The Latin American Dialogues Speaker Series presents “Gold or Guano? Fictions of Resource Extraction and Sustainability in Latin America”
Dr. Lisa Burner, Assistant Professor of Spanish, Sewanee
Wednesday, November 9 // 5:30-7:00 p.m. // Signal Mountain Room, University Center
Abstract: Do Latin America’s natural resources hold the key to economic prosperity and wide-spread well-being? Or is resource wealth ultimately a curse that traps the region in cycles of economic crisis, ecological degradation, and labor exploitation? In this talk, Dr. Burner examines how these questions were interrogated by Latin American fiction writers in the 19th- and early-20th-centuries. In this time, Peru and Chile were transformed by sudden booms in guano (bird excrement) and nitrates (saltpeter) mining. These commodities were exported to Europe and the United States, where they were used as agricultural fertilizer and (in the case of nitrates) military explosives. Back in Latin America, guano and nitrate exports brought great wealth to their countries’ elites. Yet, writers worried about the economic, ecological, and human consequences of their countries’ dependence on the extraction and export of a single natural resource. In fiction, poetry, and essays, they asked: could the immense profits from guano and nitrates be used to build more prosperous nations? Or would extractive wealth ultimately be a dangerous fiction that leaves nothing but human and ecological devastation in its wake?