Diego Melo 

2019 Tinker Project

The purpose of the trip was to conduct qualitative research on how mineral deposits have been researched, quantified and commodified in Colombia. Between 2012 and 2013, the National Mining Agency (NMA) demarcated over 20% of Colombia’s territory as “strategic mining areas,” many of these lying in the Chocó and Amazon bio-geographical regions. Bury & Bebbington (2013) have framed events like these as state-sponsored enclosures that attempt to reach the significant percent of global mineral and fossil fuel reserves existing in Latin America. In addition, Göbel and Ulloa (2014) have pointed out that these enclosures depend on specific knowledges and legal frameworks in order to establish transnational mining enclaves in peripheral areas. Most importantly, Colombia-based environmental justice organizers have foregrounded that mineral prospecting and its associated land enclosures 1) attempt to commodify underground resources in the collective territories of Black and Indigenous communities, 2) pose environmental risks for sensitive ecosystems such tropical rainforests and 3) threaten the material enjoyment of people’s rights to water, food and a healthy ecosystem (Tierra Digna, 2017). Thus, I conducted pre-dissertation research in Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, and interviewed organizers aware of the phenomenon about the history and implications of these strategic mining reserves. I also accompanied the NGO Tierra Digna on two field trips: 1) a workshop with indigenous chiefs whose territories overlap with the strategic mining areas, held in the city of Mitú, Vaupés, Amazon region, and 2) a summit of indigenous sabedores (ancestral wisdom bearers) who convened to debate the risks of extractivism in Amazonia in the town of Chinauta, Cundinamarca, Andes region. I also participated in five organizing meetings with the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of the Colombian Amazon (OPIAC) throughout my trip. 

Given that more than half of the demarcated strategic mining areas lie over the Amazon, the decision to work closely with social movement organizers from this region was extremely productive. On the one hand, it allowed me to document grassroots perspectives from elders who live throughout the Colombian Amazon (Putumayo, Caquetá, Guaviare, Guainía, Vaupés and Amazonas). On the other hand, these activities allowed me to understand why and how chiefs and elders challenge the western ontology of minerals and the civilizational ethos behind extractivism. I learned that sometimes it is preferable to neglect technical experts and pay closer attention to spiritual authorities, especially if the research project hopes to unpack the cultural imaginaries that sustain resource extraction. To fellow researchers, I recommend developing trusting relationships with local/national NGOs in order to gain a deeper understanding of socio-environmental conflicts and their geopolitical background. NGOs also have the ability to convene research participants from very distant areas. Thus, collaborating with them might offer long-lasting professional and political networks. I will now use my findings to inject up-to-date information and deeply philosophical inquiries into my dissertation proposal, which I hope to finalize and defend during the fall of 2019.