- Violent Green Spaces in Neoliberal Central America
The last line of the first paragraph has been updated to read "...roles in mitigating climate change, supplying clean air and water,...".
In the ten years since i wrote ‘green Neoliberal Space,’ international finance institutions (IFIs) have continued to intervene in Central America, but regional challenges are greater than ever. A decade ago, I never imagined per capita homicide rates in many Central American countries would rival the world’s deadliest war zones, as they do currently, with violence occurring even in protected areas. Similarly, I did not appreciate how grave Mesoamerican ecological threats were because it seemed these concerns were finally gaining overdue attention. In hindsight, I wish I had advocated for biological corridors and pointed out their essential roles in mitigating climate change, supplying clean air and water, and supporting rural livelihoods.
spatializing and fragmenting conservation
A vision for a Mesoamerican Biological Corridor (MBC) was nascent when I critically assessed planning processes in Nicaragua’s portion of the regional initiative (see Finley-Brook 2007). Subprojects proposed to lower rural poverty and reduce extraction pressures in protected areas seemed likely to expand markets without biodiversity protection. Corridor-related projects in indigenous and Mestizo communities allowed inadequate consultation and replicated ‘cookie cutter’ plans for resource use and entrepreneurship. Indeed, just as I suggested, experts with the Independent Evaluation Group examining MBC implementation across the region found community initiatives poorly aligned with conservation objectives and local benefits unverifiable (IEG 2011: 21–23).
Following more than $500 million in donor investment in the MBC, ambitious plans for regional networks of corridors quietly scaled back to support a small number of transboundary reserves (Holland 2012). While it was easy to find fault with the donor-driven MBC, regional corridors have merit. Many species require habitat protection beyond official parks, as the majority of their territory remains outside of protected areas (Mendoza et al. 2013). Yet ecological and technical capacity in Central America is often insufficient to design and implement landscape connectivity (IEG 2011), thus encouraging indiscriminate application [End Page 267] of corridors and increasing risk that poorly executed plans fail.
The MBC’s paired goals of conservation and development remain in tension in the few places where successful corridor projects emerged. For example, deforestation remains high in Costa Rican corridors surrounded by road building and resource marketization (Wood et al. 2017). In much of Central America, economic development initiatives disrupt habitat and place rural livelihoods at risk without creating viable, accessible, or acceptable alternatives. Following construction of a highway connecting southern and northern Panama, intersecting the country’s major east-west biological corridor, an initiative offensively dubbed the ‘Conquest of the Atlantic’ promotes global investment in new mining, tourism, and energy projects in northern Panama (Bilbao 2017). Throughout Central America, infrastructure expansion intersects high biodiversity zones, which are generally racially and ethnically diverse, instigating land and resource conflicts between local inhabitants and developers.
green violence: securitization and racialized dispossession
“Inside the protected area, inside the bubble, social welfare would be assured. Outside, it was hell” (Carr quoted in Finley-Brook 2007: 102).
In 2004, ecologist Archie Carr III, an early advocate for biological corridors throughout the Western hemisphere, suggested that protected areas forming the backbone of the MBC might become “little green enclaves of social justice and opportunity” or utopian “bubbles” (Carr quoted in Finley-Brook 2007: 102). Such idealized socio-spatial constructs have proven inaccurate as wildlife poaching, deforestation, drug cultivation and trafficking, and mining transgress the region’s porous and contested green spaces. Newcomers, often labelled as colonists, encroach in even the core of large reserves. Indigenous inhabitants with territorial rights within Nicaragua’s Bosawas Reserve confront illegal homesteaders at gunpoint. Meanwhile, Mayangna Sauni As, an indigenous territory traversing the Bosawas, recently declared a state of emergency and community members fled to Honduras to avoid violent exchanges with colonists (Ariel Artola 2017). This border area includes the transboundary biosphere reserve El Corazón (the Heart), the largest remaining area of natural habitat in Mesoamerica, which pairs the Bosawas with Honduran reserves. Sadly, transborder protected areas are some of the most insecure and violent spaces in Mesoamerica (Ybarra 2016).