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May 7, 2018

From the Bookshelves: From Extraction to Emancipation: Development Reimagined by Raquel Aldana and Steven W. Bender

by Kevin R. Johnson

 

[Cross-posted from ImmigrationProf Blog]

 

From Extraction to Emancipation: Development Reimagined by Raquel Aldana and Steven W. Bender


Growing out of a site visit to Guatemala in the summer of 2015 and a follow-up conference, Raquel Aldana and Steven Bender, editors, have produced an edited volume that considers Guatemala as a case study to examine broad global themes arising from development practices in emerging economies around the world, including the final theme of migration and development.  The book includes chapters by fourteen scholars from the North and South, including Raquel Aldana, Steven Bender, Karrigan Börk, Julie Davies, Patrícia Ferreira, Lauren Gilbert, Christian Gonzalez, Beto Juarez, Mario Mancilla, Marcia Narine Weldon,  Blake Nordahl,  Mario Peña Chacon, Rachael Salcido and Maria Antonia Tigre. 

 

A significant economic development strategy of emerging economies has involved the promotion of direct foreign investment and trade.  While these practices have promoted steady economic growth, the book offers important lessons to investors and policy makers on strategies to improve distributional justice and respect for the rule of law. A large focus of the book is on enhancing corporate social responsibility, recognizing the unwillingness or inability of failed democracies to regulate industry’s potential ill effects on the environment and people, and in particular indigenous peoples who comprise a significant part of Guatemala’s population and are disproportionately poor. The book also examines such global themes as climate change, labor regimes in the context of trade, and forced migration (mostly from indigenous communities), all of which have transborder implications and across-border commonalities.

 

Part V of the book looks at the phenomena of migration and development. The recent surge of Central American unaccompanied minors and children fleeing with their mothers to the United States made it imperative to confront the human face of migrants whose fates are rooted in the dire reality that the countries from which they flee cannot or will not protect them. Largely, these migrants are escaping violence perpetuated by private actors, at times by gang members or even their own parents or spouses. Their stories of flight cannot be disengaged from the broader context in which the violence occurs. Theirs is also the story of failed nations, characterized by ineptitude, weakness and, even worse, indifference or at times even complicity. This story of failed nations applies beyond the reign of private “rogues” whom everyone agrees are bad actors (gangs, drug traffickers, violent criminals). The other side of the coin is a more nuanced story about the failing role of some of these Central American nations in regulating the acts of corporations, whether owned by the oligarchy or operated by transnational actors.

 

Blake Nordahl’s chapter, for example, narrates Evelia’s story. Evelia, like many other Central American asylum seekers, won her case based on a compelling story of domestic violence. Nordahl’s trip to  Guatemala to study Evelia’s prior life in rural Guatemala, however, revealed to him and to readers a more complex entangled story of privatized violence that includes the historical and modern exploitation of people at the hands of Guatemala’s sugar industry. This carefully documented chapter makes a compelling case to move our own asylum and refugee laws beyond simple stories of  individualized violence and to recognize the so-called “economic refugees” from nations like Guatemala as victims of a structural persecution that also involves collusion between the state and corporations.

 

Lauren Gilbert’s chapter connects Guatemala’s story of migration and violence to both the past and the present— the civil war years to now—and to the licit and illicit actors who exploit them. Her concluding chapter examines the role of gendered violence directed at women in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras both during the political upheavals of the 1980s and 1990s and over the last decade, examining how the failure then to confront gender violence as a form of state-sponsored terrorism led to its role today in contributing to the climate of fear and instability that plagues the region. The gendered violence that propels migration today from the Northern Triangle is connected to this dark yet largely untold history. Today, the levels of violence in these countries match or surpass those during wartime. While today, Northern Triangle states largely blame private actors (e.g., gangs) for the resurgence of violence directed at women, Gilbert’s chapter shows that this new terror cannot be disentangled from these nations’ dark past with gendered state-sponsored violence.

 

In the end, both Nordahl and Gilbert look to international norms as part of the solution. Nordahl acknowledges that permanent solutions to Guatemala’s structural violence are largely a Guatemala project. However, he also documents that for the past twenty years Guatemala’s feeble attempts at land reforms and poverty alleviation through multiple policies have been largely inadequate. Thus, at least for now, Nordahl makes a compelling case that more expansive notions of persecution must be adopted as part of refugee law to recognize economic exploitation as persecution. For her part, Gilbert sees hope in international law’s evolution in recognizing gendered violence, a significant shift from when she worked as a UN Truth Commission lawyer in El Salvador more than twenty-five years ago. This new visibility and naming of gendered violence is an important first step to counter practices, including in the United States, of turning our backs on persecuted women and girls.

 

Download Introductory chapter of book