Pointing the way to conservation and equity in Central America

Interview with Dr. Grethel Aguilar R. Director, IUCN Mesoamerica-Caribbean.

Dr Grethel Aguilar

Central America, home to almost 24 million people, was ravaged by armed conflicts for decades. Now, in times of peace, countries of the region are having to cope with historical deficits and high levels of social exclusion and inequality.

However, recent social movements are becoming an increasingly effective way in which civil society can achieve its rights. There is a redefining under way of the region’s political scene. New conditions are emerging that will profoundly affect the economic, political, and social dynamics in which conservation and sustainable development play a strategic role.

What does a ‘Conservation Rights Approach’ for Central America really mean?

The main objective of the concept, which focuses on rights to conserve nature, is that natural resource conservation activities recognize people’s rights as the cornerstone of sustainable development.

The integration of this concept in projects, programmes, policies and legislation can provide an effective way to fight poverty and sustainably manage natural resources.

What are the main challenges Central America faces in achieving a Conservation Rights Approach to its development?

Although it would appear to be a simple step, the truth is that the steps taken so far have been slow. The triangle of sustainable development in which economic, social and environmental issues come together continues to be the main challenge, punctuated by the absence of structures and processes.

The focus on rights regarding the conservation of natural resources is also incomplete. We need to develop the necessary mechanisms and instruments over the coming years if we are to make concrete progress.

How can conservation in Central America help people to secure human rights?

It is impossible to separate the need to meet fundamental rights such as food security, access to water and gender equity with the desire to conserve natural resources as a life source for people. The links between rights, poverty reduction, resource conservation, democracy and peace are undeniable in Central America.

The right-based approach from the natural resource conservation perspective should lead us to an inclusive process in which citizens, whether indigenous, Afro-Caribbean or small scale farmers, can participate in decisions that affect resources, institutions and their lifestyles.

Does Central America have specific examples of how participation can improve the quality of life for rural people and conserve their ecosystems?

Yes, several. After more than a decade of efforts, fishing authorities in Guatemala, Honduras and Belize have agreed on closed seasons for marine resources; Nicaragua and Belize have adopted environmental policies within their national agendas; the forest law was approved in Honduras; the law on solid waste was approved in Costa Rica; and an appeal against the law on protected areas in Guatemala was halted.

The emerging focus on rights and advocacy reflects the undeniable premise that all citizens should be active in processes that affect them and is one of the key requirements for sustainable development.

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