The following statement originally appeared on the Palestine in America website here and was drafted by:
Scientists of the Palestinian Youth Movement (SPYM)
Center for Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice (CIEJ)
The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition (SLAPDS)
The Red Nation
We write as a coalition comprised of collectives of Indigenous communities from around the world and as communities of color residing in US-controlled territories, in fierce opposition to the US-backed coup in Bolivia. As scientists ourselves and individuals marginalized by and in the US, we understand all too well the variously oppressive ends to which scientific, technological and mathematical expertise can be deployed. We denounce the naked and shameless power grab for the purposes of forcible resource extraction in Bolivia.
Make no mistake: we see all too clearly how the popular will of the Bolivian people has been trampled on to ensure that the returns of corporate crooks and disaster-capitalist oligarchs can be maximized. One of the most sickening aspects of this progression of events is how moneyed liberal environmentalists will pat themselves on the back for driving cars that run on the very mineral for which the will of a struggling populace is being repressed, crushed by the iron heel of profit. Electric cars may run on lithium and cobalt, but they are also powered by the blood and suffering of the Bolivian people, the entire constellation of Indigenous communities of the Andean highlands, spanning into Chile and Argentina, and child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The ravenous thirst for lithium resembles that of the California gold-rush, and just as devastating as that was for Indigenous peoples of so-called California and the natural landscape, this ‘white gold rush’ aims to reverberate the same results for Western gain.
The forcible military removal of democratically elected Bolivian president Evo Morales—the first Indigenous president in a majority Indigenous country—is a coup engineered for sadistic profiteering. And it is not without precedent: previously, Bolivia had its water privatized as penalty for the $138 million USD loan from the International Monetary Fund (1998). And transnational corporations from the US and Canada have long been trying to enter Bolivia for precisely such extraction.Though these latest events represent a modern-day escalation, they are too predictable given the violence that has attended both successful and attempted forcible extraction all around the world. In 2009, Chiapas-based anti-mining activist Mariano Abarca was murdered under circumstances suggesting the involvement of Calgary-based private mining company Blackfire Exploration as well as the knowledge and even support of the company’s unethical practices on the part of the Canadian Embassy in Mexico. And prior to El Salvador’s successful ban on all metallic mining in 2017, the country had long been plagued by mining companies from the US, Canada, and Australia whose activities encroached upon community land and devastated natural resources. Corporations, backed by these same countries, are still competing for mineral mining licenses through alternative methods according to community organizers in/around Suchitoto. In a similar vein, the scientific enterprise continues to legitimize modern day colonialism across the world as seen in the recent tragic attempt by six countries and over 46 universities and corporations to build a Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is the tallest mountain in the world, a sacred site for the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians), and the Big Island’s main watershed. How is it that the pending desecration of Mauna a Wakea “for the pursuit of science” can be completely decontextualized from the scientific contributions, knowledge, and living traditions of Native Hawaiians?
Furthermore, the violence of the coup in Bolivia is in no way contradicted by the liberal ends to which extracted lithium will be redirected. Liberalism operates by ignoring the structural violence that makes the illusion of privileged, faux-ethical individual choice possible in the first place. The solution to climate change does not rely on consumer-level changes but instead on the abolition of the US military-industrial complex, one of the greatest polluters globally. As Palestinians,Arabs, Native Americans, and people of color we recognized all too well the optics of military coercion for the purposes of resource seizure, which holds painfully eerie echoes of the US’s colonial occupation and devastation of Iraq and of Indigenous lands in the Americas. The resumption of diplomatic ties between Bolivia and Israel post-coup is far from accident.These are converging logics and strategies of dispossession to enact sharp asymmetries of power determining colonizer from colonized, settler from Indigene, and “ Other” from protected citizen. The abuses of science play a vital role in cementing these optics of oppression even as they also help to keep them invisible.
As scientists and members of variously marginalized communities, we know how particularly insidious it can be when oppression is masked as scientific and technological uplift, not to mention societal betterment: Israel’s Apartheid Wall, surveillance and crowd control tactics as well as innovations in military-grade weaponry (including explosives) are all honed and refined upon the captive, colonized bodies of Palestinians before becoming referrents and even exports for global “safety” and the maintenance of a racialized, imperial, hegemonic order. The Palestinian population remains actively resisting their containment and siege by the Israeli Military as the Israeli State keeps its eyes on the “Leviathan Natural Gas Reserve”, one of the largest on the Meditteranean Sea that crisscrosses the shore of Gaza, Palestine. In the US, seemingly benign mathematical and scientific “expertise” leads to junk programs like PredPol, which ensure that the violent police targeting and incarceration of Black and Brown bodies continues uninterrupted, and under the false cover of “objectivity.”
The solution to all of this is not a blanket abandonment of science and technological expertise. Instead, it is incumbent upon all of us to reject the propagandistic framing of science as a neutral field dedicated to some meaninglessly universalized “public good.” From the Holmesburg Prison experiments to the callous radioactive contamination of tribal lands, the history of science under capitalism puts the lie to the myth that science practiced in this way is unbiased and beneficent. Science, like all other dimensions of life, inescapably operates within the capitalist/political schemes and structures of an oppressive status quo. Rather than continuing to nurture the hypocrisy of an apolitical science, we must work within, among and between our communities to create an alternative, critical scientific praxis and body of knowledge that rejects the oppressive order and redirects scientific, technological and mathematical knowledge for life-focused community empowerment and autonomy instead of extractive for-profit subordination and deprivation.
As much as we may despair at current events, we also dare to affirm that another world IS possible and that together we can build and innovate a future with spaces and processes that truly sustain and empower ours and all other oppressed communities the world over.
LITHIUM IS THE NEW OIL!
NO COMEMOS BATERIAS!
FORCIBLE EXTRACTION IS NOT CLIMATE ACTION!
TESLA DRIVERS ARE ECO-COLONIZERS!