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Political Ecology, Water Valuations and Feasibility of Water Law Deliberation in the Province of Tierra del Fuego, AIAS (1993–2016)

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Freshwaters and Wetlands of Patagonia


Social appropriation of water in Patagonia is not only associated with its historical-spatial configuration and the uses of the territory but also with the social, environmental, and economic interests around water, to whom conflict is inherent. Analyzed from the Latin American Political Ecology viewpoint, these conflicts reveal different languages of valuation, understood as knowledge-power strategies in the processes of social appropriation of nature by different actors. In this context, we present a case study that shows the conflict between water valuations as an obstacle to the feasibility of the legislative deliberation of successive Water Bills between 1993 and 2016 in the Province of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur (Tierra del Fuego, AIAS), Argentina. The analysis articulates the political-institutional level with the political-cultural and territorial level. In this way, not only the legal aspect of the conflict is emphasized but also its environmental dimension. At the same time, political representation has a new significance as a space for multiple mediations and negotiations around water as a public and common good, fundamental to counteract the predominance of economic interests in order to achieve the enactment of Law No. 1,126 on the Integrated Management of Water Resources.

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  1. 1.

    The logic of capital allows to incorporate the theory of the value form and to understand in abstract terms the generation of surplus value, and at the same time, the historical geography of capitalism allows to pose in a broader project the relations of value to “unify the history of capitals, natures and social class struggles as mutual relational movements in the modern world-system (Moore 2020).” According to Moore (2020), socially necessary unpaid work time includes both human and extra-human natures: “Such unpaid work could be provided by human natures - women or slaves, for example - or extra-human, such as forests, lands or rivers.” So, the historical condition for socially necessary work time is socially necessary unpaid work. Thus, nature is constitutive and active in the accumulation of abstract social labor.

  2. 2.

    For more references on Moore’s categories and valuations of nature, see Schweitzer (2020).

  3. 3.

    See Palacio (2006) for an overview of the field of Political Ecology and Latin American Political Ecology.

  4. 4.

    From the analyses of several cases, Martínez Alier (2006) enumerates pieces of vocabulary from the resistance in the face of environmental conflicts linked to different valuation languages such as: (a) indigenous ecological language, (b) demands for “a tax on the depletion of a natural resource,” (c) business responsibility demand, (d) ecological debt from the North to the South, (e) language of food security and food sovereignty, (f) racism environmental language, (g) environmental justice language, (h) space-environmental language such as environmental inequalities, (i) ecological track, (j) eco-feminism, and (k) environmentalism of the poor or popular environmentalism. This list arises from situated studies and shows how, in Tierra del Fuego Province, the defense of water as a public good cannot be merely understood in its legal meaning but as the valuation language that acted as the language of the resistance facing the privatization discourse on water.

  5. 5.

    Leff (2003) upholds that political ecology is established “there, wherein nature as well as culture resist the homologation of immeasurable values and processes (symbolic, ecological, epistemological, political) to be absorbed in terms of market values.”

  6. 6.

    For a broad analysis of the difference between processes of (economic) valuation and valuation of nature, the work of Schweitzer (2014), Valiente, and Schweitzer (2016) is recommended and also for a debate on development models or alternatives to the development (Gudynas 2010; Schweitzer 2014; Escobar 2005, 2012; Lang et al. 2013; Svampa 2016).

  7. 7.

    It should be clarified that the concept of commons acquires different meanings in different geographical and historical contexts and in different topics, for example, intellectual property, patents, and genes (Helfrich 2008). In Latin America, the concept is constructed and acquires different meanings around valuations of nature.

  8. 8.

    In the classification of economic goods by Ostrom there is a fourth type: club goods, which are excludable but not competitive and in which a price can be established and the individual consumption does not reduce that of others.

  9. 9.

    For Laval and Dardot (2015), the limits of Ostrom’s position lie in the categories she employs, since she continues to associate the concept of common with a property of goods and because the thesis of institutional diversity continues to be founded on rational individuals understood as selfish agents who, without government coercion, make decisions on the most convenient contractual arrangements based on comparing costs and benefits.

  10. 10.

    Martínez Alier (2006) highlights the “International Rivers Network” as a source of information on water-related conflicts. Additionally, The Latin American Water Tribunal has registered several cases of hydrological injustice, see:

  11. 11.

    Boff (2014) affirms that “The initiative was promoted by the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales Ayma and was supported by 35 countries, all from the South of the world, it was approved with great difficulty, by 124 votes in favor, 42 abstentions and no votes against. Rich nations such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan and the entire European Community were strongly opposed, as a result of the commercial interests that their multinational companies have within the water market.” On the other hand, the documents promoted by different social movements were more ambitious and conveyed the idea of a biocentric rationality beyond the anthropocentric vision that would make it possible to declare water as a universal right by understanding water as part of the life of the planet: it pertains democratization of access to water, not only for humans but also for all life forms. Water belongs to the universal common good. Therefore, it has to be in public and community hands.

  12. 12.

    For more information see

  13. 13.

    “With that, environmental injustice becomes even more widespread,…At the end of the day, water circulates not only through rivers, through the air ... but also under the social form of various goods - fabrics, automobiles, agricultural raw materials and minerals - in general, in the form of tangible goods and in this way, we can understand the hydrological imbalance driven by the generalized market logic” (PortoGonçalves 2006).

  14. 14.

    “It is a public good when they are property of the States and are expressly individualized (territorial seas, rivers, streets, squares, etc.) or are affected to the use and enjoyment by all inhabitants. Private goods are all those that are not public goods” (Svampa and Viale 2014).

  15. 15.

    For example, in the Province of Tierra del Fuego, more than a dozen projects have already been presented to declare the Peninsula Mitre as a Protected Area, without being treated until now. To learn about the project:ínsula-Mitre-y-Anexos-Info-Final.pdf

  16. 16.

    At present, many farms are under hydrocarbon exploitation (which puts great pressure on the use of land and groundwater), for which they receive payments for easement costs, making them more profitable as well as less productive. This reflects in the decline in rural employment (Ministerio de Hacienda 2017).

  17. 17.

    Ministerio de Planificación Federal, Inversión Pública y Servicios (2008). The population of the Province of Tierra del Fuego, AIAS, increased from 13,400 inhabitants in 1970 to 27,000 in 1980, 70,000 in 1991, and 101,079 in 2001.The 2010 National Census indicated there were 127,205 inhabitants, and the 2021 projection, based on data from the 2010 National Institute of Statistics and Census, anticipates 177,697 inhabitants, including 291 from Antarctica (INDEC 2015) The new census is scheduled for 2022.

  18. 18.

    The following competences are delegated by the provinces to the Nation: (a) full powers to dictate governmental codes such as Civil Codes, Penal Codes, and Mining Codes, which rule uniformly all through the country. (b) New sorts of concurring powers between both governmental levels on the subject of the environment such as the minimum budget for environmental protection, which are compulsory all through the national territory. The Nation has the power to enact rules which include the minimum budgets of protection without altering the local jurisdictions (Art. 41, National Constitution), while the provinces have the right to pronounce any complementary regulations.

  19. 19.

    For a comprehensive analysis of the social production of space in Southern Patagonia from the notion of frontiers of expansion of capital, see Schweitzer (2011, 2014, 2016).

  20. 20.

    In relation to incompatible uses of water, beyond the time period of the case study, there is a growing presence of environmental groups in socio-environmental conflicts, which promotes the emergence of new languages for the valuation of nature. Likewise, although yet without a direct pronouncement on the Water Law, in recent conflicts, the participation of the Yagán indigenous people explicitly joined recent environmental struggle; for example, in rejecting the installation of salmon farms in the Beagle Channel. See:

  21. 21.

    Not all kinds of goods are considered public, but rather those that (unlike private goods) must be assigned to public use, directly or indirectly, and in the latter case, they must be final goods or fixed goods affected by common usage. There is a distinction between the legal regimes of property in the public domain and in the private domain of the State. The first refers to the State as a Public Power and the second to the State as a Legal Person. In the first case, the State, as a public authority, has a guardian role on these goods; in the second case, the State, as a legal person, can be the owner of the goods, in which case they are subjected to the ordinary rules of private property, except for some modifications (Marienhoff 2011).

  22. 22.

    Public domain goods (waters): rivers, estuaries, streams, and other waters that run through natural channels, groundwater, lakes and navigable lagoons, glaciers, and the periglacial environment, all other water that has or acquires the ability to satisfy uses of general interests, groundwater. Territorial sea, inland waters, bays, inlets, gulfs, maritime beaches.

  23. 23.

    Significantly, the arguments of the legislators present during the act of sanction made reference to a historical debt without there being a strong partisan appropriation, as different political party blocks had presented Water Bills: Partido Justicialista (1999, 2006)/Partido Justicialista y Frente para la Victoria (2016); Unión Cívica Radical (2004, 2013, 2015); Coalición Cívica. Acción República de Iguales (2008, 2010, 2012)/Partido Social Patagónico (2014, 2015). Movimiento Popular Fueguino (2010, 2012, 2014).


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Giomi, K., Schweitzer, A., Urciuolo, A. (2022). Political Ecology, Water Valuations and Feasibility of Water Law Deliberation in the Province of Tierra del Fuego, AIAS (1993–2016). In: Mataloni, G., Quintana, R.D. (eds) Freshwaters and Wetlands of Patagonia. Natural and Social Sciences of Patagonia. Springer, Cham.

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