written by Britany Green (MALAS 2022)
The Center for Latin American Studies hosted its 69th Annual Conference titled “Indigenous Rights, Environment Change, and Development in South America’s Chaco” from April 15-16. This year, the conference was held virtually, which allowed for the participation and attendance of a diverse range of actors from across the Americas. The two-day event consisted of presentations and round-table discussions with Indigenous leaders, researchers, and social justice advocates from Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, the U.S., and Canada. The panelists provided critical insight into struggles for Indigenous land rights, environmental conservation, and human rights in the Gran Chaco.
The first day of the conference featured presentations by the invited panelists from Indigenous communities and advocacy organizations in the Chaco. Indigenous leaders from Bolivia and Paraguay shared their communities’ struggles for the recuperation of ancestral lands and the recognition of their territorial rights. Representatives from research organizations in the Chaco discussed the efforts being made by human and environmental rights advocates to address the social and environmental injustice in the region. Moreover, members of conservation organizations talked about the rapid deforestation and loss of biodiversity occurring in the Chaco with the expansion of agribusiness and development projects. Each panel concluded with vibrant discussion on the future for the communities and organizations represented. Many panelists expressed the importance of collaboration between researchers and frontline actors, but also between researchers themselves. Collaboration is especially necessary in the case of the Gran Chaco, as the forest lies at the intersection of four countries, each with complex relationships between the state, private businesses, and local actors.
Day two revolved around presentations by the authors of the forthcoming edited book Reimagining the Gran Chaco: Identities, Politics, and the Environment. The authors came from various countries and academic backgrounds, which resulted in the book being multinational and interdisciplinary in its approach to analyzing the Chaco. During the conference, some speakers discussed the historical legacies of colonialism and settler colonialism that impact the lives of Indigenous peoples in the Chaco today. Other scholars discussed Indigenous peoples’ struggles for territory and autonomy in the context of growing extractivist industries. The intersections between identity, language, and religion were explored through presentations on the cultural dynamics of the people living in the region. Each presentation built on the discussions from the previous day by furthering our understanding of the social, political, and economic context of the Chaco. The conference ended with a virtual happy hour and live music by Welson Tremura, where conversation continued on how to strengthen collaborative research.
The 69th Annual Conference was facilitated by Dr. Joel Correia and hosted by the UF Center for Latin American Studies. The event was sponsored by Title VI funding, and the UF International Center, Anthropology department, Tropical Conservation and Development Program, University of Florida Press, and the University of Arizona Center for Latin American Studies also contributed. All conference sessions are available to view on the Center’s YouTube channel, and Reimagining the Gran Chaco is able to be preordered through The University of Florida Press.
Watch the conference events at our YouTube playlist here.