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This panel focuses on the relation between democracy and neoliberalism as it emerges in conservation projects along the Argentina-Chile border. Attention is drawn to the implementation of participatory schemes in conservation and their impact on broader debates on democratization.
Since the 1990s, the southern Andes along the Argentinean-Chilean border has seen an unprecedented growth of public and private conservation projects. Such growth has contributed to the transformation of this area from a remote natural resource frontier, whose economic and political foundations date back to settler expansion and Indigenous dispossession at the turn of 19th century, to a global ecotourism destination. This transition shows both continuities and disruptions between settler colonialism and conservation, which has partially succeeded in mitigating natural resource depletion while reproducing settler forms of exclusion of local populations from the emergent green economy. The conservation boom of these frontier areas is strongly linked to broader political and economic processes taking place in Argentina and Chile since the 1990s. Both countries have been undergoing processes of democratization, following military rule during the 1970s and 80s. At the same time, neoliberal adjustments of public governance – favoring new state-market alliances and the liberalization of land and other resources – was pivotal to the establishment of non-governmental and corporate conservation projects, including private protected areas. In this panel, we interrogate how the relation between democracy and neoliberalism emerges from both conflicts and collaborations generated by conservation in and around protected areas along the Argentinian-Chilean border. A comparative look between the two countries reveals differences and similarities in the implementation of now-dominant participatory schemes in conservation management and their impact, or lack thereof, on broader debates on democratization and the role of local knowledge unfolding in both countries. This panel brings together scholars and practitioners based in Argentina and Chile and institutions from the Global North in the hope of generating a symmetric dialogue on democracy and conservation and the challenges posed by neoliberal processes of environmental private investment.