Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
The production of visual culture is a critical but understudied aspect of water and gold mining conflicts (Li forthcoming). A company might use graphs to project sky-high profits as a way to entice shareholders, while environmentalists may show pictures of parched lands to mobilize farmers. In this paper, I trace the circulation of the “pristine páramo” imagery as an entry point to examine the collaborative frictions in anti-mining activism. In 2018, the mayor and municipal council members of Cuenca, Ecuador tweeted pictures of rock outcrops, mirrored lakes, and jagged peaks that comprise the unique Andean ecosystem under the hashtag #CajasLibredeMinería. Online activism celebrated the legal suspension of the Chinese-operated Río Blanco gold mine and formed part of an urban campaign to keep “Cajas free from mining.” Although Ecuadorian legislation prohibits gold extraction in El Cajas National Park, such activities are permitted in the park’s buffer zone where rural and urban populations draw their water. In 2013, UNESCO declared the entire area part of the 2.4 million acre “Massif of Cajas Biosphere.” Images of the “pristine páramo” reference the biosphere by representing Cajas as an entire hydrogeological zone, upending the spatial politics of site and scale critical to corporate and legislative designations of mining areas, while bringing former company laborers, farmers, environmentalists, and urban officials into alliance. Yet, if saving Cajas requires the absence of farmers—as the “pristine páramo” image suggests— what does that imply for their ability to claim territorial autonomy and reimagine productive regimes?