Mining as a Development Factor in The Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca:
an Ethical Evaluation
Mario Enrique Fuente and David Barkin
REDEFINING SUSTAINABILITY: THE ETHICAL PERSPECTIVE

The granting of mining concessions has been justified based on a specific concept of sustainable development within the model of comparative advantages. Problems with this model have already been pointed out by thinkers such as Prebisch and his team from the Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean (eclac) in their initial diagnostic study of the main issues in Latin America5 (1950). Today, the eclac has transformed their paradigmatic discourse closer to the dominant ideology of the free market, without incorporating critical judgment.

A significant portion of analysis criticizing the recent expansion of mining in the Third World emphasizes its role in the new stage of global capital accumulation (Beck et al., 2010). Regarding this, Harvey (2003) views mining within the process of “accumulation by dispossession” with a strong link to the Marxist concept of original accumulation. Since then, these authors and their collaborators have applied the concept to document and understand this type of investment in the territorial expansion of capital and the violence that accompanies it. Another artist has criticized the expansion of the extraction industry based on sociocultural factors, especially in the field of human rights and indigenous community territory rights. Despite the fact that land ownership is primarily social (communal and ejidal) the State has paved the way for easier concessions, in many cases through a contradictory discourse, on the one hand, recognizing the importance of land ownership and the culture of indigenous communities, but on the other, authorizing mining concessions without prior consult. This has been the case in the fight of the Wixárila people and their holy site of Wirikuta against the granting of concessions to the mine First Majestic Silver in the municipality of Real de Catorce, San Luis Potosí. Similarly, many other Latin American countries are undergoing the same process (Bebbington, 2011; Delgado, 2010; Gudynas, 2009).

Despite the mentioned impacts, the Mexican government continues to use the notion of sustainable development as their guiding principle. In this way, disagreement regarding the criteria to implement sustainable development has arisen in efforts to institutionalize it. This text agrees with Toledo, indicating that in spite of spending and efforts to institutionalize sustainability from the view of the “North,” it is still a concept with the possibility of “generating a transformative or ‘subversive’ version … with the potential to mobilize new social and political conflict… (thus the need to build) An appropriate definition … before it irreversibly becomes an ideological prop” (Barkin, 1998: 9-10).

Thus the fields of environmental economics and political ecology emerge as an attempt to provide heterodox responses to the process of institutionalizing sustainable development and redefining sustainability (Leff, 2004; 2008). From these fields, there are (counter-hegemonic) perspectives that are in the process of reconstruction based on the search to free themselves from the pragmatic “ties” imposed by institutions, derived from orthodox rational economics. It is surprising to see how authors trained in the dominant framework of rational economics recognize and propose the need to break the chains of the current discourse (both ideologically and epistemologically) and practice sustainable development:

Nonetheless, we argue that the concept and practice of sustainable development (sd)–as guiding institutional principle, as concrete policy goal, and as focus of political struggle–remains salient in confronting the multiple challenges of this new global order. Yet how sd is conceptualized and practiced hinges crucially on: the willingness of scholars and practitioners to embrace a plurality of epistemological and normative perspectives on sustainability; the multiple interpretations and practices associated with the evolving concept of development; and efforts to open up a continuum of local-to-global public spaces to debate and enact a politics of sustainability. Embracing pluralism provides a way out of the ideological and epistemological straightjackets that deter more cohesive and politically effective interpretations of sd. (Sneddon et al., 2006: 252).

Facing these processes, Latin America has deployed a set – also heterogeneous – of proposals oriented towards rebuilding the foundation (scientific and ethical) of sustainability to contrast with those defined and designed by orthodoxy. These are proposals that tend to redefine sustainability, explicitly stating the need and the possibility of favoring important changes to the mechanisms (like the market) used to design and apply allocation of resources towards other tools that express less inequity and a lower level of ecosystem degradation. In the context of the socio-environmental impacts of neoliberal globalization, this document vindicates the epistemic and political need to incorporate ethical judgment into economic rationality:

5 This author was one of the first Latin American theorists to identify some of the problems with the comparative advantages model, proposing that international commerce between unequal nations generates unequal exchange with negative repercussions for Latin American countries. For example, increases in production for the export of raw materials implies price reduction.