"A little lizard among crocodiles": ecotourism and indigenous negotiations in the Peruvian rainforest
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The Peruvian government has used a top-down colonial approach to nature-based conservation. This approach has effectively marginalized Indigenous people located in designated protected areas. For the Matsiguenka communities inhabiting Manu National Park, such an approach has created socioeconomic and political problems. Ecotourism is given to them as the only socioeconomic development option for the acquisition of supplementary income to their subsistence lifestyle and for their integration into the global capitalist economy. My research questions include: 1) whether or not marginalized Indigenous groups are given a chance to negotiate their own cultural values, knowledge and practices within the context dominated by global capitalism forces, such as the international tourism industry, and 2) how neo-liberal strategies such as ecotourism, which is sold as an economic panacea for communities in out-of-the-way-places such as the Peruvian rainforest, work in practice. I draw upon narratives on ecotourism, collected in my five-month fieldwork, as told by the multiple stakeholders of ecotourism. I use these narratives to highlight the complexities, pitfalls and incongruent, hegemonic and predatory nature of ecotourism as it plays out in Manu National Park. Through their Multicommunal Enterprise Matsiguenka, these traditionally hunter and gatherer people are courageously and creatively venturing into the ecotourism industry hoping to benefit their communities. However, the “wild” competition in the “green” capitalist market makes this type of venture a great challenge.