Gender and Territories three study cases in Oaxaca, Mexico

In this post, we want to share the discussion video that the Academic Unit for Territorial Studies-Oaxaca (UAEH) at the Institute of Geography of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) organized in commemoration of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. During the discussion, Gender and Territory, three case studies in Oaxaca, the three young women researchers, Xochiltl Ramírez Miguel, Fatima Martínez Reyes from UNAM, and Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora from UEF, presented their work research.

Through the presentation of their work, the three scholars reflected with the host, Dr. Orozco Ramírez, and the public about the deployment of gender relations in space and territory, gender violence, and unequal distribution to land and mobility within space and rural territories. Likewise, they commented on their experiences in their fieldwork and their visions about the future to establish fairer and safer relationships in rural community spaces.

From her side, our colleague Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora presented a synthesis in Spanish of her article recently published in Geoforum: The coloniality of neoliberal biopolitics: gender mainstreaming in community forestry in Oaxaca, Mexico. For your reading, you can freely access the article here.

Doctoral Defense: The anti-mining movement in Brazil between 2013-2017

We are happy to announce to you that our colleague and friend Mariana Galvão Lyra will defend her doctoral dissertation next November 5th, 2021

Time:12:00–15:00

Event location: Metria, M100, Joensuun kampus

“The thesis makes an important contribution to the analysis of social movements in Brazil through a case study of the anti-mining movement in Brazil between 2013 and 2017. This covers events which have not previously been analyzed in English. The research also contributes to the international comparative literature on the social and environmental impacts of mining. The geographic focus of the research is in Brazil and thus can also be viewed as a contribution to Brazilian studies. The sectoral focus is mining, and the research also makes a contribution to studies on mining history, sociology of mining, and mining policy.”
For more information click here

 

Navigating Midwifery Waters in Mexico 

(…) because midwives in this country and around the world… not only do they look after births and pregnancies but in fact, they do a lot more… for women’s reproductive and sexual rights. 

In the video below, the researcher Georgina Sánchez-Ramírez (El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Mexico) and co-author of the newly published book Midwives in Mexico: Situated Politics, Politically Situated (2021) highlights the significant contributions made by midwives in defending women’s rights and self-determination in Mexico and elsewhere. In this way, the work of midwives in Mexico, as sustained by the book, transcends the practical prenatal care and birth assistance towards a broader political context.

For scholars and students in Latin American Studies, the book sharpens the focus on the perspective of situated-ness: The ways in which midwives engaged in political activism intersect, cross and challenge societal divisions both in public spheres and in intimate, private spaces. It incites us to inquire: What do we know about the midwives and their located herstories in Mexico and Latin America? Who has access to midwifery care and why? Who can become a midwife and how? What kind of political activisms are employed by these empowered women positioned in fragile circumstances?

Our colleague Dr. Hanna Laako is the co-author of the book, now available at the UEF library repository: Midwives in Mexico: Situated Politics, Politically Situated

Climate vulnerabilities go beyond nature’s power.

Climate vulnerabilities in the Peruvian Andes are not only a question of natural hazards but are also shaped by uneven power relations. Photo: Anna Heikkinen

The intensifying impacts of climate change pose increasing challenges for rural populations living in fragile environments. Their vulnerabilities are often portrayed as a consequence of ‘natural hazards.’ Yet, it is rarely questioned why certain people become more vulnerable than others in front of nature’s powers.

In her recently published article, Anna Marjaana Heikkinen discusses how uneven power relations compound Peruvian highland farmers’ vulnerability experiences under climate change. She argues that their vulnerabilities root in marginalizing socioeconomic structures in the past and present. Climate change acts like a spark that merely inflames their already precarious living conditions.

You can read the whole article here

What would you have done? Dilemmas behind getting vaccinated in the USA as a tourist

by Lidia Malagón*

“What would you have done?” It is a famous phrase of former Mexican president Peña Nieto, repeated today sarcastically when we talk about dilemmas. Who to vaccinate first? Is the decision to “not get vaccinated” valid? Is it okay to travel from Mexico or Colombia to the USA to get vaccinated? Those are among the various current dilemmas when discussing the application of the COVID19 vaccine. In this blog post, I want to discuss the legitimacy of likely responses in a country like Mexico.

The Vaccine Shortage and the Bioethical Dilemma

Any “triage” decision –known as the medical protocol for classification and care priority, based on the possibility of survival, therapeutic needs, and available resources– involves bioethical evaluations. The priority of assigning respirators became an issue, as much as nowadays deciding who to vaccinate first. It began with health personnel in most countries, particularly with the so-called “front line” of the Covid19 battle. This is a clear allusion to the military language commonly used to talk about diseases, just as Susan Suntag in “Metaphors and their diseases” reminded us. Immediately, elderly adults were also considered due to their greater vulnerability to the virus.

In Mexico, people also discussed prioritizing professions as a primary necessity (e.g., teachers and journalists). But the idea of vaccinating the cleaning and security personnel or food provisioners was out of the public discussion. It is important to remember that Mexico’s City Central Wholesales Market (Central de Abastos) concentrated high infections and deaths. Likewise, the current government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador decided that he and the heads of states would “wait their turn,” as a political statement: “no one is above anyone.” The cost of the decision was that he and several other governors contracted COVID19.  Another controversy emerged when health personnel from public institutions was vaccinated but not those working in private institutions.  Such distinction was not applied when vaccinating academic and administrative personnel in educational institutions.

However, many vaccinated teachers will not return to face-to-face classes. Either because their programs allow them to continue with online courses or because union leaders have stated the unwillingness to return to face-to-face sessions until all students are vaccinated work at public universities. Knowing the above, should healthy teachers have given their turn to the vulnerable population? Should the state have decided the distribution of vaccines differently? Why not prioritize risk groups (e.g., people living with autoimmune diseases or immunodeficiencies) in the vaccination scheme?

According to data from Jorge E Linares (Nexos, May 1, 2021), “the WHO indicates that some 300 million doses have been administered, still far from the 10 billion doses needed to immunize 70% of the population worldwide, minimum to achieve herd immunity”. On a regional scale, in the USA, 90 doses per 100 people have been applied, while in Mexico, only 27 doses per 100 people as of May 31, 2021. Mexico City Head of Government Claudia Sheinbaum stated that by June 5, 43% of people over 18 years old in Mexico City received the vaccination with at least one dose. Not so bad news, if we compare with other countries with greater privileges and willing to give vaccines as diplomatic exchanges. The USA government, for instance, recently announced that it “shares” with Mexico a million Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

For some, the vaccination rate in Mexico is a failure attributable to the new government. For others, it seems like a structural symptom of geopolitics that has imposed an unequal distribution of vaccines worldwide, as the BBC systematizes. Any balance must place the United States at the center due to its influence on the business decisions of the pharmaceutical companies and research centers that produce and supply the demand for doses.

So far from vaccinated, and so close to the United States

At the end of January 2021, Juan José Origel, a Mexican television communicator, shared on social media that he received the vaccine in Miami. At the time, the vaccination schedule for the general population in Mexico was unknown, and in the United States, it had just begun. He was criticized for opportunism, particularly for the tone of disdain with which the character referred to the episode, proud of having broken the rules because he could.

But today, this is an increasingly common practice: traveling to the United States to get vaccinated. This reaction has antecedents in dishonest ways of getting vaccinated by those who somehow sped up their inoculation process and their close social circle before it was available to the general population.  Although some case in Mexico were reported, they did not reach the scandal levels of Argentina (#VacunasVIP), Spain, or Peru (#Vacunagate): where high-ranking officials were evidenced (presidents, former presidents, ministers, majors together with their families), some even having to resign, after failing to comply with the vaccination order that each country designated.

Just a few months later, vaccines from different pharmaceutical companies with varying percentages of efficacy to avoid infection, symptoms, and complications have been applied globally with diverse levels of coverage. The United States has vaccinated its population the earliest, being the beneficiary of the most significant number of doses. Today they are even representing a surplus in relation to its demand. The German media broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) declared hundreds of discarded vaccines and up to 300 million doses without a request. If the estimation is accurate, so far, it would be the same number as the doses administered worldwide. A hoarding that does not seem to generate the international commotion it deserves.

With this panorama, it is worth asking who has not yet been vaccinated in the United States? Some indicate that large cities concentrate the dose supply, and residents in remote territories are still waiting. The most unvaccinated population corresponds to those who do not wish to do so. Should the decision not to be vaccinated be respected, putting individual freedom before public health?

With the oversupply of vaccines in the United States, the requirements to receive them became more flexible. Proof of residence document is no longer required, and in some cases, not even an ID, to encourage vaccination among the migrant population without documents. Thus, what at first several local governments had condemned (at least Texas, Florida, New York, and California spoke out against it), little by little, has been seen as an economic reactivation opportunity.

Various media denied the rumors about fines and the Visa suspension for people receiving vaccination but were not residents. Thus, authorities began to invite tourists to get inoculated directly. The regularization of flights and the reactivation of up to 70% of travel packages to the USA show a growing “vaccine tourism.” The plan is more popular, and several companies offer their employees in Mexico to cover travel costs for their vaccination and many a combination of vaccination plus vacation. It is estimated –perhaps conservatively due to the secrecy of the data– that half a million Mexicans have traveled to get vaccinated. Five million more will do so this summer, mainly with the opening of the land border.

The vaccines in the USA are provided inside pharmacies or supermarkets without the collective euphoria typical of vaccination days in Mexico, generally held in symbolic facilities such as public universities. Nevertheless, the figures are significant if we consider that approximately 22 million people had been vaccinated with 31 million doses by the end of May. That is, only 12.6 million people in Mexican territory have received the two doses to complete immunity, according to figures from El País. In other words, half of the goal achieved so far by the state could be performed outside the borders in the coming months.

On vaccine inequalities and moralities

The decision to travel (or not) to the USA to receive the vaccine deserves a reflection from different perspectives: a geographical consideration, the economic access to travel for vaccines, and the access to a USA visa. First, it is not the same to make the trip to the US from border states than from the center of the country. Furthermore, people living close to the border are used to daily crossing for various purposes (e.g., wholesale purchases, buying clothing or gas for a better price). Crossing the border to get vaccinated feels instinctive, as it does not involve excessive spending.

Secondly, the recurring idea is that only the elites can afford this option. A return flight in a low-cost airline to the United States from the CDMX costs approx. USD 250. The prices and the time invested may impede most of the population from this kind of solution. However, some middle-income sectors may consider the opportunity by making an ‘economic effort.’

Thirdly, access to USA visas imposes differences. People in the informal economy with purchasing power may be systematically rejected.  Others cannot even cover the cost of trying to get the document. It is precisely the unequal access to the possibility of being vaccinated, the center of the dilemma that this practice represents.

Some voices suggest traveling to the US for this purpose is to contribute to the reproduction of unequal distribution of doses. Like a consumer who avoids a product, with the legitimate intention to not contribute to replicating unfair production conditions (e.g., fair trade, environmentally friendly, free from slavery or animal abuse, etc.). This consumer knows that such a decision won’t stop such production or stop others from consuming. It is a form of protest that is as legitimate as it is honorable.

It is here where the discussion enters a diffuse scope because although the vaccine is free in the United States, its distribution is not governed by the laws of the free market.  Not everyone who wishes can finance the trip to receive it. The travel costs mark the inaccessibility to the vaccine. It imposes mercantile values on public health and moves it away from universal access good of public interest. As long as the entire supply is not guaranteed in our country, alternative ways of accessing it will continue.

Even when moving ahead in the process is a reason for shame or reproach. It is convenient to bring back the honor that comes with the sacrifice of not consuming, in this case, a vaccine. There is a particular “honor” in waiting their turn that the state apparatus arranged according to its resources. There is honor in respecting the rules imposed for everyone, without privileges. But, can we do it once again if the Mexican state has already withdrawn many responsibilities (e.g., limited security, education, or health)? Is the decision to vaccinate reprehensible if the personal benefit represents, at the same time, a collective benefit? How honorable is it to wait for conviction when there are options?

As Fernando Escalante said in his column The vaccine, the morality “(…) in this case, staying in the trench has no other effect except to remain exposed to the virus, without resulting in any gain.” And although this kind of companionship, loyalty, and empathy towards those who, because of their profile, have not received the vaccine, is honorable, it is still a weak position in the face of a virus that takes lives and compromises their quality.

We can think of both profiles from a position of moral superiority: those who travel to get vaccinated and those who criticize it. The firsts are convinced that getting vaccinated contributes to mass immunization; their decision is noble. In contrast, the others may be confident that their patient attitude ensures order and equitable conditions for the country. It can also be the opposite; those are getting vaccinated to return to a “normal life” while the others angrily reproach the privileged ones as a matter of social revenge. Or there may be many nuances between these ways of reacting to risk. What would you have done?

(In Spanish here)

*Lidia Malagón is a sociologist and PhD candidate at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). In her research, she focuses on urban conflicts and urban planning instruments.

Journalism in times of Covid-19: Representations of Latin America in Finnish Media

We share the recording from our virtual roundtable held on Friday, May 14th, 2021. This roundtable was a continuation of the collaboration that ESDLA seeks to establish with researchers and the public in Finland and the Nordic Countries interested in Latin America.

Thanks to all the people who participated. But if you miss it, you can find the recording here:

Information about the roundtable:

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists have the challenging task of gathering and distributing accurate and reliable information. This task becomes more critical and demanding when journalists create international news coverage of distant crises. In recent months, Brazil, Mexico, and other Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) countries have been in the sights of world journalism due to the rise in the numbers of contagion, deaths, and the different responses and strategies of the governments in turn. In this round table, we have invited several Latin American researchers based in Finland to discuss how the Finnish media has displayed the consequences of the pandemic in LAC countries. How can specific representations affect popular ideas and normalize preconceptions of such distant crises? What is the role of social science researchers in creating more accurate and reliable information, and what are their limitations? Join us in the discussion!

Participants:

Nadia Nava Contreras is a project researcher at the John Morton Center for North American Studies at the University of Turku, where she is part of the Cubaflux project that investigates urban visual transformations in Post-Deténte Havana. She is also a doctoral candidate in political history at the University of Helsinki. Her dissertation investigates diplomatic encounters and mutual imaginaries in the relations between Mexico and Finland during the 20th Century.

Florencia Quesada Avendaño, PhD, Docent is a trained historian, currently Adjunct Professor in Latin American Studies at the University of Helsinki. She has been a researcher and lecturer in Global Development Studies, World Cultures, and at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (HCAS), UH. Quesada’s research interest includes cultural urban and architectural history, sustainable tourism, socio-spatial segregation, and urban violence in Central America.

Leonardo Custódio is an Afro-Brazilian postdoctoral researcher at Åbo Akademi University and coordinator of the Anti-Racism Media Activist Alliance (www.armaalliance.com). He is also coordinator of the Activist Research Network and editor-in-chief of raster.fi, website of the Finnish Anti-Racist Research Network. Custódio is co-editor of “Research Traditions in Dialogue: Communication Studies in Europe and Latin America” (2020, Media XXI) and author of “Favela Media Activism: Counterpublics for Human Rights in Brazil” (2017, Lexington Books).

Germán Quimbayo Ruiz is from Bogotá, Colombia. He recently finished his Ph.D. in Environmental Policy at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu. His work and research focus on environment/society relationships and their interplay with urbanization and socio-ecological inequalities, exploring their role in spatial planning practices in defense of commons such as biodiversity. Before his Ph.D. studies, he worked with local environmental organizations and institutions in Colombia.

Mariana Galvão Lyra is a sustainability researcher and consultant. Currently, she is a project researcher at the business school of the University of Eastern Finland. Her main research interests are sustainable science, stakeholder management, company-community conflicts, and activism against mining projects, especially in developing countries. In particular, she is interested in shedding light on the groups fighting for social and environmental justice.

Violeta Gutiérrez Zamora is a sociologist and Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies of the University of Eastern Finland. In her research, she focuses on rural organizations, community forestry, feminist political ecology, and eco-governmentality in Mexico.

The Colombian uprising: Environment, society, and the ‘narcoparamilitary’ state on a global pandemic

By: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of all victims of state violence and police brutality in Colombia, their families, and communities.

Demonstration at the ‘Héroes’ monument on May 15, 2021, in Bogotá (Photo by Andrés Cardona).

At the moment of publication of this blogpost, Colombia is completing more than 20 days of a National Strike (Paro Nacional) amidst the third and worst wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Colombians have been on the streets challenging not only a far-right government administration but their actual violent and very unequal social and economic model, which has proven to be more harmful than a pandemic. The current Iván Duque’s government administration, commanded de facto and via Twitter by former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez, has only reinforced such a model. Duque’s administration tax and healthcare reform proposals were only the igniters of the social discontent. Although both reform proposals are temporally withdrawn and former Minister of Finance, Alberto Carrasquilla, has quit due to the protests, the Paro Nacional has always been meaning beyond that. The country has a century-long overdue social awakening.

According to the most recent figures, 72.9% of Colombians (total population: 50 million inhabitants) live in poverty (42,5%) and extreme poverty (30,4%) conditions, with hunger, without health and a terrible education, 25.4% just survive, and only 1.7%, almost 3 million Colombians, are the most privileged. Accumulation of wealth and dispossession by a narco-state, are reasons that explain Colombia is between poverty and misery. The country is transiting in an economic recession already in the making before the pandemic and worsen by its precarious management and a terrible vaccination plan.

The Colombian government expended more budget in militarizing the country during the coronavirus pandemic, in times when peace, reconciliation, economic, humanitarian, and healthcare support should have been the priority. Colombia is the second country (behind Brazil) with the highest military spending in the Latin American and the Caribbean region with 9.2 billion dollars, with historical and large participation of U.S. military and police aid. This situation is aligned with the lack of full implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement and its progressive rural reforms by the current administration. The current government and its political allies have also been attacking the transitional justice system which is seeking the truth after decades of armed political conflict. Moreover, in terms of security, confrontations and armed violence have been reactivated in several regions, including in the most important port city, Buenaventura. The systematic killing of social and environmental activists and former FARC rebels are also important reasons that explain the social discontent.

Colombia was already in a social uprising before the pandemic (Paro Nacional 2019), but the imposition of one of the most restrictive sanitary measures and quarantines (including curfews) in the world, put a halt to the uprising. Yet, in September 2020 there were some demonstrations that included manifestations against police brutality all over the country that were, unfortunately, marked by more police brutality, with particular and dramatic implications in the Bogotá metropolitan area after the killing of lawyer Javier Ordoñez. Since April 28th, 2021, the Paro Nacional manifested in a multitude of social discontent and political awakening, that, however, have been ferociously attacked by the (para)militarization of cities, the escalation of state violence, and police brutality that has extended to thousands of police violence cases that include around 40 people killed, hundreds of arbitrary detentions and abductions, and a dozen of cases of gender violence and sexual assault. The Paro Nacional committee, protesters and different political sectors reclaim as an imperative to set a police reform and dismantling of the heavy militarized anti-riot unit ESMAD, responsible for several killings and human rights abuses towards civilians still in impunity. Though this type of state violence has been the rule for many in the countryside and the urban marginalized for decades, this time has been unprecedentedly disproportionated against an extended part of the population. Human rights violations have been particularly brutal at night and the turn of the days during the first two weeks in the city of Cali but extended in several other cities and towns including the capital, Bogotá.

To write these words holds up personal grieve and pain, but, at the same time, a certain light of hope I have never seen before. As we discussed in a recent webinar held on May 14 about Finnish media representations on LAC in Covid-19 times organized by ESDLA, there is a morbid attraction in both Finnish and international media and audiences (outside Latin America) about social turmoil and violence based on preconceptions, ignorance, prejudice or even racism. Yet stories of resistance, resilience, and political innovations amidst humanitarian urgencies are less covered. For instance, in these ongoing protests their creative and peaceful character (even outside the country) have been stated, in a country where dissent and difference have been deadly stigmatized and persecuted for decades, even from state and private actors. The use of social media (Twitter, Instagram, etc.), the role of independent media, and NGOs have been key not only to dismantle the pro-government and propagandistic corporate media that demonizes and help to criminalize the right of social protest, but also to be a counter tool to denounce and report constant human rights violations by state and paramilitary forces. Likewise, social media and crowdfunding have been fundamental to support protesters.

On the other hand, in times of planetary climate emergency, there has been very little mention among media and reports on what is the role of the environmental issues in the Paro Nacional. This is extremely important given the megadiverse character of Colombia and the unfortunate trend of the killing and harassment of many environmental defenders who struggle against the national society and economic model. For instance, Colombia has not ratified yet the Escazú Agreement (a broken promise from the Paro Nacional 2019), which represents a light amidst the threatening of environmental activists in the Latin American and the Caribbean region. Moreover, it is (un)surprisingly that after more than two weeks of demonstrations and several human rights violations committed by the state and the police, the government of Iván Duque presents a bill to strengthen the investment of those who intend to exploit gold in an important and strategic ecosystem in the north-east Colombian Andes: the Santurbán Páramo.

Colombia has prominent environmental activist figures like Francia Márquez (who is a candidate for the 2022’s presidential election), Isabel Zuleta, or Francisco Vera, who are representatives of the diversity of Colombian environmental movements (Indigenous, Afrocolombians, peasants, urban movements, children and youth) whom like many others in the “Global South” are often overshadow over their counterparts in the north. A Colombian set of environmental organizations in its National Strike’s official declaration, pointed out eight points that the Colombian government must address: 1) to protect the life of environmental activists and defenders; 2) to ban to the aerial aspersion (using chemicals like glyphosate) of illicit coca crops; 3) to put a halt on a high rocketed deforestation of the Amazon rainforests; 4) to set a moratorium of several mining and extractive megaprojects; 5) banning of fracking prospections and projects; 6) to abide to the right of prior consultation, and local referendums for the developing of those extractive projects; 7) to guarantee of water as a human and ecological right; and 8) to require the de-escalation of megaprojects of all kinds (hydropower, infrastructure, tourism, etc).

In Colombia, a far-right narco-paramilitary regime is challenged by a generation that has lost everything even the fear, and do not want to continue living in such an overt corrupt and oppressive regime and build a new future. A generation that is led on the streets and territories by an impoverished but brave youth at the forefront of the Primera Línea, who are only armed by masks, helmets, sticks and hand-made shields cared by their mothers and community (mostly women). A generation that even has finally started to contest structural racism, internal colonialism, and patriarchy. Statues of conquistadores and colonizers have been dethroned, and monuments and streets have been re-signified. The Colombian Minga also worth mention as an example of resistance when the notion of ‘decolonize’ became an academic token instead of a practice.

On the streets and different territories, democratic institutions are being rethought to overcome extreme inequalities amidst many limitations and the state terror. In the heat of the protests and the warm that brings the assemblies, mingas, or the communitarian pots (ollas comunitarias) that feed the Paro Nacional, local solidarity is the base of this new awakening (‘Despertar’) after years of accumulated grievances. Colombians do not want to keep counting martyrs and unnecessary killings and, instead, seek finally a way of social and environmental justice that has been denied on several attempts towards reconciliation. Struggles for the commons in Colombia seek to rethink democratic institutions through dissent and for the public common’s sake. Therefore, this ongoing awakening need caring attention and international solidarity, since the government administration has never genuinely listened nor meant in doing so, as many are afraid of.

-/-

Bio: Germán is from Bogotá, Colombia. He recently finished his Ph.D. in Environmental Policy at the University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu. His work and research are focusing on environment/society relationships and their interplay with urbanization and socio-ecological inequalities, exploring their role in spatial planning practices in the defense of commons such as biodiversity. Before his Ph.D. studies, he worked with local environmental organizations and institutions in Colombia. (gquimbayo@gmail.com).

 

Member of ESDLA, Mariana Galvão Lyra, interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat

Our colleague and member of ESDLA, Mariana Galvão Lyra, was interviewed by the Finnish journal Helsingin Sanomat (HS) on the Covid-19 situation in Brazil.  In the HS article, Mariana explains that the collapse was expected in Brazil’s highly unequal society. President Jair Bolsonaro ’s depreciation of the pandemic has only made things worse.
The article’s contextualization draws on this Special Blog Issue on Covid-19 in Latin America. It also follows the terrible current situation in Brazil.

Collective efforts are needed to tackle environmental conflicts and socio-​ecological inequalities in spatial planning in Bogotá

An ecologically restored urban wetland by a collective effort in Bogotá. Photo: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz.
An ecologically restored urban wetland by a collective effort in Bogotá. Photo: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz.

In his doctoral dissertationM.Sc. Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz argues that the environmental conflicts related to spatial planning and urbanization open opportunities to create more just spaces to rethink planning as a collective political task aiming for more democratic practices, and not only as of the duty of planners. By analyzing the environmental conflict cases such as profit-driven urbanization over protected areas, quarrying activities, or the impact of landfills in urban-rural areas over the last three decades in Bogotá, Colombia, the dissertation analyzes spatial planning practices embedded in Bogotá’s socio-ecological inequalities. The public examination of Quimbayo Ruiz’s dissertation will take place on Friday, 12 March 2021, at 12 noon and will be live streamed. The public examination will be in English.

Quimbayo Ruiz’s prompts on his previous experience as a practitioner and activist, to document environmental conflicts related to spatial planning in Bogotá. Through interviews, participant observation, content analysis of documents, and relying upon ecological and social science traditions, Quimbayo Ruiz’s research found that in recent decades there have been conflicting visions around urban nature in Bogotá, which together have triggered socio-ecological inequalities and new possibilities for urban politics to overcome them. Moreover, Quimbayo Ruiz argues that environmental conflicts do not correspond to a ‘lack’ or ‘absence’ of planning. Instead, they correspond to the consolidation of a city model that deepens segregation and inequality and is promoted by sectors of political and economic power. Nevertheless, this research also shows that political practices in planning processes around nature are constantly shaped, disputed, and negotiated along with social and non-human actors. Such practices have been mobilized through knowledge in ecology and law by (multiclass) social organizations and various citizen sectors that have flourished from the 1990s to the present, coinciding with the positioning of environmental imperatives on the neoliberal urban agenda.

‘Environmental conflict’ as a territorial process and not as an outcome

In this research, the key question is understanding the dialectic between conflicts and spatial planning. Quimbayo Ruiz’s dissertation shows that the idea of nature in Bogotá’s planning consists of a diversity of narratives, practices, and local governance techniques, where there is a complex interplay of both social and non-human actors. Such an interplay is territorial and framed in a volatile and fragile democratic setting simultaneously placed at one of the most biodiverse metropolitan regions globally. The often negative notion of ‘conflict’ is key to understand this case, and it should be re-casted in a more positive light to find productive ways to address environmental issues and inequalities. A conception of planning that transcends the dualisms of state and society and instead, immersed in conflicting visions of nature, may afford new opportunities to understand the democratic practices fostering just urban ecologies. The mobilization of urban nature advocacy in Bogotá through individual and collective political mobilization, driven by continuous learning and reform, has always addressed the question of who urban space should be for. Planning practices are unavoidably political and embedded in conflicting values and dissent around nature.

Socio-​ecological inequalities should be addressed to achieve just urban ecological transitions

The current land-use and planning tools in Bogotá (and elsewhere) urgently need to address urbanization without traditional politico-administrative boundaries of zoning polygons, or which perpetuate nature-society dichotomies. This dissertation demonstrates how urban and spatial planning processes are a source of environmental conflict, and how are related to several socio-ecological inequalities as such. One of the study’s recommendations is the further analysis of the kinds of social exclusion and constitutive ecological effects produced by environmental conflicts and dispossessions. Consideration of such exclusions is key for assessing territorial vulnerabilities to climate change, as well as cultural valuations of nature for climate change adaptation, but such a consideration remains scarcely documented in research on urbanization. The Bogotá case can therefore also shed light on concerns around urban nature and spatial planning elsewhere.

The doctoral dissertation of M.Sc. Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz, entitled Reterritorializing conflicting urban natures: socio-ecological inequalities and the politics of spatial planning in Bogotá, will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The Opponent in the public examination will be University Researcher, Docent, Florencia Quesada Avendaño of the University of Helsinki and the Custos will be University Lecturer Juha Kotilainen of the University of Eastern Finland.

Dissertation online