. The motions internationally and nationally here in the US are just erupting, and how they will turn out and how they will mold, what they’ll say to the future, is something we’re going to see develop. We just don’t know. But it looks good.

Bret Gustafson:  And Patricia wanted to say something else, Patricia?

Patricia Gualinga:  [Translated from Kichwa] I don’t know if this is possible, but we have to keep trying because we can’t just keep simply accepting what they’re doing. If we talk about progressive governments, Lula just came into power in Brazil. We’re very happy about this because we did not want Bolsonaro by any means. And Pedro won the presidency in Colombia, and we are also happy about that because, for the same reason, we did not want the other candidate.

These governments have seen what happens when you do the wrong things. Let’s hope that they do the right things. In their hands is the task to look for transformations in these countries, to respect rights, to make the changes that people want. In their hands is the possibility that the left can maintain a bit of dignity, and we keep looking for solutions. I and my people are in resistance because we are sure that in our context we can look for those alternatives. We can seek those sustainable approaches because we are so few. But if we’re talking at the global level, we’re talking about the global economy, then the people with the money have to invest in things that do not continue on this path of destruction.

Marc Steiner:  Bret.

Bret Gustafson: That’s great. Picking up on that, it’s clear that it’s going to take more organization, more mobilization, more reflection, more understanding of what’s happening at different levels. And at the end of the day, it’s going to take putting pressure on governments and putting pressure on industries. I don’t think there’s any other way around it.

[Long pause]

Marc Steiner:  So we’re adding this addendum to our conversation because, Bret, a lot has happened since our recording and you’ve been following this fairly closely. So why don’t you update us on what’s happened since we recorded this earlier conversation.

Bret Gustafson:  Yeah, Marc. That’s right. In Ecuador, things have gotten a little bit disturbing. The Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement, CONAIE, has demanded the resignation of President Guillermo Lasso. He’s actually in the process of potentially undergoing an impeachment in the Congress. In addition, sadly, an Ecuadorian Cofan Indigenous leader named Eduardo Mendua was assassinated in February. Eduardo was the director of the international relations arm of the National Indigenous Movement CONAIE. He was also an outspoken opponent of continued oil development in his territory. Some observers suspect that conflicts tied to oil drilling and, potentially, to the state oil company, led to his killing.

So very troubling indeed. In Bolivia, the new MAS government led by Luis Arce continues to confront right-wing efforts to destabilize the government. Plans to develop lithium and steel are still at the forefront of government visions of the future. But because natural gas exports are declining, that means less revenues coming into the country. The international reserves, which were once the envy of Latin America, have dwindled. And to stave off a potential currency crisis, Arce’s government has moved to start buying more gold from gold miners in Bolivia. Meaning, of course, that, once again, the dependence on extractivism, particularly in the Amazon region of the country, continues.

Marc Steiner:  This has been a fascinating discussion. It really has been. We were looking at extractivism, but we end up plumbing the depths of what our political future might be in Latin America and here. And it’s really important and wonderful. And what you’ve added to this conversation at the end means we have to take a deeper look into this and take another journey with these guests, and maybe some other guests, to look at where the future may take us and what’s actually happening on the ground. It’s really important, because what happens in Latin America affects policies, lives, and the world we live in. They can’t be separated. Never have been.

Bret Gustafson:  That’s right, Marc. I agree. Thanks so much for letting me join you today.

Marc Steiner:  And so as we go out, I do want to thank all of our guests today: Patricia Gualinga from Ecuador who joined us. Teresa Velásquez, who’s a professor of Anthropology at Cal State University in San Bernardino. And from Bolivia, Pablo Poveda Avila, who’s a radical economist, working with a think tank, the Center for Studies of Labor and Agrarian Development. Of course, Bret Gustafson, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time today.

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Host, The Marc Steiner Show
Marc Steiner is the host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on TRNN. He is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on social justice issues. He walked his first picket line at age 13, and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested at a civil rights protest during the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught theater for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993-2018 Marc's signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR—which Marc co-founded—and Morgan State University’s WEAA.

Bret Gustafson is a professor of anthropology at Washington University in St Louis. He is the author, most recently, of 'Bolivia in the Age of Gas'.