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Prepared by
Carlos Villarreal


This document begins with a historical retrospective of Latin America, focused on an analysis of the main economic changes that have occurred during the last decades in Latin America, and their relation with the patterns of natural resource use and social conditions.

The analysis referred to locates the causes and effects of different kinds of conflicts that occur in forest areas. These are further discussed through the presentation of cases of conflicts over natural resources that have taken place in the region.

Beginning with an analysis of the historical character of the specific cases, we will try to extract findings and lessons specific to conflict management which can contribute to theoretical methods and tools for better understanding the most common conflicts which affect natural resources.



Table of Contents


Introduction Context:

The Great Changes From Past Decades

Defects in the Old Model

So... a New Model

Results of the New Model

Forests Disappear and Conflicts Start up

Main Conflicts in Forests

Cases of Conflicts

Conflicts which represent forms of competition for the forest.

Conflicts derived from social and technological relations.

Findings and Lessons

A Basic Finding

Findings about Conflict Management

Theoretical Findings: Patterns of Conflicts





Interethnic Association for Development of the Perurian Rainforest


ARCO International Oil and Gas Company


Economic Commission for Latin America


Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations from the Amazon Valley


Rural Forest Development


Federation of Native Candoshi Communities from the District of Pastaza


Forests, Trees and People Programme


Indigenous People of Pastaza


Second Grade Organisation


Rainforest Action Network


After reviewing the origins and characteristics of conflicts as well as the various initiatives different parties have used to handle them, it is possible to extract many valuable findings and lessons to capitalise on and take advantage of in order to confront similar situations.

In the recent past, there has been rapid development of theoretical information on defining socio-environmental conflict. However, we have been unable to develop a systematic approach towards conflict management. Hence, it is essential to continue to collect information in this area.

In this context, the objective of the information analysis within this document is to support better understanding and development of options to handle the increasingly persistent socio-environmental and forestry conflicts. It also hopes to share relevant experiences of Latin America with colleagues from other regions who are working towards the same goal.

The basic information used for making this document is that which the Forests, Trees and People Program (FTPP) has been able to obtain, starting with many of the activities specific to conflict management FTPP has carried out in Latin America. The following are emphasised: an international workshop in Costa Rica (1993); the systematization of seven case studies in Ecuador and that of three in Peru; two training courses (Costa Rica and Ecuador, 1995); an international seminar (Ecuador, 1995); and two workshops with rural and native communities (Ecuador 1995/96).


Latin America has been and still is a very complex reality. It has so many national and local characteristics that it is difficult to take them all into consideration. So, in this brief analysis of context, I could do no more than refer to the large aspects and tendencies that in general are common, if not to all, at least to most of the countries of the region.

Historically, Latin America has been the setting for various kinds of political, social, economic, and lately, environmental conflicts. The genealogy of many causes of existing conflicts can be traced to the past century and the colonial period. Nevertheless, during the last half of this century there has been a fervour of social, economic and political changes which have brought with them the immediate causes of many kinds of conflict, especially those affecting natural resources. It is in this period that one can find the immediate origin of present day socio-environmental conflicts.

During the 1960s, the thoughts and proposals of the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL) were at their pinnacle and, in short, produced the adoption of a new economic model known as the "import substitution" model instead of the "primary exporter" model. The latter approach was unable to place Latin American countries on the pathway to development. In fact, the "primary exporter" model contributed to the dependence of Latin American countries on industrialised economies.


The diagnosis was clear. The Latin American economies were anchored in underdevelopment because their relationship with the international market depended on the primary sector (natural resources) in their relation with the international market. That meant, among other things, the following:

(i) Low Incorporation of Added Value to Raw Materials

The value added to raw materials through production processes until they became goods and services for human consumption was low. This showed that remuneration for productive factors of the region was reduced and naturally a number of specific indicators as well, such as income per capita.

(ii) Determination in Exchange Terms

There was a slow and constant decrease in prices paid for primary products in international markets and while there was a sustained increase in prices of goods and services that the industrialised countries send. For example, some fifty years ago, 200 tons of sugar had to be exported to pay for the importation of a tractor. Thirty years later, it was necessary to export 800 tons to purchase the same tractor.

(iii) Economic Instability and the Sustained Deterioration of Natural Resources

The economic history of Latin America has shown that its growth has fluctuated up and down. The high periods have almost always been due to the favourable international situations for consumption of basic export products. Similarly, the low stages are linked to the reduction of these external stimuli. Nevertheless, in both cases, the tendency is towards an increase in the rate of exploitation of the exportable natural resources, though for different reasons.

During the favourable periods, extraction of the natural resources increased, precisely for obtaining better use of this exceptional situation.

Whereas, when the demand for export products was low, which was constant in the international market setting due to the mentioned phenomenon of deterioration in exchange terms, the tendency to overexploitation of natural resources is greater. The volumes of primary exportable production increased in order to compensate for the systematic fall in international prices.

(iv) Increase in the International Gap and of Dependency

The external dependency of Latin American countries was seen as the primary cause that kept them in "the vicious circle of poverty". There was no industrialisation because there was dependency (on markets and technology), and there was dependency because there was no industrialisation. Since dependence created unequal relations through the deterioration of exchange terms, Latin American countries were "condemned" to increasing underdevelopment, making them victims to the sustained increase in the gap between them and the rich countries. There are many indicators of this.

For example in 1970, the average regional income per capita was equivalent to 18%. When the debt crisis occurred, this figure fell to 1496. This means that as an average, the population in our countries survived with one seventh of the income of workers from the industrialised countries (Cordero, 1990).

The previously mentioned vicious circle can be explained by considering that the sustained weakness of the national economies derived from the unequal relations with the foreign sector. This in turn contributed in maintaining a reduced capacity to capture necessary financial resources to invest in development and improve the conditions of social welfare.

This objective could not be postponed and in that time the Eastern block proposals seemed to gain space and supporters.

The urgency of investing in development, added to the deficit of local resources and a modest investment of foreign capitals, directed Latin America to another kind of dependency: that of international indebtedness. This happened by force that it has placed many countries in the position of being structurally "overindebted" (the debt is close to or surpasses the national GNP).

If the countries of America ever decided to pay their foreign debt with the exportation of wood from tropical rainforests, they would have to sacrifice a surface of 750 thousand km2 of virgin rainforests, similar to the total extension of these existing forests in Colombia and Ecuador together.


It was clear that the condition of primary exporter countries, "banana republics" or "dessert economies", as they were called in the north, needed to be changed to lead them towards industrialisation. Here was when the majority of Latin American countries assumed the CEPAL proposal to adopt a model of alternative development based on import substitution. This was to start a process that would take them, through successive stages, to the industrialisation of our economies and, the reduction of inequalities created by dependency.

In order to push this industrialisation process, it was thought to be indispensable to introduce "structural" changes that led to the abolition of "obsolete" economic structures. In addition to this, it was necessary to create internal and regional markets to sustain the initial manufacturing production (initially for agroindustry and consumption goods). Of course, all this led irremediably to agriculture in which (according to this focus) the main expressions of social and productive "obsolescence" (non monetary labour relations and technological patterns of low productivity) were found.

With the idea of "modernising" the country a large number of transformations were introduced that would significantly change the agrarian structure of that period. A summary of the main changes follows:

(i) Redistribution of Land Ownership

The ownership of land in almost all of Latin America continues to allow large amounts of land to be owned by a few hands. As a result of this, large rural populations were forced into "minifundios" (land parcels).

In some countries, especially between countries, the mentioned restructuring of property became oriented towards the dissolution of precarious land ownership ways that kept a large majority of rural people, especially natives, tied to landowners by means of feudal mechanisms and non monetary mechanisms.

The purposes of these changes were numerous. The most important reason was the increase in productivity of the labour force/land relationship, the introduction of salary relations, the incorporation of the rural population to the internal market, and, in general, reduction of agrarian poverty.

In order to obtain the modification of the land owning structure in most of Latin America, a package of agrarian reform and production development laws was put into effect almost simultaneously.

(ii) Modernisation of the Agricultural Production Processes

In order to transform the technological patterns, they assured extremely low levels of production and productivity, and did not allow the generation of agricultural surplus to enter the link of agroindustrialisation. This policy was supported at the governmental level through incentives, mainly of a credit and agricultural research type (here is when the majority of the existing agricultural research institutes appear in the region). Also, the introduction of the mechanisation of productive activities and/or the change in use of the land for activities in which the participation of manpower is more extensive (mainly livestock) occurred.


The strategies oriented to "agro-modernisation" obtained, to a certain extent, a reverse effect from the original intention. These intentions collided against a political power structure consolidated by the landowners. This finally made the imbalance of land ownership appear, even if only slightly. Actually, the perspective regarding land ownership induced large landowners to opt for a set of strategies to minimise the risk, which involved reducing rural labour participation in their "latifundios". The main mechanisms were, unexplainably, the same mechanisation of agriculture means of production and, above all, the assigning of ownership of marginal lands of the "latifundio" to the rural inhabitants. In the Andean countries, that meant relegating the native population to the highlands with very limited agricultural-livestock use.

The result: the maintenance of a structure which did not significantly change land tenancy, as seen in following national case studies presented as examples.

In Venezuela, in accordance with the 1988 census, 73% of the number of properties were parcels of less than 20 hectares in area which covered only 4% of the national agricultural surface. As a contrast, parcels of more than 500 hectares, which represented 396 of the properties, occupied 7096 of the agricultural surface.

The small landowners of Ecuador, with surfaces of less than 5 hectares, represented (in 1987) 5596 of all agricultural properties which, all together, covered only 5% of the surveyed agricultural surface of the country. On the other hand, the properties of more than 100 hectares represented 3.6% of the total of all properties and 50% of the agricultural surface.

In Colombia, 40% of the rural families lack land to work on, and an additional 24% work on degraded land.

In Brazil, 70% of the rural families lack land, and an additional 10% work on virtually unproductive parcels. (Centeno, 1991).

Denial of access to land to the rural population has led to overexploitation of small property (reducing rest periods, cultivating areas with no agricultural potential, introducing overpasturing, etc.), plus the transformation of the "minifundio" into a "microfundio". The effects are obvious as shown in the following examples.

In Bolivia, the high Andean zones or valley headwaters are eroded at present, due to the intense deforestation performed, plus the inadequate use of soils. This has reduced productivity and diminished the workable area of land. It is estimated that from 3596 to 41% (about 418,000 km2) of the land had this problem.

In the Andes of Ecuador, in the province of Loja, it is estimated that only 3% of the land is appropriate for agriculture. The overexploitation of land is intense. More than 103,000 hectares that are not suitable for agriculture are presently cultivated, and this has resulted in a systematic deterioration of the soil and the levels of life, thereby stimulating massive emigration which, in accordance with the last two censuses, reached 28.4% of the entire population. This is the origin of the city called Nueva Loja in the Amazon area of this country. (Villarreal, 1989)

So, the changes toward agro-modernisation started taking on the appearance of rural unemployment, overexploitation of the soil and deterioration of living standards for already poor rural inhabitants. Conditions were created for a new conflict: rural people were being expelled from areas such as the south and north-east in Brazil; the Colombian, Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Bolivian Andes; and the central valleys and plateaus of Central America.

These people were provided with incentives to go to:

Large cities, increasing the poverty belts in ghettos, "favelas", "villas miseria", "poblaciones callampas", "pueblos jóvenes" or "suburbios".

Look for lands in other demographically "unsaturated" regions, generally in the tropical rainforest, with low fertility and fragility, as has been the case of colonisation in the Amazon or Atlantic region of some countries of Central America.

It is in this last case that the main and most visible conflicts which concern forestry begin to take shape. These conflicts will be discussed below.


The social situation, in general, and the agrarian situation, in particular, were becoming explosive. And in some cases full fledge conflicts had begun. It was no coincidence that in various countries, rebel movements appeared, including, among the most well known, the guerrillas of Guatemala, Colombia and El Salvador.

At the same time, the extension of the productive frontier was presented as being necessary and an option for economic growth, which involved looking at "empty or under used spaces" and incorporating them into the respective national economies.

The former and latter were the cause and explanation why in the majority of countries in Latin America, especially among the Amazonian and Andean countries, occupation or colonisation has been strongly stimulated of such spaces. The two clear objectives were:

(i) as an escape valve for "demographic decongestion" of the saturated areas (for example, it is not a coincidence that the stage of greater intensity in emigration to the Amazon was precisely during these last decades).

(ii) to take advantage of new sources of natural resources for agroindustrial and miningpetroleum development.

In all of this, the national governments acted in a very committed way by means of favourable legislation to promote colonisation, the creation of an institutional infrastructure, the development of directed colonisation programs, etc. Some examples are presented below.

In Ecuador, the Colonisation Law of the Ecuadorian Amazon Region was issued (1978) which declared that "the colonisation of the Ecuadorian Amazon Region was a national priority", and obliged "all authorities and administrative organs to collaborate and facilitate the colonising process".

In Colombia, between the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, colonisation of the Amazon was promoted by INCORA and the Agrarian "Caja" or Bank, prioritising livestock activity in parcels of 85 hectares, of which 65 hectares were pasture land.


The State's intention to stimulate a "national development and occupation" of the previously cited spaces were obstructed by spontaneous colonisation and unsustainable exploitation of the resources, plus the systematic violation of native people's rights. These spaces were really not so "empty" as was announced.

It should be noted that the areas we are referring to have been generally tropical rainforest areas such as the Central American forests, the Choco bio-region in Ecuador and Colombia, the Orinoquía in Venezuela, and the Amazon, shared by eight countries. Very few areas have different characteristics and, among them, the savannahs of the Bolivian Beni region.

At any rate, the so-called incorporation of new colonisation spaces in the productive frontier of each country meant the emergence of new forms or causes of conflicts which, in general, have occurred by means of:

(i) the use of technical-economical systems and processes that are not sufficiently evaluated and, are also inadequate regarding the specific conditions of these zones, particularly for tropical rain forests, resulting (in most cases) in adverse and irreversible effects on the natural system for sustaining productive and social processes.

(ii) the imposition of a market logic about the natural resources in counterposition with economic patterns of native peoples, extending itself in such a way that in various cases, assimilation has been occurring within these traditional cultures.

With the exception of very few non contacted native peoples, practically all of them, are now more or less connected to or influenced by the cash economy.

(iii) the occupation and/or reduction of traditional territories and/or of the resources of native peoples, with which vital spaces have been affected in their social and cultural reproduction.

(iv) the direct or indirect intention to exploit forest resources, mainly of wood, which signified the generalisation of processes of overexploitation that are highly degrading of natural systems, by their own technical and technological forms.


As has been seen, the present occupation of forest zones was the result of a complex number of factors. However, at the same time, this is the source of a wide variety of conflicts and has meant the arrival on the scene of external participants competing with different proposals and technical and technological means, for the resources which were previously exclusively used by native communities (indigenous and rural people).

Under these conditions, the conflicts have arisen on different fronts and have been expressed in different ways, assuming various characteristics. We will review some of them in order to extract some key findings.


Although later in this paper we will analyse conflicts, in order to comply with this title, we will review and present cases of two large groups of conflicts:

A. Those that represent forms of competition for access to and control of forest resources.

B. Those that derive from social and technological relations applied in use of the resource.


The Chimanes Case in Bolivia

Located in the Amazon of Bolivia, the Chimanes Forest has a surface area of 1,200,000 hectares and is inhabited by some 2,700 persons from 17 communities of the ethnic groups called Mojenos, Movimas, Yulcarés and Chimanes.

The conflict originated when by means of a unilateral government decision, authorisation was given to entrepreneurs to exploit wood. These entrepreneurs seduced various communities to sell wood, evading legal and institutional controls.

In these circumstances, friction and discontent resulted inside the territory between ethnic groups and communities.

The cause can be found in the legal ambiguity of ethnic territories affected by different demarcations. Alongside this, there were ineffective controls regarding exploitation of forest resources and the cutting down of trees. The loggers use local manpower (power saws) to get at forest resources without getting into problems with legal difficulties.

In many cases, the strategy of the loggers is oriented towards dividing native communities. They make negotiations with individuals or factions and make economic offers to cut down trees or buy those already cut down by people with power saws. These isolated negotiations have caused problems in other groups. The protests have been on-going and have become denouncements, demands and interpolations that go further than purely individual claims, and appear to be expressed as communal and ethnic ones. This has produced a loss of legitimacy and capacity in the local communities to exercise control.

This has not only compromised the recovery of ethnic territories, but also the possibility of making the handling of this issue viable in sustainable terms, based on plans considering collective and informed participation of forest peoples.

The Awá Case in Ecuador and Colombia

The indigenous people called the Awá are located on both sides of the western border between Ecuador and Colombia, within the Choco bio-region. It is estimated that there is a population of two thousand members in Ecuador, and eight thousand in Colombia.

In Ecuador, this region has one of the few remaining forests on the western side of the country pees than 996 of what existed 50 years ago). The very poor neighbouring communities (50,000 people) as well as by various timber companies have a strong interest in this area. In this situation, the Awá indigenous are being displaced or intimidated, giving in external pressures because of they believe that are unable to confront the issue. It must be pointed out that this is one of the smallest indigenous groups of people of the country.

In these circumstances, in 1983 a sector of the State proposed, within a framework of frontier development policies, to improve the living conditions for the people of these areas, and requested cooperation from other state, church and international institutions. Soon, the question of the Awá communities came to the foreground, which up until then was not well known. This helped to think about beginning with demarcation and land titles for territories.

Various sectors (rural people from the region, logging enterprises, other State institutions, etc.) saw this proposal as an interference with their future expectations in obtaining the resources in the area. Unexpectedly, the local church got involved. While, on the other hand, the proposal also evoked support from the national indigenous organization and that of indigenous and environmental organisations.

Two parties were formed and, until then, the ones interested only had discussion points which included arguments and counterarguments on such questions as: the foreign nationality of future beneficiaries (because of the fact of being of Colombian historic origin); the character of the last remaining forest in the western part of the country; fragility for agricultural uses; biological diversity in danger of disappearing; etc.

Taking into consideration the unfavourable environment in which the proposal had to be advanced, a set of strategies to counteract the adverse opinions and resistance were developed. These included: seeking the establishment of an intergovernmental agreement (Ecuador and Colombia); legalising the situation through documentation; looking for support from international organisations; strengthening the capacity for participation of the Awá people in the whole process; deepening social and ecological knowledge; etc.

With all this involved, demarcation of land began and then many centres of conflict surfaced, with organisations that had quickly taken over lands for speculation reasons, with rural people who occasional had access to these forests, with landowners who aspired to extend their possessions, with miners, and, above all, with logging companies.

With so many centres of conflict, it took four years to resolve all the conflicts, each one of them having different means and strategies such as direct negotiation, coercion, mediation and the recourse to legal mechanisms.

Finally, in 1988, it was possible to achieve the constitutional Ministerial Agreement of the Forest Reserve for the Awl Communal Settlement. This involved legalising a surface of 101 thousand hectares for the Awl, finishing up the construction of a boundary, and allowing for tranquillity between the opposing parties. In 1989, there was legal recognition of the "sheltered" Awl of Colombia and creating a "binational indigenous territory".

During this whole process, the Awl people had created and consolidated their organization and, acted without sponsorship and the tutelage of external participants.

The OPIP Case in Ecuador

In the province of Pastaza, in the Amazon area of Ecuador, the Arco Oriente Inc. Company or its contractors began exploration and seismic activities on lands with indigenous occupation (Quichuas). This fell under the framework of a national development strategy which included petroleum development of the mentioned area. This was understood by the local communities, grouped in the organization of Indigenous Peoples of Pastaza (OPIP,) as a threat to their forests and territories, and the introduction of market systems, directly affecting these peoples who operate under a different system. Their concerns were based on the occurrences in the neighbouring provinces of Sucumbíos and Napo, where petroleum exploitation had left catastrophic results from the environmental point of view and a very problematical social situation ( poverty, land displacement, violence, etc.).

The adversaries represented simply the greatest expressions of economic and political power: petroleum companies and the State. In other words, the imbalance was quite clear.

In these conditions, OPIP developed a strategy whose main aspects were as follows:

The "Tunguy Campaign" began with support from international ecological movements in defence of the Amazon, showing that their reaction against penetration by petroleum companies in their territory did not only have to do with ethical or political reasons, but rather "ecological" reasons. That brought on the declaration of many ecologists of the world who warned that with the devastation of the Amazon, the 'last lung" of the planet was being destroyed, and that under these circumstances, the indigenous peoples were fulfilling their role as "defenders of nature". With this, support for another demand was obtained: demarcation of their community territories.

This campaign occurred in a context in which there was an evident international concern regarding development and conservation of the Amazon. This facilitated the fact that they were listened to in various international forums, confronting representatives from foreign banks and governments, particularly from developed countries, and achieved presenting their demands to international political levels.

Measures of force were adopted at internal levels such as retaining high State Officers (of the Presidency of the Republic, of the State Petroleum Company, and of other institutions, to force the government to negotiate (Sarayacu, 1989)). They were able to get some basic agreements and the possibility to continue negotiations.

In the meantime, the international actions were reinforced by means of a support campaign for the Quichua People of Pastaza, in cooperation with an ecological organization called Rainforest Action Network (RAN), with its head office in San Francisco, California.

Because of this the campaign, the ARCO Oriente Company, a subsidiary of ARCO International Oil and Gas Company (AIOGC) held talks with RAN to discuss accusations RAN made regarding the destruction of lands and forests of the Quichua indigenous people from Pastaza.

ARCO prepared a counterargument based on environmental studies which included soil studies, climate, botany, fishing, archaeology, water quality and revegetation, and these were mentioned to justify the fact that their activities did not cause any damage as RAN stated. Later, it became known that those studies were incomplete.

In 1992, after 15 years of continuous mobilisation, OPIP designed a protest strategy which meant a march of about 400 kilometres from the Amazon Region to the capital of Ecuador (Quito). Thanks to this, there was ample communication of their demands and backing from public opinion, achieving the legalisation of more than a million hectares, corresponding to a large part of the traditional territories of the Pastaza indigenous communities.

OPIP finalised a stage of negotiations with the ARCO Company in the United States, which culminated in the signing of a joint monitoring agreement.

The Nahuas Case in Peru

The Nahuas communities inhabit the Bajo Urubamba zone, and did not have any contact with the outside world until 1984. Here, the Shell company began seismic prospecting to evaluate the existing gas reserves. The first contacts with Shell teams caused some injuries and put the continuity of work in the area at risk. In these conditions, the company tried to improve its relations with the Nahuas communities offering them tools, food and other gifts. This included, a group of Nahuas chiefs was taken to the Shell camps. These gestures and actions were successful in allowing the completion of the seismic exploration.

Nevertheless, this conciliated way out of the conflict made it possible for timber companies to enter the area. They did so with the same strategy of Shell, offering gifts in exchange for extracting wood from primary forests. Successive contacts introduced whooping cough and flu, which these people had no defence against, and epidemics occurred which began to wipe out the Nahua people. About 50% died and others emigrated. Some survivors moved to the neighbouring valley of Manú, and others went to the city of Sepahua, where at present they wander around begging, and are not integrated socially, economically or culturally.

The Candoshi Case in Peru

A conflict took place in 1991 which involved initially the Candoshi people and the Fisheries Ministry at Lake Rimachi (Lake Musa Karusa), located in the Peruvian Amazon, in Loreto Department, some 25 km. from the mouth of the Pastaza in the Marañón.

The problems began when the Ministry of Fisheries declared the region of Lake Rimachi as a reserved area (810,548 hectares), within the Candoshi territory. According to the official declaration, this action was taken in order to preserve the ichthyological wealth and its natural environment. This environmental action lacked understanding of the socio-environmental situations, as well as financing and personnel training, among other factors.

The hostility and conflicts with some of the public officers regarding the extraction of hydrobiological resources and other resources, were among the reasons which motivated the Candoshi people to take actions leading to direct control of Lake Rimachi (Musa Karusha).

The reasons pointed out by the indigenous in this case included: preventing depravation caused by employees of the Ministry of Fisheries and recovering Lake Rimachi as part of their traditional territory, in order to give it back its ancient productive capacity. These people had depended on the products from the lake, which has always been their main supply of animal proteins.

The actions were headed by the Federation of Native Candoshi Communities from the District of Pastaza (FECONACADIP) affiliated to Interethnic Association for Development of the Perurian Rainforest (AIDESEP) which took action and control of Lake Rimachi in August of 1991.

They began by forming a Defence Committee for the interests of the Candoshi People from Lake Rimachi.

Through AIDESEP, the FECONACADIP became connected with other indigenous sectors from the Amazon Valley by means of the Coordinator of Indigenous Organisations from the Amazon Valley (COICA). These organisations generated pressure on the Peruvian government, which named a Negotiating Commission which travelled to the locality of San Lorenzo and Lake Rimachi in order to find a way out of the conflict.

The Commission of state agencies presented a proposal that did not recognise the demands of the Candoshi people or develop joint management of the resource with local communities.

Only through increasing pressure by the indigenous organisations did the State partially relax its position, admitting the possibility of joint management, although there was never a basic agreement nor change in the legal status of Lake Rimachi as a reserved zone.

In other words, in this case, it was possible to partially fulfill the objectives proposed by the communities, although legally the situation had not changed. In fact, the State has changed its position in the last two years. The Ministry of Energy and Mines has authorised a concession for a petroleum lot to a transnational company which has begun its exploration work in the territorial area of the Candoshi people, creating the potential for new conflicts in the future.

The Case of the Biosphere Reserve of the Plátano River in Honduras

This reserve is found to the north-east of Honduras in the region known as La Mazquitia, and occupies a surface area of 230 thousand hectares. It is a rainy and humid region in which various ethnic groups live: the Misquitos (15,000), Pech (126 families), Garffunas (7,000) and Latin settlers (3,000).

These people are dedicated to subsistence level agriculture, small scale livestock and the exploitation of marine resources (shrimp and lobster). This last activity is entrepreneurial, using the Misquitos as workers, and since 1970 has caused 126 deaths and left 206 persons paralysed.

This Reserve has been labelled the Patrimony of Mankind by UNESCO. Since the creation of the Reserve, the State has made no effort to establish clear norms for protection nor the definition of areas for use and ownership of the land on the part of the indigenous communities. The increase in agricultural land use represents a threat for the traditional occupants who live on land without any legal guarantees. In order to stop these advancement of the use of land for agriculture, the settlers and indigenous communities have organised themselves in a vigilance committee which is made up of sub-committees in each community, and have begun talks with the migrants.

During 1995, the Honduran government made known its plans to establish a settlement of 25,000 families near the Reserve mitigation areas. The government assured that this would occur in accordance with studies of environmental impact and control to avoid expansion towards the inner part of the Reserve.

The plans referred to were not consulted with the local people and, because of this, they reacted against them. This provoked the beginning of a process of local accord for unifying criteria for a conflict of a national character.

With this objective in mind, various meetings have been held with government, rural and indigenous representatives, but there has been no progress in the negotiations.


Conflicts in Gender Inequality

Gender refers to the differences and relations between men and women which are built and learned socially, and which vary in accordance with different situations, contexts or times. The characteristics of these differences are sources of conflict, and for this, we present two examples of gender conflict in projects about use and handling of natural resources below.

A: Gender and Forest Nurseries

A good example of gender conflicts in the use and handling of natural resources is presented in various projects and initiatives executed in the region to establish community forest nurseries. Many have found that at the moment of selecting species, there are large differences between desires and needs of men and women.

Frequently, men prefer to plant wood species that have value in the market or that can be used for construction, as this is their social role. Whereas, women prefer species that can serve multiple uses, as for firewood, medicine, fruit production for family consumption and as food for small animals, or as good specimens.

Once these differences appeared, the promotion agents of forest nurseries had to accommodate interests of the two groups, providing space for a larger number of species and looking for local varieties for both demands. In the cases where the agents have only taken into consideration the preferences of one gender, such as those of the men, they have found themselves in situations resulting in conflicts or non compliance with the necessary tasks for good maintenance of the nursery, generally looked after by the women, and for whom the nursery does not fulfil their expectations.

B: The Case of the Rural Forest Development Project (DFC) in Ecuador

This case refers to gender conflicts that can occur between people that work with conservation or forest development projects. The DFC Project is financed by the Dutch Government through FAO and implemented by a mixed team of national and international professionals of men and women. As a donor requirement, the project has a strong commitment with the incorporation of gender within the field of rural forest development.

In order to start their activities in a community, the DFC negotiates and establishes commitments to make project activities with the Second Grade Organization (OSG). One of the requirements established is that the OSG has to name community promoters to make project activities of whom 5096 must be women. If this requirement is not complied with, DFC support is suspended. Now there is resistance from the OSG in this regard.

The requirement of 50% women as promoters is only a first step. The most serious problem is found later. The DFC community promoters include single women, single mothers, widows and married women, both young (25-35) as well as middle-aged (35-45 years old). Some are already community leaders with experience in other activities, however, for the majority, this is their first experience in this kind of leadership. What they share in common is exposure to strong gender discrimination which significantly impedes them in their work. In certain cases, this has caused them to stop being promoters.

The single women find conflicts between the requirements of their work and the "role" they must play in the community as "good daughters of the family". Their position requires them to travel to other communities in collaboration with men and attend nightly meetings. This has made other members of the community, and even their own families, start rumours and criticise the reputation of a woman promoter, with the risk of not being able to get married in the future or causing problems for their families, or having to keep isolated.

For married promoters, conflicts occur with the husbands who can be against their work saying that they are seeking another man. The husband is pressured by other members of the community who criticise him saying that he is not controlling his wife when she leaves the house to work outside.

The problem of acceptance of female community promoter has caused the resignation of many promoters from their jobs.

The DFC has started to treat the problem with a series of workshops about "community development problems" and has included activities to treat promoter problems explicitly. It has been noted that this requires a lot of tact and skill to facilitate discussions about the topics of sexual beliefs and behaviour. The DFC is going to try out workshops for promoter husbands and for other men and directors of the community, thinking about helping them to change local prejudices against women promoters.


Here we can mention some extraordinary examples of the environmental impacts that could cause a "conflict of use" in forest resources.

A: Settlers and Virgin Lands: The Farmers Who Migrate to the Amazon

The migrant farmer begins by settling on lands of which he does not know the quality and potential. Generally, they do not have any technical means nor economic resources. The immediate source of income is cutting down trees in the forest to get wood and, at the same time, preparing the land for subsistence level agriculture. This includes, above all, traditional crops for the market. Obviously, this form of agriculture in generally poor soils, as is the case in majority of the tropical areas, presents rapid decline in production and requires converting more forest area into agricultural land.

The old agricultural areas become transformed into pasture ground, which does not offer any satisfactory solution to rural farmer's needs and accelerates the general ecological imbalance of the area.

The introduction of a single crop means the imposition of an extremely simplified system in extensive land stretches. It represents the creation of a truly biological semi-desert where only a few plant and animal species are introduced within a "milieu" that requires a mixed community of hundreds of species interdependent among themselves in order to be productive and free from plagues and diseases/l. With time, there is a decrease in organic fertility of the soil, which alongside the compacting and erosion caused by the trampling of heavy cattle, and the accelerated washing and leaching of the soils due to weather exposure, makes the single crop areas increasingly unproductive.

What has been expressed and what has been confirmed by many experts, is that the farms submitted to extensive agriculture or livestock are only productive for a time period of ten years at the most, after which productivity and income diminish notably, obliging the owners to cut down more of the forest.

B: Industrial Extraction of Wood from Latin American Tropical Rainforests

The forest entrepreneur is in the forest for obtaining profits in the shortest time period and with the least economic costs possible. For this reason, he introduces machinery and techniques which produce profound impacts on the natural environment.

Actually, scaled industrial exploitation has shown itself to be highly inefficient from the point of view of environmental conservation, and, from the economic perspective, this is a productive process with many difficulties. The basic problem can be found in the excessively destructive character which, in tropical ecosystems, provokes the kind of technical and technological processes applied for this purpose.

Analysis of existing data shows that up to 55% of the tropical rainforest cut down commercially ends up deforested (PNUMA, 1987). Nevertheless, the case of exploitation of Ecuadorian tropical rainforests is more alarming where it has been proven that 70% of each hectare is subject to the action of heavy machinery, and becomes so deeply affected (with the soils removed and the remaining vegetation destroyed) that rehabilitation is not very probable (De Bonis J. 1986).


The indigenous peoples have a long history of contact with the global society, and this has thereby created needs that cannot be satisfied within their subsistence system. In order to satisfy these needs, they must develop activities which generate monetary incomes. In those places where the indigenous have been stripped of their territories, or their land has been reduced to very small spaces (for example, the multiethnic region of the department of Pando in Bolivia, the Quichua and Shuara communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon), traditional strategies for subsistence cannot continue. Thus, even for food they must participate in a market economy as day labourers or in a similar kind of activity.

There are innumerable cases in Latin America of indigenous communities that have become "transformed" into communities with notable farming characteristics. These indigenous communities did not have the option of alternatives which, in the framework of their traditional indigenous economy, allowed them to confront the systematic market economy influence.

The traditional indigenous economy in these communities simply fell behind and were replaced by new productive patterns. This resulted in an erosion in knowledge, loss of the diverse strategies and products used to maintain the practice of subsistence vigorous.

The adoption of new strategies directed at the market produced many changes within the productive domestic unit. Moreover, the new forms of uses affected the natural resources in such a way that the sustainable subsistence activities have been replaced by non sustainable activities, directed at the market.

In this context, conflictual transformations have occurred including those mentioned below.

1. Changes in Production Relations

There has been a movement towards replacing agroforestry systems, which is the base of a sustainable productive system, with pasture ground or cash crops. These activities have competed with the subsistence economy for natural resources, for manpower and, have also affected the social division of labour, since some changes mean more work for women and less for men, or vice versa. The consequence in the long term has been impoverishment of the people.

2. Loss of Land Fauna Species

In general, the majority of indigenous communities which have modified their traditional patterns of production to those of the market economy, mentioned the loss of fauna species as one of their problems, especially those species which were hunted. Some important factors that explain this situation are, among others: the almost universal use of firearms; the demographic growth of the indigenous and non indigenous population; the commercial demand for wild animal meat; the abandonment of a religious practices which regulate the man-fauna relation; deforestation; and colonisation.


A Basic Finding

The historical analysis of the socio-economic processes of Latin American countries, contained in the first pages of this document, confirms a significant fact: poverty, a lack of opportunities to confront poverty, and exhaustion of natural resources, are a hot bed for generating specific conflicts. Thus, while these conditioning factors exist, expressions of conflict will continue to be persistent.

Findings about Conflict Management Regarding the Lack of an Objective and the Intensity of the Conflict

In areas where the natural resources, such as those of the forest or the land are exhausted or degraded, conflicts for access to and control of these are more frequent and numerous.

These expressions of conflict have many levels of intensity that go from a passive kind, characterised by simple public expressions of non conformity regarding a specific situation, to a very active kind, characterised by very aggressive and even violent confrontations. What, then, determines the scale of conflict? Analysis of different cases makes one think that the central factor is given by "alternative options" of access to similar resources that the parties involved in the conflict can have. The fewer the options and the more the costs of an alternative solution to one or both parties involved in a conflict, the intensity of competition will be greater. On the other hand, the more the options available and the lower the costs of an alternative solution, the conflict will be less.

Regarding the Participants

In practice, the stereotyped characteristics of the participants do not always work, so it is not possible to predict the position a participant or party will take in the conflict. It seems as though there are no natural allies or enemies.

Continuing with the previous idea, many participants have a heterogeneous structure, and each of their components can act in a different way, even being agonistic to the others. This tends to present itself more frequently in the public sector area. It should be noted, for example, that in the case referred to of the Awá of Ecuador, state institutions could be found on both sides of the conflict.

Regarding the Complexity of the Conflict

Conflicts where the participants involved are numerous and heterogeneous, are where the presence of a greater variety of strategies can be observed.

Regarding the Dynamics of the Conflict

Beginning with the idea that many conflicts that have to do with natural resources are a form of "competition", their conditions can be found in constant change. Each participant involved tends to "accommodate" the controversy in such a way that the final result will be favourable to his interests. This takes with it the need to identify and handle the largest number of strategies possible (political, legal, technical, etc.) so that the participant involved can be prepared for the changes that the counterpart can induce.

Regarding the Ways for Managing Conflict

Frequently, management by peaceful means occurs in those conflicts whose symmetries of participants are equivalent; nevertheless, this is not a constant.

The aggresive way as a strategy for conflict management has been used in recent years as a mechanism for forcing initiation and/or culmination of negotiation processes (examples: in the OPIP case, retention of officers in Saryacu, marches of indigenous peoples from Beni in Bolivia, and those of Pastaza in Ecuador).

It is common to encounter controversial strategies connected to the search for and culmination of a peaceful handling of conflicts in which one can notice a recurrence to the named combined or mixed strategies.

Regarding the Internal Cohesion of the Participant (Community example)

When the community does not have its own organization, or this is not sufficiently consolidated, it is more susceptible to having to depend on another form of external organization.

Development of the conflict and participation of the community in its management contributes to the strengthening and consolidation of it and its organisations. It produces the formation of charts, the capacity to negotiate, political contacts and with other organisations, access to information, etc.

Regarding Participation of the Community in the Negotiation Process

The community negotiators, who are generally their leaders, must not go to the negotiating table without previously knowing the position of consensus or majority that the community has and who the negotiators represent. This allows them to know, among other things, that they can count on backing and, above all, act with the interests of whom they represent at stake.

The community negotiators must know the margin of negotiation and flexibility that is acceptable for the community. Conflict resolution can need partial concessions that must not be decided by the negotiators, with the risk that they result being unacceptable and damaging to the community.

The ideal situation for a community is when its representatives have a negotiating practice in resolving a controversy. A negotiating table is an exercise in arguments and counterarguments that demand some ability from the negotiators. Here is when the need to start training processes about the topic becomes clear.

Regarding the Handling of Information

The adequate selection and application of management strategies require an evaluation of their effectiveness. It is noted that the effectiveness of one or a combination of strategies depends very much on the availability of information for analysing cases considered as having been successfully handled.

A negotiation performed for resolving a conflict is a confrontation of arguments. He who has more and better arguments can resolve the conflict in the most favourable way for his interests. This also depends on who handles more and better information.

Regarding Alliances

Asymmetry of power prevails among participants in many conflicts. The parties directly involved in a conflict have different levels of capacity for handling the conflict in terms of: different access to the information; support of public opinion; political influence; internal cohesion (when this has to do with an organization); economic resources; etc. He who has a greater "proportion" of power, has more possibilities of resolving a conflict in his favour.

Various cases have shown (for example, Awá and OPIP in Ecuador) that the actors who have started from a weaker position facing their counterpart have made up for their limitations by means of establishing alliances. The lesson is that when it is necessary, the community must not forget about the support of allied actors. Their participation can be useful in certain circumstances, and the community must make the evaluation.

Regarding the Focus and Analysis of Gender

It is surprising to discover that little has been done in using gender analysis in strategies for understanding or handling conflicts of a socio-environmental kind. That are various reasons for this. First of all, in the majority of cases for conflict resolution, the unit of analysis of different positions and interests has been the "community" facing another group or entity. This analytical focus can frequently allow us to presume that all community members have common positions and interests. This tends to make the existence of groups within the same community that could have different interests regarding the conflict in question, rather invisible. Together with this, there is a strong tendency among mediating persons or organisations to work with the existing leaders of the community in question. In most cases, these leaders are men and their perspectives about a conflict can hide or make other interests in the community invisible, especially those of women.

Regarding Dependency on the Other Party

If there is any kind of basic dependency of one of the parties in conflict regarding the counterpart involved in the controversy, the dependent party is in a vulnerable position and has less flexibility and autonomy for negotiation. The creation of dependencies tends to be used as strategies precisely for reducing autonomy or aggressiveness in conflict management on the part of the other party. There are many examples: the logging enterprises with some communities of the Chimanes forest in Bolivia, and the Shell company with Naguas directors in Peru.

In this situation, it is logical that the dependent actor would try to "break" this kind of link, and in reality, these cases do exist. Here the strategy of alliances has worked to get something.

Theoretical Findings: Types of Conflicts

The catagorising of conflicts is not just an exclusive academic exercise. This helps us to approach the "chart and pathology of the situation".

If we base ourselves on the conflicts mentioned in this document and remember other case studies, we can anticipate that the question of types of conflicts is something that is difficult to outline, as these are quite dynamic and many changes can happen along the way which deform the criteria originally used for some kind of assignation. Also, the conflict is so complex that it could be classified, at the same time, as one of a heterogeneous kind, as many conflicts are. Speaking of criteria for classifying conflicts, there are so many that can be applied. However, in order to generalise and simplify, we will try a chart of types in which all conflicts show themselves in the forestry area with greater evidence and persistence.

According to the Condition of the Origin of the Conflict

a) Conditions of a structural kind, are those that are derived directly from the disposition of the so-called economic and social models that govern every country and that affect an ample part of the population. In the first part of this document, some of these were mentioned: concentration of land ownership, manpower unemployment, inequality in income distribution, exclusion of ethnic minorities from social participation, etc.

B) Conditions of a particular kind, are those where the causes for conflict are linked with the interests of one or various concrete actors, and identifiable as the State (whether policies or actions of governments (national or local), entrepreneurs, organisations and persons. As a consequence, and different from conflicts of a structural kind, their roots are not diluted in society.

According to the Characteristics and Symmetry of the Actors

When we refer to the basic characteristics of the actors, we are referring to the social, economic and political condition. From this and others comes a separation with the names of the actors themselves: country and indigenous communities, enterprises (agroindustrial, mining petroleum, timber) and the public administration.

Lately, the concept of "the third sector" is taking shape to be grouped into the "solidarity organisations" (environmentalists, churches, native supporters, etc).

The classification of actors according to this criteria, simply anticipates the "level" of each of them and therefore, the kind of differences that could result at the beginning of a conflict. We mentioned this at the beginning because the strategies for conflict management tend to reduce the inequalities relative to the capacity of each actor to serve his own interests.

Starting with the characteristics of the actors involved, there appears another classification of conflicts:

a) Symmetric or between equals (economically, socially, culturally, politically and technically).

b) Asymmetric or between unequals;

According to the Impacts of the Conflict

The development of a conflict can involve positive or negative effects in so many areas in the environment (deforestation, erosion, biological extinction, pollution, etc); in the economic and social situation (migratory expulsion of population groups, take over of resources and income, gender inequalities, etc); in the political area (establishment of institutional norms and structures, as stimulators of position or negative processes, etc); and in the cultural area (affirmation of ethnic identities, dissolution of traditional cultural patterns, etc).

The foreseeing of possible impacts from which development of a conflict derives, provides us with anticipated aspects such as risks and benefits of being committed to management.

According to Management Strategies

In general, the systematised conflicts have shown that the management strategies can be of three kinds:

a) Conflict handling by peaceful means (non violent conflict, formal, negotiated).

b) Conflict handling through controversial way (polemical, violent confrontation, coertion).

c) Conflict handling by combined strategies (peaceful and controversial).

Recurrence to any of these strategies begins with consideration of the capacities and wills of the actors on stage.


(1) It is illustrative to look at the case of the first commercial plantations of African palm in Ecuador. They were affected by a combination of plagues until 1979 for almost 8096. In new Amazon plantations, some diseases have been detected that were observed previously, plus others without precedents nationally and internationally (Arguello, et al, 1987).


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