Resource Radicals: From Petro-Nationalism to Post-Extractivism in Ecuador

Introduction by
Charmaine Chua
January 24, 2022

What happens when a postcolonial left, unified by its commitment to contesting the global neoliberal order, finds itself divided on the tactics and strategic horizons that might remake their society anew?


hat happens when a postcolonial left, unified by its commitment to contesting the global neoliberal order, finds itself divided on the tactics and strategic horizons that might remake their society anew? Thea Riofrancos’ Resource Radicals is a book that seeks to answer this question through a focus on longstanding struggles over extractivism in Ecuador. Examining leftist contestations between the Correa government and anti-extractivist movements around large-scale mining and extractivism, Resource Radicals seeks to understand how competing claims to economic development and territorial integrity recast the stakes of struggles over democracy, popular sovereignty, and climate justice. 

Rafael Correa came to power at the height of the Pink Tide: a wave during the late 2000s in which left-wing governments came to power in Latin America, marking a rupture in the neoliberal consensus. His government had been brought to power by social movements unified — albeit provisionally — by their critique of a neoliberal order that they held responsible for bringing about poverty, the decimation of organized labor, environmental devastation, economic deregulation, and the influence of foreign capital, among other social ills. Shortly after Correa came to power, however, the new government reneged on proposals to leave oil in the ground and began to explore and accelerate mining projects. The provisional consensus that had been bound together through critiques of free market reform and US imperialism quickly fractured over conflicts around the export-dependent model of resource nationalism, dividing “resource radicals” into resource nationalists in power and anti-extractivists in resistance. Correa’s government — the “left in power” — had used the resource boom to dramatically raise spending on social programs. In the process, his government pushed to increase drilling and create a large-scale mineral mining sector that would utilize the export-dependent model to provide a fiscal basis for reducing poverty and addressing the social needs of the poor. But Indigenous and environmental movements — the “left in resistance” — disagreed with this extractivist model of economic development, demanding not only a radical resource nationalism controlled by the people, but the cessation of extraction and mining altogether. For these movements, despite its distributive outcomes,  extractivism presented a threat to their land, water, and territorial rights. Exploring these intra-left conflicts, Riofrancos notes, Resource Radicals “is an account of a left divided” – a deep and careful dive into the urgent dilemmas that arise when the rights of Indigenous sovereignties come into conflict with economic mobility for the majority.

Resource Radical's empirical richness and theoretical depth, as Geoff Mann notes, are “only possible” as a result of “long, detailed, and engaged” research. Riofrancos has spent nearly two decades working in Latin American solidarity movements, having first moved to Ecuador in 2008 to learn about Correa’s government and the social movements that brought it to power. Resource Radicals is therefore the product of many years of collaboration and respectful research in deep solidarity with both popular movements across various fronts of struggle, as well as with left-wing Latin American governments. Riofrancos negotiates the tensions between such heterogeneous contexts with grace and perspicacity, giving new life to how we might confront the challenges of building popular coalitions that can adequately navigate the fraught relations between democracy, Indigenous rights, economic justice, and ecological futures.

The five discussions below are each written by deeply community-engaged anti-extractivist scholars in their own right, who advance important normative, theoretical, and political questions raised by the book, and in the case of Klinger, Porter, and Davis Matthews, use the opportunity to reflect on how Resource Radical’s insights help them approach their own research on extractivism in new light. The result is a lively and generative forum conversation that reveals how commitments to political strategy and grounded struggle are not only inseparable from, but actually critically constitute theories that can break new paths for articulating “a future away from endless socio-ecological compromises” (Klinger) and that can balance “being strategic and being visionary” in working “towards a more just world together” (Davis Matthews).

essays in this forum

Is the “Left in Power” (Potestas) and the "Left in Resistance” (Potentia)?

Thea Riofrancos’ "Resource Radicals" presents a rich contemporary history of how anti-mining social movement activists tarry with the socialist Ecuadorian state and corporate elites.


Kai Bosworth

Solidarity, Sovereignty, and Being Beholden to One Another

Riofrancos offers thinking on what I believe are essential for movements both against extractivismo and more broadly against capitalism and colonialism as well as towards abolition, a world in which many worlds can fit, disability justice and more. These questions are essential to academics wanting to do research in ways that are responsible to and work alongside social movements.


Merle Davis Matthews

The Frontiers of the Commodification Debate in the Amazon

Dr. Thea Riofrancos’ "Resource Radicals" delves into the conflict between two radical approaches to minerals and hydrocarbons: state-driven and extraction-dependent developmentalism, and an Indigenous and grassroots repudiation of extraction for export.


Julie Klinger

Resource Radicals Review

Thea Riofrancos’ "Resource Radicals" is a powerful and important book, grounded in the deft navigation of demanding field research and political and theoretical complexity.


Geoff Mann

Trust in Communities: A Response to Resource Radicals

The exploration of extractivismo in Resource Radicals is a gift – of a very different kind — that Thea Riofrancos and Ecuadorian activists give scholars of Latin America, environmental policy, and the politics of development.


Jayson Maurice Porter

Resource Radicals Review Response

The question of popular power cannot be analyzed apart from the uneven and unequal development of capitalism that forms the target of anti-extractive movements’ radical energies.


Thea Riofrancos