Aymara Indian Perspectives on Development in the Andes

May 1st, 2014 | By | Category: 25-4: Nation Building, Media Reviews

Aymara Indian Perspectives on Development in the Andes By Amy EisenbergBy Amy Eisenberg
University of Alabama Press (2013)
263 pages

Review by Amanda Mignonne Smith

As neoliberal politics in Latin America herald development as a panacea for impoverished communities and national economic woes, some Indigenous groups have objected to such top-down policies. Amy Eisenberg focuses on three examples of development projects implemented on or near Aymara lands in the Andean region of northern Chile without the people’s consent: the construction of a major highway, the creation of the national park Parque Nacional Lauca, and the rerouting of the Lauca River for hydroelectricity. Based on fieldwork conducted in 1998 and 1999, Aymara Indian Perspectives on Development in the Andes aims to give voice to the Aymara’s otherwise disregarded positions on these projects.

Eisenberg, an ethnoecologist, used participatory research to conduct interviews in more than 16 communities throughout the region. The text also includes photo-documentation of the project by John Amato. Eisenberg’s stated audience is the government agency land managers who can learn from Aymara concerns and recommendations. However, the decision to write the text in English renders Chilean policy makers unlikely readers. Instead, non-specialists will appreciate the extensive historical, cultural, religious, geographical, and agricultural information on Aymara ways of life—although this breadth of information comes at the expense of the book’s purported focus.

At times repetitive, Eisenberg makes her point: consultation with Aymara communities could resolve social, environmental, and economic development issues. Aymara perspectives reveal that development projects help some, but negatively impact community cohesiveness, access to water and farmland, safety of community members and domesticated animals, public health, and hence Aymara livelihood. The book could benefit from updated information addressing the 14- year gap between fieldwork and publication, as well as specificity regarding interlocutor selection. Nevertheless, Eisenberg provides a thorough case study of one Indigenous group’s response to development and the expertise in resource management they can offer the Chilean government.

Amanda Mignonne Smith of Johns Hopkins University studies representations of Andean and Amazonian territories in 20thand 21st-century literature.

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