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Water levels have decreased dramatically in the aquifers that are now in danger of salinization because of overexploitation. Groundwater is of higher quality and its flows can be better regulated than surface water from the Ica River, hence all users seek to gain access to the aquifers. However, the infrastructure required to do so is costly and is mostly only accessible by large-scale agricultural export companies. In spite of this asymmetrical access to water resources, public resistance or opposition to agroindustry remains low among small and medium farmers.
And although many agricultural export companies do not comply with state regulations to conserve water resources, most state sectors continue to support the expansion of agricultural exports. How did the agribusiness elite secure access to valuable groundwater resources to the verge of depletion regardless of the regulatory efforts of the local water authorities Autoridades Locales de Agua or ALAs?
The promotion of a neoliberal extractive model of development by the central government since the s has produced shared interest between the state agricultural and economic sectors and the emerging agribusiness elites. In Ica this coalition has evolved into a political settlement that has incorporated other agricultural producers with the aim of securing political stability and controlling the regional political agenda.
Therefore, the agricultural export companies continue to deplete the aquifers, considered the most relentlessly exploited and damaged in the whole country ANA , while access to groundwater remains unequal. In addition, the Ica case exemplifies the way extractive corporations have gained, with state support, access to local resources at a time of scarcity in the region and throughout Peru Bebbington and Williams , Hoogesteger and Verzijl , Hoogesteger et al. I focus the analysis on the strategies used by the agribusiness elite to establish a political settlement to control groundwater resources.
I draw on evidence from an interdisciplinary research project on state policies and water scarcity. We conducted structured and semistructured interviews and analyzed them using thematic-content and narrative methods. Secondary data was collected from sources that included academic publications, government reports, publicly available videos, newspapers, national legal frameworks, and maps. The period of the analysis spans from the s to I use the concept to describe the political coalition made between the owners of agricultural export firms and the Peruvian Ministries of Agriculture and Economy as a way of promoting an export-based development model in the agricultural sector.
In Ica, this political settlement has enabled agricultural export businesses to increase production through unregulated access to ground water. According to John and Putzel , the political settlement can be observed in the structure of property rights and entitlements, on the one hand, and in the regulatory structure of the state on the other.
In Ica, the political settlement is manifest in the structure of land ownership, in state regulations around groundwater extraction for agribusiness, and in the power of the agribusiness elite to avoid these regulations.
Political settlements are reached through a process of negotiation between different actors, including state agencies. Therefore, the state is not considered a monolithic entity but as an arena of contention where different actors and sectors struggle for power Migdal In the case of Ica, the political settlement includes some state sectors, primarily the national Ministries of Agriculture and Economy, while excluding others including environmental agencies within central government and regional agencies responsible for regulating water.
This particular political settlement has driven economic growth and it has achieved this by undermining official regulations. More inclusive settlements, which incorporate a larger range of actors, tend to be more stable than exclusive ones where competition for power could emerge from excluded elites.
Likewise, the vertical distribution of power, that is, the power balance between higher and lower factions within the coalitions, may also affect stability. Furthermore, the greater the power of higher over lower factions, the greater the top-down enforcement within the coalition and vice versa Khan , unpublished manuscript.
Indeed, in Ica the inclusion of locally powerful WUAs into the political settlement has provided stability to the coalition by providing a mechanism for the elite to suppress opposition. Hydrosocial power In his classic work Oriental Despotism, Wittfogel explains how in agrarian societies, states have typically exercised their power through control over water resources. For the author, states have increasingly concentrated their power through building and managing irrigation mostly in semiarid ecosystems.
There has been several critiques of Oriental Despotism for its environmental determinism in defining hydraulic societies Livingston and its technological determinism in associating irrigation systems with authoritarian political rule Mitchell , Davies Following this dialogical understanding, I identify hydrosocial power through the interaction between power and water control.
As such, the concept of hydrosocial power can be broadened to include nonstate actors. In the case of Ica, a coalition between the agribusiness and government elite along with some local actors has developed strategies to increase its control over scarce groundwater resources.
That is, the coalition has increased its hydrosocial power through the exercise of three interrelated dimensions of power: economic capacity, technical knowledge, and coercive capacity. Economic capacity Economic capacity refers to the availability of the financial capital necessary to acquire the means of production and labor force and to generate profit.
In terms of agricultural exports in Ica, the principal means of production are land and groundwater, as well as the technology and infrastructure necessary for accessing these resources, for example, boreholes, drip and sprinkler irrigation systems, and large-scale water infrastructure. In a context where access to groundwater is conditioned by the financial capital of its users, economic capacity translates into hydrosocial power that is accumulated by and concentrated in few hands.
From a poststructural perspective, Foucault analyzes how hegemonic discourses and their espousers elevate themselves over other forms of discourse and actors, thereby claiming the right to name and classify things. In the case of water, the techno-scientific approach has become hegemonic and is manifest in discourses around efficiency and rationality that both legitimize the economic valuation of water while sidestepping other kinds of use and value Boelens et al. The notion of knowledge-power reveals the importance of the production of knowledge to legitimize certain views, approaches, and actions, and to create objects of intervention with the purpose of establishing control Foucault , Agrawal In Ica, the agribusiness elite have shaped a discourse around water efficiency to position themselves as leaders above the government and other producers.
This self-legitimization enables the elite to justify their priority position and control of water resources. Coercive capacity Coercive capacity is understood as the ability of certain actors to constrain the behavior of others through repressive means Bourdieu and Passeron , Springer This conceptual framework highlights two key characteristics of groundwater scarcity in Ica.
First, the political settlement between certain state sectors and agricultural export elites has laid the foundation for private water control through strategies that contravene official regulations and undermine government institutional power. Second, this political settlement has created a favorable realm for agribusiness elites to establish and sustain multidimensional power structures that facilitate control over scarce resources.
Social transformations and political conflicts triggered processes of migration and displacement from the highlands to the main cities located in the coastal regions. In addition, main industries and agribusiness have flourished in such regions, increasing the demand for water resources. Urbanization and economic growth have laid the foundation for water scarcity in the coastal regions such as Ica. The owners of these plantations were part of the Peruvian oligarchy that constituted the ruling elite.
In Ica, the government distributed expropriated land to new state-sponsored agricultural cooperatives that grouped together former hacienda workers.
During this whole period, water was first managed by the hacienda owners, then by the cooperatives and finally by water user organizations. No new powerful elite was formed after the fall of oligarchic rule in the region. Since the s, the Peruvian state has enacted different water management laws to regulate the relationship between state agencies and water users.
These water user organizations mainly grouped together small and medium sized farmers and were responsible for coordinating the management of irrigation water from the Ica River and the La Achirana channel with state water authorities. Since the turn of the century, these water associations have witnessed the gradual settlement of agricultural export companies in the region.
These new businesses have increased the quantity and quality of agricultural export production by dramatically expanding irrigation across existing and new areas using groundwater supplies.
In , the central government set up a new institutional structure for water management with the national water authority ANA at the top of the system and local water authorities ALA at the bottom. Currently, the ANA officially operates as an independent institution that forms part of the Ministry of Agriculture.
Currently the main actors in water politics in Ica are the WUAs, representing small and medium-sized local farmers, the GUBs, which represent the agricultural export companies, and the state, represented by national and regional water authorities the ANA and ALAs and central state authorities. The Ministries of Economy and Agriculture wield particular influence in the region because they are responsible for approving large-scale infrastructure projects and for establishing regulatory frameworks.
The agribusiness elite in Ica are global political players; they have transnational financial interests, significant political presence within central and regional government, and maintain a powerful local presence through the GUBs. Political settlement of water management The current situation in Ica constitutes a political settlement with a clearly dominant actor, the agribusiness elite, which upholds its interests through various means.
Both entrepreneurial and state actors promote a market economy that privileges large-scale production and extraction for the global market over other development alternatives. The political settlement is based on a shared ideology: a neoliberal extractive model of development in which private interests trump state regulatory authority in the name of economic growth.
An illustrative example of this shared vision for national development through extractivism is the role of the regional Governor of Ica who has made the promotion of agroindustry the platform for his political career. Governor Well, a major constraint in Ica is water. This vision is supported by the affirmation that the agricultural export elite possesses superior technical knowledge and is therefore better able to manage scarce water resources.
No such investment was offered to support small and medium sized farmers who produce for the regional and national markets, despite this group representing the majority of farmers in Ica.
In recent history, 11 out of 26 Ministers of Agriculture and Irrigation were directly or indirectly associated with large-scale agribusiness throughout Peru see Table 1. Although these ministers have acted as board members, presidents, and consultants for important agricultural export firms, none of them has come from the smallholder agricultural sector.
Indeed, WUAs in Ica have been very active in demanding changes to state-sponsored projects to restore the aquifer because it was felt these would only benefit the agricultural export companies. Although the agribusiness elite cite the positive impacts of agroindustrial farming for economic development to demand water for their lands, it has become clear that in isolation no significant progress could be made in terms of infrastructure in the region.
In this context, negotiating with the WUAs was necessary to bring them into the pact. As a result, the political settlement in Ica has been broadened beyond just the elite and state actors. By incorporating the WUAs into the political settlement, the agricultural export sector has been able to pursue its goals without facing opposition. The capacity of the elite to enforce their decisions on lower factions in the political coalition relates to their capacity to concentrate and legitimate hydropower.
Yet this is only part of the story. As shall be explained, the agribusiness elite has accumulated the power not only to avoid state regulation but also to exercise violence against local government authorities. In practice, they have gained the power to freely extract water from the aquifer regardless of ecological concerns. Even scientific studies showing that that agribusiness is depleting valuable groundwater resources have not led to public unrest. The concentration, exercise, and legitimization of hydrosocial power in Ica In Ica, the agribusiness elite has used economic capacity, technical knowledge about water efficiency, and coercive capacity to consolidate power and control groundwater resources in a region with water scarcity.
Economic capacity Along the coastal deserts of Peru agricultural production is intrinsically associated with the extraction of groundwater, the use of which was practically unregulated until when the National Water Resources Law was enacted.
Given that the installation of boreholes requires a great deal of financial investment, it was the large-scale agricultural export firms who most benefitted from Decree Law This Decree enabled export firms to gain access to large areas of land for cultivating asparagus, grapes, and paprika.
Because of increasing international demand during the s, land initially acquired by agricultural export firms became insufficient. As a result, large-scale farmers from the Valle de Ica decided to enlarge their properties through the download or leasing of adjacent plots of land from ex-cooperatives and small to medium-scale farmers. Between and , while agricultural land ownership between and hectares increased by Agricultural expansion put pressure on water availability in Ica and drove the search for additional groundwater sources.
Increasing demand was met in different ways, either through the download of dilapidated wells that were subsequently repaired, the download of land with pre-existing wells in order to transfer extraction rights, or by drilling new boreholes Damonte et al.
In the s, the agribusiness elite of Ica formed user committees juntas de usuarios to support the implementation of aquifer renovation projects by the central government. Meanwhile, the state, which was less interested in investing public funds in large-scale infrastructure projects, but keen on attracting private investments, devised a way of carrying out these projects.
Under this new model, water infrastructure projects were required to generate profit through the collection of payments from users.
I am the one who is damaging the aquifer, I am overexploiting. So if my business has already depleted water resources, do I want the state to build the whole project for me? The language used by the JURS official is one of responsibility and is based on the role that large water users play in the depletion of the aquifer.
In fact, the APP not only aims to secure private support for infrastructure projects but also to ensure that agricultural export companies take responsibility for their actions in the pursuit of economic development. For example, the APP model requires private companies to demonstrate they are technically and financially capable of restoring aquifers through improved water management.
The constitution of hydrosocial power: agribusiness and water scarcity in Ica, Peru
Nevertheless, the execution of new infrastructure projects under the APP arrangement may provide a new way for the agribusiness elite to consolidate control over groundwater, by restricting access to those users who can afford the payments. Recently, these infrastructure projects have been under public scrutiny since the uncovering of corruption cases in relation to large infrastructure project biddings during the last decades in the country Durand Water efficiency is understood by the private sector as using the least possible quantity of water to yield the largest possible output, and is thus associated mainly with economic rationality.
As the JURS representative explains: Now Ica has given Peru a boost, positioning itself as the principal region for agricultural exports and drawing attention from the whole coastline from Tumbes to Tacna.
Who is bigger? The government? Not this one, nor the previous one, nor the one before that. It was the private businessmen, the private sector. There was a center for wine making that had been left abandoned and the state did nothing, successive governments did nothing and did even less about irrigation.
The JURS official expresses a view shared among private businesses and civil servants, that the state is unable to efficiently manage water for agriculture production. Thus, only the private sector - thanks to its financial capacity and technical knowledge - can boost agricultural production.
Given that there is a lack of public policy for regulating water use and that water resources are scarce in Ica, the installation of irrigation systems by agricultural exporters has been met with sympathy by the state, despite the fact that ongoing agricultural expansion means that overall water use has actually increased ANA Efficiency has therefore become a mere buzzword that has simply enabled the agribusiness elite to impose its interest over state and public concerns.
As one official from the JUASVI explains: Surface water management involves many elements that have not been correctly dealt with by the relevant organizations, so we have had to get involved because surface water management can influence the aquifer recharge positively or negatively.
Their self-defined superior technical capacity and knowledge have positioned the agricultural export companies as the benchmark in groundwater management in the region. For example, the JUASVI was responsible for conducting one of the first water well surveys in Ica, even before the first government survey of , and for the creation of an open data system on precipitation and reservoir levels in the upper part of the watershed.
The GUB has also executed its own aquifer recharge projects including the construction of infiltration pools. The GUBs in Ica are powerful social actors with sufficient authority to negotiate and set the agenda with the state. On more than one occasion, the JUASVI has attempted to carry out technical studies entrusted to the National Water Authority by negotiating interinstitutional cooperation agreements.
These attempts, however, have not yet been successful because of resistance from individual officials who reject private meddling in public affairs. We continue to clean the [irrigation] channels in order to supply those recharge areas, we hire the personnel, we recharge day and night the moment there is water.
We have the systems to measure the water that enters, the water flows, the times; we work with SENAMHI the national meteorological and hydrological agency data on evaporation to effectively recharge.
I say, oh my God! In a context where the techno-scientific approach to water is predominant, the agribusiness elite incorporates discourses around efficiency and rational use regarding their productive practices, thereby legitimizing themselves as the authoritative actor in order to establish a benchmark for water management.
In a region like Ica where water stress exists, the efficiency discourse actually trivializes the problem, defining it not as the decrease in groundwater availability due to overexploitation by agribusiness, but rather as the consequence of inefficient irrigation practices carried out by small-scale farmers.
In doing so, the agricultural export elite validates its right to control and uncontrollably consume underground and surface water in Ica. Coercive capacity Despite the creation of legal frameworks to protect the aquifer, the agribusiness elite has repeatedly circumvented regulations set by local water authorities and repressed attempts by ALA inspectors and civil society to monitor the situation.
As was the case of the water well surveys, the agricultural exporters have used their status as owners of large swathes of private property to prevent oversight by ALA personnel. This was the case, for example, when the state wanted to carry out a survey of water wells and was prevented from gaining access. As a result of their demands, previous notification is now required for control visits. In fact, claims of abuse of authority have become an institutionalized response from agribusinesses in an attempt to resist the regulation of groundwater use.
In the end, they never opened the doors, but they have reported us.
And sometimes we, as an authority, have felt powerless clashing with them, not being able to act according to our duties. During these appeals, agribusinesses have benefited from administrative errors made by civil servants or during the formulation of the indictment.
A common outcome has been the reduction or cancellation of the fine. Agricultural exporters claim that the use of violence is legitimate to defend private property. Inside and around their estates, the agricultural exporters rule.
In this context, the ALA personnel are vulnerable to physical aggression while trying to carry out their duties. So we are currently using a different strategy; when access is denied we prepare a report, notify the infringer, and, meanwhile, take the precautionary measure of requesting the judge issues an entry order.
Undoubtedly, the impossibility of regulating users or even encouraging their self-regulation contributes to the continuing depletion of the aquifer and to the accentuation of water scarcity across the region.
The capacity of the elite to exercise its hydrosocial power is tied to the stability of the political settlement it has established. Two trends may jeopardize this political coalition.
If this were to happen, agricultural export companies would migrate to other places while local actors would advocate for changes to current state policies. On the other hand, changes in political structures and functions of the state may result in modifications to the balance of power affecting the capacity of the elite to avoid state regulation, for example, if the environmental sector were to gain political influence thereby increasing its effectiveness in enforcing regulations.
In any case, it is clear that without sufficient public regulation and scrutiny the political dominance of the agribusiness elite will continue to pose environmental and political risks.
The economic capacity of large agricultural export companies in Ica enables them to extract the water required to develop their business even in a semiarid environment where this resource is scarce. They have been able to occupy privileged locations to access the aquifer, download old wells or drill new ones, implement mechanized irrigation systems, extract groundwater with no proper regulation, and have even influenced the state to allocate its limited budget in support of infrastructure projects designed mainly to recharge the aquifers they are depleting.
Under this extractive development model, large companies in Ica are able to expand their economic capacity regardless of social and environmental concerns. Several studies analyze the way technical knowledge around water has been used as a powerful instrument for political dominance Worster , Boelens and Doornbos , Boelens and Vos , Guevara , Boelens In the Ica case, the agribusiness elite uses this knowledge-power to gain control over local resources and in particular to throw into question state capacity to effectively regulate groundwater extraction by agricultural export companies.
This discourse is not imposed, but rather reproduced by the elite, the state, and WUAs; it is accepted as a truth and as such is a discourse of power. In addition, the capacity of the elite to use repressive mechanisms enables them to evade oversight and regulation by the state regarding its use of groundwater resources. The privatization of the use of violence is not a new phenomenon but what is less common is that companies exercise the power of physical violence against government officials.
The case of Ica also demonstrates the idea of the state as a fragmented entity and shows how private actors do not necessarily need to capture the entire state to subordinate its authority. However, Ica is not a one-sided story in which the entrepreneurial elite captures the state Durand or local actors struggle against corporations.
In this article, I have presented a scenario where state sectors and water user associations accept the dominance of the agribusiness elite based on the shared neoliberal assumption that the agroexport private companies naturally have more financial and technical capacities to manage groundwater. Some discrepancy has been shown by representatives of local water authorities who try to exercise their regulatory functions but end up being coerced by the agribusinesses.
These findings contribute to ongoing discussions by showing how different and sometimes competing interests and political positions coexist inside the state Migdal , Corbridge et al. Maintaining an ideological consensus with the state enables the agribusiness elite to do so in the name of economic development. This development model is not specific to Ica because similar examples can be found across Latin America Yacoub et al.Boelens, editors.
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This ban was endorsed, extended, and strengthened on different occasions as part of efforts by the National Water Authority Autoridad Nacional de Agua or ANA to halt the overexploitation of the aquifer and manage its recovery. Sometimes, as with the one for apparently dodged the turbulent student riots of the as into the well-defined ones of a thirtyish woman. Neoliberalising violence: of the exceptional and the exemplary in coalescing moments.
In Ica, the agribusiness elite have shaped a discourse around water efficiency to position themselves as leaders above the government and other producers. A common outcome has been the reduction or cancellation of the fine. Economic capacity Economic capacity refers to the availability of the financial capital necessary to acquire the means of production and labor force and to generate profit.
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