Many countries are facing the transition to democracy at the same time they are being called upon to address environmental concerns. The combination of these pressures is forcing governments to take another look at the decision-making surrounding environmental issues. More commonly, for democratizing countries such as those in Latin America, the traditional manner of negotiating projects with environmental components within a closed group of elite interests is no longer seen as an acceptable standard operating procedure. With increasing interest from domestic and international groups, democratizing governments are faced with pressure for greater inclusion in environmental decision-making.
This chapter has explored the status of changes occurring within the communicative forums of two Latin American countries, Mexico and Ecuador. Comparing the manner in which these two countries address the changes in environmental decision-making allows for a number of tentative inferences to be drawn, although more extensive investigation is needed before definitive conclusions can be formulated.
First, the cases from Mexico and Ecuador reveal that there are changes taking place within environmental decision-making. Although Mexico appears to be more inclusive than Ecuador, citizens and organizations in both countries are pushing their respective governments for more inclusion in decision-making. The act of pressuring the traditional decision-makers has two implications: (1) it opens the door (if only a crack) to greater involvement in decision-making; and (2) it draws in and energizes increasing numbers of concerned individuals and groups, thus increasing the level of public participation.
Second, the citizens and organizations in these countries are not pursuing negotiations within the traditional, developed, democratic model. Rather, the manner of becoming a part of formal negotiations and decision-making is to force entrance through informal bargaining in the public and international arenas. By compelling the revelation of traditionally suppressed information, non-traditional actors are pushing the governments to at least acknowledge a wider array of voices. Additionally, diverse groups within Mexico and Ecuador are utilizing the power of international connections to draw attention to their environmental concerns. This strategy puts pressure on governments and other agencies to at least superficially address a broader range of concerns. The case studies demonstrate that environmental groups in Mexico and Ecuador are utilizing these non-traditional strategies to become part of formal "multi-party negotiations." Furthermore, these groups are personalizing the use of non-traditional strategies, creating approaches that are effective for their individual situations.
Third, the case studies reveal that Mexico and Ecuador are both experiencing the emergence of environmental groups as important players able to make an important impact on policy development. This development in Mexico appears to be an indicator of expanding pluralism in the context of an increasingly strong and capable state. The agencies charged with environmental management are being impelled to take environmental and grassroots actors into account. Interestingly, this does not appear to be weakening government institutions; rather, it is allowing them greater independence within the government structure and forcing traditionally powerful institutions to share power. For example, the gray whale case revealed growing independence of the judicial branch and the federal environmental agency SEMARNAP. These events are not only allowing more seats at the negotiation table, but they strengthen democratic processes within the Mexican government. Such events, in turn, open doors for even more interests to push their agendas.
By contrast, in Ecuador the emergence of environmental groups as important players able to make an impact on policy formulation is occurring in a different context. The Ecuadorian state and its bureaucratic agencies are weak, generally controlled by special interests. The environmental group in the Ecuadorian case study achieved a legal protective status for the coastal mangrove ecosystem, but was not able to remove the shrimp operations because of the strength of the shrimp "lobby" in Ecuador. The powerful economic position of interests such as the shrimp farmers overrode other interests in that case. Thus, the developmentalist orientation of the state continues to triumph; rather than strengthening democracy with increased pluralism in negotiations, the state enforces its power to sustain the pre-development initiative. Long term economic goals are not achieved because a pro-development orientation requires stronger political institutions able to more completely implement and enforce laws. Ecuador's systematic weakness in these areas has left the multi-parties operating in a political context that overemphasizes the short term. Environmental groups are able to achieve some goals, but because of these problems the long term benefit for either conservation or sustainable management is unknown.
Although there are changes taking place in both of these "transitioning to democracy" countries, the changes are not following the same path. Positive changes are more prominent and more institutionalized in Mexico than Ecuador, revealing diversity within the process of initiating multi-party environmental negotiations for countries in transition. However, ultimately, the fact that the more developed Mexico has made strides toward greater inclusion in decision-making gives hope that as Ecuador develops economically and democratically, Ecuadorians, too, will modify their environmental policy decision-making style to one of more inclusive negotiated decision-making.
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