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Conflicts over Extractivist Policy and the Forest Frontier in Central America


Anthony James Bebbington ,

University of Melbourne, Australia, and Clark University USA, AU
About Anthony

Anthony Bebbington <> is Australia Laureate Fellow in the School of Geography, University of Melbourne, and Higgins Professor of Environment and Society at Clark University. He is Professorial Fellow in the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester, Research Associate of Rimisp-Latin American Centre for Rural Development, a Director of Oxfam America, and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Books include Governing Extractive Industries: Politics, Histories, Ideas (OUP, 2018 with A-G. Abdulai, D. Humphreys Bebbington, M. Hinfelaar and C. Sanborn), Subterranean Struggles: New Dynamics of Mining, Oil and Gas in Latin America (University of Texas Press, 2013, ed. with J. Bury) and Social Conflict, Economic Development and Extractive Industries: Evidence from Latin America (Routledge, 2012, ed.).


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Laura Aileen Sauls,

Clark University USA, US
About Laura
Laura Aileen Sauls <> is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University. She received her MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Oxford (UK) and B.A. in International Relations and Environmental Science & Policy from the College of William & Mary in Virginia (USA). She is a recipient of the 2018 P.E.O. Scholar Award and of a 2016 Inter-American Foundation Grassroots Development Fellowship. Her research interests include indigenous social movements, international environmental politics, and forest governance.
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Herman Rosa,

Fundación PRISMA El Salvador, SV
About Herman

Herman Rosa <> is Former Minister of the Environment of El Salvador from June 2009 to May 2014. He was previously a senior researcher and Director of PRISMA, an applied research centre on development and environment issues based in San Salvador. He is the author or co-author of numerous publications on issues related to climate change, economic change, water issues, extractivism, rural livelihoods and public policies. He is a founding member of the Alliance for Rural Climate Resilience in Latin America. Currently, he works is an advisor on environmental policies and climate finance.

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Benjamin Fash,

Clark University USA, US
About Benjamin

Benjamin Fash <> is a PhD Candidate, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and Fulbright Student Researcher in Geography at Clark University. Previously, he was Director of Special Projects at the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. His research examines extractivism, social movements, and community economies with a focus on Honduras. There, he has collaborated with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, Oxfam, and the Coalición Ambientalista de Copán. He is also a member of the organizing committee for the Escuela de Mujeres en Resistencia (EMUR).

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Denise Humphreys Bebbington

Clark University USA, US
About Denise

Denise Humphreys Bebbington <> is Research Associate Professor in the Department of International Development, Community and Environment at Clark University, where she was also Director of the Women and Gender Studies programme (2012-2017). Previously she was Latin American Coordinator for Global Greengrants Fund and Peru Country Representative for the Inter-American Foundation. Her recent publications include “Resource extraction and infrastructure threaten forest cover and community rights” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2018, with A. Bebbington, L. Sauls and eight others) and Governing Extractive Industries: Politics, Histories, Ideas (OUP, 2018 with A. Bebbington, A-G. Abdulai, M. Hinfelaar and C. Sanborn).


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Central America is characterized by an asymmetric forest transition in which net deforestation is a product of both forest loss and patches of forest resurgence. Forest loss is also associated with rights violations. We explore the extent to which extractive industry and infrastructure investments create pressure on forest resources, community rights and livelihoods. Drivers of this investment are identified, in particular: constitutional, legislative and regulatory reforms; energy policies; new financial flows; and ideas of development emphasizing the centrality of infrastructure in combining geographical integration and economic growth. We discuss forms of contentious action that have emerged in response to these pressures, asking how far and in what ways this contention has elicited changes in the policies that govern investment and extractive industry, and how far such changes might reduce pressure on Central America’s remaining forest cover. The paper develops a conceptual framework for analysing relationships among contention, policy change and the resilience of policy changes.


Resumen: Conflictos sobre política extractivista y la frontera forestal de América Central

América Central se caracteriza por una transición forestal asimétrica en la que la deforestación es producto tanto de la pérdida de bosques como de parches de resurgimiento forestal. La pérdida de bosques también está asociada con violaciones de derechos. Exploramos hasta qué punto las inversiones en industrias e infraestructuras extractivas crean presión sobre los recursos forestales, los derechos de la comunidad y los medios de vida. Se identifican los impulsores de esta inversión, en particular: reformas constitucionales, legislativas y reglamentarias; políticas energéticas; nuevos flujos financieros; e ideas de desarrollo que enfatizan la centralidad de la infraestructura en combinación con la integración geográfica y el crecimiento económico. Discutimos formas de acción contenciosa que han surgido en respuesta a estas presiones, cuestionándonos cuántos y cómo ha provocado este conflicto cambios en las políticas que gobiernan la inversión y la industria extractiva, y hasta qué punto dichos cambios podrían reducir la presión sobre el bosque restante de América Central. El documento desarrolla un marco conceptual para analizar las relaciones entre la contención, el cambio de política y la resistencia de los cambios de política.

How to Cite: Bebbington, A. J., Sauls, L. A., Rosa, H., Fash, B., & Humphreys Bebbington, D. (2018). Conflicts over Extractivist Policy and the Forest Frontier in Central America. European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, (106), 107–137. DOI:
Published on 18 Dec 2018.
Peer Reviewed


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