Diversity and Development

Santa Marta - ColombiaI’ve now been in Colombia for a few weeks and somewhat predictably, I love it more each day. I spent last week on the Caribbean coast, which struck me (as it has before) as being remarkably different from Bogotá, and therefore reminded me of one of the things I love most about Colombia – its diversity. It is amazing that one country can have such a wide range of landscapes, climates, cultures and people.

As part of my research, I am investigating the creation of one of ten indigenous communities in the lower part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain range near the city. The indigenous people have been badly affected by the armed conflict in the region and are now in the process of reclaiming their ancestral lands in a sustainable way. I started this research with a very skeptical view of the government and NGO involvement in the projects, but the more I look into the development of indigenous land rights and governmental structures that support indigenous life in Colombia, the more impressed I become. It seems that in comparison to many other countries in Latin America, especially those where the indigenous population is a minority, Colombia has made more tangible efforts to preserve indigenous identity as part of national diversity, while also politically engaging indigenous groups at the local and national level.

That said, it seems that the community I’m studying may have some issues in its function as a development project. Monitoring and evaluation is almost non-existent and it seems that though collaboration was strong and effective in the process of creating the new village, it has weakened considerably since the inauguration of the community in July 2010. While I do think that the people should live in the village without constant interference from the outside, the lack of communication between the indigenous-lead NGO, another local NGO and the interested governmental entities could be problematic if accompanied by a lack of accountability for unforeseen issues.

While the impressive representation of indigenous interests in local and national government seems to me to be quite unique to Colombia, these last observations regarding a lack of accountability are common in development projects all over the world. Hopefully in the coming weeks as I spend more time investigating this project, I’ll learn more about how this type of issue can be resolved in order to complement the strides Colombia has already taken in indigenous and development-related work.

Posted by Cristal Downing – MA Candidate at CLACS

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