A first lesson, taken strictly from ecological economics and its use of thermodynamic laws, is very telling about the history of resource exploitation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Energy quality and energy surpluses often determine the development of social and cultural patterns, and the unidirectional character of energy can dictate the economic and social arrangements through which wealth accumulation occurs in society.1,2
Consider the unidirectional flow of water (and energy) downstream. Historically, bulky raw materials such as grains, ores, and timber were ‘produced in the hinterland and sent downstream to river mouth cities where those raw materials were combined to produce more valuable goods’.1,2 For this process of ‘upgrading’ matter into highly ordered thermodynamic structures, economic production is established, adding productive value to the economic cycle at each stage of thermodynamic progress.3-5 Great accumulations of wealth occurred in downstream cities, but very rarely did this wealth find its way back upstream. Silver from Potosi (Peru) and Guanajuato (Mexico), gold from Ouro Preto and Minas Gerais (Brazil), sugar cane from Cuba, coffee from Colombia, precious woods (and later sugar) from the Caribbean, and bananas and fruit from the entire Western Hemisphere were sent to the United States and Europe. Resource wealth flowed in one direction, fostered industrial growth in the north, and created a Latin American and Caribbean dependence for technology and goods produced in the industrial north.6-8
More recently it is rare earth metals, oil, and drugs that flow downstream.