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Territory, Politics, Governance
ISSN: 2162-2671 (Print) 2162-268X (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rtep20
Islands of Governmentality: Rainforest
Conservation, Indigenous Rights, and the
Territorial Reconfiguration of Guyanese
Gillian Gregory & Ismael Vaccaro
To cite this article: Gillian Gregory & Ismael Vaccaro (2015) Islands of Governmentality:
Rainforest Conservation, Indigenous Rights, and the Territorial Reconfiguration of Guyanese
Sovereignty, Territory, Politics, Governance, 3:3, 344-363, DOI: 10.1080/21622671.2014.965728
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/21622671.2014.965728
Published online: 17 Oct 2014.
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Islands of Governmentality: Rainforest
Conservation, Indigenous Rights, and the
Territorial Reconﬁguration of Guyanese
GILLIAN GREGORY and ISMAEL VACCARO
(Received February 2014: in revised form July 2014)
ABSTRACT Contemporary scholarship increasingly emphasizes that modern state sovereignty
does not depend on the control of a strictly bounded and uniformly governed territory.
Rather, authority now stems from a variety of different actors, within and external to states,
who enact shared forms of power over different areas of national territory for different objectives.
In Guyana, contemporary expressions of neoliberal governmentality, environmental conservation
and the recognition of indigenous peoples’rights, have recently emerged as alternative forms of
territorial authority in the country’s interior rainforest—an area that has historically posed chal-
lenges to steady state control. We outline the history and conﬁguration of these territorial
‘islands’, demonstrating the ways in which their diverse sources of authority articulate and
overlap with—and often contradict—each other, thereby emphasizing that these processes are
intrinsic to the very constitution, expansion, and legitimacy of modern state power. This paper
contributes to understandings of the territorial reconﬁguration of sovereignty in English-speaking
EXTRACTO La teoría política contemporánea enfatiza que la soberanía del estado moderno no
depende del control de un territorio gobernado de forma uniforme y con fronteras estrictas. Por
el contrario, la autoridad ahora emerge de una variedad de distintos actores desde dentro y fuera
de estos estados, que implementan formas compartidas de poder sobre diferentes áreas del territorio
nacional con diferentes objetivos. En Guyana, las expresiones contemporáneas de la gubernamen-
talidad medioambiental y el reconocimiento de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, has emergido
recientemente como formas alternativas de autoridad territorial en la selva interior del país –una
área que históricamente ha presentado retos considerables a un control estable por parte del
estado. Aquí apuntamos un esquema de la historia y conﬁguración de estas ‘islas’de territorio
mostrando las maneras que en que diferentes fuentes de autoridad se articulan solapan (y a
menudo contradicen) enfatizando que estos procesos son básicos para la constitución, expansión
y legitimación del poder del estado moderno. Este artículo contribuye a la comprensión de la
reconﬁguración territorial de la soberanía en la Sudamérica de habla inglesa.
Author details: Gillian Gregory, Department of Geography, McGill University, Burnside Hall Room 705, 805
Sherbrooke St. West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 0B9. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ismael
Vaccaro, Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Leacock Building Room 838, 855 Sherbrooke
St. West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2T7. Email: email@example.com
Territory, Politics, Governance, 2015
Vol. 3, No. 3, 344–363, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21622671.2014.965728
© 2014 Regional Studies Association
RÉSUMÉ La recherche contemporaine souligne de plus en plus que la souveraineté de l’État
moderne ne dépend pas de la maîtrise d’un territoire strictement délimité et uniformément gou-
verné. Plutôt, l’autorité découle maintenant de divers intervenants, à l’intérieur comme à l’extér-
ieur des États, qui mettent en oeuvre des formes de pouvoir partagé à travers différentes zones du
territoire national à des ﬁns différentes. Au Guyana, des expressions contemporaines de l’idéologie
gouvernementale néo-libérale, de la protection de l’environnement et de la reconnaissance des
droits des indigènes ont récemment vu le jour comme des formes alternatives d’autorité territor-
iale dans la forêt pluviale intérieure du pays—une zone qui a mis historiquement en question la
notion d’un régime permanent. On esquisse l’histoire et la conﬁguration de ces ‘îlots’territoriaux,
et on présente les façons dont leurs sources d’autorité s’expriment et se chevauchent—et souvent
se contredisent—soulignant ainsi que ces processus sont spéciﬁques à l’établissement, à l’expan-
sion, et à la légitimité même du pouvoir de l’État moderne. Cet article contribue à une compré-
hension de la reconﬁguration territoriale de la souveraineté de l’Amérique du Sud anglophone.
KEYWORDS Sovereignty Guyana territory governmentality rainforest conservation
The conception of sovereignty that has dominated modern political theory relies on the
idea of an exclusive political authority exercised by a state over a given territory (AGNEW,
RAMPTON,2011). However, as contemporary scholarship increasingly
demonstrates, the political authority of states is no longer predicated on ﬁxed territorial
boundaries; instead, authority stems from the relative and combined powers of local,
regional, national, and international actors operating at multiple territorial scales
(AGNEW,2005;ELDEN,2005;PAINTER,2010;NICHOLLS et al., 2013). This decentraliza-
tion of power does not demonstrate the ‘erosion’of state sovereignty, but, paradoxically,
the strengthening and legitimizing of it (SPARKE,2005;AGNEW and OSLENDER,2013). In
what follows, we examine speciﬁcally how the promulgation of environmental conser-
vation and indigenous rights is redeﬁning the territorial nature of sovereignty in the
modern nation-state of Guyana.
The majority of Guyana’s 750,000 citizens live along the Atlantic coastal ﬂoodplain at
the northern edge of South America. The interior territory that leads to the southern
borders with Venezuela and Brazil has been historically portrayed as a rainforest terra
nullius (ROOPNARAINE,1996;BULKAN,2013;HENNESSY,2013), beyond the reach of
state territoriality, or strategies of the state to attract, inﬂuence, or control resources
and people by controlling the areas where they are located (OFFEN,2003;ELDEN,
2010). The inability of the Guyanese state to effectively extend its authority from
border to border meant that, in the late twentieth century, territoriality was imposed
by a conglomerate of external actors whose managing strategy was the proﬁtable extrac-
tion of natural resources (GILPIN and GILPIN,2001;DINNEN,2002).
From the beginning of this century, however, control of Guyana’s state territory has
been tasked to new actors vis-à-vis forms of neoliberal governmentality: environmental
conservation and the recognition of indigenous rights (HALE,2002;BALETTI,2012).
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), multilateral institutions, and northern hemi-
sphere states are working with, and/or on behalf of, the Guyanese state in order to attract
attention and resources to the country (SASSEN,2006;MURPHY,2010,2013;BRYAN,
2012). This process has conspicuous impacts on the landscape, as areas within
Islands of Governmentality 345
Guyana’s national borders are demarcated for new, often shared forms of authority
(OFFEN,2002;BALETTI,2012). We outline the history and conﬁguration of these ‘gov-
ernable spaces’(WATTS,2003,2004a,2004b), or forms of alternative territorial authority
(AGNEW and OSLENDER,2013). We argue that these spaces articulate and overlap (in
often contradictory ways) with each other and with state territory, but that their consti-
tution works to reiterate the authority of the state (BRYAN,2012;AGNEW and OSLENDER,
2013). We refer to these areas as ‘islands’within Guyana’s national territory (see
Figure 1), underlining that their conﬁguration is illustrative of a pattern of establishing
territorial sovereignty that is distinct from homogeneous frontier expansion schemes
applied by larger postcolonial and settler societies (SCOTT,1995;DEAN,2009).
Scholarship that focuses on Guyana’s interior territory often examines the social
and/or ecological impacts of natural resource extraction, or, recently, of conservation
(for example, ROOPNARAINE,2002;BULKAN,2004b;COLCHESTER,2005;HENDERS
and OSTWALD,2012;FOOK,2013). Social sciences analyses have not focused on the
Figure 1. Distribution of select islands of governmentality. Conservation areas, including Iwok-
rama and the UECC, appear primarily in the central region. Amerindian land titles appear pri-
marily on the western half of the country (Konashen is included as a land title).
Source: Data collected from the Guyana Geology and Miners Commission Cartography Division,
346 Gillian Gregory and Ismael Vaccaro
ways in which current conservation and indigenous rights movements relate to processes
of state territorialization, sovereignty-building, and modernization in Guyana. Although
these processes have parallels elsewhere in Latin America (for example, HALE,2002,
SLENDER,2004;FINLEY-BROOK and OFFEN,2009;WAINWRIGHT and
BRYAN,2009;BRYAN,2011;MOLLETT,2011), they have not been thoroughly examined
in English-speaking South America.
This paper is based on research conducted by the primary author in 2008 to understand
the impacts of natural resource extraction on indigenous peoples’livelihoods in
Guyana’s interior territory. Data were collected in three Patamuna Amerindian land
titles and a large forest reserve, located in Region Eight—the so-called green heart of
Survey and interview data collection were complemented by archival research
in Georgetown. Here, we rely on interview data and document analysis.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 39 government ofﬁcials, NGO
personnel, and land title residents. The primary author gathered information on the
organization of conservation spaces in Region Eight, the implementation of Amerindian
land titles, and the history of resource extraction in Guyana’s interior. Other sources of
information include national legislation, NGO reports, and articles in popular media.
NEOLIBERAL GOVERNMENTALITY AND THE EMERGENCE OF
Governmentality implies an expansive way of thinking about governing and rule in
relation to the exercise of modern power (STOLER,1995;LEMKE,2002;LARNER,
ATTS,2003). It refers to a calculated, rational framework for shaping behavior
(FOUCAULT,1991;CRAMPTON and ELDEN,2007;DEAN,2009)—what FOUCAULT referred
to as the ‘conduct of conduct’(1982, p. 220). State society was once ‘imagined as a single
space, territorialized across a nation’(ROSE,1996, p. 333); in the context of neoliberal
governmentality, however, new assemblages of authorities increasingly govern in differ-
ent sites, in relation to different—often market-based—objectives (MURDOCH and
WARD,1997;ONG,2000;LEMKE,2001;ROSE et al., 2006;SASSEN,2006). Instead of
any single body being responsible for managing the conduct of citizens, non-state enti-
ties, including NGOs, institutions, and different cultural groups, acquire new impor-
tance, as it becomes their responsibility to resolve problems for the people, resources,
and territory (or ‘men and things’
) they represent—problems traditionally seen as
falling under the purview of the state (HALE,2002). As such, territory is an expression
of the measurement and control of space—and, correspondingly, identities—by these
different forms of power (HALE,2002,2004;ELDEN,2010;NICHOLLS et al., 2013).
The laws and programs recently implemented by state, NGO, and economic actors in
Guyana require a territorial reordering, as they attempt to recognize social, ecological,
and territorial differences by integrating, rather than eliminating them (BALETTI,
2012). ‘Governable spaces’thus emerge, where these different forms of governmental
thought and practice are territorialized (WATTS,2004a). This process is distinct from
the deployment of a bureaucratic body and administration scheme over the whole
national territory, or on the advancement of a uniform frontier (AGAMBEN,1998;
STOREY,2001;FOUCAULT,2008). Moreover, it differs from bigger postcolonial states,
such as India or Argentina, or large settler societies like the USA, Canada, or Australia,
Islands of Governmentality 347
because these states have historically had more internal resources to direct at the expan-
sion and control of their territories (PELS,1997;BRAUN,2002;POVINELLI,2002).
Governable spaces, or islands of governmentality,
operate at different scales, depending
on their sources of power (WATTS,2003,2004a). In the context of Guyana, these islands
take the form of indigenous territories and areas targeted for environmental conservation,
which overlap and articulate with—and within—the space of the national territory, and
which demonstrate that territorial rule is often shaped by slippages or contradictions in
the constitution of power (O’MALLEY et al., 1997;LEMKE,2002;HART,2004) (see Figure
1). Unlike FOUCAULT’S(1991) emphasis on domination and discipline by sources of
power, we iterate here the relative instability of these spaces as their forms of power and ter-
ritorial shapes change (LEMKE,2001;WATTS,2004a). However, as the state retains respon-
sibility for the granting of power to authorities that originate inside and outside the state to
operate within it, the reconﬁguration of territory occurring in Guyana is, ultimately, a
project of the strengthening and legitimizing of modern state sovereignty.
ESTABLISHING TERRITORIALITY: HISTORICAL CHALLENGES TO
THE ENACTMENT OF STATE AUTHORITY THROUGHOUT
Continuity between Guyana’s colonial and independent periods is characterized by a dis-
crepancy between the territory claimed by the state and the territorial reach of the govern-
ing authority, particularly in the interior, or ‘hinterland’(ﬁeld notes; NATIONAL
DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY COMMITTEE (NDSC), 2001;TROTZ and ROOPNARAINE,
2009). The concentration of power on the Atlantic coast has meant that governments
have exercised power from a distance (ROSE et al., 2006;HENNESSY,2013)—acting
from the geographic center of authority (in the capital, Georgetown) on the desires and
activities of those in the interior (primarily indigenous groups), who are spatially and orga-
nizationally distinct (MILLER and ROSE,1990;MURDOCH and WARD,1997). As a result,
the territorialization by the state of land within its borders has never been ‘complete’—
in keeping with the argument that the making and controlling of state space is a continu-
ous process (WAINWRIGHT and ROBERTSON,2003). The geopolitical history of Guyana is a
narrative of ongoing attempts by state authorities to control resources and people by con-
trolling the interior territory—subjugating other forms of power in the process.
Following attempts by the Spanish and Dutch at colonization, the separate colonies of
Demerara/Essequibo were united in 1831 to form British Guiana; this marked the
beginning of a formalized expansion of British control beyond Atlantic coastal trading
ports and into the northern Amazon watershed (HIGMAN,1999;BURNETT,2001).
Explorers commissioned by the Royal Geographical Society of Britain set out to
‘erase a terra incognita from the maps of geographers and unravel the mysteries of the
unknown interior of Guiana’(BURNETT,2002, p. 9); enlisting Amerindian guides,
these explorers’task was to chart, name, and create conditions for the appropriation
of areas seen as ‘wild’and ‘untamed’by colonial authorities (BURNETT,2002;WHITE-
HEAD,2002,2009). The conceptual tools offered by modern cartography, zoology,
and botany were thus used to help make the colony’s territory appear stable, uncon-
tested, and complete—qualities seen as necessary for acquiring and retaining power
(GRIFFITHS and ROBBINS,1997;HANNAH,2000;WAINWRIGHT and ROBERTSON,2003).
The attempted establishment of territoriality in the rainforest also depended on
control of resources below the ground. The Spanish began searching for El Dorado in
the sixteenth century, and forays into the interior were (and are) driven by the hopes
of discovering large quantities of gold (COLCHESTER,1999). Geological surveying was
348 Gillian Gregory and Ismael Vaccaro
thus one form of, and rationale for, the establishment of colonial authority in those areas
(MENEZES,1977;BRAUN,2000;COLCHESTER,2005); however, this authority was
ephemeral, established where gold was found for as long as it lasted. Gold—like sugar-
cane grown in plantations on the coast—was an important commodity for the colony;
the precious metal supplied international demand while leaving few proﬁts in local areas
(CANTERBURY,2007;DACOSTA,2007). This extractive-based economy endures today,
outside—and often within—the islands we describe.
Attempts by the state to establish authority throughout the interior continued after
Guyana’s independence in 1966. Upon taking power of the Cooperative Republic of
Guyana, Forbes Burnham instigated an autarkic approach to governance that he called,
paradoxically, Cooperative Socialism—part of a 20-year period of isolationist economic
policies that incorporated discriminatory strategies against all but his Afro-Guyanese suppor-
ters (DALY,1974;COLCHESTER,1999). Social and political instability on the coast perpetu-
ated the instability of state authority in the interior territory (WILLIAMS,1991). Burnham and
his Peoples’National Congress (PNC) viewed the interior as an empty space that could be
developed to sustain the country’s coastal population (BURNHAM,1970;FARAGE,2003).
The violence of the 1969 Rupununi Rebellion, in Guyana’s southern territory, was
both a reaction by ranchers and Amerindians totheseplanstodeveloptheinterior,and
a governmental rationale for again trying to assert control of it through agricultural, hydro-
power, mineral, and timber development (SPINNER,1984;HENNESSY,2013). Meanwhile,
the PNC reiterated the British integrationist approach to Amerindian groups by setting
up an Interior Development Committee, with the goal of further settling and assimilating
Amerindians living there (WILLIAMS,1991;COLCHESTER et al., 2002). The designation of
land titles in 1976 was followed in 1980 by the creation of an administrative structure
that ignored indigenous territorial boundaries, and divided the country into regions
deﬁned by infrastructural capacity and resource production potential—an effort to establish
state-centered authority through the subdivision of territory into areas deemed of more
appropriate size for enhanced control (POTTER,1987;GREENIDGE,2001).
This determination to develop and control the interior was, however, too ambitious for
Burnham’s short leadership (WILLIAMS,1991). Lacking capital and facing large debt
burdens, in 1989 the government was forced to invite foreign investment in the form of
Structural Adjustment Programs; brokered by the World Bank and International Monetary
Fund (IMF), the Government of Guyana ushered transnational and domestic corporations
into the interior (HENNESSY,2002;MACKAY,2004) as part of its export-driven Economic
Recovery Programme (EGOUME-BOSSOGO et al., 2003;GOLDMAN,2005), continuing to
ignore the productive practices of indigenous groups living in this area (HENNESSY,2002).
Though the state economy still depends on the proﬁtable extraction of gold and timber
(EUROPEAN COMMISSION,2013), the current territorialization of areas of land in the interior
is increasingly based on frameworks of environmental conservation and formal state recog-
nition of indigenous peoples’rights. The islands scattered across Guyana’s national territory
do not represent changing governmental priorities (NDSC, 2001)somuchasnewstrategies
for the expansion and reiteration of state power—speciﬁcally, the re-deﬁning of space and
identities through the granting of shared authority over different forms of land-use.
CONTEMPORARY APPROACHES TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF
AUTHORITY OVER TERRITORY
Conservation as an Expression of Neoliberal Governmentality
Conservation as an expression of neoliberal governmentality has, since the late twentieth
century, produced new conceptions of suitable land-use practices (DRESSLER and ROTH,
Islands of Governmentality 349
2011;BALETTI,2012). This is evidenced by the rapid creation of new kinds of protected
areas, community-based management models, collaborative research centers, and
environmental legislation, particularly in the southern hemisphere (ZIMMERER,2011).
Together, these represent an explicit territorialization of sustainable development and
environmentalism, and the creation of associated governance structures to enact
control or power in the name of proﬁtable but ‘sustainable’outcomes for the conserva-
tion of these spaces and their populations (OFFEN,2003;FINLEY-BROOK and OFFEN,
Increasingly, poorer countries like Guyana are taking advantage of the spaces inside
their borders that contain high levels of biodiversity, and which are thus highly
valued, by exchanging the protection of these spaces for political opportunities and
economic packages (GOLDMAN,2005;IGOE and BROCKINGTON,2007;DRESSLER and
ROTH,2011;MATTHEWS,2011). Scholars emphasize the dependency inherent to this
conservation-as-development strategy, explaining that the monetary value of intact eco-
systems is being used by larger economic powers to urge the transformation of develop-
ing countries into modern, democratic states (WEST,2006;KARSENTY,2007). This
downplays the role that peripheral states play in deliberately harnessing such support
for inclusion in broader political and economic networks, and, consequently, the deﬁ-
nition of new types of territoriality within their national borders (ONG,2000;LEMKE,
ALETTI,2012). Guyana contains one of the largest proportional areas of
primary rainforest remaining in South America (INTERNATIONAL TROPICAL TIMBER
ORGANIZATION (ITTO), 2011). Movements and programs to protect this forest have,
since the beginning of this century, become a key component of the establishment of
one alternative form of territorial authority in the country’s interior: proﬁtable conserva-
Indigenous Rights as an Expression of Neoliberal Governmentality
The global indigenous rights movement, which is based on promoting the deﬁnition
and protection of indigenous rights and identities, becomes localized in places where
people are marginalized (WARREN and JACKSON,2002;NIEZEN,2003;AGNEW,2005;
MERLAN,2009;ENGLE,2011). Paralleling other social movements, the indigenous
rights movement is based on a struggle to open the space of the nation-state to more
democratic practices, in which ‘otherness’is recognized as a fundamental part of the con-
stitution of the modern state (HALE,2002;RILEY,2004). However, contemporary
expressions of this movement in Guyana also demonstrate one core paradox of neolib-
eral governmentality: the creation of subjects who are permitted to organize and govern
themselves as long as they do not amass enough power to call basic state prerogatives into
question (HALE,2002). In Guyana, indigenous rights are primarily distinguished through
the granting of land titles, which, on the surface, illustrate the establishment of a new
territoriality within national space, and the formal redeﬁnition of indigenous peoples’
relationship to the state (OFFEN,2002,2003). Nonetheless, at their core, indigenous
self-government on land titles represents one way for the Guyanese state to expand
and/or reiterate its authority over national territory, albeit in a way that appears to
grant freedoms to historically suppressed groups (O’MALLEY,1996;WATSON,2012).
The delimiting of space to both conserve tropical ‘nature’and recognize the rights of
minority peoples is one articulation of different modes of territorializing thought and
practice (COLCHESTER,2000;ZIMMERER,2000;OSLENDER,2004;MOLLETT,2013); it
is a reaction to the deterministic claims that capitalist modernity wreaks havoc on cultural
and ecological diversity (RANGAN and LANE,2001;ESCOBAR,2008;FENELON and HALL,
350 Gillian Gregory and Ismael Vaccaro
2008), and that (rural) indigenous cultures are ‘closer to nature’than non-indigenous
cultures (WEST et al., 2006, p. 256). In addition to the demarcation of land titles for
Amerindians, self-government through village councils, and the ongoing work of advo-
cacy organizations, protected areas in Guyana’s rainforest territory are increasingly
designed to include Amerindian communities in their boundaries, encouraging the
employment of Amerindian peoples and the transfer of management rights to Amerin-
dian communities. In 2008, indigenous groups owned 2.36 million hectares of forested
land in Guyana (ITTO, 2011)—10% of the country’s land area. Through the appoint-
ment and organization of indigenous communities as suitable caretakers of conservation
spaces, indigenous groups in Guyana are often granted shared or complete freedom of
authority over these territories—provided their authority corresponds with allowable
land-use practices (PELUSO and VANDERGEEST,2001;BRYANT,2002;BATTERBURY and
ISLANDS OF NEOLIBERAL GOVERNMENTALITY
Islands of Conservation
Three-quarters of the land inside Guyana’s borders is forested, 60% of which is primary
forest; the country also maintains the lowest rate of net deforestation in South America
EORGE et al., 2014). The territorialization of conservation thought and
practice in Guyana is embodied by the creation of the Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve and
the Low-Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), including the Norway–Guyana agree-
ment (see LCDS below) and the creation of ‘conservation concessions’. These islands of
governmentality articulate—as well as clash—with indigenous forms of authority and
that of the state; however, partnerships, agreements, and the long-term goals of non-
state actors emphasize that shared authority is not synonymous with the loss of state ter-
The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation is a 360,000 hectare
protected area, established in 1996 in response to pressures from transnational environ-
mentalism movements and their quest to protect an ‘idealized’nature (ESCOBAR,1999,
p. 69) that is replete with ‘over 475 species of birds and the highest recorded number of
ﬁsh (over 400) and bats (over 90) in the world, for an area of comparable size’(IWOK-
RAMA INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR RAIN FOREST CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT,
2008). Such an abundance of natural resources and the ecosystem services they
provide are highly valued by an international community, which provides economic
and infrastructural support to make these intact resources and services proﬁtable.
Thus, the reserve also performs as a research center, eco-tourism operation, and sustain-
able resource extraction zone.
An employee at the headquarters in Georgetown emphasized that Iwokrama is an
‘autonomous, international center, governed by our own Act, the Iwokrama Act’.
The reserve, however, is not an independent political entity. The Iwokrama Act (Iwok-
rama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development Act 1996)
provides a basis for the regulation of a speciﬁc territory that is, in fact, stipulated and
signed into being by the state. Moreover, Iwokrama’s actions are overseen by an inter-
national board of trustees, incorporating the Government of Guyana, through an
allotted ratio of memberships and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), as
well as an extensive list of external actors from Commonwealth of Nations countries,
Islands of Governmentality 351
including state governments, universities, and prominent NGOs. Although Iwokrama’s
headquarters are located in the capital, Georgetown, the reserve is located in Region
Eight, accessible via the main, unpaved roadway into Guyana’s interior, en route to
the Brazilian border, reached only by an all-night bus ride or costly plane trip. The con-
glomerate of state and non-state actors who constitute Iwokrama’s territorial authority
therefore tend to regulate from a distance—showing parallels with colonial and state
authorities governing from the coast through Guyana’s history.
However, varying degrees of authority over Iwokrama territory emanate from mul-
tiple and overlapping scales, including local communities. In keeping with the logic of
neoliberal governmentality, the 16 Macushi Amerindian communities who live within
or proximate to Iwokrama’s borders, and who rely on resources in the reserve, are por-
trayed as intrinsic components of the Iwokrama environment (FOOK and DAVIS,2010),
and by extension, its local caretakers (PELUSO and VANDERGEEST,2001;BRYANT,2002).
The word ‘Iwokrama’is a Macushi word meaning ‘place of refuge’. People in these
communities constitute the majority of employees hired—through state or public
subsidy—as ﬁeld guides, tour guides, and conservation ofﬁcers at the Research
Station. The North Rupununi District Development Board, a community-based indi-
genous organization, was created at the same time as the protected area, and works in
formal partnership with Iwokrama to represent and educate visitors about local commu-
nity protocols and traditions, and ‘[effectively manage] …the Iwokrama forest’. These
indigenous communities work for and on behalf of the state and its partners to regulate
speciﬁc kinds of land-use on the ground in the interior; in the process, they have been
made into unique citizens whose collective identity—upon which their livelihoods
depend—is predicated on harmonious and historical integration with ‘nature’
Today, Iwokrama represents the semi-permanent territorialization of market-
oriented conservation and sustainable development within Guyana’s interior national
territory. The reserve’s boundaries have not changed in the 18 years since it was estab-
lished, and thus the area, according to the same employee, has become ‘a demonstration
site to show that you can have conservation and sustainable utilization of forestry services
…with beneﬁts—social, economic, as well as environmental beneﬁts’. Challenges to
conservation of—and authority over—this area, illustrated by illegal mining and
logging on the Siparuni River border of the reserve, are downplayed by political and
economic support from powerful actors who help the state govern, and continue to
proﬁt from, this protected territory.
Low-Carbon Development Strategy: REDD+ Projects and ‘Conservation Concessions’
Iwokrama is both separate from, and included in, Guyana’s LCDS—the country’s ambi-
tious plan for ﬁnancing payments for ecosystem services and mitigating climate change.
Guyana is the ﬁrst country in the world to commit to national-scale action on REDD+
(Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) (FOOK,2013).
Because the Strategy is based on a REDD+ framework, Guyana has forged relationships
with many international and institutional partners via the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including Norway, World Wildlife
Fund, Conservation International (CI), and Iwokrama (LEMAITRE,2011;HENDERS and
OSTWALD,2012). The main premise of the LCDS is ‘[deploying] almost our entire rain-
forest—which is larger than England—in the service of the world’s battle against climate
change’(GOVERNMENT OF GUYANA,2010,p.5).The stated aims of the LCDS are to
contribute to offsetting global carbon emissions through forest protection, to develop
352 Gillian Gregory and Ismael Vaccaro
national forest conservation policies, and to provide pathways out of poverty for rural
and ‘forest-dependent’(speciﬁcally, indigenous) peoples (GRIFFITHS,2009, p. 10).
However, the broader implications of the LCDS are to provide the country with
strengthened institutional capacity and proﬁt by allowing non- and extra-state actors
to enact varying degrees of authority over areas of its forested interior territory (FOOK,
2013, p. 4); this power over territory is expressed primarily through the supposed or
planned regulation of deforestation, including the appropriation of the ways of life of
marginalized peoples, for which the state is internationally lauded (for example,
UNITED NATIONS ENVIRONMENT PROGRAMME (UNEP), 2010).
Since 2002, the Government of Norway and CI have signed MOUs with Guyana, as
part of the LCDS. The 2009 MOU between Guyana and Norway provides up to
$250M USD to Guyana based on effective forest conservation (FOOK,2013, p. 14).
No speciﬁc governable space within state territory is delimited by this agreement;
rather, with Norway acting as ﬁnancier, the agreement creates expectations and major
economic incentives for the territorialization of conservation thought and practice
across virtually all of Guyana’s forested territory—the majority of which coincides
with indigenous land titles (GEORGE et al., 2014). The agreement thus assigns indigenous
groups as the protectors of governable space which is, theoretically, theirs to control;
however, made explicit in this agreement, such indigenous authority overlaps with,
and is superseded by, that of conservation-oriented actors and the state (WATTS,
ALETTI,2012). Notably, implementation of the agreement—which
thus far only includes ‘awareness raising’events—will not be completed until the end
of 2015 (GEORGE et al., 2014, p. 111).
CI, on the other hand, has clearly demarcated the spaces that the NGO will help exert
power to protect. CI’s 2002 MOU with the Government of Guyana was driven by the
NGO’s proposal to the government to create the world’sﬁrst ‘conservation concession’,
the Upper Essequibo Conservation Concession (UECC), a 30-year leasing of 81,000
hectares of rainforest to CI by the state, which would otherwise have been leased to a
logging company (CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL,2008). The NGO also sponsors a
‘community-owned’conservation area in the southern half of the country called Kona-
shen, a 625,000 hectare WaiWai Amerindian land title at the headwaters of the Esse-
quibo River, whose territory the area encompasses—creating a similar scenario to that
of Iwokrama and surrounding Macushi communities.
Unlike Iwokrama’s misleading assertion of conservation-as-sovereignty, however, a
CI manager made clear that the NGO’s work in Guyana does not replace the power
of the state, instead emphasizing that its role is speciﬁcally to ‘assist the government’.
Explaining the organization’s relationships with the private sector and the Guyanese
state, the same manager said CI was appointed by the government to ‘guide them in
honoring commitments’to the development of a conservation-centered economy,
and took careful steps to reiterate that ‘the government has not lost its sovereignty
over the land’. In fact, CI’s work in Guyana illustrates the assisted expansion of state
sovereign power via the establishment of neoliberal territoriality in Guyana’s interior.
Although the NGO has no plan to transfer authority of these areas solely to the state,
its support, combined with the presence of indigenous populations, creates a local gov-
ernance structure for these protected territories, meaning that the state does not have to
The process of establishing these territories of environmentalism and sustainable
development reveals clear slippages, or contradictions, in the constitution of power.
One is borne of the potential proﬁtability of natural resource extraction, and associated
corruption rings that operate in Guyana’s interior territory, including, sometimes, within
Islands of Governmentality 353
the islands we describe (COLCHESTER and MACKAY,2004;BULKAN,2004a;BULKAN and
PALMER,2008). The second, as we emphasize, is the prevalence of often erroneous
assumptions by the state and external actors about the livelihoods, beliefs, and needs
of Amerindian communities who live in the interior (GRIFFITHS and ANSELMO,2010;
BULKAN,2013;FOOK,2013). Initiatives like Iwokrama, the UECC, and Konashen
exemplify that indigenous groups are conveniently designated the local managers of
these conservation areas, whose authority theoretically prevails over that of the state
(HALE,2004). Broadly, this demonstrates the simultaneous conﬂict and overlap
between environmental conservation and the promulgation of indigenous rights as
speciﬁc, territorial expressions of neoliberal governmentality (O’MALLEY,1996;
OFFEN,2002); however, as these modes of territorializing thought clash and imbricate
with each other and with state territory, they extend and reinforce the state’s power
(ELDEN,2005;O’MALLEY, 1996; PAINTER,2010;NICHOLLS et al., 2013).
Islands of Indigenous Rights
The ongoing struggle for recognition of indigenous identities and rights in Guyana is
reconﬁguring territory via the establishment of land titles, and, correspondingly, the
organization of Amerindian village councils (or local governments) on those titles.
This localization of the global indigenous rights movement emphasizes the concurrent
collision and overlap inherent to the enactment of power over territory. Land titles, as
one form of governable space, are ostensibly independent entities, where the authority
of indigenous groups is separate from that of the state. Nonetheless, as these expressions
of neoliberal governmentality in other areas of Central and South America demonstrate,
power over indigenous territories also continues to emanate from the state (MOLLETT,
RYAN,2011;AGNEW and OSLENDER,2013). In Guyana, this state power includes
the signing of international declarations, granting new land title requests, and exerting
the right to override land title ownership laws.
Guyana’s interior is pejoratively referred to as ‘the bush’by those not born there, and
who live in the interior as miners, loggers, or opportunistic business owners. This
forested territory is otherwise populated by Amerindians, who, at the time of the
most recent census in 2002, comprised the fourth largest ethnic group in the country,
at 9.2% (GUYANA BUREAU OF STATISTICS,2007). Ninety percent of the nine groups
(or tribes) of people considered Amerindians live in scattered villages in the interior
(BULKAN,2013, p. 370), and, following historical conﬂict and settlement patterns,
occupy different areas. The Patamuna, for example, claim the western half of Region
Eight, from lowlands of the Essequibo River to the Pakaraima Mountains (WHITEHEAD,
2002, p. 22).
The ﬁrst state laws to recognize Amerindian peoples were included in the Aboriginal
Indians Protection Ordinance of 1902, which allowed the British colonial governor to
create reservations, often with forced relocation of Amerindian communities, and to
take these lands away or modify them at will (MENEZES,1988;MACKAY and LAROSE,
ILEY,2004). The Ordinance was repealed in 1910, replaced by the Aboriginal
Indians Ordinance. In 1951, following the creation of further reserves, legislation was
again replaced by the Amerindian Ordinance, which introduced a limited amount of
self-government to Amerindian communities (MENEZES,1977).
Following the British, the independent Government of Guyana never extinguished
indigenous land ownership based on common law rights, despite brutal forms of dis-
crimination and attempts at assimilation. Thus, the Independence Agreement between
Britain and Guyana in 1966 stipulated that ‘the ownership of lands, rights of occupancy
354 Gillian Gregory and Ismael Vaccaro
and other rights held by custom or tradition be legally recognized without distinction or
disability’(MENEZES,1988;MACKAY and LAROSE,1999, p. 2). In compliance, an Amer-
indian Lands Commission was established in 1966. The Commission recommended that
128 Amerindian communities receive title to more than 6.2 million hectares across the
new state. However, the rebellion in the Rupununi in 1969 occurred as the Lands Com-
mission was making its report, fueling suspicions by granting ofﬁcials that Amerindians
were not ‘loyal Guyanese’(COLCHESTER et al., 2002, p. 26). Communities across the
newly independent country had requested title to almost double the area recommended
by the Commission—in total, more than 50% of the country’s land cover (BULKAN,
2013, p. 371); but by the amendment of the Amerindian Act in 1976, only 6% of the
country’s land cover was granted title (MINISTRY OF AMERINDIAN AFFAIRS (MOAA),
The most recent amendments to the Amerindian Act in 2005 removed power from
the Minister of Amerindian Affairs and placed it with Amerindian communities, dissol-
ving the ability for the state to reduce or eliminate Amerindian titled land (MACKAY and
LAROSE,1999; MOAA, 2009). The Act makes clear that titled land is owned by Amer-
indian communities, and these communities are thus supposed to be able to make inde-
pendent decisions about what activities occur on these territories, including traditional
mining (FORTE,1999;MACKAY and LAROSE,1999;COLCHESTER et al., 2002). On the
Patamuna land titles of Campbelltown/Princeville and Micobie in Region Eight,
decisions about land-use are made during quarterly public meetings; as on most titles,
decision are not made without unanimous support from people present, meaning that
meetings can last days. This indigenous governance structure demonstrates the ‘markedly
egalitarian ethos that deﬁnes Amerindian social organization’(BULKAN,2004b, p. 16).
Nonetheless, such freedom of authority is undermined by the fact that waterways
running through land titles are not considered part of titles, and remain property of
the state (JANKI,2010), which means that dredge mining continues inside the boundaries
of indigenous spaces. Similarly, although Amerindian communities are allowed to veto
outside mining interests on land titles (COLCHESTER and LAROSE,2010), a large-scale
project may be granted permission by the state if it is deemed ‘in the public interest’
Today, 104 Amerindian villages have been given title, covering 2.9 million hectares
of Guyana; more than 120 are eligible for title, and another 41 have outstanding claims
to expand their titles; if all granted, land titles would cover 35% of national territory
ULKAN,2013, p. 371). The boundaries of land titles are demarcated
by the Ministry of Lands and Surveys and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, and
they endure in conjunction with the Amerindian Act. Community Development Ofﬁ-
cers (CDOs) from the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs act as the administrative interme-
diaries between the capital and the interior; in recognition of the limited effectiveness of
governing from a distance (ROSE et al., 2006), the state has appointed these CDOs to
interface with village councils and provide ‘direct contact from the village to the Min-
Thirteen ofﬁcers were supervised in 2008 by the Principal Regional Develop-
ment Ofﬁcer, all working in the interior on ‘the governance aspect’of contemporary
Amerindian ways of life, improving access to health, education, and welfare. The
majority of Community Development Ofﬁcers are Amerindian, and work around
their birthplaces or familial communities. ‘We get ﬁrsthand information from the
people [on the land titles] because it doesn’t always pay off when you try to deal by
remote control,’one Ofﬁcer stated. ‘You have to see them on the spot.’
The CDOs’role as intermediaries illustrates the contradiction, as well as uncertainty,
that emerges where authority over state space and indigenous territory collide. CDOs are
Islands of Governmentality 355
both Amerindians and employees of the state; their jobs are to monitor and respond to
the activities and well-being of indigenous peoples living in areas over which these
groups (including their own families) have been granted territorial authority by the
state. Nonetheless, although the state has granted some indigenous groups the power
to take care of themselves in these spaces, it also retains power for the interests of econ-
omic development (O’MALLEY,1996; NDSC, 2001;OFFEN,2002;HALE,2005;FOOK,
2013). Amendments to the Amerindian Act have been touted by the Government of
Guyana as a major advance in the granting of sovereign rights to indigenous peoples
(GUYANA TIMES,2013)—an attempt to iterate that sovereignty is not the exclusive
domain of the state (AGNEW,2005). However, these amendments reveal another
paradox of neoliberal governmentality: it weakens central state institutions (through
the granting or sharing of authority over territory), at the same time as it places new
demands on them (OFFEN,2003).
In response to worldwide demands for the recognition of indigenous rights, in 2007,
the Government of Guyana became a signatory to the United Nations Declaration
on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This Declaration, which includes rights to self-
determination and to traditional lands (GILBERT,2007), emphasizes that the harnessing
of the political energy of rights activism can contribute directly to the strengthening
of state sovereignty through recognition by the state of non- and extra-state organiz-
ations that make acceptable rights demands (HALE,2002). By signing the Declaration,
the Government of Guyana agreed to recognize and protect the rights of minority
peoples in a manner that increases the state’s legitimacy internationally; however,
although the UN Declaration carries substantial symbolic weight, it is not legally
binding (GRIFFITHS,2009;ENGLE,2011). A spokesperson for the Amerindian Peoples
Association (APA), an NGO that lobbies for increasing recognition of indigenous
rights in Guyana, reiterated that, a year after the UN Declaration had been adopted,
it ‘[hadn’t] made any difference’.
The APA’sofﬁcial role in Guyana, similar to that of CI, is to ‘ensure that the state
fulﬁlls its obligations in providing basic services to indigenous communities’(APA,
2013). Central to the organization’s work is thus demanding the revision of the remain-
ing deﬁciency of the Amerindian Act, which is ‘not deﬁning what it means to be an indi-
genous person …but more deﬁning indigenous peoples’relationship to land’. The APA
Amerindians can be granted title if they have x amount of people and ask for a certain
amount of land
…but when they ask for more …[shrugs]. Ministers are never inves-
tigating, asking, ‘Why are you asking for this amount of land?’Very often it’s about ﬁsh
and other wildlife that [Amerindians] want for food, so they want that area of land in the
title …Who is a government to tell indigenous peoples that they must change their life
otherwise you’re not going to ofﬁcially get your land? The government is talking about
climate change and selling off all our forests and trading our forest …who are the
people who are protecting those same forests that they now want to sell off?
‘[Selling] off …forests’is a reference to the Government of Guyana’s LCDS, and, in
particular, to the fact that none of the components of the LCDS that depend on
forest conservation as a land-use practice on indigenous titles was developed through
participatory consultation with Amerindians (BULKAN,2013;GEORGE et al., 2014).
The APA spokeswoman’s argument was that, despite her view of Amerindians as the
de facto protectors of the forests, they should not be conﬁned to this livelihood narrative.
Moreover, she was referencing the fact that the struggle for indigenous rights is not
simply about acquiring property rights to land, but rather about the recognition of
356 Gillian Gregory and Ismael Vaccaro
territory over which indigenous groups have clear authority (OFFEN,2003;AGNEW and
OSLENDER,2013). Thus, the APA’s mandate to work with the state, within state territory,
conﬂicts with the organization’s enduring frustration over this imposition of indigenous
territoriality by (and for) the Guyanese state. Over 100 self-governed Amerindian land
titles now constitute more than 13% of Guyana’s interior territory (MOAA, 2012); over-
laps and contradictions in the articulation of different forms power over these islands
demonstrate that, despite increasing recognition of minority rights and its expression
over space, indigenous territorial authority is underpinned (and sometimes undermined)
by that of the state.
Implicit in claims about state sovereignty are associated claims about distinguishing and
controlling a strictly bounded territory (AGNEW,1994;ROSE et al., 2006;CRAMPTON,
2011). Territoriality has been portrayed as a necessary strategy for establishing the exclu-
sive jurisdiction that is assumed by state sovereignty (AGNEW,2005). However, as scho-
larship increasingly argues, effective sovereignty is not so neatly or completely
territorialized (AGNEW,2005;ELDEN,2005;PAINTER,2010;NICHOLLS et al., 2013). In
fact, as we have shown in the context of Guyana, the current territorial reconﬁguration
and reiteration of state sovereignty is driven by the decentralization of state power.
Contemporary expressions of neoliberal governmentality, including environmental
conservation and the recognition of indigenous peoples’rights, have recently emerged
as discernible governable spaces, or islands, in Guyana’s interior territory—an area
over which the state has struggled to exert clear, even control (TROTZ and ROOPNAR-
AINE,2009). Authority over these islands stems from a variety of state and non-state
actors operating at different territorial scales, and working to re-deﬁne space and iden-
tities through investment in, and/or regulation of, different forms of land-use (AGNEW,
OLLETT,2011). Persistent articulation and overlap among these diverse sources
of territorial authority serve to demonstrate that contradiction (or paradox) and instabil-
ity are intrinsic to the very constitution, expansion, and legitimacy of modern state
power (O’MALLEY et al., 1997;OFFEN,2003;HALE,2004;HART,2004;SPARKE,2005;
MURPHY,2010;AGNEW and OSLENDER,2013).
Acknowledgements –The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of McGill Univer-
sity’s Social Sciences and Humanities Grant. We would also like to thank the two anonymous
reviewers who provided comments on previous drafts of this paper.
1. Guyana is divided into 10 regions. Region Eight, also known as Potaro-Siparuni, is a sparsely
populated region located in the center west of the country covering some 20,000 km
bordered by Brazil on the west.
2. According to FOUCAULT (1991), men and things are the object of governance; territory is a
thing over which authority is enacted (WATTS,2003, p. 13).
3. Various forms of authority are formally appointed and enacted in these areas. Illegal resource
extraction primarily occurs outside these spaces, in areas we correspondingly categorize as
largely ‘ungovernable’(WATTS,2003, p. 65), though forms violence and repression cannot
be compared to the Nigerian context (WATTS,2004a). These spaces in Guyana are outside
the reach of state territoriality because (1) any state authority that does operate there tends
to be temporary, apathetic, and/or marked by corruption (BULKAN and PALMER,2008;
GEORGE et al., 2014); and (2) the violence with which actors working there use to access to
Islands of Governmentality 357
resources renders the spaces further unstable (ROOPNARAINE,1996;COLCHESTER et al., 2002).
Thus, the characterization of the interior as ‘wild’is one that actors working there illegally use
to their advantage (ROOPNARAINE,1996).
4. Community Development Ofﬁcer, Ministry of Amerindian Affairs.
5. Reference to the fact that an Amerindian community has to have demonstrated a 25-year
history of occupation in one area in order to make an application for formal land title.
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