Pandora's Box: The Implications of Social Movements on Development. Lessons from the Lacandona Jungle in Chiapas

  • Reygadas L
  • Ramos T
  • Montoya G
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This paper's objective is twofold. First, it aims to demonstrate that the emergence of a powerful social movement in a rural region triggers a period of intense transformations with unpredictable outcomes and widely varied, even contradictory, implications for development – which can be positive and negative, intentional and unintentional. The second objective is to improve the understanding of causes explaining such diverse implications in order to identify the factors and processes that promote and thwart alternative development agendas. While social movements often strengthen traditionally excluded groups, they can also give rise to identities and events that limit a territory's economic prospects. Such is the case of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in Chiapas, Mexico. This social movement has won respect for the indigenous peoples and weakened political clientelism in the region. However, the EZLN has also hindered development initiatives involving cooperation with public institutions and market links. Nonetheless, several communities in the Lacandona Jungle (Selva Lacandona) are exploring alternative paths to development, largely thanks to the Zapatista movement. This trend is due to the movement's unexpected effects: increasing interest in the jungle; public investment in infrastructure; the presence of several government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the area; and the creation of new incentives and opportunities for establishing indigenous microenterprises. Based on this paradox and on-site fieldwork in the Frontera Corozal indigenous community, this paper discusses the contributions, contradictions, and dilemmas of social movements facing local development.

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  • Luis Reygadas

  • Teresa Ramos

  • Guillermo Montoya

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