Conflict and transparency in Latin America

Mariel Christina Aguilar Støen talked about elithes in Latin America. Photo: Ingvild Onstad Helle
Mariel Christina Aguilar Støen talked about elithes in Latin America. Photo: Ingvild Onstad Helle

Transparent extractive industries which invest in social programs, are characterized by dealing with less social conflicts and thus tend to become more competitive.

The relation between conflict and the lack of transparency among industrial activities was discussed during one of the sessions of Module 1 of the TRACE programme 2014-2015. Such relation has been clear in developing countries of both Latin America and Africa, where levels of crime and social tension have risen in parallel to increasing resource extraction activities. The specialists who provided information from their research work were Mariel Støen from the Center for Development and Environment of the University of Oslo (SUM-UiO) and Siri Rustad from the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO).

Transparency is related to successful social programs

The lack of information about the financial status of extractive industries is related to a lack of social programs that address social tensions in the local areas where such companies operate. Such conclusion was based on stating that social systems in which extractive industries are engaged in being transparent usually tend to develop successful social programs. It was therefore agreed among the participants that transparency can be seen as an indicator of how ´healthy` certain societies can be in regards to their social conditions. In other words, it was stated that as more transparent systems tend to be, it is more likely that such systems will tend to have more integrative social programs.

A major discussion point was about the processes that are used by non-transparent companies to not provide information when there are clear laws that demand it. As a response, the debate centered in stating that companies usually create a strategic discourse that delegitimizes any type of opposition. In most cases such strategies are based on finding legislative arguments that change the focus of the media or by labeling protesters negatively as terrorists or enemies of development. Among the countries that were discussed, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia were the most notorious; however, all countries in Latin America seemed to have similar characteristics.

Transnational stakeholders and national elites

Furthermore, an important aspect that was addressed was the need to carefully follow the alliance of transnational stakeholders with national elites. Such relation was seen as a key aspect to understand the terms and conditions of how transparent mechanisms could work. Therefore, it was concluded that an important strategy to implement more transparent mechanisms should be by not only demanding transparency from grassroots organizations, but as well from international stakeholders. Such strategy could easily create the needed pressure among national elites and thus create a positive cycle that could allow extractive industries become more trustful.

As a final idea, it was seen that companies which are characterized by having to deal with less conflicts, are able to invest more in their own competiveness. Consequently, by engaging in being more transparent, extractive companies would tend to invest in social programs which in turn would tend to avoid the emergence of new conflicts. Such avoidance of conflicts was considered as one of the main elements that provided extractive companies to potentially become more competitive. It was therefore stated that the relationship between competitiveness and transparency should become a major point of analysis for future work.