Rethinking environmental geographies in Latin America's fading forests: Frontier political ecologies, vital infrastructure, and Indigenous environmental justice

Authors: Joel Correia*, University of Florida
Topics: Development, Human-Environment Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Infrastructure, extractivism, environmental justice, territoriality, Indigenous rights, Latin America
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper examines the intersections of infrastructure development, settler colonialism, and Indigenous environmental justice. Once a "forgotten" frontier, Paraguay's Chaco is now a deforestation hotspot due to agri-business expansion that is fueling a multi-billion dollar infrastructure boom that forms part of IIRSA/COSIPLAN regional integration schemes. For a region covering over half of Paraguay’s territory that had but two paved roads crossing it until 2019, the “promise of infrastructure” is more than a theoretical proposition. It is an enduring demand by the region’s inhabitants who want access to markets and state services. For the region’s many Indigenous communities chronically isolated from vital transportation infrastructures during rainy seasons, roads often make the difference between life and death. However, the new roads are being built to facilitate agro-export industries run by settler colonists and foreign land speculators, while most rural Indigenous communities will remain without access to vital services. The infrastructural moment unfolding in Paraguay's Chaco reveals entanglements that bind the region's fraught racial and environmental geographies. Drawing from qualitative field research conducted in 2018-2020, I move beyond a granular focus on roads-as-infrastructure to consider how peculiar patterns of landscape scale deforestation in Paraguay’s Chaco reveal how settler colonists redesign and employ "the environment" itself as a vital infrastructure, now inextricable from the region's racial geography. By critically assessing infrastructure in its many forms, I show how environmental geographies are racialized while advancing a theorization of vital infrastructure. The paper provides a framework for rethinking geographies of the infrastructural turn in Latin America.

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