(P17) Comparing Regimes of Dispossession: States and Corporate Land Acquisition in Southeast Asia
Fri 09:00-10:30 K10 | 1.25
- Neil Loughlin KITLV
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Cambodia’s regime(s) of dispossession
Neil Loughlin KITLV
This article explores the role of the state in processes of dispossession in contemporary Cambodia. We draw from Levien’s concept of “regimes of dispossession,” which highlights how states facilitate land dispossession and new enclosures for the interests of capital in ways that change over time, as state logics, economic drivers, sources of capital and patterns of resistance vary. The first part of the article provides an account of three phases of dispossession in Cambodia, all of which show how state-led land enclosures have played a pivotal role in state formation and survival of the CPP-backed regime in Cambodia, although in varying ways. The three phases we describe are: (i) the 1990s, before CPP secured full control over the state; (ii) the 2000s, when land and resource enclosures became formalised and scaled-up under CPP control; (iii) post-2012, when popular push-back gave rise to a new land governance regime of “reform, repression and re-territorialisation” (Loughlin & Milne 2020). The second part of the article examines the case of Preah Sihanouk province and its capital city Sihanoukville, to examine contemporary drivers and dynamics in Cambodia’s regime of dispossession, where heightened Chinese influence and investment have had profound effects. We suggest this may represent a new phase, as alienated land is now increasingly being used for non-productive and speculative purposes, even though the local political economy that mediates these processes remains the same.
Collusion and Land Conflicts: The Contentious Politics of Palm Oil Expansion in Indonesia
Ahmad Dhiaulhaq KITLV
Ward Berenschot KITLV
The rapid expansion of oil palm plantations has generated a large and growing number of anti-corporate protests against palm oil companies over, mainly, access to land. So far, these protests have been mainly studied through scattered case studies, which precludes an understanding and analysis of general patterns. To address this challenge, a research collaboration of Indonesian and Dutch academics and NGOs has used interviews as well as extensive collection of newspaper articles and reports to analyse the trajectories and outcomes of 150 conflicts between communities and palm oil companies. Drawing from this unique material, this article presents the general pattern of the anti-corporate activism sparked by the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations, including the causes, the character of protests and outcomes of these conflicts. We find that despite regular and intense protests, most communities failed to get remedy for their grievances. We argue that this limited success is not just due to the inadequacies of legal frameworks but also to the way in which Indonesia’s informalized state institutions foster collusion between powerholders and palm oil companies. Such collusion has facilitated the repression of protests and undermined conflict resolution mechanisms. In response, communities are engaging in particularly ‘rightless’ forms of collective action: instead of invoking legal provisions or rights, communities largely avoid formal institutions while adopting largely accommodative forms of protest aimed at improving their bargaining position vis-à-vis companies.
Land dispossession, indigenous de-territoriality and state aggression in the Philippines
Economic growth, industrialization and urbanization are some of the factors that define the changing social relations surrounding land disputes in Southeast Asia. They also contribute to the protracted events of conflict and violence, which displace communities and dispossess them from their lands. This in turn creates a vacuum of de-territoriality common among the lived experiences of indigenous peoples across the region. This phenomenon is not new to the Philippines, where many displaced and dispossessed indigenous communities are uprooted from their natural and social connections with the environments of their refuge. In all of these, the state, its apparatus and operations determine the trajectories of de-territoriality through two regimes of aggression: development aggression, following the encroachment of government-backed private corporations and capitalist enterprise, and security aggression, following the violent conflicts between the government and armed ideological groups like the National People’s Army, both occurring across indigenous lands. Looking at the case of Pantaron Manobos in Mindanao, Philippines, I demonstrate that the processes of de-territoriality occur through such regimes of state aggression: deterritorialization through terror, which weaponizes fear and trauma to stop government-opposing land claims, and through exclusion, which reproduces a normative culture of discrimination otherizing communities taking refuge in “peace” cities.
The State is Coming – Selective territorialisation of state systems for infrastructure development
Bernardo Ribeiro de Almeida Leiden University
After years of conflict and devastation, Timor-Leste is now in the process of developing basic infrastructure and a national economy as an independent country. Emboldened by oil and gas revenues, Timorese politicians are moving forward large-scale infrastructure projects, proudly call ‘mega-projects’, with which they plan to radically change the natural, social and economic landscape of the country. These projects raise many concerns among national and international observers, including about their economic viability and the government’s capacity to implement them. Land tenure has been at the top of these concerns. The post-colonial, post-conflict, and post-authoritarian history of the country has left many questions regarding land rights in Timor-Leste unanswered. Since independence, little has been achieved in developing a formal land tenure system that can address these past problems, provide tenure security to the majority of Timorese, and clearly regulate expropriation. Despite this gap – or maybe because of it – the government is moving forward with the implementation of these projects.
This paper focuses specifically on the Suai Supply Base, a grandiose state-led infrastructure plan envisioned by former prime-minister Xanana Gusmão, through which he hopes to develop an oil and gas industry in the rural south coast of the country. This case study brings together the different elements and factors that are shaping and limiting the formation of the land tenure system in Timor-Leste. It provides a clear example of the practical consequences of colonialism, occupation and violence on land tenure, and the clash between prevalent customary land tenure systems with the nascent formal one. It showcases the current high-modernistic visions of development of the Timorese political elite, and how the territorialisation of the formal land tenure system is selectively used by them to implement this vision, to the detriment of local populations. It also illustrates the weaknesses of the rule of law and the legal framework, the results of poor lawmaking processes, and the effects of the authoritarian temptation that mark the Timorese political environment. Finally, this paper shows the practices and fragilities of the state and non-state institutions working on land-related issues, and the consequences on the ground for those who cross the path of the state.
Across Southeast Asia economic growth is spurring conflicts over land. Much of that economic growth is highly land-intensive, as the expansion of corporate activities in the sectors such as mining, hydropower, big agro-business (like palm oil or sugar cane), infrastructure or real estate development generate complex processes of land-use change. This expansion is having a massive impact on patterns of land tenure as private corporations as well as government agencies acquire control over land previously used by rural communities. As a growing literature on ‘land grabbing’ details, these processes of land
acquisition often proceed without informed consent nor adequate compensation of affected people.
By bringing together studies of land dispossession from a range of different countries, this panel aims to engage in a comparative discussion of the relationship between states and private capital in the acquisition of rural land. So far, the growing literature on land grabbing has paid limited comparative attention to regional and sectoral variation. Yet there
are many indications that the ‘regimes of dispossession’ (Levien 2018) through which private capital acquires land differs markedly between countries and sectors. State dispossession is, to start, facilitating diverse economic sectors and trajectories of growth in different regions: in some places focused on agriculture and mining, in others urban-industrial land uses. The
law is similarly playing a varied, ambivalent role: while protecting communal land rights in some contexts, legal provisions elsewhere are facilitators of land dispossession. Laws and policies affecting compensation are similarly varied, often reflecting both existing land tenure arrangements, proposed land use changes and the depth of political opposition. And finally, while state-led expropriation is dominant in many contexts, elsewhere corporate actors are more directly involved, sometimes through coarse forms of coercion and fraud, and sometimes in connivance with various decentralized agents (mafias, paramilitaries, and so on). Such variation calls for a comparative analysis of the role of the state in land dispossession. In particular we aim to generate reflection on the causes and consequences of this variation, and its implications for resistance to land grabbing