Department of Political Science, CSU and CCC Faculty Fellow
Summary: Most Latin American countries have recognized the right to local political autonomy of ethnic communities as well as their potential to conserve important natural resources. Unfortunately, national and sub‐national authorities and institutions have more often than not failed to live by these reforms as a result of conflict, lack of political will, or disinclination to collaborate with local authorities. The study looks at Colombia, where Black and Indian communities have legal rights to over 25 million hectares of tropical forestland, making them authorities of 38% of the country’s forest reserves which constitute about 2% of the world’s tropical rainforests. However, as of 2007 only 18% of the country’s indigenous territories were benefitting from the legal framework that enabled them as local authorities, while the land rights of Afro‐Colombians have been limited by violence and historical discrimination. This constitutes a problem for the welfare of Indian and Black communities in general and for conservation in particular. Local autonomy as promoted by Indian and Black social movements as a strategy to protect their cultures, environments and economies, and some of the more successful local organizations are now sharing knowledge and experience on local governance to support their peers from regions facing ethnic governance problems. In my work as a CCC fellow, I supported a field exchange where an indigenous community recovering 1,300 hectares of deforested land in Cristianía (Antioquia) shared its governance experience with leaders from an Afro‐Colombian community addressing the environmental effects of a hydroelectric company in the Anchicayá River (Valle). The experience reveals firsthand information about leadership and local governance in multicultural regions and intrainstitutional relations in general, and about the challenges facing black communities living in remote areas as their lands are forcefully included in badly devised economic agendas that fail to consider the community’s voice.
Marcela Velasco is assistant professor of Political Science at CSU. She teaches in the field of comparative politics focusing on South America, environmental politics and the political economy of development. Her current research is on local government, territorial politics and Indigenous and traditional black communities in Colombia. Before coming to CSU she taught political science at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.