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Green Encounters

Green Encounters: Shaping and Contesting Environmentalism in Rural Costa Rica

Luis A. Vivanco
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Green Encounters
    Book Description:

    Since the 1970s and 1980s, Monte Verde, Costa Rica has emerged as one of the most renowned sites of nature conservation and ecotourism in Costa Rica, and some would argue, Latin America. It has received substantial attention in literature and media on tropical conservation, sustainable development, and tourism. Yet most of that analysis has uncritically evaluated the Monte Verde phenomenon, using celebratory language and barely scratching the surface of the many-faceted socio-cultural transformations provoked by and accompanying environmentalism. Because of its stature, Monte Verde represents an ideal case study to examine the socio-cultural and political complexities and dilemmas of practicing environmentalism in rural Costa Rica. Based on many years of close observation, this book offers rich and original material on the ongoing struggles between environmental activists and of collective and oppositional politics to Monte Verde's new "culture of nature."

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-677-9
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-xvi)
  6. 1 Introduction: Encounters in a Tropical Cloud Forest
    (pp. 1-20)

    Several weeks after he began a new job as a maintenance worker at a small cloud forest preserve in Monte Verde, Costa Rica, Manuel Azofeifa invited me to walk with him through the forest.¹ During our walk, Manuel explained that as a career cattle rancher and dairy farmer he had paid relatively little attention to the establishment and expansion of forest preserves and the growing numbers of foreign tourists visiting this remote mountainous region in which he and his family have lived and farmed for over fifty years. He decided to work at this preserve not so much because he...

  7. Part One: Monte Verde’s Visibility

    • [Part One: Introduction]
      (pp. 21-26)

      When I became friends with him during the mid 1990s, José Castellanos had just begun a joint venture with a friend of his to grow vegetables on a small plot of land on the outskirts of Santa Elena. Their plan was to sell the vegetables to Monte Verde’s ecolodges and hotels, whose number had mushroomed over the past decade. José no longer owned any land where he could undertake such a venture, so the land belonged to his friend. The reason he did not own land, José often told me regretfully, is that he had sold it to an environmental...

    • 2 Monte Verde’s Agricultural Environment
      (pp. 27-48)

      In their discussions on biodiversity loss and landscape degradation, environmentalists tend to point tocampesinoslike José as responsible for a large part of the destruction. They explain that poverty, ignorance, greed, fast population growth, even apparent cultural predisposition are the root causes that drive people like José to rapidly cut rain forests. For example, in her popular book on the global situation of rain forests,In the Rainforest, Caufield has a chapter on the Quakers of Monteverde (“Cattle in the Clouds”) in which she complains that the unchecked ambition to destroy rain forests there is the product of “the...

    • 3 Uneven Terrain: The Practice and Politics of “Saving” Monte Verde
      (pp. 49-80)

      Brief as it is, this exchange I overheard on the public bus to Monte Verde illustrates one of the central reasons environmental activists have given for their efforts to formally protect Monte Verde cloud and rain forests. That is, the threat to endangered habitats and species posed by destructive Costa Rican land management practices. Motivating the question is the premise that deforestation has to be happening in order to be fully appreciated, since the tourist would not have asked if he saw it in front of him. It is an attitude at least partially conditioned by North American and European...

  8. Part Two: Landscapes and Lives:: Environmentalism’s “Social Work”

    • [Part Two: Introduction]
      (pp. 81-84)

      In both theory and practice, the conservation mainstream tends to perceive its work as divided into natural and sociocultural sides, reflecting the separation typically made between people and nature “out there.” For Monte Verde environmental organizations, purchasing land initially represented a key focus as a way to forge a physical separation between ecosystems and the people identified as threatening to those ecosystems. But conservation is never simply about what kind of nature people imagine or know they want to preserve or restore; it is also an important arena in which they, explicitly and implicitly, project and reimagine social relationships, cultural...

    • 4 Testing the Boundaries of Environmentalism in a Participatory Age
      (pp. 85-104)

      Late one afternoon during the mid 1990s, a colleague and I returned from working at the Reserva Santa Elena cloud forest preserve (RSE) as we usually did, walking the six kilometers by dirt road to the village of Santa Elena where we lived. There were no tourists in their rental cars from whom we could hitch a ride—one of the few forms of motorized transportation on what was then a quiet back road (but that is now well-traveled because of the higher number of tourist attractions since the late 1990s)—and we settled into the routine of brisk walk...

    • 5 Dismembering San Gerardo: A Cautionary Tale of “Sustainable Development”
      (pp. 105-128)

      Before its dissolution in the mid 1990s, the San Gerardo Socio-Biotic Community Project was celebrated as a model integrated conservation and development project based on community participation. Designed and enthusiastically advertised as a joint undertaking between the Monteverde Conservation League and a settlement of cattle ranchers and small-scale farmers living in the Atlantic slope area of San Gerardo Arriba, the project’s plan called for community members to develop organic agriculture and livestock production, produce clean power, support selective high-end ecotourism, and construct a biological station (Boll 2000). This would take place in an area of stunning natural beauty and biodiversity...

    • 6 Contesting “Community” in a Community Conservation Project: The Fight for the Reserva Santa Elena
      (pp. 129-152)

      Soon after I arrived in Santa Elena during 1995 for a year and a half of fieldwork, I met with a friend who had been working at the Reserva Santa Elena (RSE), to catch up on what was happening there. He eagerly launched into a long and detailed description of what he called “pueblo pequeño, infierno grande,” or “small town, big hell.” It is a phrase one often hears in rural Costa Rica to refer to the way in which seemingly slight affronts or tensions can explode into widespread conflicts.

      The bare outlines of the story he told me were...

  9. Part Three: Monte Verde and the Adolescence of Ecotourism

    • [Part Three: Introduction]
      (pp. 153-158)

      During 2004, while I was a Fulbright scholar at the University of Costa Rica, I was invited to participate in Monte Verde’s first annual “Expoferia Ecoturística de Monteverde,” or Ecotourism Expofair. Sponsored by the ICT (Costa Rican Tourism Institute) and CETAM (the Monteverde Tourism Chamber), the three-day fair “Naturalmente Nuestra” (“Naturally Ours”) was an opportunity for the region to showcase its tourism offerings to journalists, industry professionals, and tourists. To kick off the fair, the local planning committee (a collective of tourism entrepreneurs, conservation groups, and other area institutions) had organized a panel to take place on the fair’s first...

    • 7 Quetzals and Other(ing) Spectacles of Tropical Nature
      (pp. 159-180)

      On the morning back in 1995 when partisans of the Colegio marched on the Reserva Santa Elena, marking a high point in public outrage against the Fundación, it was, to say the least, an interesting day to visit the small cloud forest preserve. It was a colorful and raucous protest march, and people were speaking earnestly out in the open about important issues that bear on nature conservation, tourism, and public responsibility. Even though it was not tourist high season at the time, the RSE could have expected at least twenty visitors that day. But word had gotten out, at...

  10. 8 Conclusion: Environmentalism at a Crossroads
    (pp. 181-190)

    One of the easiest and most seductive ways to think about Monte Verde’s encounter with environmentalism is in terms of its achievements and successes. They typically include, as Burlingame (2000: 372–3) observes, the sheer amount of formally protected lands (somewhere around twenty-nine thousand hectares in total); the use of local residents as unarmed guards; the creation of windbreaks and biological corridors to support birds and farmers; widespread environmental education for youths; the emergence of local organizations to meet new needs; the substantial contributions that international scientists and fundraisers have made; and the rise of ecotourism as a way to...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-212)
  12. Index
    (pp. 213-222)