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UBC Theses and Dissertations

(Under)mining state authority : the politics of informal gold mining in Bolivia and Peru (2000-2017) Toledo Orozco, Zaraí


Scholarship on the 2000s commodity boom and its effects on state development in Latin America seldom accounts for the role of the extractivism of the poor, whose capacity to avoid regulation and shape policy outcomes poses a major challenge to state authority. This dissertation is a study of the conditions and mechanisms through which informal gold miners undermine state authority and its monopoly over key commodities. It builds on ten months of fieldwork in the largest gold mining regions in the Andes – rural La Paz in Bolivia and Madre de Dios in Peru – and in a case of more recent expansion – Tambogrande, Peru – and includes ethnographic work, 156 interviews and a survey of 100 people. This dissertation is composed of four papers. The first introduces the concept of organizational challengers – a state competitor whose power lies in the development of informal governance systems with stronger inclusionary capacity than the state – and compares state responses to informal mining in Bolivia and Peru. The second paper puts forward a comparative study of perceptions of mining at different scales in Tambogrande, where informal mining has recently proliferated unopposed while large-scale mining was resisted. The study reveals that the compatibility of informal mining with the local social order explains the difference in attitudes of communities towards different scales of mining. The third paper explains the functioning of informal gold mining governance systems in Santa Rosa, Bolivia and Huepetuhe, Peru. It shows how key practices from the Andean peasant tradition have crystallized into resource governance institutions whose unintended effects – such as the provision of basic infrastructure and labor opportunities – give these local systems a competitive advantage over the state. The fourth paper explains why despite the implementation of two different state strategies – an accommodating one in Bolivia and a coercive one in Peru – informal miners have nonetheless gained political influence. I find that miners take advantage of the fracture between the central state and its peripheral branches to form pressure groups in coalition with local authorities. These alliances function first as shields against regulation and then as springboards to push for policy change.

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