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Voting on the future: Imaginaries and motivations in referendum decisions against extractive industries in Colombia.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VOTEF (Voting on the future: Imaginaries and motivations in referendum decisions against extractive industries in Colombia.)

Berichtszeitraum: 2020-02-01 bis 2022-01-31

For countries in the global south, extractive industries can provide governments with a shortcut to economic developmentFor countries in the
global south, extractive industries can provide governments with a shorcut to economic development. However, many communities where those
project would take place reject them upfront and advocate for development of a different kind. In a unique and recent phenomenon, local
communities in Colombia are organising referendums that halt resource extraction altogether. Since their appearance, very little research has been
done to understand this phenomenon. Voting for or against a particular extractive project gathers an array of values, motivations and imaginaries
that go beyond endorsement or rejection. Yet, voting in a certain way need not mean unity of opinions, and can obscure the struggles of
campesinos and ethnic minorities for equality and access to land. Colombia’s legal framework permits citizens to call for referendums to decide
issues that affect them. Wanting to vote for or against extractivism implies a desire to define the terms of the future in a region. The objective of this
project is to explain the role of referendums against and in favour of extractive industries in articulating, or not, alternatives to extractivist
development. It will do so by questioning whether a No to extractivism means a Yes to an alternative path to development, or if it means the
continuation of the current social struggles. Referendums in Colombia provide insight of the
wider trend of plebiscite democracy (e.g. Colombian peace and corruption referendums, Brexit, Catalonia) as supplement to institutional
democracy (e.g. centralised, technocratic), in which casting a vote means more than endorsement or rejection of a particular political project.
This project consisted of four Work Packages with three objectives corresponding to the first three work packages. The fourth work package consisted of project management and communications. Unfortunately, due to the COVID19 pandemic and the associated restrictions that were implemented both in Sweden and Colombia, there are several deviations from the original plan, as I will describe below:

Work Package 1 consisted on approaching the matters of concern of local communities, which would allow me to identify key actors and issues. In order to gain a regional perspective, I planned assess the spatial distribution of local land-uses in conflict with the proposed extractive project, where I selected Cumaral in the Llanos region of Colombia. Then, I planned to proceed to conduct interviews with the people that can potentially be affected directly by the project. Also, during this work package I wanted to implement a workshop to get actors’ ideas about and visions of the future and of development. The Work Package could not be implemented as planned due to the COVID19 pandemic. Nevertheless, I managed to conduct some online interviews and hired a field assistant in Colombia to conduct additional interviews in Cumaral, in the Llanos region.

In Work Package 2 I planned to focus on the stories and perceptions concerning the vote, as well as the relations of those stories to local livelihoods. This would allow me to trace the relations between the actors and how they are positioned in respect to one another and how they came to decide how to cast their vote in a certain way. I planned to include interviews with the array of actors present in the dispute (i.e. authorities, associations, NGOs, industry, media). The fieldwork would inform me of the actors’ values, perceptions and opinions concerning the way social protest and campaigning are being conducted. However, due to the COVID 19 related restrictions, I could not conduct the planned fieldwork. The data I have for the project was collected online by me and in Colombia by a field assistant as previously described.

Work Package 3 consisted of collecting and analysing documentation from the field (i.e. posters, graffiti, signs, online groups, twitter, reports etc.) which would show the ways in which local actors position themselves in the controversy. This would allow me to chart claims, trace their sources, and gain an overview of the relation of the different positions and the social and political motivations in the discourses. The reception of the outcome of the referendum will likewise be charted and analysed. Due to the COVID19 related restrictions this Work Package was not possible to be carried out.

Work package 4 comprises activities for management and communication of the project, which contribute towards and are part of each work package. These include presentations at conferences, the organisation of workshops and the video blog. Despite the COVID19 pandemic, I managed to participate remotely in conferences, participate in Workshops and seminars and co-organise a conference at Gothenburg University.


Article manuscripts produced:
• Can direct democracy deliver an alternative to extractivism? An essay on Popular Consultations (Article under second round of peer-review submitted to the Journal of Political Geography)
• Oil and Water: Trade-offs in the opposition to extractive industries during popular consultations in Colombia (Article that will be submitted to Antipode)

Presentations at conferences:
• 2022. Acosta García, Nicolás & Lopez, Fernando. Oil and Water: Trade-offs in the opposition to extractive industries during popular consultations in Colombia. Conference of the Swedish Anthropological Association. Gothenburg, Sweden.
• 2021. Acosta García, Nicolás & Fold, Niels. The coloniality of power on the green frontier: commodities and violent territorialisation in Colombia’s Amazon. Imagining Peace Otherwise: Five years of the Colombian peace accords experienced from the margins. Gothenburg, Sweden
• 2020. Acosta García, Nicolás. Can direct democracy deliver an alternative to extractivism? Act Sustainable. Gothenburg, Sweden.
• 2020. Acosta García, Nicolás. Democracy, activism and extractivism. Global Sustainable futures. Gothenburg, Sweden.

Outreach activities undertaken. The researcher was asked to write a piece for the journal Clarté and was interviewed by two news outlets:
• Co-organisation of the conference: Imagining Peace Otherwise: Five years of the Colombian peace accords experienced from the margins. Gothenburg, Sweden
• Acosta García, Nicolás. Narkostaten. Clarté 3: 32-34 https://clarte.se/clarte-pa-naetet/3-2021/118807-Narkostaten-1188
• EXPRESSEN.SE : Protester bemöts med polisvåld: ”Det saknar motstycke” https://www.expressen.se/tv/nyheter/protester-bemots-med-polisvald-det-saknar-motstycke/
• ARBETAREN: Colombia: Det ligger bakom protesterna. https://www.arbetaren.se/2021/05/13/colombia-det-ligger-bakom-protesterna/
This project’s publications will benefit society by exploring possible alternatives to the current form of extractive industries in general. Publications include discussions concerning the inclusions of workers’ rights in the environmental social movement as well as discussions on sovereignty as a generative standpoint to think of alternatives to extractivist development. Potential users of research findings include policy makers, planners, students, scholars and activists that want to find alternatives to the way the industry is organised.
Mural from Popular Consultation Campaign