Disrupting the patrón: Indigenous land rights and the Fight for environmental justice in Paraguay’s chaco

Book Manuscript
Published April 4, 2023
University of California Press
Download the e-book for free here: https://luminosoa.org/site/books/m/10.1525/luminos.151/.
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Extended Abstract

Disrupting the Patrón is an ethnography of Indigenous environmental justice that investigates how Enxet and Sanapaná peoples navigate racial land politics in pursuit of decolonial futures.

I trace interwoven stories of Indigenous activists, settler colonists, human rights lawyers, and state officials from dusty cattle ranches built on Enxet and Sanapaná lands to Inter-American Court of Human Rights hearings, and back to the Paraguayan Chaco, where racial capitalism based on Indigenous labor fuels a booming ranching industry. The book examines a hallmark of settler power, legal liminality: spaces, situations, and subjects that simultaneously lie within and outside the juridical order. I argue that legal liminality is a de facto mode of governance used to manage Indigenous dispossession that exacerbates environmental injustice. My research expands environmental justice from a focus on racialized distribution of environmental harms to consider how settler colonialism creates new social hierarchies and spatial relations—racial geographies—that undermine Indigenous wellbeing along several registers. 

More than a theoretical intervention, this book grapples with the everyday effects of land dispossession as environmental injustice and foregrounds ways that Enxet and Sanapaná peoples work to create more just futures, albeit with uneven outcomes. I show how my interlocutors employ a dialectics of disruption by working with, and against, legal liminality to unsettle racial regimes of land control. Enxet and Sanapaná endurance is future-oriented resistance that shows the pursuit of environmental justice is more than a juridical solution to harm but the ability to maintain collective ways of life amidst radical social-ecological change. 

Based on collaborative research with Enxet and Sanapaná communities and their legal counsel, Disrupting the Patrón centers Indigenous experiences on navigating legal liminality from the literal margins of cattle ranches and metaphorical margins of settler society. I draw from eighteen months of multi-sited ethnographic field research conducted between 2013-2020 that included ~170 interviews conducted in Guaraní and Spanish with a diverse suite of actors as well as my participant observation in land reoccupations, protests, high-level state negotiations, and everyday life in Enxet and Sanapaná communities. Research for this project began by investigating why states resist upholding the Indigenous rights laws they have created and what the effects of Inter-American Court of Human Rights decisions are on Indigenous wellbeing. From those initial inquiries, and at the request of my Enxet and Sanapaná collaborators, my research shifted focus to investigate strategies of endurance in the face of existential harms. 

Bridging Indigenous critiques of settler colonialism in Anglophone North America with Latin American critiques of multiculturalism, the book expands debates about the limits to decolonization and Indigenous geographies with attention to the temporality of justice and environmental violence produced by land dispossession. I weave together Indigenous studies, critical environmental justice, and human geography scholarship while providing a fresh take on the uneven terrains of decolonial politics in Latin America. The book promises to reshape debates about endurance in the face of unrelenting uncertainty, a theme that emerges from Indigenous human rights struggles in Paraguay but resonates with the broader human condition when read against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and unfolding climate crisis.

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Human Dimensions of Natural Resources
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado