- Tourism in Northeastern Argentina: The Intersections of Human and Indigenous Rights with the Environment
The editors of this ambitious seven-year project bring psychology and neuroscience (Seymoure) and political science (Roberg) to understand the struggles of bringing meaningful ecotourism to the Mbya Guaraní and their struggle to survive as handicraft sales increasingly offset diminishing livelihoods drawn from the land and tropical forests. Although technically an edited work, the editors penned part or all of seven of the nine chapters in the book. Generously, their Argentine colleagues stepped in to author the balance.
This idiographic piece examines "the development and impact of tourism in several locations in the northeast of Argentina, which is both culturally and environmentally diverse in its attractions" (p. 2). Herein may be the general problem: if everything impacts everything, how can the authors show the readers more causal or associative variables that have created or ameliorated the problems in the Mesopotamia region of Argentina?
A short overview of Argentina's free-fall from the 2001 economic crisis anchors the first chapter and situates the nation's loss of tourism in the following years. The most interesting and theoretical section (Are environmental rights actually rights?, pp. 8-12) led this reviewer to believe that these questions would be revisited in the final pages, but this was not the case.
Penny Seymoure's chapter, "The Fight for Mbya Lands," outlines the religious and cultural authorities of the local peoples as shown through their caciques, religious authority, and community relations. It then reveals an all-too-common party of national (modern state) co-optation and the struggle that ensnarls many local peoples' claims to their resources. The Yrapú have lost land, revenue, and successful negotiations with the outside world despite their best efforts to capture national tourists who visit nearby Iguazú National Park and Puerto Iguazú. Chapter Two highlights the salience of the country's only tropical rainforest and the importance of its resources. Seymoure concludes that only vocal external actors (NGOs, academics) can help the provincial and national governments to respect the natives' land-rights claims.
Four Argentine scholars author chapter three and address how the indigenous people's relationship with tourism has changed over time. The commodity chain of handicrafts is precarious, at best, and as gathering practices have changed over time, so do the types of livelihoods and commercial products sold to tourists. The chapter reads, in part, as a normative marketing plan (in the latter part) that is grafted on to a very descriptive cultural geographic overview (in the first part).
Editor Seymoure describes tourism programs in Mbya communities in Chapter Four where we learn that "it has been difficult for outsiders to follow the money trail as one must disentangle the money obtained directly from tourists...[a]dditionally there is the question of who in the community is actually receiving money from the guided tours, the voluntary contributions, and the sales of handicrafts" (p. 62).
The same author continues in Chapter Five with an assessment of education, children's health, food insecurity and land shortages. Hunting and gathering livelihoods must compete with Misiones Province's larger pursuit of [End Page 201] cash crops (rice and yerba mate) tourism and timber extraction. Not surprisingly, the provincial government has not satisfied the many needs of these vulnerable groups.
Chapter Six changes the focus to nearby Puerto Iguazú where some 7,500-hotel beds average a 58 percent occupancy rate (p. 113). Plans to build more offer a promise of some spillover tourism for the Mbya. This scenario reminded this reviewer of Cancún and the Mayan in its hinterland who struggle with the same problem. Author Roberg's descriptive writing is rich with factual detail but less convincing in writing style. The word "effect" and "issues" in section headings underscore the attributive style, which is not helped by such banal statements as: "One of the reasons visitors do...