Protected Areas: From the discourse of Conservation to Nationalization

Protected Areas: From the discourse of Conservation to Nationalization


Genetic engineering turns nature reserves into in situ gene banks and indigenous cultural diversity into local knowledge banks. Consequently, the appropriation of biological wealth is oriented towards control over the territory: the space and its inhabitants.

In recent days, a series of conflicts have arisen around protected areas, generated, in part, by the now former new authority of the National Protected Areas Service and, on the other, by the efforts of those who until recently controlled these areas and the resources channeled on their behalf: some local NGOs, in turn partners of large international NGOs, heavily financed by their governments and that are trying to cover up the great interests that are masked behind the conservation discourse, today situated on the commercial scale, in the private sphere and in the commodification of nature.

When in 1987 the Bruntdland Report, also known as “Our Common Future” launched the concept of “sustainable development” to the world, few could imagine that conservation would become a technocratic concept, whose global policies would limit the margins of the exercise of national sovereignty , promoting the control of genetic resources at the local level and the appropriation of local knowledge and resources, subordinating Nature to the language of capital. Years later the Rio de Janeiro Convention laid the foundations to legitimize and delineate the legal and material transformation on the way to the establishment of private property of life Since then, nature conservation mechanisms have incorporated the direct interests of the service, investment and intellectual property sectors into global conservation strategies (Gallardo, 2003, Leon 2005).

Biological wealth

The complex interconnection between biological diversity and cultural diversity structures the notion of biological wealth. This concept integrates, on the one hand, the concept of biodiversity such as: “the variability of living organisms of any origin including, among others, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; understanding diversity within species, between species and ecosystems. On the other hand, it incorporates human cultural wealth, which is manifested as a hidden knowledge of biological diversity, in the diversity of languages ​​and customs, in religions and rituals, in soil management practices and in the domestication of various organisms, in the management of resources and the environment, in eating and reproductive habits, in textile and architectural elements, and in general, in all the instruments that accompany the daily use of biological diversity (Barreda, 2003, León 2005 ).

This knowledge, which can provide new uses for biodiversity, has recently begun to be valued by large industry and is added to the new uses that arise from the development of technology. So, biological wealth is one of the strategic raw materials in the current period of globalization.

Consequently, the main natural wealth of Latin America, in addition to oil, mining and water, is its biodiversity, the raw material of genetic engineering, the spearhead of the current process of technological innovation. The South American continent is home to the Amazonian tropical forests, the main nucleus or Latin American epicenter of biodiversity. In the Amazon region, the Tropical Andes are the richest region in plant and animal species in the world, of which the northeastern slopes of the Bolivian Eastern Cordillera are part.

In Bolivia, a member of the select group of megadiverse countries, its geographical position and its physiographic and altitudinal characteristics determine the presence of diverse landscapes, ecosystems that are home to great natural biodiversity. It is the only country that has the sources of the great South American basins, such as the Amazon basin and the Paraguay-Pilcomayo (Plata) basin, in addition to the endorheic basin of the Altiplano in the western part. It is a contact zone of large landscapes, basins and environments, which concentrates a biodiversity that is little explored.

New technological developments require knowledge that is still insufficient about the taxonomic classification of biological species, the decipherment of their genetic codes, as well as the understanding of the processes that allow genetic manipulation without causing ecological catastrophes. For this reason, the protection and study of world reserves are financed by the development departments of the governments of the United States, Canada, the European Union, the World Bank, as well as a significant number of transnational companies and NGOs. National and international.

Genetic engineering turns nature reserves into in situ gene banks and indigenous cultural diversity into local knowledge banks. Consequently, the appropriation of biological wealth is oriented towards control over the territory: the space and its inhabitants.

Conservation, Protected Areas and Biological Corridors

In the last decades, new concepts have been developed on the management of the territory such as “hotspots”, (1) “biological corridors”, “conservation networks” that are managed by international organizations. These are conservation clusters (groupings), a strategy that is accompanied by the consolidation of infrastructure for the commercial and productive integration of regions rich in biodiversity in the interests of the transnational market. These conservation projects direct public spaces towards corporate interests.

Biological corridors are developed as part of this global strategy of occupation and control of space, as territories open to the private control of knowledge. They imply the creation of large conservation areas that go beyond national limits and that also require large-scale financing. This is where foundations, bilateral and multilateral agencies intervene with a deployment of impressive technological means, in many cases financed by transnational companies.

One of the characteristics of biological corridors is the decentralization of environmental management. This constitutes a strong threat to the states, since external pressure makes local authorities vulnerable, which are the ones who will have to make important decisions about the management of certain parts of the corridor without anyone, with the exception of international conservation organizations, having a complete overview of corridor management. To this is added the little technical capacity in the environmental area of ​​local governments.

Even when conservation NGOs do not necessarily have some kind of concessions, co-administration contracts or special permits, they have the financial capacity, control over knowledge and resources to lobby local and national governments, to exercise control of the territory where they operate. Only their funding can give an idea of ​​how easy it can be to influence local leaders and authorities, and even national policies and institutions.

As an example of the above: the North American NGO Conservation International received in recent years a donation of 261.2 million dollars for conservation activities, divided into: 121.2 million for biodiversity, 40 million for scientific stations, and 100 million for "corridors ecological ". Likewise, Conservation International suggests that 500 million per year would be an appropriate figure to maintain the first 25 hotspots. (Chapin, Mac 2005).

Conservation International prioritizes work with Hotspots among its lines of action, among which is the "Tropical Andes Hotspot", (2) one of whose priority areas is the Vilcabamba-Amboró Conservation Corridor. The CCVA covers more than 300,000 km2 in a strip along the northeastern flanks of the Andes and includes 16 protected areas (9 in Peru and 7 in Bolivia), including Madidi, Pilon Lajas, Amboró, TIPNIS.

It is about the configuration of a new conception of space management, through conservation initiatives managed by international organizations, (3) with the consequent loss and in some cases, deliberate transfer of sovereignty, framed in global policies of privatization of the biodiversity. This is the case of the Los Amigos concession located northeast of the Amarakaeri Reserve, with an area of ​​1,376 km2. It is a conservation concession granted on July 24, 2001 by the Peruvian Government to the Association for the Conservation of the Amazon Basin (ACCA), for a period of 40 years.

The foregoing allows us to understand why, in March 2002, during the visit of the President of the United States to Peru, the coordination and production of information to the authorities of the United States of America began on the Vilcabamba Amboró Conservation Corridor (Report Final Project for the Improvement and Consolidation of Selected Protected Areas. CI-CEPF. June 2003).

For the large international NGOs, intensive resource extraction activities are not incompatible with the conservation objectives of protected areas. They prefer to believe in the "corporate responsibility" that will make companies use "cutting edge technology". For these international organizations, the most serious impacts caused by an oil or mining company are the so-called “indirect impacts”, that is, the destruction processes produced by local populations that settle around the operations of the companies.

An example of the aforementioned is Decree 24123 that creates the Madidi National Park and Integrated Management Area, promoted, according to Conservation International, by this organization. The. D.S. 24123 establishes and prohibits certain activities that would threaten the conservation of the area. Said activities are: the granting of colonization areas, land endowments, authorization for forest exploitation, authorization for hunting and sport or commercial fishing (Art 7). However, oil exploration activities can be carried out in the integrated management area and in exceptional cases, mining or energy exploitation and infrastructure works, such as the construction of mega-dams or roads, can be developed throughout the area, just condition of compliance with the procedure for obtaining an environmental license. (Art. 10 and 11).

The Conservation International website lists 250 corporations that donated approximately 9 million for their activities in 2003 (Chapin, Mac. 2002). Conservation International also openly promotes the privatization of protected natural areas and is in charge of 60 natural areas throughout the planet (Barreda, 2001).

Another example is that of the TNC (The Nature Conservancy), which has about 1,900 corporate sponsors who in 2002 donated a total of 225 million dollars to the organization. TNC currently manages the BOLFOR II project, among whose strategic objectives is to “support the necessary changes in national forest policy.” TNC is the “largest landowner” in the United States and is also in charge of protected areas such as Montes Azules in Mexico. (Barreda 2001).

Nationalization of protected areas in Bolivia

Environmental issues always involve political positions, whether they are explicit or not. Even in the reductionist position of political neutrality and refuge in technical management, there is hidden a taking of a political position. Therefore, there are no neutral environmental policies, but there will be conservative or progressive policies, some will be traditional and others will be renovating (Gudynas, 2001).

Under this perspective, environmental and protected areas management must be placed until the change of government and the new management, even when the latter is not yet outlined. In this context, the new discourse of "nationalization of protected areas" obviously refers to the recovery of sovereignty over these areas of national territory that have been gradually ceded to international NGOs. Said loss of sovereignty is evidenced by the concepts incorporated into SERNAP management, such as those of biological corridors, hotspots, protected area connectivity, etc., through the definition of policies, management plans, and even the creation of new areas. and the financing of private protected areas, until the fact that several of the main executives of SERNAP passed or arrived from Conservation International.

But perhaps one of the most critical and least visible aspects related to the loss of sovereignty in protected areas is the aforementioned private control of knowledge on biodiversity. Despite the fact that the Convention on Biological Diversity, one of the Rio 92 agreements, establishes the sovereignty of states over their resources, knowledge about biodiversity is practically the exclusive property of international NGOs and foreign institutions. As already mentioned, only they can have a complete overview of the advances in scientific research and discoveries, since they finance, systematize and control them. In the case of Bolivia, there is no mechanism whatsoever to oblige the remuneration of knowledge and in many cases the information they generate is not even available in Spanish and even less published in magazines or national dissemination documents. In this way, the planning of protected areas is subordinated to the realization of management and zoning plans financed and prepared by international NGOs and / or their national partners. The management and zoning plans constitute the management tools that can determine aspects as important as the possibility of executing development projects with low environmental impact and high social impact, the decision to allow extractive activities such as the exploitation of hydrocarbons, mining and even high-impact megaprojects such as hydroelectric dams.

Consequently, the level of intensity of the SERNAP conflict can be understood, on the one hand, by the lack of coherent relationship strategies and action plans consistent with the new policies on protected areas, outlined in the Government Program 2006-2010 that indicates that protected areas constitute an important mechanism for the conservation of biodiversity and that they constitute a common good whose management must be shared between the State and local communities. Consequently, the redesign of SERNAP requires greater conceptual development and the execution of strengthening programs aimed at achieving the social administration of these territorial conservation spaces.

But conflicts must also be understood by the degree of interests at stake. The latter are not limited to oil and mining interests that are restricted, in some cases, within the areas, as is the case of the concessions of Petrobras, Total Final and Repsol in Madidi, Amboró and Tipnis or of Comsur in San Matías. The main interests at stake are those of the global strategic sectors, whose corporations currently make huge profits from biodiversity, such as the pharmaceutical sector, the food industry, agricultural pesticides and biological weapons, and the new economic sectors created by development. biotechnology and the technological revolution, such as genomics, nanotechnology, bioinformatics, the development of biomaterials, neurosciences, robotics, agroterrorism, for which biological wealth has become the essential raw material. These interests are very well represented by the large international NGOs that manage more resources than the income that the country receives from gas exports, obtained to manage spaces in the national territory.

If the current government is determined to manage the biological wealth of the country, it must bear in mind the need to look at all of the juxtaposed strategic resources in the region: hydrocarbons, minerals, biodiversity and water, the transport infrastructure created for their exploitation. and the military presence in the region. Taking into account that nature and biodiversity cannot be built without the social control of collective spaces, it must firmly place the conservation debate around the social control of knowledge and open a political, theoretical and social battle against any mechanism. that silence collective production, make the processes of social construction of knowledge invisible and generate new mechanisms for the loss of geopolitical control.

* Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development -

(1) The concept of Hotspot or Critical Area for Biodiversity was used for the first time in 1988 by the British ecologist Norman Myers, who recognized that the ecosystems of the Critical Areas (most frequently located in tropical forests) cover a small part of the land surface, but they contain a very high percentage of global biodiversity. The two aspects that determine the classification as Critical Areas are the number of endemic species (which are not found elsewhere in the world) and their degree of threat. ( )
(2) Despite the fact that the Tropical Andes Hotspot occupies only sixth place in terms of extension, it is considered the hotspot with the highest number of endemism on the planet ( ).
(3) The North American NGOs that work in the Amazon with the USAID Parks and Protected Areas Program are: The Nature Conservancy (TNC), World Conservation Society (WCS), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Conservation International (CI ). The presence of the German Technical Cooperation GTZ is also very important.

- Efraín León. 2005. Capitalist Revaluation of the Amazon. Geopolitics and strategic management of the Brazilian Amazonian biological wealth. Master's Thesis in Latin American Studies. Postgraduate in Latin American Studies / Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
- Gallardo, Lucia. 2003. The confinement of local space to the guidelines of the world market. Biodiversity Magazine. Separata: The new paths that lead to the privatization of biodiversity. Friends of the Earth Networks. Montevideo.
- Andrés Barreda. 2001. Faced with a widespread privatization in Cuadernos Agrarios, number 21. Mexico.
- Andrés Barreda. Geopolitical analysis of the regional context in Geopolitics of Natural Resources and Trade Agreements in South America. FOBOMADE. Peace.

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