Stealing Shining Rivers: Agrarian Conflict, Market Logic, and Conservation in a Mexican Forest

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University of Arizona Press, Dec 1, 2012 - Social Science - 224 pages
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What happens to indigenous people when their homelands are declared by well-intentioned outsiders to be precious environmental habitats? In this revelatory book, Molly Doane describes how a rain forest in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca was appropriated and redefined by environmentalists who initially wanted to conserve its biodiversity. Her case study approach shows that good intentions are not always enough to produce results that benefit both a habitat and its many different types of inhabitants.

Doane begins by showing how Chimalapas—translated as “shining rivers”—has been “produced” in various ways over time, from a worthless wasteland to a priceless asset. Focusing on a series of environmental projects that operated between 1990 and 2008, she reveals that environmentalists attempted to recast agrarian disputes—which actually stemmed from government-supported corporate incursions into community lands and from unequal land redistribution—as environmental problems.

Doane focuses in particular on the attempt throughout the 1990s to establish a “Campesino Ecological Reserve” in Chimalapas. Supported by major grants from the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), this effort to foster and merge agrarian and environmental interests was ultimately unsuccessful because it was seen as politically threatening by the state. By 2000, the Mexican government had convinced the WWF to redirect its conservation monies to the state government and its agencies.

The WWF eventually abandoned attempts to establish an “enclosure” nature reserve in the region or to gain community acceptance for conservation. Instead, working from a new market-based model of conservation, the WWF began paying cash to individuals for “environmental services” such as reforestation and environmental monitoring.

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Practicing Political Ecology in Chimalapas
Section I Time Space Politics
Section II The Emergence of the Environment
Section III The Politics of the Environment
Decentralized Authoritarianism and Accumulation by Conservation in Chimalapas
Appendix A List of Participants
Appendix B Institutional Funding for Maderas del Pueblo between 1991 and 2000
Appendix C Government Agencies in Chimalapas 19952000
Appendix D WWF Funding Lines 19972000
Appendix E Institutional Presence in Chimalapas 20032008

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About the author (2012)

Molly Doane is an assistant professor of anthropology and a faculty fellow at the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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