Resource Governance in Latin America


Latin America is a region of the world notorious for its richness in natural resources, fragility to climate change, and institutional weakness. Because of this combination, the governance of natural resources in the region has received widespread attention from cooperation agencies, researchers, and media outlets, both in terms of success cases and failed implementations. This resource aims to explore the principal concepts, challenges, and debates on natural resource governance in Latin America and how some countries have attempted to solve them. This is especially important in the current context where, as a society, we are concerned with the impact of human activities on the environment so this resource can help to initiate conversations on our conceptions on development, marginalisation, and sustainability.

Latin America is a region of the world notorious for its richness in natural resources, fragility to climate change, and institutional weakness. The region is composed of over 15 countries with some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. However, it is also a region renowned for high levels of corruption, parochial politics, and persistent socioeconomic inequality. This last element is considerably important since most of the natural resources of the region are also located in the areas where indigenous populations, peasants and farmers, and marginalised populations live. Thus, there exists a correlation between areas with low levels of state presence and services, and the predominance of valuable resources such as minerals, water, forestry, and arable land.


This phenomenon has been explained by several
disciplines throughout the years but two that have been highly influential are
the resource curse and the tragedy of the commons as proposed by Garret Hardin
and Elinor Ostrom. Hardin was an ecologist from the United States that studied the
issue of overpopulation in relation to the pressures it represented to the environment
leading him to suggest that the use of common resources is doomed to
overexploitation since the lack of ownership also implied a lack of regulation
and accountability. Ostrom, through her work, rebutted this thesis to an extent
by suggesting that, in practice, there are some mechanisms that help governing
the commons to avoid their destruction.

Since these theories emerged, plenty
of discussion has ensued especially around who should govern the commons, who
should participate, what should be governed, and which is the best model to do
so. This resource explores these challenges through the lens of the complex but
dynamic region that is Latin America. The resource uses the examples of two
case studies of forestry management in Central America, specifically in
Guatemala and Costa Rica to exemplify that there is not one recipe for
successful governance but just a constant process of negotiation and adaptation
to the context and its changes.

Video Resource

Resource activities

Many hands in the kitchen: Resource governance in Latin America

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Activity questions

  • Do countries with high levels of natural resources, such as the ones in Latin America, are condemned to underdevelopment?
  • How can natural resource governance help to tackle climate change in vulnerable areas?
  • How should access to natural resources be determined at a national and a local level in fragile states such as Latin America?

Reflective questions

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Task 1

What are the key arguments, concepts, points contained within it?

Task 2

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What could you do to improve your understanding of these concepts/terminology etc.?

Task 3

What further questions has this resource raised for you?

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Can you make any links between this topic and your prior knowledge or school studies?

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