The Routinization of Protest: Institutionalizing Local Participation

On June 25, 1996 a New York Times article detailed the Nicaraguan government's anger when Awas Tingni, an isolated Sumo Indian community, brought suit before the Organization of American States (OAS) and against the government after it granted a Korean lumber company logging rights to community lands. Another Times article on September 6, 1992 described the Ecuadorian government's "impatience" with Indian land and resource claims in the oil-rich Amazonian rainforest. An OP-ED piece on October 12, 1995 in the Times suggested irreparable environmental damage as local fishermen from Ecuador's Galapagos Islands sought greater local control.

These three cases share several features. Each is on-going, prolonged, highly-publicized, and focused on natural resource disputes. Each also displays local responses to the current development/conservation debate in Latin America. Moreover, each is a request by local people for increased participation in and benefits from recent development initiatives.

The expressed concerns have not gone unheeded. Over the past few years bilateral and multilateral donor agencies have adopted policies designed to alter the historic social and economic subordination of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. The World Bank, the Inter-American Development Ban, and USAID have adopted policies in support of "informed consent" and "local participation" for planning and implementation of projects, and have set aside funds for environmental and indigenous rights initiatives.

National governments have also acted. In 1987, the Nicaraguan government granted autonomy to the Atlantic region that includes Awas Tingni. In 1992 the Ecuadorian government responded to land claims by the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Pastaza province (OPIP) by granting titles to 19 contiguous Indian communities. In March of that year, ARCO oil began formal negotiations with OPIP over local oil extraction. In 1996, a presidential-level, Ecuadorian environmental policy unit included Galapagos fishermen in their planning meetings. Apparently demands for participation were being heard and met.

However, the persistence of protests raises several simple questions. Who is "local"? What is "participation"? How do we understand "benefits"? Failure to understand or even properly frame these questions from the viewpoint of the traditionally "weaker" group - Indians and artisanal fishermen - helps to explain why these development/conservation initiatives are enmeshed in conflict. Approaching such questions builds on some of the recent themes of Cultural Survival Quarterly (e.g. "Conflict, Resources and Culture" and "Voices from the Commons") and illustrates aspects of the applied research undertaken by the Program on Nonviolent Sanctions and Cultural Survival (PONSACS) at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs. The Problem: Development, Conservation, and Structural Asymmetry

Many of the natural resources exploited in Latin America, now and in the future, are situated on lands owned or claimed by indigenous peoples, artisanal fishermen or similarly marginal and often neglected sectors of the national society. As the region moves toward the "Free Trade in the Americas" agreement in 2005, disputes over access to and use of these resources will proliferate and intensify. Traditional use rights will be challenged and latent claims will arise.

Obviously, government and international agencies as well as extractive industries must continue support for regularization and recognition of tenurial regimes and equitable distribution of economic returns. However, continued local conflicts, despite inclusive overtures by such international and national agencies (the historically successful claimants to these rights), raise additional questions and illustrate some of the micro-political factors that complicate efforts to increase local participation.

For some groups, opposition is their reaction to paternalism. Paralleling, perhaps inspiring, the increased concerns over equity and participation expressed by the traditionally "powerful" actors has been a region-wide social movement toward political empowerment, particularly by indigenous groups. Numerous international supporters have publicized the issues and advanced policy changes and international laws.

Other groups, generally individual communities, or individuals have not yet bought into the long-term goals advanced by the larger popular organizations. "Local participation" and "interests," therefore, exist at various levels. These obvious distinctions are rarely factored into planning done at higher levels.

One approach toward more refined analysis is to redefine "participants" as "interest groups" or "stakeholders." The change in lexicon shifts the intial focus away from a simple dichotomy of "designers/managers" and "beneficiaries" toward specific actors and groups. This distinction suggests the prior existence of potentially opposing concerns. One then asks how a particular development or conservation project or plan lands amidst those concerns and perceptions, rather than assuming that concerns over participation and benefits arise after the fact and, what is often more difficult to resolve, after the various actors have taken positions or actions that might alter their ability to shift positions. The Stakeholders

The three illustrative cases draw on two, broad, sharply asymmetric categories of stakeholders. On the lower side of the scale sit forest-dwelling, indigenous, corporate communities and local fishermen. On the other side are the superordinates, government agencies and/or private corporations that seek through decree, concession, or use agreement, either to exploit or to limit access to the resources claimed or appropriated by local groups. The conflicts thus appear as simple, indeed classic, cases of competition over scarce resources in which the weaker generally lose. However, as each conflict has intensified and become more public, each stakeholder group now seeks to negotiate solutions that formally institutionalize some means to establish rules for shared access and use.

The stumbling blocks for agreement lie at the level of local "decision-making arrangements" or, generally, their absence. In each cast it is not so much a matter of disagreement over ends but misunderstandings of the means toward them. Indigenous Groups in Latin America

The regional Indian movement illustrates a significant shift in social action. Despite a history marked by violent collective actions, most of the activities of the current Indian organizations are characterized by nonviolent actions and dispute management approaches that suggest their desire for collaborative institutionalization rather than polarization of relations.

To illustrate, the main "cultural frame" around which much of the indigenous movement has mobilized is their traditional right to land and resources. The material concern for land and resources, however, also serves as a symbolic frame to unify the movement and to create a fulcrum for advancing broader socio-political aims.

One of the widely expressed goals of both the indigenous cases is formal government recognition of broad Indian "territories." Territories are understood to include bundles of rights to broad and extensive forested areas, rather than exclusive individual plots or single-community land titles. Territorial rights - e.g. access, use, resource claims, royalties - are open to negotiation and do not necessarily exclude any form of agreement or limit activities.

Leaders of the regional indigenous movement have used the focus on territories to seek the political parity needed to undertake such agreements. They clearly indicate that they are redefining "participation" to create or expand space within the national political arena. The movement is thus moving consciously and strategically toward opportunities for an "institutional approach" to land and resource rights.

Here, the various stakeholders, drawing on their local knowledge, first seek mutually-negotiated working relations. These are progressively strengthened through interaction and subsequently formalized into policies which are administered through formal governance rules and governing bodies. Violations of the mutually agreed upon rules permit recourse by invoking the policies and seeking support trough the governance system. The logic is that those who understand local nuances and complexities are better able to reach a workable agreement and are in a better position to monitor violations, something which most government agencies or similar superordinate bodies simply cannot do.

Indigenous leaders are fully aware that institutions alone will not easily override existing powers and traditional patterns of domination. However, the cases illustrate that by strengthening local organizations and by similarly increasing negotiating power through a variety of direct and indirect tactics to approach parity - e.g. publicity, technical and legal assistance, strategic national and international alliances, skillful use of symbols and similar nonviolent approaches - the weaker parties can advance empowerment and participation through positive national and international imagery. Organizations versus Communities

The Awas Tingni case appears to be a microcosm of the process described above. However, as illustrated by the OPIP case and many others, there is significant distance and often distrust between the local communities and the newly-formed, broader organizations that claim to express priorities and interests. In part the distance is the product of the movement's actions - poor information dissemination, questions over legitimacy and democratic control mechanisms (see Benavides in this issue). The local organizations, either unaware or distrusting of the motives of a new higher-level leadership, seek short-term benefits - independent agreements, single payments for resource extraction. and/or modest infrastructural improvements. They thus clash with the organizations that suggest forgoing these "trinkets" and "band-aids" as they work to negotiate long-term, often regional, economic returns and otherwise seek to expand political space for the groups. Artisanal Fishermen in Galapagos Islands

The situation of fishermen in the Galapagos appears to contrast noticeably with that of the rainforest residents. Despite the recent appearance of fishing cooperatives, most genuinely cooperative groups are still small boat crews, often in competition with one another. Added to them are individuals who have recently become "fishermen" in response to expanded economic opportunities. There is thus no large, long-standing, easily-mobilized, social sector which resembles the indigenous organizations in rainforest areas.

When the fishermen mobilized to confront restrictions on their activities, some quickly moved to confrontation which bordered on open violence or direct threats to fragile ecosystems. Also, and again in sharp contrast to indigenous organizations, the fishermen did not confront such traditional "bogeymen" as large lumbering or oil companies. They came into conflict with the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Research Station. Thus, they not only failed to obtain the sorts of strategic alliances - environmentalists - which have greatly benefited the Amazonian organizations, but actually confronted these same actors and thus were relegated to the status of environmental pariahs before the international community.

At present, some element of the fishing community expresses strong support for participation in resource decision-making through cooperative institutions. However, these actors have not yet unified or expanded to the extent that they can claim the broad-based legitimacy needed to institutionalize rules and thus sanction individual or group violations or violent acts. In addition, no broad strategic goals have emerged, and most interaction has produced positioning aimed toward entrenched opposition rather than negotiation or the creation of mutual contracts. Nevertheless, strengthening the organizations and increasing participation may be simply a matter of time. Cooperative leaders have recently embraced opportunities for participation in policy planning as a move toward institution-building and opening political space. Cooperatives and Micro-Politics

The developing Galapagos fishermen's cooperatives suggest parallels to the indigenous organizations. However, the cooperatives have not yet overcome or counterbalanced other stakeholder's dissent, factionalism, and divisions. Though present in the indigenous movement, such divisions have not crippled the organizations' image or ability to mobilize large sectors and obtain direct participation in decision-making. By contrast, the cooperatives also remain linked to the sorts of paternalistic political alliances and interests which characterized the early stages of the indigenous movement but are now rejected in many areas, including Ecuador. The fishing community also contains individual entrepreneurs who move in and out to fit personal needs rather than long-term goals. As such, "participation" in any event becomes a matter of debate and subject of dissent.

However, faced with negative imagery and thus with no international economic and political support, some leaders of the fishing community are determined to support long-term gains through negotiations and distance themselves from those who seek short-term profits through rules violations and/or violence. Like the Amazonian and Nicaraguan Indians, these fishermen are now working toward opening broad political space and increasing their participation in a range of activities. The Primacy of Analysis

The overall research goal of the PONSACS program is to illustrate the need for detailed stakeholder analysis. By citing the similarities between these cases we do not pretend to define a single frame for analysis or suggest universal lines for approaching the problem of broad-based participation. The parallels, nonetheless, raise at least one useful analytical distinction.

In Latin America many of the resource holders or claimants are indigenous peoples or groups, such as some artisanal fishermen with long-term presence and patterns of resource use. Many, particularly the Indians in these cases, are culturally distinct from those now seeking access to the resources - e.g. representatives of state agencies or private industry. However, analysis of interests or goals is complicated by the coincidence of cultural differences and structural asymmetry. Culture

In any conflict, beneath individual or group actions and statements, there frequently lies a "hidden grammar" shaped by a group's ideas, values, motivations, customs, rules, priorities and patterns of behavior. However, there is a danger that groups will be considered, treated, and perhaps regarded as political isolates - islands with distinct "cultures." Alternatively, groups can be understood as sectors within plural societies, creating reality by defining social boundaries and differences through interaction with the other sectors of civil society. Latin American indigenous societies, while culturally distinct, are also segments of the region's complex socio-political mosaic. Structural Asymmetry

Indigenous peoples' post-conquest history defines them as economic and political subordinates within the larger national society and, thus, objects of social stigmatization. Here they resemble the artisanal fishermen of the Galapagos Islands. This status strongly influences their perceptions as well as their behavior and interaction. In some public settings, such as meetings or negotiations, that include groups and individuals of varying cultural and socio - economic statuses, they often adopt one of three responses. Each response is at best, unproductive or, at worst, potentially violent. 1 Failure to participate or cooperate or foot-dragging 2 Agreement without compliance or passive participation 3 Violent opposition or posturing.

These potentially ambiguous responses and hidden concerns often complicate efforts to understand "interests." Some disputes only draw attention when they verge on violence. By that time the various actors often adopt explanations that - they feel - will be easily understood by outsiders or will resonate well with particular interests (e.g. environmental degradation, gross human rights violations, economic exploitation). Such explication may draw in useful allies, but it does not necessarily reveal genuine, subjective concerns or interests. This requires an understanding of how groups interpret their situation, whether or not they are working to empower themselves and, if so, the particular "tools" they are using.

Recently, for many groups, asymmetric relations have obtained greater balance through stakeholder initiatives, technical or legal assistance, and technologies that strengthen the group's negotiating position. Practical tools such as geomatics (electronic mapping devices) and techniques associated with Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) have rapidly improved weaker stakeholders' sense of power and control. These tools and techniques enhanced negotiations, enabled subsequent monitoring, and encouraged compliance, particularly when utilized by local groups with relatively strong local organizations.

Many groups have obtained the level of parity needed by weaker stakeholders to minimize resistance and reticence and permit effective negotiation and anticipate compliance. They do not assume that structural asymmetry has been eliminated, simply that contextual asymmetry has been diminished.

In many cases, considering such conditions and how they are interpreted by local actors, illustrates efforts to approach an "institutional" agreement rather than submit to the sort of coercion or co-optation that leaves the weaker party feeling subordinate and/or unwilling to comply with agreements. Case studies illustrate how various local approaches to empowerment can influence the willingness to negotiate, structure the actual negotiations, and effect the ability to produce a nonviolent response in situations that otherwise could have shifted to violence. Summary and Conclusions

The cases involving forest concessions/extractive industries and local indigenous communities in conflicts over natural resources demonstrate some of the local conditions and considerations which have produced or are working towards satisfactory "working arrangements" between culturally and socio - economically distinct stakeholders concerned with rights to and use of land and natural resources. The alternatives and approaches now being sought by indigenous organizations - institutional development, political mobilization, use of geomatic technology, international alliances, and subsequently more balanced negotiations - are now widespread and the prognosis for increased local participation is optimistic. The situation of the Galapagos fishermen may well illustrate the early stages of such a movement, as well as the ubiquitous micro - politics that permeate and persist with the movements.

The cases suggest that: 1) the movement toward institutions explains much of the progress by indigenous in Nicaragua's Miskito Coast and Ecuador's Amazonian region. Conversely, the absence of such institutions is one of the principle obstacles and accounts for many of the problems in the Galapagos Islands; 2) creating such institutions has or could provide much of the structure needed to increase all aspects of local participation and, in the process, manage the conflicts in each area. The process is slow, with much movement back and forth as the less powerful actors seek to position themselves. However, for these weaker actors, the more opportunity to participate in the process represents a step up the political and economic ladder.

The cases mentioned here suggest that it is at the level of decision-making arrangement where participation is muddled and, thus, where conflicts have arisen and must be managed. This requires broad disaggregation of interests and concerns, and attention to micro-political issues, before determining methods for or subsequently declaring equitable "participation." However, in each case there are basic distinctions between those who are simply looking to obtain and quickly consume a piece of the "pie" and those who seek the political space to prepare and regularly divide that pie. Identifying the latter groups is sometimes difficult. However, they will probably become the more constructive participants in any long-term institution. References Anaya, S.J. and T. Macdonald. 1995. Demarcating indigenous lands in Nicaragua. Cultural Survival Quarterly 19(3): 69-73. Barth, F. 1969. Ethnic Groups and Boundaries. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. Oakerson, R.J. 1992. Analyzing the Commons: A framework. In Bromley, D.W. (ed.), Making the Commons Work. San Francisco: ICS Press. Ostrom, E. 1992. Governing the Commons. New York: Cambridge University Press. Sawyer, S. 1996. Indigenous Initiatives and Petroleum Politics in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Cultural Survival Quarterly 20(1): 26-30. Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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