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Fluid geographies: Marine territorialisation and the scaling up of local aquatic epistemologies on the Pacific coast of Colombia

  • Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity

Abstract and Figures

The Pacific region of Colombia, like many sparsely populated places in developing countries, has been imagined as empty in social terms, and yet full in terms of natural resources and biodiversity. These imaginaries have enabled the creation of frontiers of land and sea control, where the state as well as private and illegal actors have historically dispossessed Afro-descendant and indigenous peoples. This paper contributes to the understanding of territorialisation in the oceans, where political and legal framings of the sea as an open-access public good have neglected the existence of marine social processes. It shows how Afro-descendant communities and non-state actors are required to use the language of resources, rather than socio-cultural attachment, to negotiate state marine territorialisation processes. Drawing on a case study on the Pacific coast of Colombia, we demonstrate that Afro-descendant communities hold local aquatic epistemologies, in which knowledge and the production of space are entangled in fluid and volumetric spatio-temporal dynamics. However, despite the social importance of aquatic environments, they were excluded from Afro-descendants’ collective territorial rights in the 1990s. Driven by their local aquatic epistemologies, coastal communities are reclaiming authority over the seascape through the creation of a marine protected area. We argue that they have transformed relations of authority at sea to ensure local access and control, using state institutional instruments to subvert and challenge the legal framing of the sea as an open access public good. As such, this marine protected area represents a place of resistance that ironically subjects coastal communities to disciplinary technologies of conservation.
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Satizábal P. and Batterbury, S.P.J. 2018. Fluid geographies: marine territorialisation and the scaling up of local
aquatic epistemologies on the Pacific Coast of Colombia. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
43(1): 61-78.
Accepted version, 2017
Paula Satizábal, School of Geography, University of Melbourne1
Simon Batterbury, LEC, Lancaster University and School of Geography, University of
Key words: territory, geographies of the sea, marine protected areas, - conservation, Afro-
descendants, Colombia
The Pacific region of Colombia, like many sparsely populated places in developing countries,
has been imagined as empty in social terms, and yet full in terms of natural resources and
biodiversity. These imaginaries have enabled the creation of frontiers of land and sea control,
where the state as well as private and illegal actors have historically dispossessed Afro-
descendant and indigenous peoples. This paper contributes to the understanding of
territorialisation in the oceans, where political and legal framings of the sea as an open-access
public good have neglected the existence of marine social processes. It shows how Afro-
descendant communities and non-state actors are required to use the language of resources,
rather than socio-cultural attachment, to negotiate state marine territorialisation processes.
Drawing on a case study on the Pacific coast of Colombia, we demonstrate that Afro-
descendant communities hold local aquatic epistemologies, in which knowledge and the
production of space are entangled in fluid and volumetric spatio-temporal dynamics.
However, despite the social importance of aquatic environments, they were excluded from
Afro-descendantscollective territorial rights in the 1990s. Driven by their local aquatic
epistemologies, coastal communities are reclaiming authority over the seascape through the
creation of a marine protected area.We argue that they have transformed relations of
authority at sea to ensure local access and control, using state institutional instruments to
subvert and challenge the legal framing of the sea as an open access public good. As such,
this marine protected area represents a place of resistance that ironically subjects coastal
communities to disciplinary technologies of conservation.
During the opening ceremony of the second Colombian Protected Areas Congress ‘Protected
areas: territories for peace and life’ held in Bogotá (2014), a Kogi indigenous leader from
the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta demanded that traditional authorities be recognised as
central to the discussion of the use and management of ancestral territories located in the
1 Acknowledgements. We acknowledge the support from communities in the Gulf of Tribugá and Los Riscales Community
Council. We are indebted to the Gulf of Tribugá Environmental Ordinance Roundtable for facilitating this research. Funding was
provided by the Francisco José de Caldas Scholarship from Colciencias and the University of Melbourne. We thank C. Jayasuriya
for creating the maps. Special thanks to C. Vieira and C. Rincón from the MarViva Foundation, W. Dressler, J.C. Cárdenas,
H. Rangan, J.E. Murillo, O. Saya, L.A. Perea, G. Ortiz, T. Toumbourou, L. Hanlon (Lever) and S. Duchêne for sharing their
experiences, comments and insights. We acknowledge the Editor and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and
Sierra Nevada National Natural Park. His message reflects a long history of conflicts
between communities and protected areas in Colombia (Andrade 2009; Bocarejo and Ojeda
2016; De Pourcq et al. 2017; Ojeda 2012). He was followed by an Afro-descendant leader
from the Gulf of Tribugá, who called for support for the declaration of a Marine Protected
Area (MPA) to defend his collective territory from the destructive impacts of industrial
fisheries (this MPA was established in late 2014). In his view, MPAs were allies in local
territorial protection. Like him, several coastal peoples around the globe have supported or
promoted the creation of marine conservation enclosures, relying on them as instruments to
legitimise their local control and authority over the sea (see Benjaminsen and Bryceson 2012;
Berlanga and Faust 2007; Nietschmann 1995; Rodríguez-Martínez 2008).
MPAs became globally enforced in the 1990s, when neoliberal approaches to environmental
and fisheries governance centred on the creation of enclosures and property right regimes to
control the access and use of marine resources (Mansfield, 2004a).2 Conversely, it has been
shown that once an MPA has been established, coastal dwellers are very often marginalised,
given their lack of power against government officials, conservation Non-Governmental
Organisations (NGOs), and other key actors (Berlanga and Faust 2007; Chuenpagdee et al.
2013; Nietschmann 1995).
There is an extensive literature on land-based conservation territorialisation processes (Brad
et al. 2015; Igoe and Brockington 2007; Peluso and Lund 2011). Corson (2011) and Roth
(2008) argued territorialisation processes are produced by the active negotiation between the
state and non-state actors over the access to and control over occupied landscapes. However,
conservation enclosures often displace and dispossess marginal groups (Benjaminsen and
Bryceson 2012; Bennett et al. 2015; Brondo and Bown 2011; West 2006). Territorialisation
processes at sea are particularly complex because the oceans have been legally and politically
framed as unoccupied and empty of social institutions, reducing them to open access spaces
(Chmara-Huff 2014; Mansfield 2001; Mulrennan and Scott 2000; Russ and Zeller 2003;
Steinberg 1999). The analysis of marine territorialisation processes has mainly focused on the
role played by states, markets, conservation initiatives, and communities in controlling access
and use of marine resources (Cardwell and Thornton 2015; Mansfield 2004a; St. Martin
2001). However, the extent to which marine territorialisation processes are also determined
by socio-cultural dynamics that take place at the interface between land and sea remains
Geographers of the sea have pushed for a more critical engagement with oceans, moving
beyond land/social and sea/resources binaries through the recognition of waterscapes as
social spaces (Steinberg 2001; St. Martin 2005; Steinberg and Peters 2015). Our contribution
is to show how particular coastal dwellers navigate the state institutional apparatus, informed
by their ‘local aquatic epistemologies’ (LAEs), and drawing on territorialisation instruments
to defend their coastal-marine territorial rights. We draw on LAEs, a term coined by Oslender
(2016), that links the ‘aquatic space’, defined as the “assemblage of spatial relations that
results from human entanglements with an aquatic environment” (2016, 47) to cultural and
place-based ways of knowing. ‘Local’ not as a fix spatial entity that can be separated from a
global scale, but as a relational scale that is co-constituted by dynamic, material, and
symbolic settings where daily socio-natural interactions and relations are created, maintained,
2 Neoliberalism not as a monolithic entity, but “a political economic approach that posits markets as the ultimate
tool for achieving optimal use and allocation of scarce resources” (Mansfield 2004b, 565).
and transformed (Brown and Purcell 2005; Oslender 2016, 34–35). We also draw on Elden’s
work on territory, which uses Foucault’s theory of power to define territory as a political
technology with a collection of techniques “for measuring land and controlling terrain”
(2010, 799). Land, in this definition, is conceived as a scarce resource distributed and owned,
while terrain is land that has political strategic relations of power important for the
maintenance of order (Elden 2010). We bring these theories together to explore the
interactions between LAEs and marine territorialisation processes. The engagement of Afro-
descendant people in the creation of an MPA in the northern Pacific coast of Colombia
results from the absence of legal institutions that would enable them to expand their territorial
rights towards the sea. In doing this, we add to the broader theoretical debate on territory,
showing that LAEs are informing the construction of terrain in the MPA.
To develop this argument, we demonstrate that Afro-descendant communities in the Gulf of
Tribugá hold relational LAEs, where past and present knowledge results from individual and
collective experiences entangled in marine and riverine spatio-temporal dynamics. Social and
physical attachment to place has been sustained by memories of these experiences, which
involves the emergence of shared symbolic meanings and a sense of place (Scannell and
Gifford 2010). The state has rendered these local epistemologies invisible, instead imagining
space as static, bounded, and ‘empty-yet-full’ – empty of people, or in some cases sparsely
occupied, and yet full of resources and biodiversity (Bridge 2001). These static and bounded
imaginaries have shaped the access and control of resource and wild frontiers, where
traditional tenure arrangements are contested by modern enclosures linked to resource
extraction and biodiversity conservation (Peluso and Lund 2011). Afro-descendant territorial
rights were only granted in 1993, when the spatial logic of the state started disciplining local
territorialities (Agnew and Oslender 2010). We show how coastal people, with the support of
conservation NGOs, have been adopting state legal discourses and practices to reclaim the
seascape as part of their territories. This process scaled up their LAEs to influence state
territorialisation processes in a complex context of overlapping and contradictory
jurisdictional arrangements, which involve state environmental and conservation authorities,
as well as marine and terrestrial spatialities. Despite these efforts, the negotiation of the MPA
remained centred on fishing resources and conservation of marine ecosystems, relegating
socio-cultural dimensions to the background. This has led to the creation of spaces of
resistance that subvert the legal framing of the ocean as a public space, yet subject local
people to disciplinary conservation technologies and power asymmetries, which in this case
are dominated by the capital accumulation interests of the fishing industry.
Our arguments are based on ethnographic and historical research carried out in Bogotá and
nine coastal villages: Jurubirá, Tribugá, Nuquí, Panguí, Coquí, Joví, Termales, Partadó, and
Arusí, in the Nuquí Municipality of Colombia from July 2014 to March 2015 (Figure 1). We
consulted scientific papers, official documents, and NGO reports. We collected primary
qualitative data from 94 semi-structured interviews with community leaders, NGO officials,
academics, fisher people, and community members who participated in the declaration of the
MPA, as well as government officials working in fisheries and environmental sectors at
national, regional, and local levels. We included in the analysis information from participant
observation, meetings, and informal conversations. The first author conducted interviews in
Spanish and translated all quotes to English (see Supplementary Material for Spanish
originals). We transcribed, coded, and analysed interviews and field notes according to
emerging themes. This process was facilitated by the qualitative data analysis software
NVivo (version 10.2.2). Participant identities are concealed.
Figure 1. The Gulf of Tribugá and its nine coastal villages. At the North, the Ensenada de
Utría, and at the South the Gulf of Tribugá – Cabo Corrientes Regional District of Integrated
Management (Copyright Chandra Jayasuriya).
Fluid geographies
Many communities around the globe inhabit riverine and coastal areas, living in pulsing and
dynamic waterspaces (Grundy-Warr et al 2015; Helmreich 2011; Steinberg 2013). Oslender
has contributed to the understanding of these fluid geographies, drawing on ethnographic
fieldwork in the Pacific lowlands of Colombia. His work has explored the way Afro-
descendant subsistence activities and social relations have been spatialized along riverine
basins, in what local people call ‘the logic of the river’ (2002, 94). Based on these complex
dynamics, he developed the concept of aquatic space, where human and nonhuman elements
create mutually constitutive relationships, entangling people in aquatic environments (2004,
2016). Past and present knowledge production and social relations in the aquatic space have
constructed LAEs. Oslender argues that these localised knowledge systems have been the
main ‘site of contestation’ of social movements along the Pacific coast, informing their local
discourses and political practices (2016, 4). He draws on Lefebvre (1991), who divided social
space into three interconnected moments: ‘spatial practices, referring to everyday
experiences and routines that shape peoples’ perceptions and use of space; ‘representational
space’, a lived space, linked to the construction of spatial imaginaries and symbols; and
‘representations of space’, the conceptualisation of space into abstract space (Oslender 2012).
As noted by Lefebvre, the abstraction of space within modern capitalism embodies historical
contradictions from conflicting social and political interests, that have subjected waterscapes
and landscapes to constant spatial configuration and reconfiguration processes (1991; 365).
Oslender uses this spatial triad as an analytical tool to explore the ‘differential space’ that
emerges in opposition to the homogenising forces of state abstract capitalist spaces (Lefebvre
1991, 52; Oslender 2012). However, he departs from Lefebvre in arguing that differential
space arises not only as a process that opposes state abstract space, but in fact, have existed
through time, becoming immortalised in the Pacific LAEs (Oslender 2016, 32). In this
section, we explore the fluid geographies of Afro-descendant in the Pacific, to demonstrate
that LAEs exist in the Gulf of Tribugá.
From the rivers to the sea
African slaves were forcedly brought from West and Central Africa to Colombia by the
Spanish colony since the first decade of the 16th century. They provided labour for colonial
gold mining, agriculture, herding, boat construction, and domestic work (Friedemann 1993).
Colonial alluvial gold mining reached the Pacific lowlands in the 16th century and was
complemented by subsistence fishing, hunting, and farming, in which the spatial and
temporal fluidities of river basins became the centre of social interactions (Offen 2003;
Oslender 2004). Slavery was abolished in 1851, after the declaration of independence from
Spain in 1810. Freed Afro-descendant migrated along the rivers, mining independently
(Oslender 2002). They interacted with indigenous peoples, in many cases establishing
compadrazgo (godparenthood) relations that facilitated their survival in new environments
(Wade 1995). Peoples’ identities and epistemologies became shaped by the socio-ecological
interactions along the riverine systems in which they resided.
At the end of the 19th and during the 20th century, clashes between the Liberal and
Conservative parties exploded in two conflicts; the Thousand Days’ War (1899–1902) and
the Violencia civil war (1946–1966). During these periods, the territorial rights of Afro-
descendant people remained unrecognised by the state. Many communities living along the
northern Pacific river basins were displaced and dispossessed. They migrated towards the
coast, including the Gulf of Tribugá, and settled around river deltas to trade and participate in
boom-bust cycles of extractive economies (Offen 2003). This process involved readjusting to
new environments, where the dynamics of the sea, river, moon, and forest shape space and
time (García et al. 2014). However, the social memory of their riverine settlements and new
experiences at sea continued to shape local identities and remained alive through storytelling,
poetry, and songs (Oslender 2016, 90–91). In one interview, a woman from the Alto Baudó,
explained how she belonged to the river. She recalled how her grandmother took her a
canalete (paddling a wooden canoe) to Nuquí more than 50 years ago, initially to crop rice,
where she eventually learned how to live with the sea. At present, she is a piangüera; she
follows the tides to harvest piangüa (Andara tuberculosa) and other shellfish. Her story
reflects the history of those Afro-descendant that transitioned from the rivers to the sea,
forging new social and cultural relations with marine spatio-temporal dynamics that we now
Local aquatic epistemologies
The Gulf of Tribugá is located in the Nuquí Municipality, Chocó Department (Figure 1).3
There are nine coastal villages located along river mouths and streams, which are connected
to a complex riverine system that drains from the Western Andean and Baudó ranges, passing
through the tropical rainforest towards the Pacific Ocean. These villages are primarily
inhabited by Afro-Descendant people as part of Los Riscales Collective Territory, formally
titled in 2002. The inland part is divided into three Emberá indigenous resguardos
(indigenous reserves), and the northern section is covered by the Ensenada de Utría National
Natural Park (from here on referred as Ensenada de Utría). The coast has cliffs bordering
coastal ranges, pocket beaches, and scattered mangrove swamps near Jurubirá, Tribugá,
Nuquí, Panguí, and Coquí. Coastal and fluvial dynamics are influenced by high semi-diurnal
tides and two main seasons; a dry summer takes places between December and April and a
rainy winter from August to November. The fluid and mobile dynamics of tides and rain
along the Gulf of Tribugá have shaped the lives of human and nonhuman inhabitants, not
only as the background of spatial practices, but anchoring them material and symbolic socio-
natural worlds (Escobar 2008, 42–43).
In the Gulf, as in other places along the Pacific, the sea plays such an important role that for
many daily activities are scheduled looking at the sea rather than the clock (Oslender 2016, 9;
Vargas Sarmiento and Ferro Medina 1999,19). Respondents often suggested meeting when
the tide was up or down, rather than any specific hour of the day. Tides have daily and
monthly fluctuations that shape navigation patterns, social interactions, and subsistence
practices. Semidiurnal tides move from low to high tides two times every lunar day. Wooden
canoes are pushed by the flow upstream during high tides, and downstream during low tides.
Tidal dynamics also respond to the cycle of the moon, transitioning every major lunar phase
from high to low tidal ranges, traditionally known as puja and quiebra, each occurring two
times per month. Puja takes place during the full and new moon, when strong currents and
high tides flood beaches, river deltas, mangrove swamps, and coastal areas, transforming
coastal villages into islands. Many coastal dwellers live in stilt houses, elevated by wooden
structures locally known as palafitos. These houses are located along areas that can
potentially get flooded during high puja tides. On the contrary, low tides uncover wide
coastal flats, enabling people to walk from one village to the other and piangüeras to collect
shellfish in mangrove swamps and intertidal muddy bottoms. Fishing becomes extremely
difficult during the strong puja currents; most fishers shift to farming and even tourism, only
venturing at sea for the pancoger (subsistence catches), or the pleasure of fishing.
Successively, tidal ranges and currents are reduced during the first quarter and last quarter
moon phases, known as quiebra. Spatio-temporal dynamics are also shaped by rainfall
seasonality and changes in the wind and sea surface temperature. For example, during high
rainfall riverine discharges surge along the coast, increasing water currents and turbidity,
flooding some portions of the landscape. As argued by local respondents, people avoid
navigating upstream and fishing around river mouths. On dry and sunny days, riverine
salinity increases and coastal water temperature decreases, enabling fishers to capture big
pelagic fish species in shallow coastal waters.
Coastal communities have developed an ‘amphibian culture’, where practices, behaviours,
and beliefs follow these marine rhythms, and they express a versatility in transitioning
between aquatic and terrestrial livelihood strategies (Fals Borda 2002). Traditions, rituals,
3 According the National Administrative Department of Statistics in 2005 Nuquí had a total population of 6,295
(8,668 projected for 2016), from which 77.5% were Afro-descendant, and 21.5% were indigenous peoples.
and ceremonies are rooted in this amphibian culture. One morning as we joined a group of
people that were collecting shellfish during a low puja tide, a fisher from Tribugá told us he
was destined to fish. He claimed that his mother had scraped the beak of a heron, and placed
it over his navel during his birth in the ombligada ritual, passing onto him the heron’s ability
to find plenty of fish. She also used the umbilical cord and placenta to plant a tree, tying him
to the land. Past and present knowledge production has created relational and fluid
representational spaces, where humans and nature are interdependent (Escobar 2015). In his
Here in the Gulf is the story of who we are. We are everything you see, we are sea,
rain, and forest (Supplementary Text S1).
Most fishers use wooden canoes hand-carved in the forest during the waning moon by Afro-
descendant and Emberá indigenous canoe builders. Children learn to fish in the rivers,
mangroves, and estuaries, which is also where women and older residents fish. For one fisher
in Nuquí, only those fishing offshore (pescar afuera) are socially recognised as ‘fishers’,
having access to social interactions and networks that only take place at sea. Small-scale
fisheries are spatial and temporally heterogeneous. Fishers target multiple species, relying on
diverse fishing gear. Fish catches are mostly for local subsistence, which provide essential
protein in the local diet. However, local middlemen also trade fish from Jurubirá, Nuquí,
Panguí, and Arusí in national markets. Regardless of these commercial relations, local
respondents saw the sea as much more than a container for resources. In the words of a fisher
from Tribugá:
“It is from there, from my childhood that my love for fishing arises. Because fishing
for us means and symbolises happiness, harmony. Fishing is about luck and life
experiences […]. When you are in the open sea you are connected to nature, thought,
body and soul are synchronised with the movement of the sea” (Supplementary Text
For these people the sea is a lived space, where place is socially constructed by memories,
emotions, and experiences. Fishers use terrestrial landmarks to locate traditional fishing
grounds, known as riscales (marine basaltic rocks). They learn to read the coast, in order to
find their way at sea. Each fishing ground has been produced by human and nonhuman
interactions that are immortalised through storytelling practices that give meaning to place.
Two fishers from Arusí explained that new riscales are found by those who explore or get
lost, usually named by, or after, their discoverers, anchoring people to places in the sea. On
this basis, fishing involves socio-cultural processes that keep alive ancestral memories.
Moreover, community members in Nuquí, Panguí, Coquí, and Termales have transformed
marine areas collectively, using mangrove timber to create artificial riscales locally known as
payaos, to attract fish near the coast. The social and symbolic relations experienced in each
village have created a sense of place that alters across space and over time. Importantly, these
LAEs have been produced, maintained, and transformed through the active interactions
between place-based, indigenous, and expert knowledges, that act as disciplinary forces that
shape and control peoples’ conducts (Foucault 1995, 27–28; Oslender 2012). We now draw
on the concept of territory, exploring the abstract representations of space at play in the
Pacific region and the territorial struggles of these coastal communities.
The production of territory
The concept of territory has been part of the discussion of Afro-descendant territorial rights
since the late 1980s (Escobar 2008, 52–53). ‘Territory’ emanates from Western European
political thought, from the 17th century onwards, encompassing a wide variety of meanings
and theoretical debates (e.g. Agnew 1994; Cox 1991; Elden 2013a; Moore 2015). It is
important to note that modern Eurocentric epistemology presumes the existence of an
objective ‘universal truth’ and constructs reality through the structure of binary oppositions
(e.g. marine/terrestrial, nature/culture, modern/traditional) (Quijano 2000). Within this
dualistic way of thinking, space is bounded, homogeneous, and separated from place and
time (Agnew 2011). Territory has primarily been defined in terms of property, as a delimited
space controlled by the state or other powerful actors, where power is exercised uniformly
across fixed geographic boundaries; terrestrial, static, and ahistorical (Elden 2010; Steinberg
and Peters 2015). One example is the delimitation of marine territories by the 1982 United
Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), when territorial waters were fixed
from the coastal baseline up to 12 nm for most coastal states. This arbitrary definition
overlooks the relationship between territory, state, and people (Moore 2015). Territory has
also been defined in terms of jurisdiction, with the modern state as the arbiter of justice.
Administrative units are controlled by a jurisdictional authority through morally binding rules
that enclose land and people, failing to account for peoples’ attachment to place (Moore
Stuart Elden has challenged the perception of territory as a flat space, analysing territorial
struggles occurring beyond the surface, including airspace and the subsoil. He has argued that
territorial struggles also occur over the control of volumes, vertically and volumetrically
(Elden 2013b). Adding volumetric considerations is important, but it still emerges from a
terrestrial notion of territory that neglects the fluidity of matter and humans, particularly in
aquatic spaces, where dynamic forces produce movements that cannot be contained or
defined solely by volume (Grundy-Warr et al. 2015; Steinberg and Peters 2015). The land-
water binary has been enforced by the modern state, in which solid land is a social space,
while the liquid sea is a place to compete for resources and territorial sovereignty,
disregarding marine social processes (Steinberg 2013, 2001; Steinberg and Peters 2015).
Elden draws on Foucault’s technologies of power, to define territory as a political
technology, where legal systems, statistics, myths, wars, and other tools of power create
abstract and hegemonic spatial representations (Elden 2013a, 10–17, 2010). These
representations collide with LAEs, where territory acquires meaning through varying
everyday practices blurring the water/land divide (Brenner and Elden 2009). To conceptually
link LAEs with the state’s production of territory, we review the production of territory on
the Pacific coast.
Resource and wild frontiers
The Colombian state has historically reproduced modern representations of territory
throughout its history, excluding aquatic environments from peoples’ territorial rights. In
colonial times (1550–1810), the Spanish Crown controlled key trade and productive areas,
but had limited territorial control in remote Pacific localities. These areas became a resource
frontier, classified as baldíos (unused lands), owned by the Crown (Serje 2006). The baldíos
became a powerful political technology, rendering Afro-descendant and indigenous
traditional landownership regimes invisible in order to legitimise capital accumulation
(Mollett 2015). Territory was produced in terms of property, passed to companies and
individuals through concessions, licenses, and private titles, dispossessing local peoples’
rights (Oslender 2016, 64; Serje 2006). The Political Constitution of 1886 replaced the
federal state with a unitary one, and divided the national territory into jurisdictional
administrative units (i.e. departments, which are further divided into municipalities) (Offen
2003). It stated that baldíos and all their public goods including rivers, sea, beaches, and
mangrove swamps belonged to the state, becoming inalienable and imprescriptible, which
means their property rights cannot be taken away from the state, and remain in force even
when not exercised (Article 4). This persisted in the Political Constitution of 1991 (Article
102), and created a false imaginary of the Pacific region as static, flat, and bounded.
Frontier economies increased land disputes between local communities and the state, and
between national elites represented by Liberal and Conservative parties. There were conflicts
between political parties that led to the Thousand Days’ War and the Violencia civil war,
producing new waves of displacement and territorial struggles (Serje 2006). Capital
accumulation processes extended along the Pacific region, including industrial fishing,
logging, mangrove bark and timber extraction, petroleum exploration, mining, and cultivation
of banana, cacao, rice, sugar cane, and African palm (Escobar 2008, 75; Restrepo 2013).
These activities were intensified by the development plans of the National Planning
Department since the 1970s, and the adoption of a neoliberal economic model during the late
1980s. Local resistance was confronted with new waves of violence (Escobar 2003; Restrepo
In the late 20th century, resource frontier regions started to be perceived as wild frontiers that
needed protection from human interventions. The Institute of Renewable Natural Resources
and Environment, which was the national environmental authority from 1968 to 1993, started
declaring national parks. The tropical ecosystems along the Pacific became framed as
‘untouched’, imagined as a ‘natural museum’ (Restrepo 2013). Colombia approved the 1992
International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1994. Biodiversity became one of
the region’s most valuable economic assets, escalating processes of conservation by
dispossession (Asher and Ojeda 2009). Friction between environmental agendas and
extractive industries soon emerged, although from a local perspective national parks had been
created without local consultation, leading to resistance and conflicts (Andrade 2009). For
example, one fisher in Jurubirá, located south from the Ensenada de Utría, claimed that when
the park was created in 1987, Afro-descendants living within its boundaries were evicted.
Some families migrated northward to El Valle, or to Jurubirá, but others refused to leave and
became ‘illegal occupiers’. There have been prolonged conflicts between fishers and park
officials over access to traditional fishing grounds lying just offshore.
The Political Constitution of Colombia acknowledged the rights of indigenous and Afro-
descendant communities in 1991, defining the country as multicultural and pluri-ethnic. The
constitution stated that Afro-descendant territories needed further protection (Transitory
Article AT-55). Consequently, a social movement, the Process of Black Communities, was
formed by more than 120 organisations, local leaders, and activists to push for Afro-
descendant territorial rights (Grueso et al. 2003). The movement joined the biodiversity
conservation networks involved in the Proyecto Biopacífico (Biopacific Project), from 1992–
1998, under the state’s sustainable development agenda (Restrepo 2013). Their participation
enabled the inclusion of culture as part of biodiversity (Escobar 2001). The network
advocated for territorial rights using a past-present-future perspective that accounted for local
identities, traditions, and history of resistance, envisioning territory as a space for being
(espacio para ser) (PCN 2008). They were very strategic – by attaching territory to the
survival of culture, territorial claims were linked to the protection of cultural diversity,
endorsed by Article 8 of the Constitution. Additionally, by ascribing culture as a component
of biodiversity conservation, territorial claims were safeguarded by the CBD. Finally, Law 70
granted collective territorial rights to Afro-descendant communities in 1993.
Communities were forced to organise into community councils. Afro-descendant territorial
claims were turned into terrestrial, bounded, and static collective property regimes, known as
collective territories. One local leader recalled the afternoon an Afro-descendant man came to
Tribugá and told them about Law 70. The man explained they needed to form a community
council for their territorial rights to be recognised by the state. Unlike indigenous resguardos,
Afro-descendant collective territories were not recognised as territorial entities, which means
they cannot collect taxes or administer natural resources, and are not directly funded by the
national budget (Ng’weno 2000, 33–34). The absence of administrative independence was
considered by local leaders in the Gulf of Tribugá to be a threat to local autonomy. They
claimed that local processes are dependent on financial aid from the municipality and other
external sources. Moreover, national parks and public goods including mangrove swamps,
river basins, or coastal seas were excluded from the titling process, leaving their territories
incomplete. In the words of a local leader in Nuquí:
It seems like people in the government were thinking, those blacks we will never let
them get strengthened, they will never have autonomy” (Supplementary Text S3)
Unlike the terrestrial configurations of collective territories, the Los Riscales community
council defined territory in their 2007 Ethno-Development Plan as:
A place where culture is created and strengthened, where ancestral practices are
maintained, mediated and constructed by a cosmovision that gives meanings and
sense to space” (2007: 119, translated from Spanish, Supplementary Text S4).
Their definition overcomes land-water binaries and boundaries, by focusing on culture,
practices, and the production of meaning. However, the state has neglected these local
constructions, leading to struggles over authority along the Pacific waterscapes, as one
government official puts it:
Many argue that they [Afro-descendants] have a bearing on the marine territory,
and that Law 70, which favours Afro-descendent communities, says they have
authority over their territory. But, other laws of the country say that the marine
territory belongs to the state. End of story” (Supplementary Text S5).
Communities claimed that the exclusion of mangrove swamps violates their constitutional
right to ethnic and cultural diversity (Ng’weno 2000; Offen 2003). After multiple
negotiations, some communities gained special concessionary status over mangrove swamps,
while other (including those in the Gulf of Tribugá) successfully incorporated mangrove
areas within their collective territories (García et al. 2014; Oslender 2012). Even if the
collective territories have contributed to the recognition of local territorial rights, this has
been partial, also acting as an imposed political technology.
Territorialisation processes in the Pacific have also been shaped by the arrival of armed
conflicts between military forces and leftist guerrillas since the 1990s. This involved the
incursions of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation
Army (ELN). However, during the middle of the decade, paramilitary groups and criminal
gangs also expanded along the region. Drug trafficking and extractive economies have
thrived, in many cases interrupting and impeding the titling process, and exposing
communities in remote areas to violence, massacres, forced recruitment, corruption, and
displacement (Escobar 2003). The Gulf of Tribugá has been dramatically affected,
particularly in Tribugá, where several armed incursions and forced displacements have
occurred due to the ELN and paramilitary groups, the latest in 2014. During one interview, an
academic linked this violence to the economic interests behind the construction and control
over two still-unbuilt infrastructure projects; the Animas-Nuquí road, proposed by the state in
1959 to connect the northern Pacific coast to the national highway system, and a multi-
purpose port, which has been discussed by development agencies since 1989. Furthermore,
illegal small-scale and large-scale gold mining has intensified in Chocó since the gold price
increased in the 2000s (Tubb 2015, see Supplementary Text S6). At least 46% of the alluvial
gold exploitation occurs within Afro-descendants’ collective territories in Chocó (UNODC
and MINJUSTICIA 2016, 11). Some extraction is embedded in a very complex criminal web,
linked to arms and drug trafficking, as well as money laundering. This has bankrolled and
intensified an unconventional warfare, transforming local economies, and triggering major
socio-environmental upheavals (Tubb 2015). We did not find evidence of illegal mining
occurring along the coast of the Gulf of Tribugá, but local leaders claimed it takes place
inland. Due to the interconnected and fluid spatio-temporal dynamics of waterscapes along
the northern Pacific, the environmental impacts of illegal mining pose a major threat to
riverine and coastal communities. The protection of Afro-descendant territorial rights in the
post-conflict political scenario will be crucial since a peace agreement between the state and
the FARC was signed the 24th of November (2016), and mining and other armed groups may
expand along the Chocó. Wild and resource frontiers have been central for the production of
territory in the Pacific, historically dispossessing local communities from their lands and
rights over aquatic environments through violent interventions. But, where is the sea in this
history of disputed territorialisation?
Territorial struggles at sea
The state’s production of marine territory replicates terrestrial imaginaries, where space has
been perceived as empty-yet-full, flat, static, and bounded, valued for capital accumulation,
national sovereignty, transportation services, and biodiversity conservation. Afro-
descendants’ traditions, fishing practices, social interactions, and collective memories at sea
are still rendered invisible by the state. Marine industrial fisheries have targeted tuna, small
pelagic fish, deep-water shrimp, shallow-water shrimp, and demersal fish. They operate large
boats with specialised fishing gear fishing along the coast, relying on four major ports: Bahía
Solano, Buenaventura, Guapí, and Tumaco (Figure 2) (Wielgus et al. 2010). Fisheries have
been dramatically affected by overfishing, extreme El Niño Southern Oscillation phases, high
fuel prices, habitat destruction and demand reduction, leading to the collapse of the shallow-
water shrimp fishery during the 1980s and the carduma (Cetengraulis mysticetus) fishery in
2013 (Díaz-Ochoa and Quiñones 2008; Zapata et al. 2013).
Figure 2. Map of the Pacific coast of Colombia showing: coastal departments, main marine
ports, and 200 m isobath. One coastal point illustrates the extent of the four major fisheries
exploitation zones (Copyright Chandra Jayasuriya).
Industrial and small-scale fisheries are still controlled by an outdated national fisheries
policy, created before Afro-descendant and indigenous peoples’ rights were recognised by
the 1991 Political Constitution (General Fisheries Statute, Law 13 of 1990). Small-scale
fishers have had limited articulation with external markets, which has historically excluded
their LAEs and traditional fisheries governance systems from national and regional fisheries
governance decision-making arenas (Saavedra-Díaz et al. 2015). Instead, fisheries
governance relies mostly on top-down control mechanisms (e.g. annual fishing licenses, total
allowable catch quotas and seasonal fishing bans). The institutional instability caused by six
administrative changes to the ‘fisheries authority’4 since the 1990s, and the internal armed
conflict have limited the implementation of control mechanisms (Saavedra-Díaz et al. 2015;
Wielgus et al. 2010). The sea has also been a site of contestation between the state and illegal
groups over the control of marine trafficking networks and corridors. All this has disrupted
4 The fisheries authorities: Institute of Renewable Natural Resources and Environment (19681993); National
Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture (19902003); Colombian Institute for Rural Development (INCODER),
(20032007); Colombian Agricultural Institute (20082009); INCODER (20092011); and National Authority
for Aquaculture and Fisheries (2012Present).
the long-term assessment of fish stocks and marine ecosystems, as well as undermining the
importance of small-scale fisheries for coastal food security.
From the 1990s, conflicts between coastal communities in the northern Pacific and the tuna
and deep-water shrimp fisheries escalated. The tuna industry primarily targets Skipjack tuna
(Katsuwonus pelamis) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), using purse seines and long
lines, with helicopters, echo sounders, and radar support (Melo Saldarriaga et al. 2011).
Importantly, small-scale fishers also capture tuna using hand and long lines. Communities in
Juradó and Bahía Solano accused this industry of threatening coastal food security due to
overfishing and excessive bycatch (see next section). Moreover, the deep-water shrimp
industry, which mostly captures coliflor shrimp (Solenocera agassizii) and pink shrimp
(Farfantepenaeus brevirostris), uses double-bottom trawlers that operate on fishing grounds
at 70 m of depth or more (Rodríguez et al. 2012). The industry also maximises profits by
marketing bycatch and mid-water trawling catches of pelagic fish. Shrimp vessels are
privately owned and are operated by about six crew members, most of which are Afro-
descendants from Buenaventura (see Supplementary Table S1). According to a respondent
during an informal conversation in Nuquí, several crew members have been treated at the
local health post for undernourishment and other health issues associated with poor working
conditions. Fishers in the nine coastal villages of the Gulf of Tribugá accused shrimp vessels
of dragging away their long-lines and encroaching on local riscales. In the words of a fisher
from Jurubirá:
The industry is not respecting our places, our fishing grounds. Last year, two vessels
were trawling here and dragged away our long-lines. We filed a complaint, but
realised the owners of those vessels were people connected with the government, that
is why they [fisheries authorities] didn’t pay attention to us” (Supplementary Text S7).
Fishers along the Gulf blamed the industry for the reduction of fish stocks resulting from the
impacts of high bycatch, noise pollution, seabed trawling. They referred to their territorial
rights, questioning why the fisheries authority is granting fishing licences without local
consultation. As recalled by a fisher in Arusí:
Oh that is quite a fight! The boats [industrial] tell you that the sea has no owner, that
the sea belongs to everyone, that the sea is not private, that they paid their taxes in
Bogotá where they were given licenses and permits. But, we have a regulation [Law
70] that was given to us by the state to defend our territories. For whites, blacks, and
indigenous to defend our territories. If they gave this to us, why are they coming from
Valle [del Cauca] to destroy Chocó?” (Supplementary Text S8).
Local respondents and conservation NGO officials argued that the industry only uses the Gulf
to fish without any return to local economies. A respondent in Panguí said:
We don’t benefit from anything, they [the industry] take out the production to their
companies and greatly affect local fishers(Supplementary Text S9).
In this context, in 2004 the fisheries authority divided the marine territory into four fishing
zones (Figure 2). Zone 1 (shoreline to 1 nm), exclusive to small-scale fisheries; Zone 2 (1–12
nm), for shallow and deep-water shrimp, demersal species, and small/medium pelagic
fishing; Zone 3 (12–30 nm), for deep-water shrimp, demersal species, and small/medium
pelagic fisheries; and Zone 4 (30–200 nm), for oceanic and medium pelagic fisheries. The
establishment of these zones reflected the UNCLOS marine territorial delimitationit was
arbitrary, non-consultative, and disregarded local and spatial heterogeneity (Saavedra-Díaz et
al. 2015). Community leaders in the Gulf of Tribugá argued that local people with knowledge
of small-scale fisheries were excluded, and that 1nm is not enough to protect their fishing
grounds from industrial fisheries. An academic claimed that the fisheries authority only
consulted fishing industry representatives:
“Here to give artisanal fisheries space, they [the fisheries authority] consult the
industry. To me this is evidence of the disequilibrium and strong influence of the
industrial sector in the design of policies. We could even question what the
government calls ‘industrial sector participation’, as an obstacle to the independence
of the government decision-making” (Supplementary Text S10).
Importantly, the closest fisheries authority office is approximately two hours away by boat in
Bahía Solano, which limits control and surveillance. As stated by a fisher in Nuquí:
“In January [2015], I was at the Playa Olímpica and a shrimp vessel was trawling
less than a mile from the coast. I called the Navy lieutenant and he said ‘I am looking
out for the public order with respect to the issue of drug-trafficking’ […]. People can
only sit and mourn, seeing how these vessels destroy our sea” (Supplementary Text
The lack of involvement and participation of coastal Afro-descendant communities in the
production of these marine territories means the sea is treated formally as a resource frontier.
These zones act as a political technology that imposes boundaries defined by the fisheries
authority, dispossessing communities from the fluidities of their marine social space. Several
fishers interviewed around the Gulf of Tribugá claimed that the reduction of fish yields
occasionally forces them to navigate further offshore. In general, the fisheries authority has
overseen the dispossession of local small-scale fisheries, affecting local food security,
environmental health, and cultural heritage. In doing this, extra-local capital accumulation
processes have been prioritised and sustained (Sneddon 2007). This process has privileged
the participation of industrial fisheries in governance decisions and has suppressed LAEs
along the coast. Conflicts with the industry are not simply driven by the physical
appropriation of resources, but by efforts to defend the sea as a social and cultural space.
Marine wild frontiers
Small-scale artisanal fishers in Juradó and Bahía Solano (Figure 3), have demanded a ban on
industrial tuna and deep-water shrimp fishing since the 1990s. This is when the sea started to
be a site of contestation between wild and resource frontiers. It was in 1992, when the CBD
called for the identification of priority marine conservation areas, that this became a
dominant objective in government policy (Wood et al. 2008). Importantly, in 2004 state
nations that had ratified the CBD committed to the protection of at least 10% of national
coastal and marine areas by 2012 (deferred until 2020 by the Aichi Target 11). In Colombia,
the Institute of Marine and Coastal Research (INVEMAR) has identified priority
conservation areas. MPAs are now declared by three state agencies: the fisheries authority
(Exclusive Artisanal Fishing Zones and Special Fishing Management ZonesLaw 13, 1990),
the National Natural Parks System, and regional environmental authorities known as
Autonomous Regional Corporations. The latter were granted marine jurisdiction within 12
nm from the coast (Law 1450) in 2011, to assist in the creation of MPAs.
Figure 3. Map of the coastal municipalities and protected areas along the Pacific coast of the
Chocó department (Copyright Chandra Jayasuriya).
MPAs in Colombia have limited interaction between state agencies at regional and national
levels. The absence of municipal state agencies has restricted local level interactions, such
that conservation NGOs have played a key role creating bridging mechanisms between state
agencies and local people. But questions of quantity have predominated over quality, where
poor fisheries governance and limited control has led to MPAs that exist on paper only (De
Santo 2013). Importantly, tensions between exploitation and conservation agendas and their
overlapping territorialities have made the production of MPAs a messy process.5 We now
5 State maritime territorialisation processes along the Pacific and their jurisdictional authorities: 1) territorial
waters, under national jurisdiction; 2) mangroves, rivers, coasts, and oceans are public goods, owned by the
state; 3) national parks, jurisdiction of the National Natural Parks office; 4) exploitation zones, jurisdiction of
the fisheries authority; 5) mangrove swamps, jurisdiction of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable
Development; 6) from the coastal baseline to 12 nm, jurisdiction of Autonomous Regional Corporations; 7)
show how this has opened some space for local communities to participate in the state
production of territory at sea.
Creating marine protected areas
After many years of struggles between local communities and industrial fisheries in Juradó
and Bahía Solano, small-scale fishers, fish traders, and the Interinstitutional and Community
Group of Artisanal Fishing of the Chocó (GIC-PA) which unites the efforts of private and
public actors in support of small-scale fisheries in the northern Pacific started pushing for
the creation of a small-scale fishing zone. Finally, in 2008, the fisheries authority created a
one-year provisional Exclusive Artisanal Fishing Zone (ZEPA) (Figure 3). This area goes
from the coastal baseline out to 2.5 nm, and it granted fishing rights to small-scale fishers,
excluding industrial fishing. The Squalus Foundation, a national conservation NGO, signed a
cooperation agreement with the fisheries authority and monitored the ZEPA for two years
from 2008 and suggested an extension of the area to 5–7 nm from the shoreline, for the
effective protection of local fish stocks. The fisheries authority ignored this and only
extended the provisional status of ZEPA. A new cooperation agreement was signed with
MarViva Foundation, an international conservation NGO, to undertake participatory
monitoring of artisanal fish stocks from 2010 to 2012.
Tired of being ignored, small-scale fishers filed an Actio popularis in 2012, with the support
of the national Social Justice Study Centre Tierra Digna, arguing that the lack of control
over industrial fisheries that continue to fish inside the ZEPA is a violation of their collective
rights to a healthy environment and cultural heritage. A request to expand the area to 7 nm
from the shoreline and more effective control over industrial vessels was filed at the
Administrative Tribunal of Cundinamarca, whose decision is still pending. As mentioned by
two academics involved in the process, local communities were defending the sea as part of
their territories. After five years of provisional status, in 2013 the ZEPA became permanent.
It was not enlarged, but the fisheries authority instead created a Special Fishing Management
Zone adjacent to it (Figure 3). This area only bans the entry of tuna fisheries from 2.5 to 12
nm from the shoreline and still allows the entry of the deep-water shrimp vessels. However,
neither of these MPAs are properly surveyed or enforced. Community members have
reported illegal fishing several times, with no response from the fisheries authority. It appears
that Colombia has rewarded quantity over quality in order to comply with the CBD marine
conservation targets, in which MPAs like the Special Fishing Management Zone only exist
on paper.
Despite these difficulties, and driven by the ZEPA experience, coastal communities in the
Gulf of Tribugá engaged in the creation of a new MPA to legitimise local access and control
over the sea, and to ban industrial fisheries. They have experienced conflicts with the deep-
water shrimp boats that enters the Gulf to access El Filo, one of the most important pink
shrimp fishing grounds. According to a community leader in Nuquí:
Looking at ZEPA in Bahía Solano, where the industry was banned from trawling. We
thought, why don’t we organise and unite the communities to protect the resources,
marine traffic, jurisdiction of the Colombian Maritime Authority; 8) marine defence, jurisdiction of the
Colombian National Navy.
not for me, but for those that will come. That is the struggle for the MPA
(Supplementary Text S12).
These conflicts were first reported by the Natura Foundation (a conservation NGO) in the
1990s. Later in the Ethno-Development Plan, formulated by the Los Riscales community
council in 2007, local fishers requested the creation of an artisanal fishing zone to protect
small-scale fisheries from the impacts of the industry (2007, 266). As explained by a
community leader in Jurubirá:
The shrimp industry is not only catching shrimp, they catch everything […] Our
fishing grounds that we call riscales, those places are sacred for us, when industrial
vessels come and drag they destroy these places. All this has prompted artisanal
fishers to look for an instrument to protect these places at least from the industry
(Supplementary Text S13).
Similar allegations were made by respondents along the Gulf, who claimed industrial vessels
were not only fishing in El Filo, but near their riscales, depleting fish stocks and destroying
traditional fishing grounds. The idea of creating an MPA gained momentum when
INVEMAR identified 12 national priority areas for marine conservation in the Pacific in
2008, from which two were located inside the Gulf of Tribugá (Alonso et al. 2008). With the
support of MarViva Foundation, communities started monitoring fish catches to support local
claims that fish stocks and fish size were declining, and designed the management plan for
their mangroves in 2009. A year later, INVEMAR assessed the socio-economic viability of
the MPA, determining the area would only be feasible if local autonomy were maintained,
traditional knowledge is acknowledged, the management scheme involved local participation,
and local living standards were improved (Maldonado et al. 2010). Based on these
considerations, community workshops held in 2013 discussed different types of protected
areas. As recalled by local leaders who attended the workshop, the possibility of creating a
national park or ZEPA were dismissed. The conflictual relationship between fishers and park
officials in the Ensenada de Utría, and the lack of funding for managing a ZEPA or Special
Fishing Management Zone, prompted this decision. The Regional District of Integrated
Management (DRMI), was chosen as the best option as it restricts fishing activities to
sustainable practices, and receives funding from the Departmental System of Protected Areas.
According to a community leader from Tribugá:
We have studied the different protected areas that exist in the Colombian state, and
started to think about which of these could be the best for this area. We decided to go
with the DRMI, because it enables a sustainable use; we want it to be for the benefit
of people, where decisions are taken with the communities(Supplementary Text
This model would enable the integration of marine and coastal areas, and support the
implementation of a co-management scheme. As noted by a community leader in Nuquí:
The ultimate goal of this area is the exercise of community political government. It is
not just the environmental component that the state and NGOs are supporting, it is a
sum of actions directed for the community to improve its living standard
(Supplementary Text S15).
Community leaders were aware that MPA conservation objectives could potentially
overpower local interests, but they lobbied for it as an opportunity to protect local
communities from industrial fishing. The Gulf of Tribugá Environmental Ordinance
Roundtable was formed to unify the MPA declaration efforts, involving the participation of
the Los Riscales community council, the Autonomous Regional Corporation for Sustainable
Development of Chocó – Codechocó, the fisheries authority, the Nuquí City Hall, and the
National Army, with the support of the GIC-PA, tourism, fishing, and mangrove roundtables,
National Natural Parks, NGOs, and INVEMAR. In 2014, communities from the nine coastal
villages in the Gulf signed prior consultation agreements. Local respondents agreed to the
creation of the DRMI to ban the industry from the Gulf. Respondents recalled attending
community meetings and signing the previous consultation agreement although some were
sceptical. The DRMI was declared by Codechocó the 18th of December 2014 (Figure 3). This
process emerged from the differential space produced by the state’s terrestrial representations
of Los Riscales collective territory, in which the sea is considered part of local peoples’
territory. The difficulty has been that the industry, with the support from INVEMAR, claimed
it fishes sustainably. According to a conservation NGO official:
INVEMAR, who paradoxically promoted the creation of the protected area, in a
study revealed that the deep-water shrimp is underexploited, and developed a
management proposal for the industry that has been endorsed by the AUNAP
[Fisheries authority] […]. The DRMI formal agreement has a list of permitted
practices that includes sustainable fishing, but there is no discrimination between
trawling and artisanal fishing. The problem is that the agreement signed during the
previous consultation, explicitly stated the area prohibits industrial fisheries
(Supplementary Text S16).
Consequently, the deep-water shrimp industry continues to fish inside the DRMI,
threatening the local legitimacy of the MPA. Fishing agreements between the
ordinance roundtable and the industry have been negotiated and are under
construction (personal communication, April 2017). However, communities are not
only dealing with power asymmetries within the ordinance roundtable, but are facing
the challenges of assessing the sustainability of the deep-water shrimp industry and
creating a comanagement scheme under limited and intermittent financial and
technical support from Codechocó. Local efforts remain vulnerable and depend on
individual actors and NGOs, who have played a major role lobbying for the
development of cross-level and cross-scale linkages in a very unstable institutional
Discussion and conclusion
The land-sea divide enforced by the modern state gives a false impression of marine spaces
as empty of people, and available for capital accumulation (Steinberg and Peters 2015). The
empty-yet-full narratives of the Pacific coast of Colombia continue to reproduce colonial
racial logics that neglect the existence of aquatic social processes and keep Afro-descendant
marine territorial struggles invisible from the eyes of the state (Bridge 2001; Mollett 2015).
On this basis, the state’s production of territory has guaranteed external access and control
over marine and terrestrial resource and wild frontiers, a process that has perpetuated social
inequalities (Restrepo 2013; Serje 2013). These frontiers have also been tied to the
production of places of violence, where local territorialities are constantly confronted by legal
and illegal capital accumulation (Grajales 2011; Ojeda 2012; Vélez-Torres 2012). Afro-
descendant territorial rights have been key for the recognition of local territorial struggles.
However, collective territories inscribed in national legislation have also acted as a political
technology to control rather than empower remote communities, creating land/water
boundaries over fluid and dynamic geographies.
Coastal communities in the Gulf of Tribugá have not been passive observers in the state’s
production of territory. LAEs have informed and maintained a differential space, where
territory is perceived as a place where culture and ancestral practices are created and
transformed, entangled in complex fluid and volumetric spatio-temporal dynamics. These
epistemologies are scaling up to shape state marine territorialisation, attempting to guarantee
local access and control beyond the boundaries defined by their land-based collective
territories. Drawing on Elden’s definition of territory as a political technology, unlike land,
the sea in the MPA is not a scarce resource distributed and owned, but is a ‘central space of
existence’ for coastal fishing communities (Peters 2015, 271). Moreover, terrain has been
constructed by the political knowledge-power relations at the confluence of LAEs and
modern environmental conservation. This has enabled local differential space and territorial
struggles to reach national political arenas, producing new fields of negotiation to transform
relations of authority at sea. Epistemic plurality exists not only onshore (Escobar 2008) but
also offshore within the state’s complex territorialisation of the region.
As Corson (2011) argues, the neoliberal production of state territorialisation has been used by
non-state actors to claim authority and control. We add to the understanding of these
territorialisation processes by demonstrating that these negotiations at sea are limited by the
framing of seascapes as public spaces that need to be enclosed to protect or regulate the use
of resources. This framing has historically relegated the efforts of coastal dwellers in their
defence of socio-cultural practices along the land-water interface.
The self-determination of Afro-descendant communities to assert territorial rights, using
formal mechanisms of territorial control rather than dismissing them as impositions by the
state, is an effort to redress their ongoing displacement from both land and sea. These
communities are strategically navigating the logic of the state, taking advantage of the
contradictions between resource and wild frontiers to participate in the process of state
formation. Conservation NGOs have played a major role creating bridging mechanisms
between local communities and environmental authorities, and supporting local processes
linked to the creation of the MPA. The catch is that the MPA also subjects local communities
to discourses and imaginaries of the sea as a space that needs to be regulated and protected,
as well as introducing added value processes of commodification of nature. The latter link
MPAs to the marketisation of sustainable fish products and ecotourism, through the brokering
functions of NGOs and development aid agencies (Igoe and Brockington 2007). The
extension of local politico-legal authority into the sea still involves power asymmetries
between local communities and more powerful industrial fisheries. The political struggle for
their territories continues. Moreover, local leaders from Pizarro and Litoral de San Juan, the
two southern municipalities, have expressed their interest in developing similar participatory
processes to the DRMI. Due to the pressure to meet MPAs targets, it is likely that other
communities will develop analogous protection regimes, willing to go through cumbersome
processes to ensure local access and control over the sea. Despite this, MPAs are not
integrating land and marine territorial rights, but separating the socio-cultural dynamics from
the water by focusing mainly on fisheries management. We call for the study and recognition
of land/marine territorialisation alternatives through legal and political instruments to defend
the right of amphibious peoples around the globe.
MPAs could be considered the lesser of evils, in comparison to previous rounds of
territorialisation that saw the Pacific as a marine resource frontier ripe for exploitation.
However, the state still governs industrial fisheries through market incentives in a neoliberal
economy, making the sustainability of the region’s operations questionable (Mansfield
2004a). The struggle over the control of resource frontiers in this unconventional conflict
scenario is unique, placing communities and biodiversity conservation at the crossroads
between legal and illegal territorialisation processes. Further research will be needed to move
beyond MPAs as a solution for the lack of recognition of peoples’ coastal-marine territorial
Supporting Information
S1-S15: Original Spanish language interview data
S1. Aquí en el golfo esta la historia de lo que somos, nosotros somos todo lo que usted ve, somos mar, lluvia y selva.”
S2. “Desde allí, desde mi niñez nace ese amor por la pesca. Porque pescar significa y simboliza para nosotros alegría,
harmonía, la pesca es de suerte, de vivencia […]. Cuando uno está mar abierto está conectado con la naturaleza, el
pensamiento, el cuerpo y el alma esta sincronizado con el movimiento del mar.”
S3. “Parece que el gobierno es como si ellos estuvieran pensando esos negros no los vamos a dejar que se fortalezcan y
nunca les vamos a dar autonomía.”
S4. “Lugar en donde se forja y fortalece la cultura, se preservan las practicas ancestrales, es mediado y construido por una
cosmovisión para que dicho espacio tenga significados y sentidos.
S5. “Muchos alegan que ellos tienen una incidencia sobre el territorio marino, y que la ley 70 que es la de las comunidades
afrodescendientes dice que ellos ingieren sobre su territorio. Pero las otras leyes del país dicen que el territorio marino es
del estado, punto.
S6. “La industria no nos respetan los sitios, nuestros caladeros. El año pasado había dos barcos metidos aquí arrastrando y
se llevaron nuestros espineles. Nosotros pusimos queja, pero nos hemos dado cuenta de que muchos de esos dueños de
barcos son gente que están bien cogidas con el gobierno, por eso no nos pararon muchas bolas.
S7. “¡Ay eso es una pelea! le dicen a uno que el mar no tiene dueño, que el mar es de todo el mundo, el mar no es algo
privado, así que los barcos le dicen a uno que ellos pagan un impuesto, que las grandes industrias ellas pagan un impuesto
en Bogotá y que ellos tienen su licencia, que allá les dan el permiso. Pero ahora nosotros tenemos un reglamento que el
estado le ha dado a uno para defender su territorio. Para que el blanco defienda el de él, el negro defienda el de él, y el
indio defienda el de él, pero entonces ¿si eso nos lo dieron por qué tienen que venir de allá del Valle a destruir el Chocó?
S8. “Acá no nos beneficiamos de nada de eso, ellos toda su producción es para sacarla, para llevarla a sus compañías y sí
les afecta mucho a los pescadores acá.
S9. Aquí para darle un espacio a los pescadores artesanales se les consulta a los industriales. Eso a mí, es una evidencia
del desequilibrio y además de la alta influencia del sector industrial en el diseño de políticas. Aquí incluso podríamos
cuestionar que lo que el gobierno llama ‘participativo del sector industrial’ como un obstáculo a la independencia de la
toma de decisiones del gobierno.
S10. En Enero, yo estaba en la playa Olímpica y un camaronero a menos de una milla, arrastrando. Llame al teniente de
la armada y me dice ‘yo estoy pendiente es del orden público con el tema del narcotráfico’ […]. La gente solo puede
sentarse a llorar, de ver como esos barcos acaban con nuestro mar.
S11. Viendo la ZEPA en Bahía Solano, en donde se les prohíbio a los industriales arrastrar, pensamos por qué no nos
organizamos y nos unimos las comunidades para proteger el recurso, no para mí, sino para el que viene, esta es la lucha
por el área marina protegida.
S12. La industria camaronera, no solo capturan el camarón, va con todo […] Nuestros sitios de pesca que nosotros les
llamamos riscales, esos sitios para nosotros son sagrados y en el momento en que la flota industrial entra y arrastra nos
desbaratan los sitios. Todo esto ha permitido que el pescador artesanal nos pellizquemos y digamos nosotros tenemos que
buscar una figura donde nos proteja al menos lo sitios de la industria.
S13. Nosotros hemos estudiado las diferentes clases de figuras que hay en el estado colombiano para poder pensar qué
podría ser esta área. Nosotros decidimos que fuera el DRMI, porque permite una forma de uso sostenible, queremos que sea
en beneficio para la gente, donde las decisiones se tomen con las comunidades.
S14. El fin último del área es el desarrollo de la comunidad el ejercicio de la política del gobierno de la comunidad que se
haga, no tanto el componente ambiental que le interesa al estado o las ONGs, es todo eso sumado a las acciones van es
encaminadas a que la comunidad tenga una mejor calidad de vida.
S15. INVEMAR que paradójicamente es también quien promovió la creación del área protegida, en una investigación
arrojó que hay un recurso de camarón profundo que esta sub-explotado, y desarrolla una propuesta de manejo para la
industría que está avalada por la AUNAP […]. El acuerdo formal del DRMI tiene una lista de prácticas incluyendo pesca
sostenible, en donde no está discriminando la pesca de arrastre de la pesca artesanal. El problema es que el acuerdo que se
firmó cuando se hizo la consulta previa si tiene explicito que se prohíbe la pesca industrial.
Table S1. Deep-water shrimp and tuna industries economic potential, fishing ban periods and
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Deep water shrimp
Economic potential
US$ 4.6 million in 2012
(Rodríguez et al. 2012)
Not available
Northern Pacific fishing
Coliflor shrimp: Juradó and Bahía
Solano (September to December)
Pink shrimp: Gulf of Tribugá (El filo)
(May to June)
(Rodríguez et al. 2012)
Throughout the northern Pacific
Fishing ban
Spawning season,
1st January to 28th February (Resolution
2311, 2015)
No ban
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23 National vessels (2016) (Resolution
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... In Colombia, new port projects are frequently proposed in the most biodiverse sites, in buffer areas or even in Marine Protected Areas-MPA. For example, a very recent controversial proposal was a multimodal port at the Gulf of Tribugá, declared as a Marine Protected Area (Satizábal & Batterbury, 2018) and a Hope Spot by Mission Blue (2019; However, after evaluating the environmental impacts, which would outweigh the potential economic benefits, the license for building the port was not granted. ...
... Los proyectos de infraestructura portuaria, generalmente se han propuesto en los sitios más biodiversos, incluso en áreas de amortiguación o que son protegidas por el estado (Áreas Marinas Protegidas-AMP). Un ejemplo es la reciente controversia del Golfo de Tribugá, declarada como Área Marina Protegida (Satizábal & Batterbury, 2018) y Hope Spot por Mission Blue (2019, TribugaHopeSpot). ...
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El mar territorial colombiano, con costas en el mar Caribe y el océano Pacífico, comprende unos 2.070.408 km2, lo cual significa que cerca del 50% del territorio nacional es marítimo. A través de este libro se hace una invitación a las generaciones actuales y futuras a ejercer soberanía, defender y cuidar este bien, para conservar la biodiversidad en nuestras costas, de forma responsable y con equidad, en consideración a los costos ambientales de cada una de las dinámicas de desarrollo costero. Se debe garantizar a Se debe garantizar a nuestros hijos y nietos un ambiente sano y la posibilidad de vivir y disfrutar de los múltiples beneficios que proveen tan extensos, ricos y biodiversos ecosistemas marinos costeros, tales como el oxígeno, alimento, medicinas, protección contra la erosión costera y recreación, entre otrosSe debe garantizar a nuestros hijos y nietos un ambiente sano y la posibilidad de vivir y disfrutar de los múltiples beneficios que proveen tan extensos, ricos y biodiversos ecosistemas marinos costeros, tales como el oxígeno, alimento, medicinas, protección contra la erosión costera y recreación, entre otrosnuestros hijos y nietos un ambiente sano y la posibilidad de vivir y disfrutar de los múltiples beneficios que proveen tan extensos, ricos y biodiversos ecosistemas marinos costeros, tales como el oxígeno, alimento, medicinas, protección contra la erosión costera y recreación, entre otros.
... Their derived benefits range from the increase in capture per unit of effort (López-Angarita et al., 2018); extra premiums paid by consumers for responsibly caught fish and directly bought from the territory (Sáenz-Pacheco, 2014). Consequently, higher revenues are derived from a moralistic supply chain based on selective and diversified fishing and non-destructive gears (Cobos et al., 2016;Satizábal, 2018;Satizábal & Batterbury, 2018); food security (Ramírez-Luna, 2013); and biological services due to the nursing of several species (Navia et al., 2010). ...
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This paper presents a study regarding the behavior of Pacific-Colombian fishers in a Common Pool Resource game. Results show that decision-making depends on human capital accumulation and the learning process. Specifically, through trial and error, those players with more human capital adjust their decisions on the basis of a cooperative-collusive solution by following the feedback of their own most successful strategies in past rounds. Notably, fishers with the higher levels of formal schooling tend to harvest less because they have a better understanding of dilemma-type games and the higher benefits involved when they cooperate.
... She highlights the impact on fishermen in West Timor when Australia expanded its territorial boundaries into the sea in 1979 driven by the myth of mare nullius, the idea that the sea was empty and that no-one would suffer the loss of them. Similarly, in their research in Colombia, Satizábal and Batterbury (2018), show how understandings of territorialisation in the oceans, where political and legal framings envisage the sea as an open-access public good, neglect the existence of marine social processes held by Afro-Descendant communities. Berber (2005) also critiques European representations of coastal space showing how for some indigenous people in coastal areas in Australia, it is the relationship between fresh and saltwater that is more significant than that between the land and sea. ...
... responsible fishing supply chain. These benefits derive from social value for sustainable practices such as the conservation of fishing stocks, selective and diversified fishing and the use of non-destructive fishing equipment (Cobos et al., 2016;Satizabal, 2018;Satizabal and Batterbury, 2018). Restaurants pay extra premiums not only for responsibly caught fish but also for fish bought directly from cooperatives in the ZEPA, which generates additional profits for fishers (Saenz-Pacheco, 2014). ...
This paper presents findings from an experimental study on the harvesting behaviour of a set of fishers on Colombia’s Pacific coast under both the presence and absence of Territorial Use Rights for Fisheries (TURF). The experiments are common-pool resource (CPR)-games where participants undertake harvesting decisions under a baseline scenario and two subsequent treatments (communication and self-regulation). The data are analysed using different statistical models. We find that fishers under TURF tend to coordinate their efforts when no treatments are introduced into the experiment. However, once treatments are introduced, we observe that self-regulation outperforms communication in reducing harvest levels. This situation can be viewed as a consequence of the internal struggles between TURF fishers, highlighting the need for regulation. We conclude that a TURF designation on its own is not sufficient to shape the preferences of the users of a CPR and needs to be accompanied by regulation to encourage coordination among players.
... Indeed one can turn the current ocean dogma on its head to argue for legal entitlements for the common good, for society as a whole, or for specific subaltern or liminal communities for whom the sea is a special common. Although the emerging jurisprudence on marine appropriation generally favours the state or large-scale exploitation of resources, one can "subvert and challenge the legal framing of the sea as an open access public good", through the creation of marine protected zones (Satizábal and Batterbury 2018). Thus, marine entitlementless fluid and more containedcan be employed for the pursuit of more ethical ends, i.e. the sustainable and equitable use of the commons, recognising the primacy of the local community in governing marine resources (Ostrom 1990), or be it a more balanced fit of local and global institutions (Vogler 2000). ...
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This article examines the role of international law in extending entitlement at sea and undermining the ocean commons. It suggests that entitlement through enclosure and territoriality has been a persistent feature at sea, historically taking different forms, with hard and softer versions of claiming authority and jurisdiction. In our endeavour to conceptualise this problematic, we employ the notion of liquid entitlement to refer to the agility and flexibility of marine zonings, and the ambivalence of jurisdiction which is exacerbated at sea. The article outlines how the legal provisions of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) whilst seeking to bring clarity over state claims have increased marine territoriality and also problematically envisioned and implemented the "Common Heritage of Mankind" principle. Thus, the institutions created to regulate the range of human activity at sea have become legitimators of a plethora of entitlements for its exploitation. KEYWORDS Law of the sea; ocean commons; marine governance; legitimation; territoriality
In this chapter we discuss the place of fishing communities and fishing livelihoods within the emerging spatial turn in ocean management. It is argued that the place-specific and mobile livelihood strategies of fishing communities – which do not always fit within spatial management logics – have to be considered carefully in ocean management. The chapter begins with a discussion of what this spatial turn entails, how we can understand fishing livelihoods – going beyond the economic practice of fishing – and how fishing livelihoods are conceived of in policy discussions. The chapter ends with mapping out some future direction for research in this area.
This article extends work in human geography on thinking space relationally and topological space, arguing for a relational conceptualization of space that employs montage in small seemingly confined spaces to tell big relational stories. Empirically it explores a micronation projected onto watery western Balkan no-man's [sic] land and reveals an exploitation of Balkan history and geography that underpins perceptions of the southeast European peninsula. Liberland is a new right-libertarian unofficial country that claims a disputed tract of middle Danube riverbank in a contested riverine borderscape between Croatia and Serbia, where the fantasy geography of emptiness and terra nullius reappears in a new imperial present. The hackneyed performances that self-proclaimed micronations undertake to legitimize themselves are placed alongside a relational story of regional cultural landscape and more-than-human geographies in this fluvial political–ecological borderland in order to undermine alt-right libertarianism, Balkanism, and imperialism.
This article examines the wide acceptance and endorsement of the notion of the blue economy. It places the blue economy at the intersection of three discourses: the placelessness of the sea, development and sustainability. These discourses, originating on land, have spread spatially, narratively and normatively to the marine realm — part of a larger process of the normalization of the sea via its inclusion in the dominant model of economic development. The author uses the concept of horizontal reciprocity to illuminate this process of normalization. The blue economy requires and justifies the governance of maritime space; it creates economic and political opportunities and generates knowledge and interventions, leading to the territorialization of the sea. The article therefore concludes with a call for further research to critically assess the connections between macro discourses and local realities, and to address the current challenges facing the oceans.
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The mobility of nomadic Indigenous people has been systematically constrained over time by states seeking control over peripheral spaces and people. This is evident in the case of the Kawésqar nomadic ‘people of the sea’ who have been subject to a century of attempts by the Chilean state to spatially fix their movements over both their terrestrial territories and marine ‘maritories’. In this paper, we show how Indigenous groups like the Kawésqar can challenge and even regain partial control over their maritory by using spatial instruments of the state. We argue that by using these instruments to remobilise, the Kawésqar have been empowered to demobilise other groups and marine related sectors, such as aquaculture. These findings can reorient public policy to be more sensitive to Indigenous space and mobility. Instead of focusing exclusively on the establishment of spatial boundaries to exclude Indigenous communities, they can be used as a means of empowering these communities to exert control over actors and sectors seeking to limit their mobility.
Policies concerning sustainable use and the conservation of fishing grounds have been researched and addressed by policy studies experts and ecology academicians under the subject of commons studies. While geographical researches on fishing ground use are increasing in number, the discussion is not widespread. This chapter examines various issues surrounding fishery resources, including usage trends with relation to social networks, social capital, and “scale.” Frameworks were used to closely analyze relationships among actors—specifically regarding the use of fishing grounds, and an evaluation of various methodologies and trends regarding geography was conducted.
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La idea que concibe al Chocó y a la región del Pacífico en términos de su biodiversidad es relativamente reciente, ya que sus orígenes se remontan a comienzos de los años noventa. Como espero mostrar en este artículo, tal idea no opera en el vacío ni cae del cielo sino que retoma y transforma imágenes mucho más antiquísimas referidas a lo que hoy es el departamento del Chocó y a lo que aparece como región del Pacífico. Imágenes de ‘selvas agrestes’ y ‘tierras incultas’, de ‘gentes indolentes’ abandonadas a su propia suerte, ha dado paso a las narrativas de una proverbial riqueza genética o a lecturas estetizantes del bosque húmedo tropical que son capturadas en planes ecoturísticos.
Henri Lefebvre has considerable claims to be the greatest living philosopher. His work spans some sixty years and includes original work on a diverse range of subjects, from dialectical materialism to architecture, urbanism and the experience of everyday life. The Production of Space is his major philosophical work and its translation has been long awaited by scholars in many different fields. The book is a search for reconciliation between mental space (the space of the philosophers) and real space (the physical and social spheres in which we all live). In the course of his exploration, Henri Lefebvre moves from metaphysical and ideological considerations of the meaning of space to its experience in the everyday life of home and city. He seeks, in other words, to bridge the gap between the realms of theory and practice, between the mental and the social, and between philosophy and reality. In doing so, he ranges through art, literature, architecture and economics, and further provides a powerful antidote to the sterile and obfuscatory methods and theories characteristic of much recent continental philosophy. This is a work of great vision and incisiveness. It is also characterized by its author's wit and by anecdote, as well as by a deftness of style that Donald Nicholson-Smith's sensitive translation precisely captures.
Conflicts between indigenous and local communities, on the one hand, and national protected area administrations on the other are pervasive. A better understanding of these park-people conflicts would assist in suitable policy changes to constructively address them while concurrently pursuing conservation and livelihood goals.. We interviewed 601 people living inside or along the borders of fifteen Colombian NPAs to identify five main categories of park-people conflicts. Based on interviews with 128 community leaders and 76 institutional-level respondents -mainly park officers- we discuss the five principal factors underlying the identified conflicts and present a conflict framework relating the dominant sources to the most prominent conflict manifestations. Finally, we detail five strategies towards conflict prevention. While simultaneous interventions at multiple levels would be ideal or preferred, our analysis suggests that the incidence of park-people conflicts in Colombia can be substantially lowered through (i) making the environmental legislative body more socially inclusive; and (ii) adequately empowering NPA administrations. We expect our findings to be valuable for managing conflict contexts in protected areas in other tropical countries. Further research is necessary to determine the most effective interventions for both conflict resolution and meeting conservation goals.
It has become commonplace today to argue that African descendant populations have emerged as new political actors in the Americas over the last decades. Many countries in Latin America have rewritten their Constitutions to include notions of multiculturalism and recognize the role played by so-called ethnic minorities in the nation-building process. This has at times been accompanied by the granting of concrete rights to hitherto marginalized or excluded population groups. Most notably, perhaps, new territorial regimes have been created that held the promise of alternative territorialities for black communities, such as has been the case in Colombia. Undoubtedly, the passing of Law 70 in 1993, which granted collective land rights to black communities in the Pacific coast region, has been a major achievement for Afro-Colombian political mobilization. Yet, the reality on the ground today is undermining these achievements, as rural black populations are forcibly displaced in their thousands from the very lands they have acquired collective legal titles over. Whereas much academic work has focused on this relatively recent phenomenon of forced displacement, one crucial aspect has often been ignored: the very differential interpretation of Law 70 by the social movement of black communities and Colombian government agencies, respectively.
Esta apresentação propõe que os direitos aos territórios dos povos indígenas, camponeses e afrodescendentes podem ser vistos em termos de dois grandes processos entrelaçados: a problematização das identidades “nacionais”, com o surgimento simultâneo de conhecimentos e identidades indígenas, afrodescendentes e camponesas; e a problematização da vida, em relação à crise da biodiversidade, à mudança climática e ao aumento do ritmo de devastação ambiental pelas indústrias extrativistas. Ambos os processos convergem nas conceituações e práticas dos territórios mantidos por comunidades e suas organizações etnoterritoriais em muitas partes do mundo. O texto desenvolve uma perspectiva de ontologia política do território. Com a interrupção do projeto globalizador neoliberal de construir um mundo (capitalista, liberal e secular), muitas comunidades indígenas, afrodescendentes e camponesas podem ser vistas como avançando nas lutas ontológicas, isto é, adotando a defesa de outros modelos de vida.Tais lutas podem ser interpretadas como contribuições importantes para as transições ecológicas e culturais dirigidas para um mundo no qual caibam muitos mundos (o pluriverso). O argumento é ilustrado com o caso das lutas afrodescendentes na região do Pacífico colombiano, particularmente ao redor da radicalização de suas lutas pelo território e contra a avalanche desenvolvimentista, armada e extrativista da última década.