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Are NGOs and Constitutions protecting the rights of Local Communities in South America?

The constitutions of Ecuador, Bolivia, and Brazil protect indigenous people by recognizing indigenous rights in their new constitutions, but amending constitutions is not enough to help indigenous people and local communities who have been marginalized by governments and private organizations. Indigenous people have the right to be free, practice their religious, cultural, and spiritual beliefs, to own their land and territories, to have their sacred places protected, to have their traditional ecological knowledge be respected, and to “live in a healthy environment with appropriate management and exploitation of the ecosystems”[1]. The language used in these constitutions suggests that Indigenous People, and their culture, will be respected and protected, however, people like Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia, challenge whether or not these constitutions actually do so. Evo Morales petitioned that “the indigenous people and the humble inhabitants of this planet- believe that the time has come to put a stop to” the abuse that capitalism and marxism inflict on our Earth, suggesting that these constitutions exploit Indigenous peoples culture and environment rather than protect it [2]. While the language of these constitutions may perpetuate protection of Indigenous people, it does not guarantee that there will be any implementation of respect or protection. Essentially, the constitutions of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil protect Indigenous People by recognizing that they have rights, however, it does not provide protection in practice. These constitutions do not protect Indigenous people from capitalism, which Evo Morales argues is “irrational consumerism and inequality,” or from the privatization of resources that are vital to survival for Indigenous populations [2].

NGOs play the pivotal role of partnering with local communities in order to link on-the-ground communities with national policy and international governance by working either with local communities to help be their voice to their government or by working with governments to understand local communities [3]. This role is important because uneven development may disproportionately impact vulnerable communities and environments, making them less resilient to global environmental change, so NGOs play a vital role in making sure that there is a reliable connection between the government and local communities [4]. According to Kottak, purposes of NGOs are to seek culturally informed and appropriate solutions to the environmental problems communities face, focus on more than just the local ecosystem, and understand political awareness and policy concerns at the international, national, regional, and local levels [5]. However, people like Chapin and Ostrom argue that NGOs push their own agenda rather than focusing on local concerns or conditions. Ostrom uses the example of a Nepalese irrigation system to argue that even good intentioned development projects may not work because external observers (NGOs) may not be aware of locally-specific systems, and therefore it is not incorporated into the new systems, which makes the changes inappropriate for local conditions [6]. While NGOs should be partnering with local communities in order to help them solve a social or political issue, Chapin argues that the role they play in regards to national policy and international governance is actually to exploit local communities and their resources [7]. Overall, NGOs can be beneficial resources to both local communities and governments, however issues with funding, a failure of researches to return data to local communities in an understandable format, and lack of project sustainability once the external researcher leaves, can all negatively impact the relationship and role NGOs have with local communities and government agencies [8].

Works Cited

[1]Bolivian / Peruvian Constitutions: Declaration of the Rights of Pachamama. 2009. Ch IX, article 30. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Bolivia_2009.pdf

[2]Morales, Evo. 2007. “Let’s Respect our Mother Earth.”

[3]Zanotti, Laura. (2016). The Politics of Possession: The Proliferation of Partnerships in the Brazilian Amazon. PoLAR, 34(2), 290-314.

[4] Ogden, L., Heynen, N., Oslender, U., West, P., Kassam, K. A., Robbins, P., ... & Rozzi, R. (2015). The politics of earth stewardship in the uneven Anthropocene. In Earth Stewardship (pp. 137-157). Springer, Cham.

[5]Kottak, Conrad (1999) The new ecological anthropology. American Anthropologist, 101(1), 23-35.

[6]Ostrom, E., Burger, J., Field, C. B., Norgaard, R. B., & Policansky, D. (1999). Revisiting the commons: local lessons, global challenges. Science, 284(5412), 278-282.

[7] Chapin, Mac. (2004). A Challenge to Conservationists. Word Watch November/December 2004. 17-31.

[8]Wilder, B. T., O'meara, C., Monti, L., & Nabhan, G. P. (2016). The importance of indigenous knowledge in curbing the loss of language and biodiversity. BioScience, 66(6), 499-509.

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