Written by Nataliya Mykhalchenko
There exists a prevailing belief that by definition, development means moving forward, implies progress and means positive outcomes for all. This view was challenged by a second seminar in the seminar series on the ‘’The Environment, Human Rights and Development’’ organized by the Centre for Global Development, the Sustainability Research Institute and the Centre for African Studies.
Martin Mowforth, the speaker at the seminar, argued that enterprise-related activities of Western and regional multi-national corporations in Central America translate into highly unfavourable repercussions for local people and the environment. In a recently published book ‘’The Violence of Development’’ (2014), Mowforth links the continuity of violence in this region (post peace accords of the late 1980s) to the model of development imposed by the West, which employs modernization theory to justify the focus on activities aimed at economic growth.
The speaker claims that benefits derived from these activities predominantly end up in the hands of foreign stakeholders and local elites, opposing the modernization theory, which claims that economic growth translates into social upgrading. Many case studies presented by the speaker – in relation to mining, palm oil production, fruit production and many more – show that people face displacement due to land grabbing, poor working practices and degrading health conditions, as a result of improper waste management and abuse of pesticides. In cases where environmentalists and social activists make efforts to withstand the expansion of corporations, they face the threat of being repressed and assassinated. According to the speaker, in Honduras – a country with the highest homicide rate in Central America – over 90 people are known to have been assassinated by the body guards of Miguel Facusse, the owner of the Dinant Corporation.
The seminar was dynamic, filled with detailed case studies and interesting videos. It was evident that the speaker was highly passionate about the topic. The special attention to detail in case studies illustrated by the speaker, reflect the undeniable evidence of unlawful practices of the multi-nationals. The corruption that is enshrined at many levels of national and international governments, and national and international institutions, allow the criminal deeds to happen. Here emerges a phenomenon, often referred by my lecturers in Development Studies as the ‘’normalization of corruption and crime’’. Institutions and government representatives, in a pursuit of self-interest, turn a blind eye to criminal activities of multi-national corporations. The presenter, however, struck a positive note by stating that the attention of international human rights organizations brings global attention to the issue and has the power to protect the local activists.
The heated discussion that followed Mowforth’s presentation challenged some of the points made by the speaker. For example, it was suggested that the violence in Central America is predominantly associated with the region’s specific historical and geopolitical context, rather than the presence of the multinational companies. Others identified the problem of drug-trafficking as being a major player in perpetuating violence. However, there appeared to be overall consensus on the fact that multi-national corporations have a role to play in the violent realities that people in this region face daily.
To conclude, I found the seminar highly beneficial in terms of academic and personal development. I was able to draw parallels between the arguments made by the speaker and the material learned at lectures and seminars. The seminar gave a fantastic introduction to the types of challenges that Central America currently faces. Seminars like these are a great opportunity for students to discover new dimensions of the development field and go beyond the theoretical perspective on issues by learning through real-life examples. I would strongly advise students to make the use of such opportunities and decode the multi-dimensional expressions of development.
Second year student in International Development