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Karl H. Offen - The Territorial Turn: Making Black Territories in Pacific Colombia - Journal of Latin American Geography 2:1 Journal of Latin American Geography 2.1 (2003) 43-73

The Territorial Turn:

Making Black Territories in Pacific Colombia

Department of Geography, University of Oklahoma
Over the last decade, a wide range of global forces have combined to promote the territorial titling of collective lands to indigenous and black communities in the lowland tropics of Latin America. This marks an unprecedented turn in land titling and reform in the hemisphere. In this paper, I describe the territorial turn in collective land titling in the Pacific region of Colombia. In particular, I describe the World Bank-funded Natural Resource Management Program's effort to demarcate and title some 5 million hectares of national lands to black community councils in Pacific Colombia since 1996. In so doing, I examine how environmental, human rights, and multilateral lending interests have come together over the last few decades to strengthen ethnic rights to collective lands throughout the Latin American lowlands. Although it is too early to make definitive assessments, I argue that the machinations of the World Bank-funded project interacted in very complex and significant ways with how black social movements instituted a novel ethnic-territorial relationship. The project has widespread implications for black and indigenous territorial aspirations throughout the lowland tropics and for better understanding how identity and territory constitute one another.
Pacific Colombia; rural blacks; World Bank; territory.


Throughout the lowland tropics of Latin America, a new form of territorial governance is taking shape. While it is too early to fully assess the implications of this, the process is likely to affect geographic change for decades to come. The new mode of spatial organization varies from place to place, but generally involves some form of administrative devolution of territory to indigenous and, to a lesser extent, black peoples who have historically claimed it. Some of these new territories are larger than Rhode Island and contain the most biodiverse places remaining on the planet. Many are forming in Amazonian countries such as Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and the eastern water-sheds of Central America. This reconfiguration of national territory and the power-sharing arrangements being negotiated for territorial governance are quite recent and in dramatic contradistinction to past approaches to indigenous and black land claims in the lowland tropics. After centuries of ignoring, wishfully controlling, concessioning off, or "opening up" these ostensibly "unoccupied national lands" (tierras baldías), many Latin American governments now recognize indigenous and black land rights and have set out to demarcate and collectively title their claims.

The legal framework initiating these changes reflects important constitutional reforms that have redefined Latin-American countries as multiethnic and pluricultural: seventeen such reforms have swept Latin American countries since 1987 (Van Cott 2000a; 2000b). Motivations for these reforms are tied toa wide constellation of internal and external [End Page 43] forces, including bottom-up localized pressures for social change and top-down global pressures for political-economic reform. The former are part of the "new" social movements— movements based around interests such as indigenous rights, gender, or the environment rather than class—that have put forth an alternative vision of democratic society in Latin America (Alvarez, Dagnino and Escobar 1998). These social movements are characteristically transnational, whereby global and local social organizations reinforce mutual interests (Brysk 2000). Global pressures come in the form of multi- and bilateral aid and lending organizations whose policies have changed to reflect the end of the Cold War, global environmental issues, and a stated concern for human rights (Brysk 1997; Gros 1997; Yashar 1999; Van Cott 2001).

Underscoring the advancement of ethnic rights and the new territoriality in Latin America has been the 1989 promulgation of the International Labor Or-ganization's Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO 169).2 A revision of its 1957 assimilationist convention No. 107, ILO 169 puts pressure on governments to recognize indigenous peoples' traditional lands and to grant indigenous peoples some form of administrative autonomy (Tomei and Swepston 1996). The specific ways that ILO 169 defines collective cultural rights have influenced the language of indigenous and black territorial demands, Latin American constitutional reforms (Van Cott 2000a, 2001), World Bank operational directives (Davis 1993; Gray 1998), and other international conventions such as the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity (Gray, Parellada, and Newing 1998). Most notably, once ratified, ILO 169 takes on the force of domestic law and provides indigenous and, increasingly, black groups legal leverage to hold national governments accountable for their actions and inactions (Plant 2000). Regionally, the impacts of ILO 169 have been substantial because 12 of the 17 countries that ratified it are Latin American.3

As "ethnic communities" distinct from the national culture, many rural blacks who are able to demonstrate a history of customary tenure arrangements often emulate indigenous strategies for land recognition (Thorne 2001). The Pacific region of Colombia provides a case in point. In order to address calls for democratic reforms in a country torn apart by 40 years of civil war, Colombia elected a constituent assembly and changed its constitution in 1991.4 Although the constitution did not set out to address ethnic issues per se, it redefined the country as multiethnic and pluricultural. Backing up rhetoric with deeds, the new constitution's Transitory Article 55 (AT-55) required Congress to pass a law granting "black communities" (comunidades negras) of the "Pacific watershed" collective property titles to the rural and riparian areas that they occupy "in conformity with their traditional systems of production." As a result of AT55, Law 70 was passed two years later. Law 70 guarantees black communities of the Pacific "territorial rights." By 1995, procedural Decree 1745 required a multitude of governmental institutions and agencies to work together to demarcate and title black territories to representative community councils (consejos comunitarios). Required by law to receive a title, the councils were newly created ethno-territorial and political entities required to solicit and administer the new territories. Between 1996 and May of 2003, the Colombian government demarcated and titled 122 black territories. These territories enclose over 4.5 million hectares, contain 1,250 black communities, and represent 270,000 people (Figure 1). Size and population vary dramatically; one territory contains as few as 30 people living in a single community, while the largest territory contains 30,000 people in 90 different communities and encompasses more than a half million hectares. Not yet complete, the project is already among the most ambitious and radical territorial re-orderings ever attempted in Latin America (Table 1). [End Page 44]

 Territorial entities in Pacific Colombia as of May 2003. Sources IGAC and INCORA 2002; INCORA 2003a.
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Figure 1
Territorial entities in Pacific Colombia as of May 2003. Sources IGAC and INCORA 2002; INCORA 2003a.

Perhaps more surprising still, the en-part. But more than money wedded the tire process was funded by $3.25 million World Bank to this project. As an instiof a $39 million loan provided by the tution, the World Bank played an impor-World Bank to the Colombian govern-tant role in legitimizing black demands ment in 1994. The loan initiated the by ensuring the passage of Law 70 and Programa de Manejo de Recursos Naturales, or funding consultations leading up to the the Natural Resource Management Pro-important procedural Decree 1745. This gram (NRMP), of which collective land development is all the more interesting titling of black territories was a small in Colombia because rural black communities [End Page 45] had no tradition of expressing their political demands in the form of ethnic or territorial claims. The impetus for traditional land recognition as an 'ethnic territory' came, essentially, from Law 70 and the bottom-up and top-down pressures that got the law to specify the nature of territorial rights in the first place. The process of negotiating the meaning of these territorial entities is still in progress, but some results speak for themselves: over the last seven years a convergence of interests have come together to ensure that 4 percent of Colombia's national territory has been titled to rural black communities who, for the previous 500 years, enjoyed no territorial rights whatsoever.

 Collective land titles of black communities adjudicated and under review by INCORA as of May 2003. Source: INCORA 2003a, 2003b.
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Table 1
Collective land titles of black communities adjudicated and under review by INCORA as of May 2003. Source: INCORA 2003a, 2003b.

Colombia's case is not entirely unique; the legal recognition of black land rights is steadily gaining Constitutional reform in Ecuador granted Afro-Ecuadorians collective rights to their ancestral lands. The World Bank gave these rights meaning when it linked ancestral lands to what it called "ethno-development," projects intended to build "on the positive qualities of indigenous cultures and societies, including a sense of ethnic identity, close attachments to ancestral land, and the capacity to mobilize labor, capital, and other resources to promote local empowerment and growth" (WB 1997:5). The Indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian Peoples Development Project is the first World Bank project in Latin America intended solely for 'ethno-development' (Marquette 1996; Partridge, Uquillas and Johns 1996; Van Nieuwkoop and Uquillas 2000). Brazil has also borrowed World Bank money to title lands claimed by former quilombos, or momentum throughout Latin America. autonomous communities of runaway Rural blacks in Ecuador and Brazil have slaves. Since Brazil's constitutional also received collective land titles, while change in 1988, 724 remnant quilombos similar titling projects are underway in have been identified, with 259 of them Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, and located in the northeastern state of Belize (Thorne 2001). As in Colombia, Bahia. These formerly autonomous terri-the World Bank has played a critical role tories are estimated to contain 500,000 in moving the process along.5 The 1998 people, twice the number of Brazil's indigenous [End Page 46] population. Although titling in Brazil is slow due to the arduous ethnohistorical evidence necessary for processing, some 35,000 people have received 22 titles totaling 366,973 hectares (Véran 2002). In Nicaragua and Honduras, the World Bank forcibly linked loan guarantees for national land administration projects to concerted governmental efforts to address indigenous, black, and Garífuna land claims in their Caribbean regions (Dana 1998; Gordon, Gurdián and Hale 2003; Offen 2003). These Central American projects are also tied up with a broad range of schemes funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), especially the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC)—a multidimensional project seeking to link and expand protected areas across national boundaries throughout the isthmus's Caribbean slope, but in direct overlap with indigenous and black land claims.6

In this paper I explore the forces driving ethnic territories in the lowland tropics of Latin America, and specifically the process of forming black territories in Pacific Colombia—a region known locally as el pacífico (the Pacific). I use secondary literature and institutional reports to describe how black territories came to be in the Pacific, and how globalized institutions and their agendas shape a discursive relationship between identity and territory. I also discuss how different literatures have approached this subject differently. Academics have examined the territorial transformations in Pacific Colombia by emphasizing the role of newly formed black social movements (Escobar and Pedroza 1996; Escobar 1997, 1998, 2000; Restrepo 1997; Villa 1998; Grueso, Rosero, and Escobar 1998; Oslender 1999, 2000, 2003; Hoffmann 2000; Wade 2002a). These writers articulate how black movements filled political spaces created by the new constitution of 1991, and how they contributed to a new political ecology by forming ethno-territorial organizations required by Law 70. Other studies, often produced with global or national institutional support, have emphasized instead the interaction between legal and institutional reforms, and particularly the role of the World Bank in creating the social spaces and political climates that nurtured the rise of black social movements and insured their participation. I try to reconcile these diverging approaches by locating community land titling in Pacific Colombia within what I see as a broader turn toward defining and creating ethnic territories throughout the lowland tropics of Latin America. Following clarification of what I mean by "the territorial turn," I introduce the unique characteristics and historical geography of Pacific Colombia. The following section chronicles the development of black territorial demarcation and titling in Pacific Colombia in relation to bottom-up pressures and top-down reforms. A concluding discussion then contextualizes the territorial turn within broader issues of territory, identity, and environmental governance in regions characterized by high poverty and high biodiversity.

The Territorial Turn

The distinction between a land and a territorial claim is important. Rural people have material, symbolic, and spiritual attachments to the land that supports their livelihood, and a given land claim might be buttressed by an enunciation of these attachments. Yet, by itself, a land claim does not challenge the existing rules and regulations that govern property rights. A territorial claim is different; it demands an alteration of the rules. Territorial claims are not simply a land or collective property claim that seeks to 'plug into' the existing institutional arrangements governing private property. Territorial claims are about power, an assertion of identity, autonomy, and a measure of control over encompassed natural resources. In Latin America, territorial claims based on "ethnic rights" also represent a critique of the official myth of the mestizo, or mixed-race, nation [End Page 47] and its effacing twin, mestizaje, an ideology that denies the existence of ethnic and cultural difference while simultaneously discriminating against it (Wade 1993, 1995). Territorial claims, thus, seek to impose a new territoriality within "national space" to redefine a people's relationship to the state. The legal recognition of territorial rights and a territorial title promise to enact this new relationship.

For Robert Sack, territoriality is "a spatial strategy to affect, influence, or control resources and people, by controlling area...[as a] basis of power... related to how people use the land, how they organize themselves in space, and how they give meaning to place" (1986:1,2). What makes territorial demarcation so important in Latin America is that, following Sack, "how people give meaning to place," as well as how "they organize themselves in space" are mutually constitutive of the processes through which territories are struggled over, legally conceived, physically demarcated, and cartographically represented. Place meanings and spatial organizations are not ontological givens but are bound up with the lived experiences that give them sustenance. Thus, place meanings and the social networks woven through them can never be separated from the political process seeking their territorialization. Livelihood practices, vernacular idioms of place, and the cultural cadences rooted in landscape mediate any cultural notion of territory, and are consequently entwined with the political strategies seeking territorial realization. Moreover, for rural folk in Latin America, place experiences and notions of territory are imbued with struggle, conflict, and violence, as well as a history and memory of those experiences. For rural blacks in Latin America, this means slavery, self-liberation, and "invisibility" in the national culture (Arocha Rodriguez 1998a). All these factors come in to play as territory and territorial rights take on new meanings and opportunities. What is at issue, then, in understanding what I am calling the territorial turn in the lowland tropics of Latin America, is not just land or who gets what land, but rather, as Arturo Escobar puts it, "the concept of territoriality itself as a central element in the political construction of reality" (1998:72).

To fully understand how the idea of territory, as a form of collective property engendering rights extending beyond existing private property relations, has become not only "the claim of choice" among many indigenous and black organizations, but also that of global financial institutions, we need to appreciate the convergence of interests underscoring the territorial turn. In other words, we need to answer the following questions. Why has the World Bank—an institution which just 15 years ago galvanized human rights and environmental activists to condemn its projects—taken up the banner for biodiversity conservation "as one of the most pressing issues facing humankind today" (Horta 2000:179)? Conversely, why is the World Bank funding the institutionalization of indigenous and rural black territories in the lowland tropics of Latin America? Why are many environmentalists and international NGOs rejecting protected area models that exclude native residents in favor of working with and through them? How has the proliferation of participatory mapping projects (Herlihy and Knapp 2003) affected the linkage between territory and identity, and hence territoriality? How have human rights groups infused their strategies with the notion that cultural rights require safeguarding access to traditional lands and resources? In short, why have many of the historically antagonistic entities in Figure 2 converged around the demarcation of indigenous and black territories?

The short answer to these questions is relatively simple: various groups have mobilized to ensure that their interests receive attention within global environmental and indigenous rights agendas. A full treatment of the longer answer is beyond the scope of this paper, but would involve several components. The first is the realization by global institutions and environmentalists that local people possess [End Page 48]

The increasing convergence of groups and their interests that are pushing for demarcation of indigenous and black land and territories during the 1990s.
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Figure 2
The increasing convergence of groups and their interests that are pushing for demarcation of indigenous and black land and territories during the 1990s.
[End Page 49]

important environmental knowledge about the places they inhabit. Second is the realization that any attempt to protect 'the home' of local residents without their direct participation and empowered involvement will fail. As such, many recalcitrant conservationists now accept the need to include some genuine and sustained social justice for conservation to succeed (Stevens 1997; Zerner 2000; Offen 2004). With the adoption of ILO 169, as discussed above, the insertion of social justice into conservation projects is also the law in many Latin American countries. A third thread would need to fully analyze the ways in which NGOs mutually interact with indigenous and black peoples and their organizations (Brysk 2000; Perreault 2003). The transnational activist network and the "NGOization" of the indigenous and black rights movement are among the most important forces helping to expand land rights, land claims, and political autonomy in Latin America today.

The changing role of technology is an important dimension of the territorial turn. While new media technologies facilitate transnational partnerships, the proliferation of geomatic technologies and techniques via those same partnerships has played an equally important role in affecting indigenous and black spaces (Poole 1998; Dana 1998; Chapin and Threlkeld 2001; Herlihy and Knapp 2003). There are several sides to this. On the one hand, global positioning systems and western cartographic techniques have been used by environmentalists working with indigenous peoples to improve natural resource management strategies (Poole 1989; CSQ 1995; Herlihy 1997). Although intended to delineate local environmental use-zones, completed maps have often taken on the aura of a land claim in the eyes of indigenous and black peoples (Stocks, Jarquín, and Beauvais 2000; Chapin and Threlkeld 2001). Other participatory mapping projects explicitly employ geomatics to advance a land or territorial claim (Poole 1995, 1998; Stone 1998). What is interesting and under-appreci-ated is the influential role of geomatics (techniques, technologies, maps) and the physical process of demarcation in shaping indigenous and black conceptions of what constitutes their territory (Offen 2003, n.d.). History, culture, politics, and technology merge through participatory mapping projects to inform and redefine community ideas of themselves, their territory, and their relationship to one another (Offen 2003). Regardless of the intent of the map, its high-tech gloss can lend an urgency and legitimacy to a spatial claim. If produced in conformity with official cartographic conventions, maps can possess a quasi-legal stature that influences their interpretation (Dana 1998). The availability of geomatic technologies and the proliferation of the partnerships that bring them into use among indigenous and black groups are part and parcel of the territorial turn in Latin America.

Globalization in general and neoliberalist pressures in particular are intertwined with the demands made by multi- and bilateral lending and aid organizations. Central to imposed state reform in Latin America has been a simultaneous opening up and closing down—that is, a decentralization of state duties to lower-level administrators and a devolution of costs and services to the private or NGO sectors (Fox and Brown 1998). For example, throughout Latin America, most municipal governments are now elected and receive a share of regional or national revenues. This change is a fairly significant form of territorial re-ordering in its own right. In Colombia, for example, the new constitution of 1991 defines the nation as "decentralized" and mandates new modes of fiscal autonomy to local levels. By some estimates, 30% of national revenue is currently being transferred to Colombia's 1,034 municipalities (Nickson 1995; Uribe 1997). Gros (1997:46) calls the Colombian form of devolution "a species of neocorporatism," a gamble by a discredited state that has little to lose. Indeed, one of the great paradoxes of the neoliberal sweep is that it simultaneously [End Page 50] weakens central-state institutions at the same time that it places new demands upon them. It would be a great tragedy if the territorial turn is not accompanied by the necessary funds to manage the territory effectively (Oviedo 2001).

Changing the priorities and strategies of the World Bank has been critical to the territorial turn and a direct response to domestic pressure in the bank's major donor countries (Gray 1998; Horta 2001). The World Bank is now the "world's main financier of projects specifically aimed at the environment and biodiversity conservation" (Horta 2001:191). The bank is also the leading financier of projects seeking to demarcate indigenous and black land claims in Latin America. Overall, the bank's persistence has turned "paper rights into actual collective land titles" (Thorne 2001:1). But why is the World Bank doing this? Simply put, the bank views collective titles as necessary to stabilize property regimes in developing countries, to remove biodiverse lands from the vagaries of market forces (by insuring that collective properties can not be transferred), to foment foreign direct investment, and to attract appropriate technologies to biodiverse areas. From the bank's point of view, each of these goals is mutually compatible and essential for limiting environmental degradation in areas of high poverty and biodiversity (Davis and Wali 1994; Pichón, Uquillas and Frechione 1999; Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2001; WB 2001, 2002a).7

Critics of global environmental intervention have not been swayed by the changing rhetoric and policies of the World Bank. For many World Bank critics, the newly "green" and socially responsible actions represent little more than an extension of previous models of predatory capitalism. Arturo Escobar, for example, writing about Pacific Colombia, views the Global Environmental Facility's (GEF) concerns with biodiversity in the region as "a certain kind of mutation in the modus operandi of capital" (1996:123). For Escobar and others, the mantra of biodiversity protection has become a discourse justifying a new kind of global intervention to protect industrial and northern interests, particularly the potential profits to be derived from genetic resources. For Escobar, the notion of biodiversity and the global calls to protect it "anchor a discourse that articulates a new relation between nature and society" (Escobar 1998:55). However, Escobar also sees the discourse of biodiversity (which values and seeks to protect cultural difference) as potentially supporting land rights. That is, Escobar sees the rhetoric of biodiversity expanding to include the notion of "territory plus culture," a new discursive formation integrating the natural and cultural in new ways (2001:161).

Other skeptics of territorial titling are quick to point out that such titling is rarely done solely for purposes of improving the social justice demanded by indigenous and black peoples but, rather, for "instrumental purposes like nature conservation." Thus, the recognition of territorial rights puts indigenous and black recipients in a "contractual relationship" with funding agencies supporting collective territorial titling. Under this paternalistic bargain, residents are given limited control of territorial resources in exchange for their commitment to conserve them (Hoekema and Assies 2000:255). Within the new territorial arrangements, state institutions continue to oversee and approve resource use in a vaguely defined form of shared governance. The long-term possibilities of the territorial turn to create a genuine space for social justice and nature conservation depends on how the new territories are legally incorporated into the state. In Colombia, as elsewhere, the nature of territorial autonomy is being negotiated by the same forces responsible for the territorial turn.

Pacific Colombia

Just as the "American West" or "Great Plains" are not clearly defined spaces in the United States, so too the Colombian [End Page 51] Pacific is not clearly defined in Colombia (Figure 3). That is not to say that people do not have clear notions of what Pacific Colombia means. For most urban and highland mestizo Colombians, the region is an exotic forest inhabited by "indios y negros;" a place marginal to the interests of the country and somewhere they have no intention of ever visiting. Of course local residents have a different view, but until scholars began investigating the Pacific after World War II, local geographical perspectives were not widely known. The pioneering works of Robert West (1952, 1957) changed this and established the foundation upon which Colombian scholars have built a durable corpus of Pacific Colombia studies (e.g., Whitten and Friedemann 1974; Friedemann and Arocha Rodriguez 1986; Leyva 1993; Comacha and Restrepo 1996; Restrepo and del Valle 1996; Escobar and Pedrosa 1996; Maya 1998; Vargas Sarmiento 1999b; Comacha and Restrepo 1999; Agier et al. 1999; Wade 2002b).

A vague set of eastern boundaries notwithstanding, there is nothing like a couple of projects to give meaning to a region in Latin America. And, being one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet, the Pacific region of Colombia is courted by many projects seeking to demarcate its boundaries and assign them new meanings. According to the web page of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Pacific's northernmost Department of the Chocó "possesses the greatest plant biodiversity on the planet," and at least 25 percent of all plant species identified are endemic (UNDP 2000). Among the environmental projects to have descended on the Pacific in the 1990s was the Plan Biopacífico (PBP). Having run from 1992-1998, the PBP was funded by a $3 million Swiss donation and a $6 million grant provided by the GEF and administered by the UNDP. The PBP created a new regional concept, the "Chocó Biogeográfico," an area comprising 75,061 km2, or 6.2% of the national territory. The objective of the PBP was the consolidation of "a new development strategy based on the application of scientific knowledge and the identification of biodiversity management options that work in consort with local communities to guarantee its protection and sustainable use" (Casas C. and Bosoni S. 2002).8 In contrast, the World Bank-funded NRMP (1994-2003) that is responsible for titling the black territories discussed in this paper extends the Pacific region to encompass some 10 million hectares, or around 8% of the national territory.9 This new regional designate covers the entire Department of the Chocó, and the western portions of five Andean departments: Antioquia, Cauca, Nariño, Risaralda, and Valle de Cauca.

Covering 1,300 km. in length from the Darien gap in Panama to northwestern Ecuador, and running up the west side of the Andean Cordillera Occidental, the Colombian Pacific is as vast as it is diverse. West (1957) identifies three landscape types on the Pacific slope: plains of recent alluvium, hills of dissected Tertiary sediments, and mountainous areas of Mesozoic rock. These landscapes are found in varying degrees within three distinct watershed regions that also serve as proxy cultural-historic zones. In the north, the Río Atrato drains a large depression between the coastal Serranía de Baudó and the Cordillera Occidental northward to the Gulf of Urabá on the Caribbean. Here the coast reflects the rocky Baudó escarpment and does not display the alluvium and mangrove deltas common in the south. The middle section of the Pacific region is denoted by the northeast-southwest directional watersheds of the Ríos Baudó and San Juan. A vast coastal plain drained by the east-west Ríos Micay, Patía and Mira, and their thousands of tributaries extends to the south of the port city of Buenaventura. Throughout the Pacific slope of Colombia, rainfall can be as high as 10,000 mm. a year, making it one of the rainiest places on earth. Closed forest canopy is said to comprise 7.6 million hectares, or three-quarters of the entire Pacific region (Leyva 1993; ONIC et al. 1995; Casas C. and Bosoni S. 2002). This forest canopy represents a wide [End Page 52]

 Pacific Colombia
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Figure 3
Pacific Colombia
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range of tropical forest types that include semi-homogeneous (frequently flooded) or heterogeneous (interfluvial ridges and foothills). The former is represented by large mangrove, cativo, and nato ecosys-tems.10 Mixed forests range from true rainforest in the Serranía de Baudó and upper foothills, to naidí palm cluster associations in lower river deltas, with every combination possible mixed in (West 1957; Leyva 1993; del Valle 1996a).

Population estimates for the Colombian Pacific region vary widely. The last Colombian census took place in 1993, the first year in which national ethnic data was sought (Hoffman 2000). Approximately 1.8 million people live in Pacific Colombia, or 4 percent of the national total of 42 million.11 The region is poor by national standards, and has among the country's lowest regional social and economic indicators. Half the Pacific's population is rural. About 90 percent of the Pacific's inhabitants are black, or Afro-Colombian, with various indigenous groups making up about 4-5 percent.12 Nevertheless, the majority of all Afro-Colombians live in urban areas outside the Pacific, particularly along the Atlantic Coast and in the Cauca Valley (Wade 2002a). Law 70 does not apply to Afro-Colombians in urban areas nor to those outside the Pacific region specified by Law 70—but legislation to effect rural black land titling throughout the country is under way (Garcés M. 2003a).

Pacific Colombia contains five different indigenous groups: the Embera (Chamí, Catío, Siapidara), Wounaan, Zenu, Tule (Kuna), and Awa. With the exception of the Awa, who live exclusively in southern Nariño close to the border with Ecuador, the vast majority of the Pacific region's indigenous peoples live in the Department of Chocó. The various cultural and linguistic groups of the Embera make up the majority. While the Tule and Wounaan live in the lower Ríos Atrato and San Juan respectively, most indigenous peoples have retreated in recent years into the foothills of the upper Río San Juan, the Serranía de Baudó, and the many eastern tributaries of the Río Atrato. The 181 indigenous reserves or resguardos in Pacific Colombia—56 of which were created or expanded by the NRMP project discussed here—cover almost 20 percent of the land area (see Table 2).13 Indian-black relations in the Pacific are complex. On the one hand, "each group maintains fairly definite ethnic boundaries," but group relations are mediated by intermarriage, compadrazgo (god-par-enthood), and vertical economic networks (Wade 1995:345). The nature of Law 70 and the different legal designation of indigenous resguardos (see below) has prevented the formation of multiethnic territories in the Pacific despite several kinds of overlap, particularly in the Chocó.

Like many places in the lowland tropics, rural families in the Pacific typically combine subsistence production with a range of cash-generating activities. These latter activities fall into two categories: wage labor and self-em-ployed, or collective extraction. Self-em-ployed or collective extraction includes gold panning, timber extraction, palmito harvesting, fishing, and harvesting of aquatic resources such as fish, crustaceans, snails, clams, oysters, and bivalves in the delta regions. Rural Afro-Colom-bians live in dispersed communities on alluvial terraces and levees along the lower, middle, and upper courses of the Pacific's vast river networks (West 1957; Whitten and Friedemann 1974; Whitten 1986; Restrepo and del Valle 1996). Rivers serve as a longitudinal axis of community economic activities that vary depending on community location along the axis. Along a metaphorical horizontal axis are areas for gathering, hunting, and agricultural activities. Agriculture is of course strongly conditioned by soil fertility, drainage, and mulching options in relation to the needs of the region's staple crops: plantain, manioc, maize, sweet potato, rice, sugar, fruit trees, peach palm (chontaduro), coconut, and naidí palm (Restrepo and del Valle 1996; Escobar 1998). This adaptive spatiality has come to inform political organizing strategies [End Page 54] based on "the logic of the river," a watershed space of social practices and lifeways conditioned by a particular and often dramatic hydrology (Oslender 2002a:94). These same socio-spatial forms and lived experiences—what Oslender calls "aquatic space" and what Law 70 conceptualizes as "traditional systems of production"—buttress and justify the territorial claims made by black community councils (Restrepo and del Valle 1996; Villa 1998; Oslender 1999, 2002a, 2003). Traditional black conceptions of these lived-spaces in the Pacific have been shaped by the ways in which Afro-Colombians came to reside there.

 Pacific Colombia by entities and areas in 1991 and 2003 following Constitutional Reform and black land titling as part of the World Bank-funded NRMP. Source: INCORA, 2001, 2003a.
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Table 2
Pacific Colombia by entities and areas in 1991 and 2003 following Constitutional Reform and black land titling as part of the World Bank-funded NRMP. Source: INCORA, 2001, 2003a.

Historical Geography

The traditional lifeways and territoriality of Afro-Colombians in the Pacific are influenced by the circumstances of slavery and the process of liberation. Only in New Granada (present-day Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador) were African slaves used consistently and in large numbers for an extended period of time as the chief source of labor in mines (Whitten 1986). New Granada was the most important gold producing and in the foothill gravels of the Pacific. At the close of the 18th century, the Chocó was producing more gold than all other mining districts in New Granada combined (West 1952).

The Spanish Crown licensed the importation of African slaves to the Americas in 1513. It is estimated that 135,000-170,000 Africans entered New Granada legally by the mid 17th century through Cartagena de las Indias (Arocha 1998a).14 African resistance began immediately. A culture of cimarronaje (fugitive slaves) and palenques (autonomous communities of runaway slaves) quickly emerged around Cartagena. By the late 17th century, 20 palenques existed within two days travel of Cartagena, and their distribution spread to the Río Magdalena and Cauca valleys during the 18th century (Friedemann 1998; Romero and Lane 2002). Due to a wrecked slave ship in the Esmeraldas Province along the north coast of the Audiencia of Quito, Ecuador, an independent "zambo republic" with some 500 Afro-Amerindian people formed by the end of the 16th century (Cummins and Taylor 1998; Whitten 1986).15

Gold mining on the Pacific slope of region in colonial Spanish America, and Colombia can be analyzed in two the third most important mining region phases: before and after Indian pacifica-after Peru and Mexico in the New World tion. The first phase, roughly 1510 to (West 1952). In the pre-Hispanic and co-the mid 17th century, began as forays lonial periods, Colombian gold was from the Gulf of Urabá in the north and found in vein and placer deposits in Popayán in the south. Strong Indian re-three areas: the Cauca Valley, the upper/ sistance by the Kuna and the Embera on middle portions of the Río Magdalena, the lower and upper sections of the Río [End Page 55] Atrato respectively, coupled with stiff resistance by numerous indigenous groups in the southern Pacific, prevented the introduction of sustained mining enterprises (Almario and Castillo 1996; Maya 1998; Vargas Sarmiento 1999a). Throughout the first phase of Pacific slope gold mining, enslaved black and Indian laborers generally worked placer digs together with native technologies, but frequent rebellions and Indian attacks limited productivity. Early mining centers surrounding Nóvita in the upper Río San Juan watershed, for example, were abandoned in the late 16th century, shifting Spanish focus to the Cauca Valley where black slaves had been gold mining since at least 1544 (West 1952). But Indian resistance did not last; the demographic collapse of indigenous peoples throughout Western Colombia was pronounced and as steep as anywhere in Spanish America (West 1952:80; Almario and Castillo 1996).

The second phase of gold mining occurred after the Spaniards established a measure of control in the Barbacoas (southern) and Chocó (northern) provinces of the Pacific during the 17th century. Peace with the renegade "zambos" in Esmeraldas opened up the Barbacoas area to extensive colonization. By the end of the 17th century, black and Indian gangs were mining from Barbacoas to Buenaventura, the former connected by road to Popayán and the latter to Cali (West 1952; Whitten 1986; Romero and Lane 2002). Not until the penetration of Franciscan missionaries along the Río Atrato in 1648 did gold mining become a sustained activity in the Chocó. Despite the fact that the Chocó remained marginal to Spanish control and saw a minimum presence of Spanish or Creole elite, it was the principal mining site in all Colombia between 1680-1810 (Maya 1998; Vargas Sarmiento 1999a). As Barbacoas and the Chocó increased production, the demand for African labor grew. This demand prompted a change in the Asiento contract system that brought slaves to the New World and, in 1640, Cartagena was opened to Dutch, English, and French traders. African slaves poured into the Chocó immediately thereafter and to Barbacoas by the end 17th century (Vargas Sarmiento 1999a). This demographic expansion placed "gangs" of African slaves along every major river of the southern coastal plains by the late 18th century and coincided with the near destruction of native peoples (West 1957:100; Whitten 1986; Almario and Castillo 1996).16

Black manumission and self-liberation occurred early and continually. By the mid-18th century, Pacific Colombian society comprised escaped slaves, slaves who had purchased their freedom— known as libres—and enslaved Africans, all of whom had social and economic contacts with one another (Taussig 1980; Whitten 1986; Almario and Castillo 1996; Maya 1998). Population estimates for this period vary, but we can assume that around 25,000 people of African heritage resided in the Pacific by the last quarter of the 18th century (West 1957; Sharp 1976; Almario and Castillo 1996; Vargas Sarmiento 1999a). Though slaves always made up the majority of Pacific black populations in the colonial period, this ratio was only maintained via constant importation (Romero and Lane 2002:35).

Accompanying the increase in mining activity was an increase in slave revolts. By the early 18th century, uprisings were common in Citará (Quibdó), Tadó, Barbacoas, and Guapí. Escaped slaves formed their own palenques or joined the growing number of libre communities. The palenque El Castigo in the southern Pacific region had a church and 300 people by 1732 (Romero and Lane 2002:34). Palenques had elected leaders and organized social and religious life around Afro-Hispanic traditions (Whitten 1986:44). To this day in Pacific Colombia, "black culture is generally more Iberian in derivation" than would be the case in full-blown slave societies such as Brazil or the Caribbean; it exhibits very little if any discursive attachment to Africa (Wade 1993:6, 2002a; Agier et al. 1999). By the mid-18th century, black peoples had made the Pacific their home, and the Spanish considered them "natives [End Page 56] of the place" (Vargas Sarmiento 1998a:32).

Social networks linked free and slave communities in binding ways. Libre communities traded tobacco and liquor to slaves, and offered an important source of marriage partners to enslaved black men. By law, children born of enslaved men and free women were free. In this way, blood and fictive kin relationships formed between slave and free communities along "various portions of the same river system... [and occasionally] from distant rivers" (Romero and Lane 2002:35). "Furthermore, extension of family links among aunts, uncles, cousins, maternal and paternal grandparents, godparents, and godchildren served to weave a fabric of relationships so tight that slave owners could never break it. For its members, slave or free, this fabric was the fundament of social life" (Romero and Lane 2002: 36). This tightly bound kinship network became even more spatially anchored following the formal abolition of slavery in 1851. With the end of slavery, blacks fled the mining camps of the foothills and dispersed along river banks throughout the littoral forest (West 1957; Friedemann 1998[1985]). The mining town of Barbacoas, for example, was quickly depopulated as blacks recreated a mining economy of their own in nearby tributaries. According to Friedemann, black miners formed social networks called troncos, groups of families who trace their origin to a common ancestor with rights to live, mine, fish, and do agricultural work in a specific territory. Tronco rights are inherited from ancestors who took possession of the land following 1851, but extend back to the libre and palenque social network traditions that preceded abolition (Friedemann 1998[1985]:183-185; Romero and Lane 2002).

While placer mining continues as an important economic activity for most Afro-Colombians of the Pacific, by the second half of the 19th century new extractive economies began to link their lives to global markets. By the 1850s, Castilla rubber was being extracted from the Pacific slope and moved down the Río Atrato to the port town of Turbo on the Gulf of Urabá (Parsons 1967:29). By the close of the 19th century tagua (ivory) nuts, from which buttons were made, began to replace Castilla rubber in economic importance. From native palms, tagua nuts are found chiefly in the inundated forests throughout the lower Río Atrato watershed and in the coastal regions south of Tumaco. Meanwhile, a steady trade in mangrove bark (used to produce tannic acid for leatherworks) occupied many laborers during the early 20th century. Later, sugar became important along the southern coastal plain, and bananas and rice transformed the Urabá delta, affecting the lives of people up stream in myriad ways.

The Pacific changed dramatically in the 1950s (Pedroza 1996). The government expanded Tumaco and Buenaventura ports, while railroads, roads and pipelines descended from the highlands. The region's first lumber mills sprang up at this time, and giant lumber enterprises representing both national and international capital received large concessions (del Valle 1996b). In the 1950s, the World Bank initiated its first mission to Colombia by introducing African oil palm plantations near Tumaco (Escobar 1996). This occurred at roughly the same time the government decreed that all tierras baldías would form part of a protectorate system, a process that occurred throughout much of the lowland tropics of Latin America. By the early 1960s, many of these same 'protectorate lands' were opened up to colonization and private titling. The Agrarian Law of 1961 not only ignored the customary land claims of resident Afro-Colombians in the Pacific, but used accusations of "irrational land use" by black communities to justify the need to title lands to individuals—the exact opposite of the rationale behind the territorial turn in titling today! As intended, the Agrarian Law sparked large-scale colonization and land privatization— 18% of the Pacific region become privatized at this time, some to individual [End Page 57] black families (Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002:5). In the 1980s, the rhetoric of "sustainable development" gained strength and the government initiated an "apetura," or opening policy, to encourage new forms of capital investment that included schemes for hydroelectric power generation, an interoceanic canal through the Río Atrato, and shrimp farms near Tumaco (Barnes 1993; Pedroza 1996; Ng'weno 2001).

Relative isolation from the wider Colombian civil conflict ended definitively in 1996. The displacement of some 13,000 people, mostly by paramilitary activity in the lower Río Atrato, is among the highest in the country (Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002). Nariño is also a site of increasing drug production, and large swaths of the region are caught up in drug trafficking. Black land titling has also threatened powerful interests, further escalating violence in the region as landed interests employ paramilitaries to threaten or kill black community leaders (Oslender 2002b). On the other hand, there is also evidence that secure land titles have encouraged some displaced people to return to their communities, particularly in the Chocó (Ng'weno 2001:30; Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002:20). The fact that the NRMP managed to generate widespread participation, and to demarcate and title collective black territories throughout much of the worst violence in the Pacific's recent history, testifies to its importance.

Making Black Territories

Law 70 creates black territories in Pacific Colombia by defining the notion of a "black community" that can become invested with territorial rights. The law does this, essentially, by elaborating a "black ethnicity," something constituted by culture (traditional production systems), history (palenques and self-libera-tion), and geography (rural riverine and Pacific). For Hoffman (2000:133) the new territoriality has "become the decisive criterion for the newly officialized [black] ethnic identity." Yet, Wade (2002a) points out that Law 70 represents a certain amount of cooptation of the larger black civil rights movement in Colombia by legally defining rural black rights at the exclusion of black rights more generally. Investigating the process of how top-down reform came about in ways that constrained and enabled black social movements by defining the rules of the game, thus, becomes an important part of understanding the entire ethno-territorial process in Pacific Colombia.

Black Social Movements

Before the ratification of Colombia's 1991 constitution, Afro-Colombians had little experience with political organizations constituted by either ethnic or territorial issues: "[T]he first time that the Pacific became discovered as a 'region' by its inhabitants" occurred after 1991 (Oslender 2003:23). It was in the political space created (and defined) by the constitution that black social movements began to construct the Pacific as an "ethnic region" constituted by black territories (Villa 1998; Oslender 2003). In this way, "the Pacific" became an ethnic region comprised of a collection of black communities each held together by the "logic of the river," the contiguous watershed space traditionally occupied and used by black communities in consort with one another. Thus, in the political opening created by the 1991 constitution, black organizations publicly articulated what territory meant to them, and how AT-55 should be interpreted to fulfill their newly specified "territorial rights." Black movements needed to assemble this discourse because, according to Arturo Escobar (1998:71), "the concept of territory is a construction that does not fully emerge out of the long-standing practices of the communities."

Despite a historical and quotidian geography that spatialized social relations to land and aquatic spaces, a politically articulated ethnic-territorial consciousness had no public tradition. Black organizations themselves acknowledged this ambiguity when spokespersons for [End Page 58] the Organization of Black Communities (OCN) stated that "those who know more [about these things] say that we are an ethnic group" (Balanta and OCN 1996:255). Thus, for many scholars, the ethnic-territorial discourses that emerged among black organizations in the post1991 period were more tailored to fit the specifications of the law than were representative of long-standing cultural or political traditions (Hoffman 2000). Legislation led to a new conceptualization of past social-spatial experience. The buildup to Law 70 thus provided "the decisive space" in which the emerging black social movement took on ethnic and cultural characteristics, and linked those to political notions of territory (Grueso, Rosero and Escobar 1998:200).

When the first black political organizations formed in the 1960s and 1970s they comprised urban student populations inspired by the Civil Rights movement in the United States and by peasant and worker associations formed under the guidance of the Catholic Church to resist government-sponsored incursions, particularly in the Chocó (Wade 1993, 1995; Grueso, Rosero and Escobar 1998). Such organizations were generally tied to political parties and were not organized around ethnic or cultural difference; they were class-based movements that sought equality before the law.

In the late 1980s, the strategies of black leaders began to change in Colombia. As indigenous movements became "green" and increasingly successful in reaching out to transnational NGOs, black leaders began to emulate their organizational strategies and aligned themselves politically: "As indigenous peoples consolidated their ties to the transnational environmental movement, rural blacks allied themselves with domestic indigenous organizations" (Thorne 2001:6). According to Wade (1995:346), black leaders in the Pacific began to cultivate "an 'indian-like' identity in the eyes of the state." Yet this strategy achieved only limited success. Even after the constitutional reform of 1991, blacks remained largely invisible when compared to the unquestioned "ethnic legitimacy" bestowed upon indigenous peoples by anthropologists and other "cultural fundamentalists" (Arocha Rodriguez 1998b:219, 1992; Restrepo 1997; Wade 2002a). Still, AT-55 helped turn invisibility into visibility. For the first time in Pacific Colombia, black ur-ban-educated movements and rural-peasant social organizations united around shared notions of identity (the right to be black), territory (the logic of the river), autonomy (political power), and a self-vision of development (Grueso, Rosero, and Escobar 1998; Wade 2002a).

The NRMP and the World Bank

What were some of the larger forces at play leading to the passage of Law 70 in 1993? To hear some scholars describe it, the entire process was dictated by the new black social movements such as the Process of Black Communities (PCN). But to understand the process more broadly, and to better appreciate how territory became indelibly tainted by identity, we need to look more closely at how land demarcation and titling was funded, that is, to the origins of the $39 million Natural Resource Management Program (NRMP) funded by the World Bank in 1994. While black social movements may have identified a territorial discourse within the space created by AT-55 and Law 70, the specifics of how these demands led to territorial demarcation and actual territorial titles relates to the NRMP.

The NRMP grew out of a 1985 Forest Action Plan funded by the Dutch government and The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). As with similar plans throughout Latin America in the 1980s, emphasis was placed on the vigilance and control of forest regions. Initially the NRMP did not set out to break out of this mold. Early NRMP proposals included a discussion of Indian resguardos but not black territories. The four-year processing period before the signing of the NRMP in 1994 changed this. In 1992 the Bank floated the NRMP proposal at a workshop in Yanaconas, near Cali. The [End Page 59] Journal of Latin American Geography workshop was attended by the institutions of national government, regional representatives, 28 community-based groups, NGOs, the High-Level Consultancy Commission charged with writing Law 70, and national institutions responsible for Pacific Coast development among Afro-Colombian communities (Ng'weno 2001:13). This meeting occurred just a few months after the first

Asamblea Nacional De Comunidades Negras

(National Assembly of Black Communities) (ANCN) met in Tumaco, where divided black leaders met to forge a united response to AT-55 as stated above (Ocampo Villegas 1996; Grueso, Rosero and Escobar 1998). The World Bank-sponsored Yanaconas meeting, then, allowed the ANCN's ethno-territorial demands to be aired publicly for more or less the first time, and, perhaps more importantly, integrated into the NRMP.

The titling of Black community land was an essential factor introduced through the process of participation [initiated at Yanaconas]. Representatives of Black and Indigenous organizations and communities helped reorient the institutional strategy to include the preservation of cultural and ethnic identity, the recognition and granting of community territorial rights and the collective use of natural resources by the local communities, as the bases for the sustainable development of the region. As a result of the workshop the National Planning Authority (DNP) [the highest-level national authority] agreed to guarantee the articulation of Transitory Article 55 . . . The financial readiness and impulse to support the writing of [Law 70] on the part of the World Bank helped forge it into being.
(Ng'weno 2001:13, 53-54; emphasis added)

From experiences generated at the Yanaconas meeting came the creation of Regional Committees, groups made up of representatives of the government institutions charged which institutionalizing black and indigenous participation in the NRMP in conformity with the World Bank's Operational Directive (OD 4.20), requiring local participation in projects effecting indigenous and ethnic communities.17 Indeed, before the loan went through, the World Bank's Environmental Department had actually "lobbied the Colombian government to include the black rural farmers of the Pacific Coast in its constitutional provisions recognizing ancestral land rights." As Gray notes further, "This case appears to be one of the first World Bank projects in Latin America to address OD 4.20 comprehensively" (1998:289).

Institutional reviews of the black land titling component of the NRMP are unequivocal in their claims that World Bank credence was essential to getting Law 70 written and passed as it was, when it was. These reviews further highlight the World Bank's role in the 18 months of consultations between governmental agencies and black and indigenous leaders between 1994 and 1995 that led up to Decree 1745 (Ng'weno 2001; Thorne 2001; Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002). The staying power of the bank was also important. When a series of crises sprang up during mid-term review of the NRMP in 1997, efforts were made to "kill the project" (Thorne 2001:8). Many commentators, including Escobar, assumed that the "project was going to be discontinued" for lack of governmental commitment (1998:74). Although the World Bank is responsible for having funded black territorial demarcation and titling, many scholars commenting on the overall process make no mention of the NRMP or the World Bank (e.g., Wade 2002a).

Social Cartography, Mapping, and Ethnic Conflict

An important part of the territorializing process took place in social-carto-graphic forums in communities after territorial claims had been filed by representative community councils. These forums [End Page 60] were held under the auspices of INCORA and the Instituto Geográfico Augustín Codazzi (IGAC) (Garcés 2003b). For leaders to articulate black territoriality is one thing, but for communities to come together to define their collective boundaries based on historical and contemporary land use, as well as estimations of future needs, is quite another. As with participatory mapping projects elsewhere in Latin America, much of the territorial consciousness arises through and during the process of talking about space and its meaning in cartographic forums.

Community organizations, but especially Afro-Colombian organizations, felt that the process of titling enhanced their cultural cohesion and awareness. Through this process the communities demarcated and reactivated the oral history of their people and territories and built up the self-awareness and education about their culture. The titling process consisted in making social maps of the territory including maps for the future and the past, of narrating and recording the history of the people, their culture and their traditional practices and detailing the social relationships with the communities around them. This took place through a community intellectual movement including hunters, gatherers, the elderly and traditional doctors to reconstruct the history of settlement of the territory, and to explain from their own perspective the importance and use of the natural resources that exist.... Most importantly, as expressed by some of the Afro-Colombian participants, the young and the old, the men and women were put together to synthesize traditional knowledge about the biological resources and the community territory as part of their own identity. The communities felt that this combined effort was particularly informative and useful.
(Ng'weno 2001:36-37, 41).

As geographers have described in other participatory mapping contexts, public discussion of a territorial claim coupled with a territorial representation and its historic-cultural significance is wholly bound up with changing notions of territoriality that the finished map intends to represent (Chapin and Threlkeld 2001; Herlihy and Knapp 2003; Offen 2003, n.d.).

Just as territorial mapping and demarcation have the power to affect the meaning of territory, so too can it generate inter- and intra-ethnic conflict. In Pacific Colombia, the "exercise of titling itself produced an escalation in ethnic conflict over territory" (Ng'weno 2001:31; see also Villa 1998). This problem was aggravated by governmental policy of "saneamiento" (cleansing) indigenous resguardos to remove black residents. "With the possibility of obtaining legalization of their territory some Black communities no longer accepted the principals behind 'cleansing,' arguing that these lands were traditionally ancestral lands. ... pockets of land within resguardos became bones of contention" (Ng'weno 2001:32). A related issue was the question of compensation for black "improvements" to land within newly created indigenous resguardos, particularly the labor intensive process of making canals to float out timber during high tides (Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002; Restrepo 1996). Critics have viewed the problem of ethnic conflict in terms of legal rigidities defining ethnicity and ethnic rights. "The increasing rigidity of norms for the use and appropriation of lands, as an inevitable corollary of the delimitation of collective territories, generates friction between users who earlier shared the area according to more flexible arrangements in which the ethnic factor hardly ever played a role as prime and ultimate criterion of legitimation" (Hoffman 2000:134). By legalizing ancestral lands based around a stiff concept of 'ethnicity'— [End Page 61] itself articulated and constructed through the process of guaranteeing of territorial rights—Law 70 essentially prevented the recognition of multiethnic spaces, even if such spaces were themselves traditional.

The process of cleansing, demarcating, and titling pitted legally defined ethnic groups against one another, especially in the Chocó where the first collective black titles were issued beginning in 1996.18 During the initial stages of titling black territories, indigenous groups felt slighted. From its inception, the NRMP intended to create 44 new resguardos and expand 12 others, but indigenous leaders felt their demands were taking a back seat to black territories. Letters of protest arrived at the World Bank during the mid-term review of the NRMP in late 1997. Part of the bank's strategy for resolving the many crises was the creation of an Action Plan of recommendations cum guidelines that insisted on new mechanisms for strengthening inter-cultural dialogue (Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002:23). This worked. "Only with the formation of the Action Plan and clear corresponding strategies and criteria did the Land Titling and [intra-ethnic] Regional Committee components of the NRMP gain its own momentum after moving very slowly" (Ng'weno 2001:28). Attesting to the relative success of the Action Plan is the fact that 95 of the 122 black territories titled between 1996 and May of 2003, and 70 percent of the total area titled, was completed after 2000— after the Action Plan had been put in place (INCORA 2001, 2003a).

Black Territories and Natural Resources

Despite all the legislative changes affecting territorial configurations in Pacific Colombia, the most important change may be yet to come. Article 286 of the 1991 constitution outlines a new Organic Law of Territorial Ordering throughout Colombia. Decree 436 recognizing this law was passed in 1993, but regulatory legislation has not been forthcoming. Until this legislation comes about, the power of black community councils to administer their territories remains ambiguous. The ethnoterritorial community councils articulated in Law 70 (Chapter III, Art. 5) currently have a strictly private or corporate legal character. The councils and the territory they oversee remain within municipal purviews, and are dependent on municipalities for the transfer of resources for their management. Nevertheless, black territories remain outside of the oversight jurisdiction of the municipalities, a contradictory situation that benefits no one (Ng'weno 2001:34). Community councils deal with internal matters of land claims, access, and resource management. They can also—with proper ministerial approval—establish contracts with third parties for the exploitation of natural resources. Thus, neither the communities nor their councils "own" the natural resources on or below their territories. The councils are, in effect, caretakers with limited self-rule. The new Agrarian Reform Law 160 of 1994 states that INCORA and the Ministry of the Environment must certify that community land uses comply with the land's "ecological function," but the law does not specify what this function is. This ambiguity gives the government a great deal of leeway in empowering or dis-em-powering black territoriality. But the laws governing black territories are in flux and bound up with the Organic Law and, particularly, the fate of indigenous resguardos.

Since the Constitution of 1991, indigenous cabildos (councils) are legally responsible for managing public funds for public works emanating from the national government and for administering justice within indigenous resguardos. However, until national legislation procedurally recognizes the new Indigenous Territorial Entities (ETIs) outlined under the Organic Law, cabildo funds continue to be managed by local municipalities (Jackson 1996; Ng'weno 2001). In theory then, resguardos are territorial entities of a public nature on par with, but distinct from, municipalities. Within the myriad of [End Page 62] complex negotiations working out the Organic Law, it is expected that black territories will be redefined as Afro-Colombian Territorial Entities (ETAs), giving them the same political, administrative, and judicial powers theoretically enjoyed by indigenous resguardos (Garcés 2003b). As political bodies governing the new ETAs, community councils would have substantially more power to control and manage the natural resources in their territories. The outcome of this negotiation, however, is impossible to predict.

The designation of mangrove swamps remains another problematic aspect of black territorialization. As wetlands, mangroves fall under management requirements specified in the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, ratified by Colombia in 1971. Based on their interpretation of this convention, the Colombian government initially considered mangroves unavailable for titling. When the first collective title distributed in Nariño came back to the soliciting black coun-cil—acronym ACAPA—in 1998 and half their communities remained outside the claim, they protested (Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002). This protest held up the distribution of titles throughout the southwest Pacific region, where communities depend on mangroves for their livelihood. The crisis was diffused somewhat in 1999 when INCORA recommended to the Ministry of the Environment that mangroves not be excluded from collective titling. In the same year, the ACAPA title was re-issued with the original mangrove claims (Ng'weno 2001:75; Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002:21). Other Nariño communities said to be affected by the exclusion of mangroves as of March 2001 (Oslender 2002a:103) have now received their titles (INCORA 2003a). The issue of mangroves is an important one and part of a larger problem of negotiating territoriality over aquatic and land spaces. Where governments have been willing to negotiate the shared governance of land-spaces, these same governments have interpreted estuary, delta, and sea claims by indigenous and black peoples very differently (Nietschmann 1995, 1997; Mulrennan and Scott 2000). To the extent that Pacific Colombia's land-sea interface claim and titling issues have been resolved, it would represent a further ground-break-ing precedent in tropical Latin America.

Territory and Identity in the Age of Biodiversity (and Poverty)

The territorial turn in indigenous and black land titling throughout the lowland tropics of Latin America represents a convergence of disparate interests. New social movements pressured governments to recognize cultural difference and to institutionalize conditions to guarantee collective cultural rights. For indigenous peoples this political pressure actually preceded and helped push constitutional reforms recognizing collective cultural rights in the first place. In contrast, for many black groups, constitutional reforms created the initial opportunity to negotiate the meaning of cultural difference and to organize politically around ethnic claims akin to those proffered by indigenous groups. For many indigenous and rural black peo-ples—especially those in the lowland tropics of Latin America, in areas deemed national lands—the central element of collective cultural rights is territory, a space of land security and political autonomy in which unique life visions can take root. The territorial turn in collective land titling received a boost in Latin America when the World Bank became a global leader in facilitating and financing the territorial turn.

To get the World Bank's attention, black communities in the lowland tropics had to be thought of as 'ethnic' and 'traditional peoples' who had the right to be covered by the bank's Operational Directive (OD 4.20). Over the last decade the World Bank has increasingly associated the plight of rural blacks with that of indigenous peoples, and it has applied common strategies to both groups. One World Bank document discussing Afro [End Page 63] Peruvians views them as having a shared experience to that of indigenous peoples: "the Afro-Peruvian population has suffered similar conditions of historical discrimination and lack of justice and a common sense of identity related to a common historical struggle for basic human and civil rights [as have indigenous peoples]" (WB 2000:49). The concept of 'ethno-development' first articulated in the context of Ecuador has also been part of the bank's changing perspective on ethnic rights. It should be noted that the language and spirit of ethno-devel-opment through land security has found its way into Colombian documents as well, and is now part and parcel of the discursive relationships linking black communities to international aid agencies and multilateral lending institutions (INCORA 2001; Garcés Mosquera 2003a).

The brutal history of forging ethnic identities in territorial cauldrons in Europe and elsewhere does not seem to dampen the territorial turn in Latin America. Though intended to help protect the environment and safeguard multiculturalism, the territorial turn will also affect social relations in unpredictable ways. When locally negotiated space is rigidly territorialized, it creates a binary order of inclusiveness and exclusiveness that necessarily modifies social relations that once spanned spatial boundaries. The possibility that local environmental knowledge and sustainable practices based on adaptive and dynamic social arrangements could be negatively affected by new territorial regimes has apparently never been considered, despite the fact that related problems have occurred in southern Africa (Walker and Peters 2001), Southeast Asia (Peluso 1995), and the Artic (Rundstrom 1995).

The territorial turn will also impact Colombian politics in unforeseeable ways. Christian Gros, for example, argues that only with "extreme difficulty" will ETIs and ETAs be able improve the needs of a modernizing country (1997:50). Gros suggests that ETIs and ETAs and their promotion of differences will only create "new internal frontiers" that will "parcel the social body of the country" (1997:51; see also Gros 1991, 2000). Whether Gros's speculations prove true, or whether a fragmented 'nation' might not be desirable, remains to be seen. Regardless, what is clear is that few people are asking questions about the implications of linking ethnic identity to territoriality in Pacific Colombia or elsewhere in the lowland tropics of Latin America.

One way to begin thinking about the implications of the territorial turn in so-ciety-nature relations is to speculate how development aspirations of black communities might influence territorial designs. Have, for example, most black territories conformed to the historically-rooted logic of the river? While stressing that most communities have, Oslender (2002a) highlights two contexts in which this logic was mediated by other concerns. In one case, a community named Soledad on the upper Rio Guajuí decided it had more in common politically and economically with communities on the Río Napi, 2-3 hours away by foot in a neighboring watershed. More interesting, however, is the story of the Community Council Unicosta in Nariño. Oslender (2002a) argues that Unicosta's territorial claim and INCORA's rapid and positive reply were related to its heavy promotion by the French-owned company Alimentos Enlatados del Pacífico (ALENPAC) which has been exporting naidí palm hearts from Unicosta's territory for the last 17 years. From the beginning, ALENPAC influenced the composition of the community council, financed necessary workshops, and paid the filing costs for Unicosta's territorial claim. For Oslender (2002a:101) "The formation of the Community Council Unicosta followed less the spatial patterns of the river basin as organizing structure but the specific demands of external capital."

This is not an unanticipated development. Indeed, one could argue that this is what the World Bank has intended all along. In her review of the NRMP, Bettina Ng'weno states that "The main thrust of the Bank Assistance to Colombia [End Page 64] from the mid 1980s has been to help establish a policy environment supportive of growth led by the private sector. The NRMP progressed to set the groundwork for investment through institutional strengthening with titling as a vital part" (Ng'weno 2001:14; emphasis added). With high rates of poverty and new aspirations for "development," many community councils could turn to third parties to exploit natural resources in exchange for social or economic improvements. This is most certainly what the World Bank intended. In eastern Nicaragua, for example, the territorial turn among the Miskitu Indians is based in part on their desire to benefit from their natural resources in the same ways that others have in the past, and the bank is well aware of this (Offen 2003, 2004). Similar sentiments are not unknown in Pacific Colombia. For example, one black organization stated that "people are conscious that [the natural resources] they possess are valuable and that they are disposed to reclaim this value." But the protection of cultural identity is as important as material improvements: "when we say we want to protect our cultural identity, we realize that culture is not stable, thus we say we want to protect and develop our cultural identity." Still, community leaders are acutely aware that developing cultural identity might require exploiting available resources, including the region's "germplasm bank" (Balanta and OCN 1996:261, 262). While benefit sharing, administrative transparency, and environmental management might improve under new territorial regimes, the exploitation of natural resources under the direction of foreign capital and remote markets will likely continue to be the norm.

On a more optimistic note, secure land titling—combined with a less ambiguous form of shared governance— might genuinely help to conserve natural resources and to protect the environment. In other words, World Bank theory might work. After all, many environmentalists have long stated that improving land security and access rights for indigenous peoples is the most viable way to protect the environment (e.g., Stevens 1997). Reviews of the NRMP suggest that the World Bank steadfastly believes that territorial titling will simultaneously attract appropriate types of foreign investment and provide a secure base to protect biodiversity (Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002).

The long term [sic] effect of titling has been conservation through appropriation assuring a solid base for conservation. Because of the stability that titles provide [the Ministry of the Environment has] witnessed an interest in conservation by communities of the region. Thus making titling a determining factor in the defense of biodiversity. The titling of property changed people's way of thinking about their region, especially for Black communities. Now that the land is removed from the market there has been a repopulating of the territory accompanied by a rise in ethnic identification.
(Ng'weno 2001:41)

Optimistic outcomes are possible, but certainly no "long term effect" for either social justice or environmental conservation can yet be evaluated in the Colombian Pacific.


Over the last seven years the Colombian government has demarcated and titled 4.5 million hectares of national lands to over 120 community councils representing over a quarter million Afro-Colombians. Embedded within a $39 million dollar loan provided by the World Bank intending to strengthen natural resource management in Pacific Colombia, the titling project is among the most ambitious undertaking of its kind in Latin America. Not yet complete, and with the scope of black territoriality yet to be fully determined, the project could have significant implications for [End Page 65] ethnic groups throughout the lowland tropics of Latin America and beyond. In reviewing the project, I have tried to highlight the territorial turn in collective land titling; that is, the linkages between a novel black territoriality and the institutions of global capitalism. I have shown that although black communities had little experience organizing around ethnic or territorial issues before the constitutional reform of 1991, contemporary ethno-territorial discourses have become anchored in traditional cultural ecologies and sociospatial networks dating back to the colonial period. In this way, I argued that contemporary mapping projects build upon traditional (if not publicly) articulated cultural sentiments of space to give territorial conceptions new meanings. Drawing on comparative research from Central America and elsewhere, I have emphasized the role of not only geomatics in shaping people's ideas of territory and their relationship to it, but also how the social and intellectual process of demarcation comes to anchor identity in place in the context of political openings that reward such modes of political articulation.

I departed from many other academics by underscoring the role of the World Bank in assisting territorial devolution in Pacific Colombia. I considered the World Bank on several different levels: as the number one financier of projects seeking to devolve territory to rural black and indigenous communities in Latin American; as the largest financier of environmental protection/inter-ventionist projects in the world; as an institution with more power than many national entities to shape the language and timing of reform laws and the procedural decrees implementing them. I argued that the World Bank helped create important social spaces in which black territorial aspirations and ethnic discourses became viable contributors to the political process negotiating the territorial turn in Pacific Colombia. I also suggested, however, that the World Bank is naive or disingenuous if it believes that territorial titling alone will be enough to inspire black communities to sustainably manage their natural resources. Territorial devolution needs to be accompanied by a transfer of appropriate financial resources, genuine administrative power, and progressive laws instituting them if new ethnic-territorial regimes are going to improve social justice and environmental conservation in Latin America.


1. Research for this paper was conducted during trips to Colombia during the summers of 2001 and 2003. Comments from Clemencia Rodriguez and anonymous reviewers improved an earlier draft of this paper. I owe a debt of gratitude to Todd Fagin who made the two maps.

2. The International Labor Organization (ILO) is an independent and specialized entity of the United Nations. It promotes social justice and international standards for human and labor rights.

3. Latin American countries to have ratified ILO 169 through December of 2003 include Mexico (1990), Colombia (1991), Bolivia (1991), Costa Rica (1993), Paraguay (1993), Peru (1994), Honduras (1995), Guatemala (1996), Ecuador (1998), Argentina (2000), Venezuela (2002), Brazil (2002).

4. Constitutional reform sought to demobilize guerrilla groups shunned by Colombia's two-party rule system; it did not intend to resolve ethnic issues per se. Still, ethnic issues did enter the political reform process more as a way to help recoup state legitimacy because violence and development issues in peripheral areas were linked to guerrilla activities there and inspired the government to consider concessions to minority populations as part of the reform process (Gros 1991, 1997; Wade 1995). No Afro-Colombians were among the constituents elected to re-write the Colombian Constitution in 1990.

5. The World Bank is actually a group of associated but legally and financially distinct institutions: The International [End Page 66] Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), The International Development Association (IDA), The International Finance Corporation (IFC), and The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). The institution technically overseeing the NRMP in Colombia was the IBRD, yet I refer only to the World Bank.

6. The GEF provides grants to help developing countries protect what it defines as 'the global environment.' Founded in 1991, the GEF works in four areas: global climate change, protection of the ozone layer, protection of international waters, and biodiversity conser-vation—which receives the largest share of funding. All the GEF projects are managed through one or more of its implementing agencies: the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP).

7. Latin Americanists will recognize that this World Bank position is incompatible with neoliberal theory that, for example, forced the Mexican Government to dismantle and, effectively, privatize its collective property system. The difference points to the high priority attached to "biodiversity conservation" by the World Bank and its partners (e.g., the GEF), and their strategy of how best to integrate local rights guarantees with an attractive investment climate. It also reflects the fact that bank strategies must abide by national laws (as defined by the new constitutional reforms) and international conventions seeking to guarantee ethnic rights and protect cultural difference.

8. It is significant to note that the clause of working with local communities was inserted after a 1995 meeting brought representatives of black and indigenous communities together with PBP personnel (Escobar 1996:129).

9. Besides being significantly larger, the Pacific region of the NRMP differs in several important ways from the Chocó Biogeográfico of the PBP. The latter includes several municipalities in Antioquia on the northeastern side of the Gulf of Urabá, whereas the Pacific of the NRMP does not. Meanwhile, the NRMP designation extends into the western foothills of the Andean Departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Valle de Cauca, and Nariño to conform with Article 2 of Law 70.

10. The mangrove forests in the Department of Nariño are the largest in the Americas.

11. Population estimates are only as good as regional designations and these vary according to the user (DANE 1993; Ng'weno 2001; Sánchez Gutierrez and Roldán Ortega 2002). With a population of some 42 million in 2002, Colombia is the second most populous country in South America after Brazil, but at 439,734 square miles it is less than half as large as Argentina.

12. The Colombian census agency DANE claimed in 1993 that 930,000, or 2.75% of the national population, was black (Ocampo Villegas 1996). This is woefully inaccurate. A 1997 U.N. report estimated that blacks make up 6 million or 16 percent of the Colombian population (CIDH 1999). Meanwhile, Hoffman (2000:123) estimates that Afro-Colombi-ans make up 10-12 percent of the population, while Oviedo (1992) puts their percentage the range 14-21 percent. Wade (2002a:6, 21) provides a range of black population estimates but notes that the Colombian National Planning Department has now settled on 26 percent of the total population.

13. Colombia's 1,072 indigenous resguardos contain 83 indigenous groups and make up 24 percent of the total national territory, yet indigenous peoples make up 2 percent of the national population (Gros 1991, 1997; IGAC 2003). In Colombia, the institution of the resguardo extends back to the colonial period, but in 1890 indigenous peoples were given the right to possess collective property and elect cabildos, or councils. The resguardo almost disappeared in the 1960s but, Colombia's ratification of ILO 107 in 1967 allowed resguardos to survive and expand.

14. Between 1492-1600, slave traders brought some 75,000 Africans in bondage to the Spanish American colonies, [End Page 67] half of which went to New Spain.

15. The Spanish term zambo refers to the offspring of Africans and Amerindians. During peace negotiations in Quito with the "zambos," a painting of the nascent republic's leader, Don Francisco de Arobe and his two sons was commissioned and sent to King Philip III of Spain in 1599 (Romero and Lane 2002). The well-known portrait is the oldest signed and dated painting from colonial South America (Cummins and Taylor 1998).

16. By the last quarter of the 18th century, miners also began taking platinum in the headwaters of the Ríos Atrato and San Juan. Always available but previously undesired, the Chocó remained the world's only supplier of platinum until 1820, strengthening the importance of the Chocó in the eyes of Spain (West 1952:64).

17. The World Bank's operational directives concerning indigenous and tribal peoples put forth in 1982 and again in 1991 were affected by ILO Conventions 107 and 169 respectively (Gray 1998). Like ILO 107, the bank's older regulation OMS 2.34 viewed indigenous assimilation as inevitable and desirable. The focus of OMS 2.34 was on the mitigation of the negative impacts of bank-financed projects. In contrast, the OD 4.20 of 1991 emphasized indigenous, and now rural black, participation in the projects that affect them. Currently, the bank is debating a new OD 4.10 to replace OD 4.20 (WB 2002b).

18. Among the first titles issued was the large 525,664 hectare title to one of the few black farmer organizations to have formed before 1991, the Campesino Association of Atrato Integral (ACIA) (INCORA 2001; de la Torre and ACIA 2002).


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