Distribution without representation? Beyond the rights of nature in the southern Ecuadorian highlands
  • 1 School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

Despite the fact that Ecuador has arguably the most biocentric constitution in the world, deepening national investment in extractive development projects has left communities on the frontlines of these projects desperate for greater participation in decision-making processes currently monopolized by centralized ministries. The result has been a flourishing over the past two years of sub-national judicial and non-judicial challenges to strategic mining projects. Integral to these challenges is the constitutional language of rights for nature (Articles 71–4). Drawing on ethnographic research around the Río Blanco gold and silver mine in the southern highland province of Azuay, this article explores the diverse and surprising ways in which these environmental rights are being taken up as part of fundamental challenges to the decision-making monopolies of the Ministries of the Environment and of Mining. While numerous scholars of human and indigenous rights have recently lamented the fact that ‘rights-talk’ often appears unable to arrest or destabilize extractive imperatives, the case of Río Blanco suggests that, when embraced as part of wider social struggles for representation, rights-based approaches might be more potent than is currently being recognized. They may even encourage an important reorientation of some of the binaries that continue to preoccupy critical scholars of development.

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