Past contested futures in the Magdalena River basin, Colombia: Political ecologies of hydropower development


My Ph.D. project analyzes the historical transformation of Colombia’s most important river into an active hydropower frontier, the reworkings of the water-food-energy relations it has made possible, and the ongoing, multi-sited power struggles to define the river’s future. It is informed by my previous research experience carried out between 2016-2017 on the conflicting forms of territoriality produced in cooperation, negotiation, and dispute between the Colombian government and Colombian agrarian movements. My CLAS Summer Research objective was to carry out an exploration of the historical underpinnings and legacies of the upper Magdalena river’s first-built dam, the Betania Hydropower Dam (BHD). Originally, my research plan involved ethnographic methods and on-site archival research. It had to be adjusted to cope with the international air travel suspension and other disturbances brought about by the COVID-19 crises. Reimagining my methods and my questions to reflect my research objectives while operating entirely online was a challenging Summer-long endeavor. Thanks to the guidance of so many wonderfully scholars and researchers and to the generous support provided of the CLAS Summer Research Grant, from May to August 2020 I devoted my time to analyze the 1993 documentary “50 años de historia para una sola realidad”, in which the Central Hidroeléctrica de Betania, developer of the BHD, provides a unique insight into the intermingled dynamics of the dam construction and the planning of future hydropower projects in the region. I tracked the sources of information assembled in the video and teased out their historicity and specific temporalities. In doing so, I gained a nuanced perspective on the expectations, disputes, and legacies of the construction of the BHD from the perspective of its main actors. I have recently presented my CLAS-sponsored Summer research findings in the monthly panel “Designing the World: Ethnographies of infrastructure, space and power”, where I received generous commentaries and insightful suggestions about where to direct my future inquiries.

Jesús Alejandro García
Publication date: 
August 30, 2020
Publication type: 
Student Research