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Year : 2014  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 175-189

Inclusion and Exclusion in Participation Strategies in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, Chiapas, Mexico

1 Centro Regional de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico
2 Facultad de Ciencias and Centro de Investigaciones Interdisciplinarias en Ciencias y Humanidades, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico
3 Universidad Autónoma Chapingo, Sede Chiapas, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Correspondence Address:
Leticia Durand
Centro Regional de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Cuernavaca, Morelos
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-4923.138420

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Date of Web Publication8-Aug-2014


Since the 1970s, community participation has become central in biodiversity conservation initiatives, mainly as a strategy for integrating the needs and interests of the populations living in and around protected areas (PAs), and to enhance local social development. Nevertheless, institutionalised participation is usually conceived as a means to attain the goals of conservation initiatives. Although important efforts have been made to construct participatory processes, these are designed and implemented in ways that produce exclusion. In this study, we analyse the exclusion processes produced in the consultation workshops developed to evaluate and update the Conservation and Management Programme (CMP) of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve (MABR), and in the Reserve's Advisory Council (Consejo Asesor) meetings. Our analysis is based on the observation of two workshops, the revision of workshop reports, interviews with institutional officials, and the participation of one of us in the Advisory Council of the MABR as a councillor. We show that participatory processes for incorporating local population's views and perspectives into decision-making processes still face important challenges. We highlight the importance of acknowledging, and attending to, the processes of exclusion generated by the mechanisms themselves, despite being implemented to include local communities.

Keywords: inclusion, exclusion, community participation, biosphere reserves, Montes Azules, Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, Mexico

How to cite this article:
Durand L, Figueroa F, Trench T. Inclusion and Exclusion in Participation Strategies in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, Chiapas, Mexico. Conservat Soc 2014;12:175-89

How to cite this URL:
Durand L, Figueroa F, Trench T. Inclusion and Exclusion in Participation Strategies in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, Chiapas, Mexico. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2014 [cited 2020 Dec 5];12:175-89. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2014/12/2/175/138420

   Introduction Top

In October 2009, nearly 50 people gathered at the offices of the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP; National Commission of Natural Protected Areas) in San Javier, at the sub-community of Lacanjá Chansayab, Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss and reach agreements for updating the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve's (MABR) Conservation and Management Programme (CMP) (2012-2017), a central tool for the management of Mexican Protected Areas (PAs). Meetings and workshops of this sort are common practice in PA management in Mexico, especially in biosphere reserves, which operate on a model that conceives participation as a key component for consolidating conservation and local sustainable development.

Participatory schemes in biodiversity conservation became relevant from the 1970s onwards, when the social impacts of implementing strict protected areas began to be widely acknowledged (Adams and Hutton 2007). By the next decade, the conservation paradigm was based more upon incorporating local communities into projects and strategies than on excluding them. Today, the success of conservation initiatives is largely viewed as dependent upon the integration of local people's needs and interests into decision-making and management (Little 1994; Smith and McDonough 2001; Colchester 2004; Adams and Hutton 2007); although strong criticisms over people-oriented approaches exist and some authors still argue for strict protection and more authoritarian enforcement practices (Wilshusen et al. 2002).

In Mexico, participation in biodiversity conservation intensified in the early 1990s, when the Global Environment Facility conditioned the financial support for a group of biosphere reserves to the establishment of institutionalised spaces for participation, such as the Advisory Councils (ACs) (Nahmad 2000). ACs are collegiate bodies, recognised by the current legislation, and created to "promote the participation and integration of civil society into conservation and development tasks in PAs" 1 (Díaz Ávila et al. 2005: 23). In 2000, the CONANP was created, embracing a vision of environmental management that recognised the role of people in cultural and natural landscapes and their conservation (Bridgewater 2002; Brockington et al. 2008). This was particularly the case for biosphere reserves-a PA category which aims to incorporate the interests of different stakeholders in the way they are managed, and considers three ambitious goals: 1) biodiversity conservation, 2) sustainable development, and 3) logistical support for research and education (Batisse 2001; Stoll-Kleemann et al. 2010). For instance, CONANP's slogan of working "with, for, and in favour of the people", is a clear reference to conservation as an activity that requires the involvement of rural populations and pursues a double aim-conserving biological diversity and creating development opportunities for rural communities (CONANP Undated).

Today, PA management in Mexico frequently deploys discourses of (community) participation, environmental citizenship and sustainable development; this reflects the intention, at least rhetorical, of integrating the local population into decision-making processes and to go beyond centralised and vertical conservation approaches (Mavhunga and Dressler 2007; Bezaury-Creel and Gutiérrez-Carbonell 2009). 2 The National Programme of Natural Protected Areas (Programa Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas) 2007-2012, highlights the need for "protected areas and their projects to be as inclusive and participative as possible, guaranteeing accessibility and plurality" (CONANP 2007: 34).

However, as some authors have argued, efforts to promote participatory processes of environmental governance in Mexican PAs still face serious challenges, as they entail interactions and decision-making among multiple social actors with disparate interests (Paz Salinas 2005; Paré and Fuentes 2007; Brenner 2010), in complex social settings marked by a tradition of non-democratic federal and local governments which have historically suppressed social movements through violence and clientelism as in most Latin American countries (Trench 2008; García López and Arizpe 2010). Moreover, there still prevails a managerial, normative or instrumental approach (White 1996; Agarwal 2001), that tends to see participation as a mechanism to reduce social conflict and to legitimate conservation goals, rather than as a way to change power relations and control arrangements (Borrini-Feyerabend et al. 2004; Mannigel 2008; Brenner 2010; Durand and Vázquez 2010). This situation is compounded by the lack of critical evaluations of participation structures and processes in Mexican PAs (Díaz-Ávila et al. 2005; for an exception, see Nahmad 2000), although internationally, the shortcomings of participatory processes in biodiversity conservation have been well documented. For instance, it has been shown that these processes usually fail to foster effective inclusion at federal and local levels, and are incapable of modifying power inequalities and granting or restoring rights to local populations (Fortwrangler 2003; Borrini Feyerabend et al. 2004; Peterson 2011). The mere existence of such participatory spaces, which are often government initiated in any case, is not sufficient. It is important to examine their composition, attributes, and daily functioning, as they do not necessarily guarantee the inclusion of all actors, or the incorporation of diverse interests in strategies of action (White 1996; Fortwrangler 2003; García-López and Arizpe 2010).

In this study, we examine the 'participatory exclusions' (Agarwal 2001), that is, exclusions that occur in two supposedly participatory spaces in the MABR: 1) the workshops organised to update the CMP of the MABR in 2009, and 2) the periodic meetings of the AC of the MABR from 2006 to 2011. By describing how these meetings are designed and actually operate, we reflect upon their capacity to constitute effective deliberative spaces for collaborative conservation through the analysis of external and internal forms of exclusion (Peterson 2011).

Conservation and participation in protected areas

Even when participation is touted as a crucial component of conservation strategies, there is little agreement around its definition and how exactly it should be implemented (Bass et al. 1995; Eversole 2003). For some, participation is limited to a simple consultation with local communities, whereas for others, participatory schemes are at the forefront of attempts to change power relations and empower people, since government officials, external professionals, and experts should no longer control the design and implementation of projects, but rather involve local populations through the promotion of more democratic decision-making processes (Bass et al. 1995; Pimbert and Pretty 2000; Agarwal 2001; Eversole 2003; Mannigel 2008; Stoll-Kleeman et al. 2010; Peterson 2011). In this sense, two types of participation approaches can be recognised-top-down and bottom-up processes (White 1996).

Top-down models of participation are those initiated by actors such as the government, private corporations, and NGOs, who direct the course of action, and decide about the structure and function of the meetings, their composition, and usually determine the final decisions, as the process is seen as consultative and not binding (Garcia-López and Arizpe 2010). This kind of participation tends to produce short-lived processes and resolutions biased toward powerful actors' interests, deliberation opportunities are reduced by the formal and hierarchical character of the process and, in the case of government initiatives, by the distrust and resistance prevailing in many rural areas of developing countries (Holmes and Scoones 2000; Agrawal and Chhatre 2007; Garcia-López and Arizpe 2010).

Bottom-up participatory models in natural resource management have become more common since the 1980s, as a means to overcome the difficulties that authoritarian top-down models face, by transferring power to local actors and acknowledging the existence of multiple perspectives that can emerge through deliberation, sometimes leading to mutual understanding and consensus building (Lemos and Agrawal 2003; Ribot et al. 2006; Garcia-López and Arizpe 2010). Bottom-up participation is justified by three central arguments-rural resource users are expected to have a more precise knowledge about local resources and are in a better position to make informed decisions; it can bring the decision-making process closer to those affected by these resolutions; and local stakeholders are supposed to have greater interest in the continued existence of resources for their livelihoods (Lemos and Agrawal 2006; Agrawal and Chhatre 2007). In this way, decentralisation and democratisation are fundamental elements in the shift from top-down to bottom-up models in resource management (Dasgupta and Beard 2007). Nevertheless, bottom-up approaches remain vulnerable and face several pitfalls, such as the kinds of powers that local actors gain, the type of local actors who gain power, and the accountability relations between actors, creating a gap between the rhetoric and the reality of participation (Leach et al. 1999; Agarwal 2001; Blaikie 2006; Ribot et al. 2006; Agrawal and Chhatre 2007).

Regardless of the type of participation, its implementation in development and conservation contexts is challenging and complex. Some authors (Cooke and Kothari 2001) have highlighted the simulation involved in many participation strategies, even calling them 'the new tyranny' in the context of development projects. By this, they refer to the oppression derived from the ways in which some facilitators organise workshop spaces, the social and psychological nature of the group dynamic itself, and the imposition of certain (participatory) methodologies. Others (Ribot et al. 2006; Nayak and Berkes 2008) understand bottom-up approaches just as an excuse for the state to re-assert or retain its control, usually at the expense of communities.

The development of participation strategies in the context of Mexican conservation has been subjected to the country's specific political context. Since 1986, Mexico has undergone a number of reforms that have decentralised controls over several areas, including the forestry sector; in this context, ejidos and comunidades3 have been given greater management rights (rights to privatise collectively held land, rent land, offer concessions, etc.) (Coleman and Fleischman 2012). However, these trends have had little impact in protected area governance because even though the CONANP considers participation as being crucial for conservation, the initiatives undertaken by this agency to promote local participation remain mainly top-down (Díaz Avila et al. 2005; Durand and Vázquez 2010; Peterson 2011). Given this situation, it is necessary to address the shortcomings of participatory processes in Mexican protected area management, since it can easily be transformed into another instrument that reproduces and legitimates unequal power relations (White 1996), and produce exclusion from apparent inclusion (Peterson 2011).

Some authors (Parkins and Mitchell 2005; Peterson 2011) have defined two forms of exclusion in participatory schemes: 1) external exclusion, and 2) internal exclusion. External exclusion refers to practices that maintain certain groups or individuals out of the debate or decision-making process, leading others to control meetings, workshops, and other participatory spaces. Many of these mechanisms of exclusion are evident and are a matter of concern for members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government institutions in charge of promoting participation. Nevertheless, they are less aware of internal exclusion processes, which are less evident and are produced even when all groups and individuals are formally included in the discussion sphere (Parkins and Mitchell 2005).

According to Young (2002), internal exclusion occurs when groups and individuals are nominally included in deliberative spaces, but their opportunities for intervention and discussion are limited, intentionally or not, by the characteristics of these participatory spaces. Particularly in the case of natural resource management, Parkins and Mitchell (2005) argue that internal exclusion derives from the existence of cultural, procedural, and strategic limitations.

Cultural limitations of participatory schemes stem from differences in class, education, and language, and also from culture itself, which Milton (1996) describes as forms of experiencing the world which are distinct between different stakeholders. Procedural limitations refer to how meetings and workshops are designed and organised, including time distribution, agenda definition and norms for speaking and intervention. Finally, strategic limitations derive from the differential access that participants have to relevant information (Parkins and Mitchell 2005; Peterson 2011).

Updating the conservation and management programmes of Mexican biosphere reserves

The CMP of a PA is the main instrument for environmental planning and regulation; it establishes the activities, actions, and basic guidelines for their management (Diario Oficial de la Federación 2004). This document is a legal requirement for PAs to begin operating formally, and to have assigned budgets and personnel. Since 1995, the elaboration of such programmes has become a central task for defining how PAs might fulfil their management goals (SEMARNAP 1996).

The elaboration of a CMP entails a complex and rigid bureaucratic process that does not guarantee the inclusion of local communities' views and needs. The structure and contents are dictated by regulations issued by CONANP's terms of reference, and the process of elaboration has to comply with a regulatory framework, including 5 laws, 3 regulations, and 3 national and sector programmes; 53 different steps are required for preparing a CMP, and 49 for updating it. This complexity is incongruous with the fact that, theoretically, a CMP has to be updated every 5 years (CONANP-SEMARNAT 2010). Consequently only 53% (22) of Mexican biosphere reserves decreed up until 2010 have a published CMP (www.conanp.gob.mx), with an average of 8 years lapse between the biosphere reserve's decree and the CMP publication (although it took more than two decades for the MABR's CMP). 4

After the biosphere reserve's authorities elaborate the CMP draft, different governmental departments review it, and authorise a public consultation. However, consultation guidelines are not established (CONANP-SEMARNAT 2010), and decisions over the nature of this process depend on the regional authorities. 5 After consultation, the Reserve's authorities prepare a new draft of the CMP, which passes through a number of government layers, during which the CMP can be profoundly modified without being subject to new public debate. The final approval of the CMP and its publication depend basically on federal governmental institutions regardless of the participatory discourse.

Nevertheless, despite the existence of evident obstacles to community participation in the case of some biosphere reserves, it is worth noting that not all CMPs turn out exactly the same. For example, in the case of the Sierra de Manantlán Biosphere Reserve in the state of Jalisco, authorities, scientists, and local communities have been successful in establishing effective dialogue and cooperation, producing a CMP that is more tailored to local interests and concerns, partly the result of a more democratic Advisory Council, and more participative researchers and local actors (INE 2000a). So despite the challenges presented by the democratisation process, the national relevance of PAs as the principal instrument of conservation policy in Mexico 6 requires us to study incipient participation processes to be able to suggest ways to improve the social, economic, and ecological outcomes of PAs.

   Materials and Methods Top

The Lacandon Rainforest and the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve

The Selva Lacandona (Lacandon Rainforest region) is located in the eastern part of the state of Chiapas, and includes the municipalities of Ocosingo, Las Margaritas, Marqués de Comillas, Maravilla Tenejapa, and Benemérito de las Américas, along with portions of Palenque, Altamirano, and Chilón (De Vos 2002; [Figure 1]. The Selva Lacandona is regarded as one of the most relevant regions for biodiversity conservation in Mexico; it harbours 50% of the rainforest remaining in the country as well as an impressive biological diversity. Its conservation is considered a high priority given that its forests and hydrological network provide numerous environmental services, such as carbon storage, hydrological and climate regulation, soil protection, among others (Dirzo 1991; Medellín 1991; Ortíz Espejel and Toledo 1998; Carabias 2009).
Figure 1: Location of the Lacandon Rainforest, protected areas, and the communities mentioned
1) Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, 2) Bonampak Natural Monument, 3) Lacantún Biosphere Reserve, 4) Yaxchilán Natural Monument,5) Chan Kin Flora and Fauna Protection Area, 6) Nahá Flora and Fauna Protection Area, 7) Metzabok Flora and Fauna Protection Area, 8) Cañadas Region, A) Nueva Palestina, B) Lacanjá Chansayab, C) San Javier, D) Frontera Corozal, E) La Democracia

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High deforestation rates have been estimated for the Selva Lacandona region (Ortiz Espejel and Toledo 1998; Mendoza and Dirzo 1999; De Jong et al. 2000). Some estimates state that roughly 40% of the Selva Lacandona was cleared between the 1960s and the mid-1990s (de Jong et al. 2000). Land cover changes became significant in the region from the 1960s, when the Selva Lacandona experienced an accelerated deforestation process, derived from an intense colonisation process (1960s-1980s), and loggers, peasants, and cattle ranchers' activities rapidly eliminated most of the primary vegetation in the northern part of the region (De Vos 1991). Facing such transformations, the federal government promoted numerous actions to protect the centre of the rainforest from human colonisation. The most salient were the creation of over 400,000 ha of terrenos nacionales (national lands) through the expropriation of private land concessions in the 1960s, followed by the establishment of the Comunidad Zona Lacandona (CZL; Lacandon Community), and the decree of the MABR in the 1970s (De Vos 1991; Trench 2008).

In 1972, the federal government decreed the CZL, arguing that it was an act of agrarian justice by restoring 614,321ha to their supposed legitimate owners-66 Lacandon indigenous families. This act of 'populist indigenismo' was intended to deter the colonisation of this territory by indigenous subsistence peasant farmers, who were advancing east from the Ocosingo and Altamirano Valleys, as well as from other Mexican states (De Vos 2002; Leyva Solano and Ascencio Franco 2002; Legorreta Díaz 2008). This decision was highly controversial, as it soon became clear that with this measure the federal government also intended to gain control over the region's natural resources. In 1974, two years after the CZL decree, the federal government created a state company called the Compañía Forestal Lacandona (COFOLASA; Lacandon Forestry Company) to transfer the logging activities from the private sector to the federal government (De Vos 1991).

Moreover, the decree provoked grave agrarian conflicts, because the area given to the Lacandons was already occupied by almost 40 communities of Chol and Tzeltal ethnic groups that were transformed overnight into illegal rainforest settlers. Initially, the government decided to relocate them (De Vos 2002; Trench 2008), but some communities that already had legal land rights as ejidos or had started procedures to acquire them, resisted the resettlement process and began a long struggle to defend their land rights (Legorreta-Díaz 1998). Other groups, however, accepted their resettlement into two new villages-Manuel Velasco Suárez, later known as Nueva Palestina (formed by 822 Tzeltal families coming from 15 different settlements), and Frontera Echeverría, later named Frontera Corozal (formed by 475 Chol families, coming from 8 different settlements) (De Vos 2002). In 1978, after a long and difficult political negotiation with the Lacandon people and the government, the inhabitants of Nueva Palestina and Frontera Corozal were integrated as members of the CZL (Diario Oficial de la Federación 1979; De Vos 2002; Paladino 2005; Ascencio Franco 2008; Trench 2008). The CZL, therefore, comprises five sub-communities, whose population belong to three different ethnic groups-Nueva Palestina (Tzeltal inhabitants), Frontera Corozal (Chol inhabitants), and Lacanjá Chansayab, Nahá, and Metsabok (Lacandon inhabitants) (Tejeda Cruz 2002). The Nahá and Metzabok sub-communities are not located in the same territorial unit as the other three sub-communities (see polygons 6 and 7 in [Figure 1].

Also, in 1978 the MABR was decreed, with an extension of 331,200 ha. 76% of the MABR is located within the CZL (INE 2000b) [Figure 1], while the remaining 24% is located outside the CZL in the Miramar sub-region, where 7 settlements still considered illegal are located. According to the federal government some will be evicted and others legalised in the near future (Trench 2008; de la Maza 2011).

It is important to stress that the MABR decree did not involve the expropriation of lands; hence around three quarters of it still belongs legally to the CZL (Trench 2008). However, the reserve was established without consulting the communities involved and served to aggravate the agrarian conflicts already present in the region (Trench 2008). It also reinforced the idea that the Selva Lacandona and the CZL should be considered as territories devoted to biodiversity conservation. Today, nearly 70% of the CZL (more than 340,000 ha) is covered by federal PAs, including the MABR (Tejeda Cruz 2002; Trench 2008). 7

Between 1978 and 1994, the impact of the MABR as a conservation measure was poor, given the tense agrarian conflicts and the lack of institutional coordination and funding for its operation. In 1994, the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente, Recursos Naturales y Pesca (SEMARNAP; Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, and Fisheries), with Global Environment Facility funding, finally established a formal administration for the MABR with limited field personnel, infrastructure, and a budget. One of the first steps was the creation of the AC in 1997.

Between 2003 and 2006, the federal and state governments implemented a programme of land tenure regularisation, aimed at resolving the problem of irregular settlements inside the CZL and the MABR. 8 Most conflicts were solved through expropriations and the regularisation of existing settlements (29); in other cases, there were negotiated resettlements (8) or voluntary abandoning of the lands on receiving cash compensations (7) (Diario Oficial de la Federación 2007; Ascencio Franco 2008). After 2006, with a change of government, the will and capacity to resolve the remaining cases weakened and there was a return to a policy of forced evictions. However, around a dozen irregular settlements still remain within the MABR, with four of them located in the 'core zone'. Some of these may be legalised with time, but the threat of forced eviction remains permanent, inhibiting the possibility of a more collaborative relationships with the reserve in some regions, due to a lack of trust.

Against this backdrop of land disputes and uncertainty, in 2009, the Reserve's authorities began the process of updating of the Reserve's CMP (INE 2000b), since according to some interviewees, the original document, published in 2000, was of little use for the day-to-day management of the reserve, as it expressed only very general objectives and prescribed actions that have not proved easy to operate. Moreover, changes in the environmental law regarding zoning guidelines made the Reserve's actual land-use zones obsolete.

The Montes Azules conservation and management plan

The first CMP for the MABR (INE 2000b) resulted from a very limited process of community consultation. The original CMP states that four training workshops were held between 1997 and 1998 with local inhabitants, as well as a meeting of 'experts' in 1998. The document lists the names of 62 members of only 8 local communities as participants in the process. This was discussed in 8 meetings at the AC. Today, very few inhabitants of the MABR are familiar with this document. To avoid repeating this situation, the Reserve's authorities have tried to update the CMP in a more participatory fashion to achieve, as a governmental official commented, a document where "the points of view and problems of local communities are incorporated into the management plan" and "that can only be done with people's participation".

The standard way for promoting participation in Mexican PAs is by implementing workshops and meetings with comuneros9 and ejido members. Although some CONANP officials accept that participation cannot be reduced to these kinds of meetings, workshops were the only communication and dialogue strategy employed with communities for updating the CMP, mainly due to financial limitations that prevented implementing other more comprehensive methods, such as assembly meetings, community mapping, and consultations with researchers. Given the size of the MABR, for operational reasons it has been divided into three sub-regions by the CONANP-Cañadas, Comunidad Lacandona, and Miramar. The workshops were implemented in one community for each sub-region.

Data collection and analysis

In order to analyse the limitations of participation schemes in the MABR, and following the framework proposed by Peterson (2011) following Parkins and Mitchell (2005), we describe the internal exclusion processes observed in the workshops designed for the revision, discussion, and updating of the CMP in the three sub-regions of the MABR, as well as the dynamics of the meetings of the Advisory Council. Our analysis is based on the following sources of information:

1) the revision of the workshop minutes 10 in the ejido Agua Azul from the Cañadas sub-region (October 9, and December 3 and 4, 2009), in the ejido La Democracia from the Miramar sub-region (September 25, and November 19, 2009); and in San Javier from the CZL sub-region (October 16, and December 5 and 6, 2009); 2) our attendance at two workshops in La Democracia and one workshop in San Javier that took place while we were doing field work in the region; we could not attend to any of the workshops in Las Cañadas sub-region, but we had access to the workshop minutes; 3) the participation of one of us as a councillor in the MABR Advisory Council (AC) from 2006 to 2011; and 4) unstructured interviews with three CONANP officials directly involved with the workshops' design and implementation. Extensive notes were taken during the interviews, workshops, and the CA meetings (Taylor and Bogdan 1987). This information was then revised to identify different ideas about the management of the MABR and how these ideas influenced the participatory process itself, producing both users and uses of exclusion (Nygren 2004; Peterson 2011).

   Results Top

Participation in workshops

The number of participants in each workshop varied from 30 to 60, most of which were indigenous people from the five different ethnic groups in the Lacandon forest-Tzeltal, Chol, Tojolabal, Lacandon, and Tzotzil. Also present at the workshops were government officials and, on certain occasions, external actors (NGO members, researchers, and students). Workshops began with participants' registration, after which a CONANP official or the Comisariado or Sub-comisariado11 of the host community formally inaugurated the event. Then (usually) each participant introduced himself, mentioning his community of origin.

Given the Reserve's size and the number of communities, three workshops were planned for each of the Reserve's sub-regions. The first one was devoted to explaining what PAs and CMPs are, to establish the workshops' objectives and priorities, and to plan field expeditions to delineate the current land-use boundaries. The aim of the second meeting was to establish the new land-use zones. In order to do this, the meaning of ecological regionalisation and the potential zones for the reserve were described, discussing the permitted and prohibited activities for each land-use zone. The results of what turned out to be very limited field expeditions were supposed to be described in the third and last meeting in order to agree over the territorial limits of the new zones and sub-zones, and to specify the permitted activities. For a number of reasons, the third round of workshops, planned for early 2011, were delayed and have still not been completed (see Discussion).

Despite the structural limitations of the CONANP's participation strategies, the inclusion of local communities in the CMP updating process represents an important and positive step towards integrating local communities into biodiversity conservation. A few decades ago, communities were not only not included in decision-making, but they were also conceived as delinquents who destroyed natural habitats (Cortes 2007). Nonetheless, we observed in all the workshops analysed, the clear existence of cultural, procedural, and strategic limitations, similar to those proposed by Young (2002) that resulted in external and internal exclusion.

The workshops: external exclusion

The presence of communities and their representatives at the workshops is vital as these are the privileged spaces for communication and debate with government authorities. Nevertheless, not all actors attend these meetings-some are not invited, others receive invitations with insufficient notice, are uncertain about recovering all their travel expenses from CONANP, or do not wish to lose one or two days' work during labour intensive periods in the agricultural cycle, thus giving rise to processes of external exclusion.

CONANP convened the communities through an official invitation addressed to community authorities (named Comisariados Ejidales and Representantes de Bienes Comunales), asking for their presence at the meetings. Members or leaders of organised groups participating in government-funded projects were also invited. As a CONANP official acknowledged, the fact that communities are invited to these meetings does not necessarily guarantee their attendance and participation. At the 2009 workshops, 25 communities were represented, which is about 35% of all communities (68) currently located within or adjacent to the MABR.

At the first workshops, each community was represented by an average of three people. Virtually all the participants were males; from a total of 84 participants only one was a woman. Most of the participants (60%) had some recognised position of authority in the community, or were members of organisations working in projects devoted to rural production or ecotourism (CONANP 2009a,b,c). It is important to mention that in the case of the CZL, comuneros' sons, a group without any formal land rights and a significant proportion of the local population, had only a marginal participation in the workshops.

The workshops: internal exclusion

The design and implementation of these workshops were very similar in the three sub-regions. A facilitator, hired by CONANP, introduced the topics, almost always through computer presentations. These individual performances were interspersed with discussions in smaller groups that analysed specific topics regarding natural resource use in reserves. Later on, results from the discussion groups were presented in plenary sessions, which aimed at reaching conclusions and general agreements.

In San Javier, after the introduction of all the participants, the workshop facilitator explained the meaning of a CMP and the need to update it with people's participation. Afterwards, there was a computer presentation offering general information about the Lacandon Rainforest, a definition of PAs, and an explanation of the importance of natural resource conservation, both for human subsistence and to mitigate the effects of climate change. Next, a discussion group for each community was formed to address questions such as: Which community reserves exist? Why were they created? And what rules or norms exist regarding these reserves? Results obtained in the discussion groups were presented at a plenary session to address the situation of each sub-community within the CZL and of the ejido Plan de Ayutla, which is also within the Reserve's boundaries in this sub-region. During this session, the participants shared different ideas, concerns, and doubts. Following this, a CONANP official explained in great detail what a CMP was and the new zoning criteria. After a round of general questions and answers, dates for the following meetings were agreed upon, and the workshop concluded. In all the meetings, a meal was offered to all participants.

Projected computer presentations were the main communication strategy employed by the facilitators and the CONANP officials, with both photographs and large quantities of text in Spanish. Although these presentations were eye-catching, provoked comments, and awakened the participants' curiosity, they were problematic given that most indigenous peasant farmers in this region did not finish their primary education and many read and write only very minimal Spanish, which in any case they learned as a second language. Therefore, it was difficult for them to read and thoroughly understand all the information projected onto the screen, especially given the speed at which it was presented. For example, during the workshop in San Javier, a CONANP official made a digital presentation describing management programmes and zoning. Even when this person tried to offer information in a comprehensible way, he used many technical concepts, such as territory, surface area, gender relations, land use, zones, sub-zones, core zone, and buffer zone. At the end of the presentation, it was clear to all that it had been confusing, to the extent that another CONANP official intervened and explained:

It is not necessary to memorize all this, we just want you to know that there are people using resources inside the biosphere reserve, and that is the reason why we have to put this place or house in order; where does the kitchen or the bathroom go, etc? How do we organize this house, step by step, with the language we are used to? I see many doubtful faces, what's this and how is it done? Don't worry, we will proceed little by little, breaking everything down; we have the obligation to explain all this to you in everyday language, so don't worry….

The audience was visibly relieved by this intervention. It is not, however, easy to find new ways and mechanisms for dialogue and discussion. At this point, one participant stated: "…if we read it (the CMP) only once, we can hardly understand it; if we all read it aloud, then we can understand it." The suggestion was to take time to analyse and understand the CMP's contents, which they were trying to update, but given the institution's time and financial restrictions, it was difficult to work in a more measured and detailed fashion. The CONANP official simply said that in the following workshops "everything will be explained". Thus an 'institutional culture' was observed that presupposes the 'acceptable' form and operation of these meetings.

Another cultural limitation stems from the differing personal experiences of comuneros in public participation spaces. We observed, for instance, that some of them spoke more frequently and explained their points of view with more self-confidence than others. Usually, this was because comuneros that had held authority positions and had had more contact with external agents had gained more confidence in these kinds of encounters.

At the San Javier meeting there were at least 50 participants, of which only between ten and twelve spoke regularly during the workshop; the rest, in contrast, remained observers most of the time. These differences manifested themselves in the smaller discussion groups as well, as those dominating the plenary sessions also determined the work in smaller teams. For instance, at the San Javier meeting, there was a discussion group for each sub-community of the CZL, organised to respond to questions about community reserves; we observed and took notes on the Nueva Palestina sub-community discussion group, noticing that the discussion was conducted by two or three comuneros, while other community members, such as the two comuneros' sons that travelled with us to the workshop, limited themselves to observing and listening. It seemed that their lack of authority, power, and experience in these kinds of meetings, precluded them from participating.

Procedural limitations refer to the formal or quasi-formal rules clearly established before or during the meeting (Peterson 2011). At the MABR workshops, it appeared that the dynamics, agenda, and issues to be addressed in the meeting were decided and designed previously by CONANP personnel and the external workshop facilitator.

A situation that emerged at the first San Javier workshop clearly shows this situation. As part of the introduction to the workshop, the facilitator thoroughly explained climate change, defining it, describing its consequences, and how the conservation of the Lacandon Rainforest could help in mitigating its effects. Even though the talk caught the participants' attention, and some were impressed by the photographs showing glacier reduction, flooding, and drought, it provoked the following concerns from workshop participants:

The talk has been interesting, but, whose fault is all this? What are the large companies that pollute, doing? They should help, by not polluting, this is not our fault [climate change], we sow maize and beans, but later on, the forest grows back, but they….

The presentation is clear, but we, as indigenous people, do not understand. Who is responsible for these big events? First they say that we cut down the forest, but they should worry about the big capitalist enterprises. We have complied with all the decrees and we never receive rewards, and so many environmental institutions continue to be created. There is no clarity in the presentation about the causes of this phenomenon. Whose fault is it? We don't have machines, we don't use oil, I have seen all this since I was born.

The indigenous peasants who participated in the workshops were trying to clarify other actors' responsibilities for climate change, such as business people, the government, and even the Zapatistas, none of which were mentioned by the facilitator. There were some moments of heated debate, because the CZL members felt that they were being blamed for deforestation and climate change. The discussion was not proceeding as hoped and it looked unlikely that the objectives of the meeting would be met. The CONANP personnel then tried to end the discussion to continue with the planned activities, but a peasant farmer replied angrily: "if you are not going to grant us enough time to talk, what did you invite us for? All this has to be talked about calmly". The government official accepted their point, apologised, and the debate went on until it was made clear that they were not being blamed for climate change, and that there were more actors involved in such a complex phenomenon. This misunderstanding shows how the agenda and forms of discussion are pre-established in these meetings, limiting the possibilities of discussing problems and their solutions altogether with participants.

In the ejido La Democracia, in the Miramar sub-region, the participants in the workshops were generally more passive in their reactions to the presentations and the need to update the CMP. This perhaps reflected some of the contrasts that exist among the different regions of the MABR. For example, the inhabitants of the Miramar region do not generally possess the same experience as the more politically adept members of the CZL. Moreover, the political terrain has been more divided in the case of the Miramar sub-region and there may exist a concern that CONANP projects might be withheld from 'troublesome' participants. Also, in the case of the two irregular communities that participated in the event, the possibility that their efforts to legalise their agrarian status might be hindered as a result of 'unfavourable' participations. Nonetheless, some topics that were very relevant for the participants, such as the burning of milpas12 , the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and their legal status in the new version of the CMP, were discussed only briefly.

It is important to recognise the existence of certain contested interpretations by environmental institutions of local agricultural practices. While the CONANP personnel emphasised the inadequacy of burning agricultural plots in the reserve, some authors have shown that burning, under certain circumstances, contributes to an adequate management of tropical ecosystems (Nigh 2008). In a similar vein, the official lines on the illegality of agrochemical use within the MABR denied their use in practice and the need to examine the diversity of existing agrochemicals and their different levels of toxicity. At the workshop, in our opinion, not enough time was devoted to these topics, thus denying the regional agricultural reality, and wasting an opportunity to discuss issues that were highly relevant for the peasant farmers but tend to be overlooked by the CONANP. 13

The strategic limitations, which refer to unequal access to pertinent information, were also evident, and undoubtedly represent a key characteristic of the internal exclusion dynamics in these meetings. Almost no community representative that participated in these workshops had actually seen the MABR's CMP before the meeting, despite the fact that it had been available (in print) for 9 years. In the San Javier workshop, for example, just two or three participants said they had seen the CMP before. Thus the vast majority were not familiar with the zoning maps or the different land-use categories within the reserve, and expressed their understandable concern about modifying something they were not familiar with, and did not understand. Some argued:

First, it is necessary to analyse the first book, before we propose a new management programme; [it is necessary] to know what has been done and what has not been done. Because I am not familiar with that book, the people should be able to see what is really in that book, in order to decide.

No one knows the contents of this book. Does anyone know the contents of that book? I don't, and no one does.

…as former [community] authorities, I believe we do have a copy of the management programme, but we didn't think to let the rest of the community know about it. I think that now we have to pass it on to the community, [so that] together we can make a new programme.

I handed copies of the management programme out at schools, but many have not read it. It was distributed in Nueva Palestina, also in diskette. I participated in the original management programme, but how could we make that programme available to everyone?

In a limited attempt to distribute the management programme, at the beginning of the meeting, over the coffee table, CONANP officials placed pencils, paper, and copies of the programme, but it was necessary to explain why these books had not been available before in the communities. A CONANP official explained:

Yes, you are right; this management programme was not distributed. There were 2000 copies, but what am I going to do? They [the copies] are not with you. We found the books we brought in a warehouse. I don't know what happened, I don't know, I accept it, but we will try to improve things. Let's hope that those who have the book in their hands now read it and contribute.

The institution and their representatives recognised that the current management programme was elaborated in not so transparent circumstances, but they also minimised the importance of discussing and understanding these events in order to rebuild confidence. Instead, the strategy consisted in glossing over this fact with suggestions like "let's look to the future" or "that's in the past, and what's done is done." As in the previous case, the agenda was not modified to adapt to the participants' demands for more information. The organisers proposed to continue as planned, even though there was an evident desire for more information amongst the participants so that they could discuss it with other members of their communities.

Participation in the Advisory Council of the MABR

In the AC meetings also, there are many cultural, procedural, and strategic limitations that produce internal exclusion. But there is also external exclusion, reflected in the fact that the AC does not adequately represent the region's inhabitants, which in turn limits its legitimacy in the eyes of the population it is supposed to represent. In contrast with the workshops described earlier, interactions in AC meetings and its influence in the MABR are regulated, at least in formal terms, by the current law.

The AC is the privileged institutional space for civil society and community participation in PAs, and is established in line with federal law (LGEEPA 2014). Nonetheless, the role assigned to the AC by law is somewhat ambiguous. Amongst its objectives are to 'propose and promote measures', 'participate in the elaboration of the CMP', 'suggest actions', 'promote social participation', 'comment on project implementation', etc. Obviously, these actions may (or may not) influence PA management, depending on the will of the Reserve's authorities, or the balance of power within the AC and the councillors' differing abilities to intervene and alter decision-making processes. Importantly, the law does not establish mechanisms to guarantee that the AC's opinions are taken into account or to ensure that the reserve authorities are obliged to be accountable to the AC or to other interested parties. For example, the relationship between the Consejo Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (National Council for Protected Areas) and the numerous ACs in the different reserves is non-existent, despite the fact that an attribution of the former is to 'support the proper operation of ACs' (LGEEPA Art. 16, VIII).

Regulations regarding the identity and numbers of AC members are also restrictive. The Secretary of the AC has to be the Reserve's Director (LGEEPA Art. 20, III) and the AC is obliged to include all the municipal presidents of the different municipalities with all or part of their territories inside the PA. 14 The law imposes a limit of 21 councillors (LGEEPA Art. 21) but it does permit the setting up of regional sub-councils within the PA to potentially broaden participation (LGEEPA Art. 24, I).

Nonetheless, the election of a suitable AC President is important to the successful functioning of the AC, as it is this person who works alongside the Secretary of the AC (i.e., Director of the MABR) in the scheduling of meetings and the definition of agendas, as well as being in a privileged position to demand more accountability and power-sharing from the MABR's authorities. Most of the presidents of the MABR's AC, during its 14 years of existence, have been academics, partly because they appear to offer some neutrality in a space characterised by government officials and indigenous peasant farmers who are often at odds with each other, but also because they have the necessary access to telephones and internet, permitting regular communication with the AC Secretary (difficult in the case of community councillors). However, in practice, the leverage that the President has in the AC to counter balance the authority of the MABR depends on non-institutional factors such as the quality of the relationship between the President and the Secretary (in terms of trust, ease of communication, shared vision, etc.), the President's knowledge of the federal environmental sector (to identify opportunities for leverage), and on the time and dedication given to this voluntary position.

The regulations do not specify who assumes the costs of the AC meetings, but in practice, the MABR covers these expenses (transport, food, and lodging). The funding comes from the Global Environment Facility subventions (that make up a small part of the MABR's budget), and that are specifically ear-marked for the AC meetings, but the exact amounts available have not been made clear and the AC's activities have had to adapt themselves to the limits decided by the Reserve's Director. This means in practice that all the logistics of the AC meetings depend on the CONANP, compromising the AC's independence, operation, and ability to convene.

Representation at the Advisory Council: external exclusion

The question of the representativeness of the AC is related to its perceived legitimacy and its ability to reflect the interests and concerns of different sectors, including the population living inside the reserve and along its boundaries. Representation within the AC has improved in recent years, with the inclusion of ejidos from the Miramar and Cañada Agua Azul sub-regions and even one 'irregular' community; also the community councillors currently represent a majority within the AC. However, the selection of the ejidos has been largely a decision of the AC President and the Reserve's Director, later ratified by the AC (and thus somewhat arbitrary); besides, no regional organisations are currently represented in the AC. In fact, some institutional councillors have resisted inviting peasant organisations to participate, citing the risk of 'politicising' the AC.

Hence, from the almost 40 settlements located totally or partially within the limits of the Reserve, only 10 have representation in the AC. Of the 12 community councillors, two (Frontera Corozal and Nahá) belong to communities outside the Reserve's boundaries, but as sub-communities of the CZL they are represented at the council. Therefore, the majority of ejidos (and villages with no formal agrarian status) have no vote in the AC. Of these, there are about half a dozen Zapatista communities who are not invited to participate (and would probably not be interested in doing so given their position of 'resistencia'), and another dozen or so settlements which do not receive invitations because of their irregular agrarian status, perceived animosity toward the CONANP or simply because there has been very little contact with the MABR authorities and there exists a certain mutual suspicion.

Another aspect that reflects external exclusion is the absence of women in the AC, a reflection of their subordinate position in community deliberative spaces. Also, no mechanism currently exists to rotate the communities represented in the AC, so that all of them eventually have the opportunity to participate. This means that only some communities have participated in the AC since its creation in 1997, and their regular attendance at meetings has permitted them to remain in the AC. Whilst perhaps half the community councillors are recognised authorities in their villages, thus guaranteeing a degree of representativeness, there is sometimes a tenuous link between the councillors and their community assemblies, consequently inhibiting the flow of information and a broader understanding in the region regarding the activities of the MABR and the role of the AC.

The dynamics of the Advisory Council's meetings: internal exclusion

The MABR AC is currently composed of the maximum number of 21 councillors, of which 12 are representatives from communities and ejidos, two are from the academic sector, two from NGOs, and five from different levels of government [Table 1]. Therefore, the majority of the councillors (12 out of 21) are indigenous peasants with generally few years of formal schooling. Thus the cultural and linguistic problems are similar to those described above for the workshops-there are scant efforts to adapt discourses and technical vocabulary to the diverse nature of the group. There is a similar emphasis in transmitting most information via computer presentations, without considering many participants' limited literacy skills and their limited familiarity with the legal framework of the PA, the institutional structure of the environmental sector, and operation of the various projects implemented in the Reserve. In a meeting in May 2011, for example, we registered 119 interventions in total, of which only 25 (22%) were by community councillors, even when this group represented more than two thirds of participants. 15 This would seem to be a reflection of the lack of a communication strategy that takes on board the intercultural challenge presented by the composition of the AC. 16
Table 1: Councillors in the 2011 Advisory Council of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve

Click here to view

Procedural limitations are also relevant and manifest themselves in the preparation for the meetings, the rules (and routines) that regulate the meetings themselves, and the follow-up of AC decisions or recommendations. We refer specifically to the sending of meeting invitations with sufficient notice, the definition of the meeting agenda, the role of the AC's President as moderator of the meetings, how the voting process is framed and carried out, the taking of the minutes, and the monitoring of the implementations of the AC's agreements after the meetings. All these aspects affect the potential of the AC to be an effective space for consultation, exchange of information, deliberation, and decision-making.

How the agenda is defined prior to the meeting is crucial. Generally the issues to be addressed are decided by the AC's Secretary (i.e., the Reserve's Director) and are then endorsed by the President. Occasionally the proposed agenda is distributed among other councillors (those with internet access) before the meeting (but this does not mean that the meeting's schedule will be substantially modified after councillor feedback). Although councillors can add points to the meeting agenda at the beginning of the session, these matters tend to be addressed at the end, when participants are often tired and time is short. The length of time permitted for the meetings is of course a fundamental part of procedure. Recently, meetings of the AC have been reduced to one morning session, and as the community councillors are keen to embark on their return journeys to their villages the same day, the last points on the agenda are hurried through with little debate. 17 Unfortunately these are often the issues that the communities most wish to discuss (infrastructure needs, illegal logging, poaching, etc.).

Another procedural factor that reflects the quality of participation in the AC is how issues are presented and if a particular issue is considered sufficiently important to merit a vote. This depends largely on the AC President, who oversees the meeting. In some AC meetings there is no voting, and participation is reduced to a not very efficient exchange of information. Nonetheless, we must highlight the fact that when a vote does take place, the community councillors often unanimously approve CONANP proposals. From our perspective this might reflect two phenomena: first, a certain self-interest on the part of councillors, who avoid expressing inconformity in the presence of the Reserve's Director, fearing that this may jeopardise their access to CONANP financial support; and secondly, it might reflect an aspect of agrarian democratic culture among community councillors that conceives a divergence of opinions as a threat to collective well-being. Thus, it is preferable to deliberate until a consensus is reached (although in the case of the AC, such deliberation tends to be limited). A preliminary analysis of the agreements reached at AC meetings suggests that during the last 3 years, only around half of the agreements registered in each meeting's report were followed up in some way by the responsible parties (generally the reserve authorities, but occasionally commissions assigned to other councillors).

The AC can be regarded as a participatory space created and imposed from above; a classic top-down approach to participation (Blauert et al. 2006), or as the institutionalisation of participation (Romero Medina et al. 2008), and its shortcomings are evident. Leaving aside the legal ambiguity of the role of the AC in the Reserve's management, its influence depends on the will of the Reserve's authorities and the vision of each Director in turn regarding its exact function and the budget available for meetings. Also, as might be expected, each councillor has their own agenda-members of the CZL look to defend their territory in the context of the agrarian-environmental conflict; irregular settlements hope to form alliances with the CONANP in order to strengthen their struggle to legalise their lands; others try to guarantee access to financial support for their projects, to make strategic contacts or to acquire new skills and knowledge. Government councillors defend their actions and NGO and university councillors may have projects or research interests in the region. Nonetheless, during the last 5 years and until recently (see discussion), there has always been a quorum (50% plus one) at the AC meetings, perhaps a sign of the will of communities to participate.

   Discussion Top

Whilst social and political tension has been par for the course in the case of the MABR, the challenges related to participation and environmental conflicts described here, have also been documented for other PAs in Mexico (Paré and Fuentes 2007; Wilshusen 2009a,b; Brenner 2010; Peterson 2011). However, for those with a long working experience in the Lacandon Rainforest, the current dynamics of participation in the MABR show some improvements, both in the disposition and willingness of many of the actors to participate in a dialogue, and in the possibilities of reaching agreements. Thus, the San Javier meeting is seen as an achievement, in comparison to such encounters during the 1990s, remembered as genuine 'pitched battles' that occurred behind closed doors in the Chiapas state capital, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, when the AC served as an escape valve for tensions created by the agrarian conflicts at the time. The fact that an important number of these agrarian conflicts were resolved between 2004 and 2007 (Ascencio Franco 2008) has helped the AC to focus again on participation in the management of a PA.

Communities involved with the Reserve are today more willing to dialogue and collaborate, and the idea of participation in the MABR has grown in recent years. There is a genuine interest on the part of much CONANP personnel for integrating and considering the communities' points of view in the Reserve's management. As one CONANP official commented: "it is important to know their vision [of the communities], how they interact with the reserve [and] to know what they expect from us as an institution, [for] us [it is important] to listen to them, in order to implement a working plan." However, these efforts are usually frustrated by the many obstacles that the Reserve workers face. On one hand, the long internal bureaucratic procedures and restrictive legal frameworks complicate participation. They explain, for instance, that the final versions of documents as important as the CMP can be profoundly modified in the central offices, often disregarding agreements reached with communities or specific information that was supposed to be included, to such an extent that "afterwards, you don't recognize what you wrote". On the other hand, communities' internal inequalities and the existence of a regional political culture that often reproduces patriarchal and authoritarian practices, hinders interactions (Paladino 2005; Legorreta Díaz 2008; Trench 2008). Power inequalities, evident in the workshops and meetings, do not exist only between MABR inhabitants and external agents, but also between communities and between their councillors. For example, in the context of the AC, to be a Lacandon councillor, with considerable experience of interacting with environmental officials, is not the same as being a councillor from an irregular settlement of indigenous Tzeltals, with difficulties reading, writing, and even understanding spoken Spanish. Thus the agency of different communities varies, despite all being indigenous farmers. Whilst some have enjoyed disproportionate benefits from federal conservation projects over the years, others are only just beginning to understand the environmental programmes operating in the region.

It is worth emphasising that the CONANP should not be viewed as a monolithic or uniform institution, but rather-as has been documented for many environmental institutions and organisations-as a politicised arena where different views over conservation and participation contend. We observed on more than one occasion, that when the Director of the MABR changes, the priority given to community participation and the participatory process itself are transformed, with repercussions in the relationships with the communities, the quality of the interaction, and the ability to dialogue and resolve different kind of problems. The fragility of participation in the MABR is evident, and constitutes a sign of the institutionalisation of a narrow idea of participation within the CONANP that centralises power over some individuals who could revert (or promote) participation in PAs.

In this sense, the exclusion processes narrated here do not depend exclusively on the particular forms of management in the MABR or on the scarcity of financial resources, but are closely linked to a particular conception of democracy and participation, oriented mainly towards the efficiency of decision-making processes, disregarding the importance of collective reflection and extensive deliberation. This vision of democratic practice as a process of aggregating citizen preferences and the emphasis on the achievement of certain goals still dominates in the sphere of natural resources management in Mexico and beyond (Young 2002; Meadcroft 2004; Parkins and Mitchell 2005). However, it does not seem adequate for the complexity and diversity of social spaces present in Mexican PAs, characterised by unequal and unjust structural conditions in economic, political, social, and agrarian terms (Young 2002), often reproduced within the communities as well as in interactions at the regional and national levels.

As several authors argue, conservation practices can be imposed or voluntarily adopted, but they will only be legitimate if they are considered as just, correct, and appropriate by those implicated in the process (Wilshusen 2003; Brockington 2004; Norgrove and Hulme 2006). This depends on a full and effective inclusion that goes beyond simply being convened and present at a meeting. To talk about inclusion implies the existence of political equality, that is, the establishment of a dialogue on an equal footing, in which all participants manage to express their views and suggestions, which in turn are taken into account and have a real possibility of transforming initial opinions and influencing final decisions (Young 2002). This kind of inclusion still seems a distant possibility in the MABR participatory spaces, but if we hope to prevent conservation efforts from further aggravating the already severe social inequalities present in the Lacandon Rainforest, the exclusion processes documented here cannot be considered as mere detail, and they should be a matter of both academic and institutional concern.

Our observations lead us to believe that there has been some progress regarding social participation in the MABR, which has overcome many of the more evident forms of exclusion, but it still does not guarantee the effective inclusion of all regional actors affected by the Reserve and others interested in its management. To move forward, it is crucial to emphasise the view of participation as a means to mutual understanding instead of as fulfilling specific and predetermined goals. Moreover, it is important to conceive participatory processes as opportunities for debate, personal reflection, the construction of informed public opinion, and citizenship building. It is thus imperative to envisage and strengthen participatory processes in the context of biodiversity conservation in Mexico as something that goes beyond decision-making, by promoting cooperation and the collective definition and solution of problems, as well as the generation of ideas about justice itself (Fraser 2000; Young 2002).[86]

   Acknowledgements Top

This study was supported by the Programa de Apoyo a Proyectos de Investigación e Innovación Tecnológica UNAM (PAPIIT) IN300910. Part of this investigation was carried out during postdoctoral research by Fernanda Figueroa in the Programa de Becas Posdoctorales, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Coordinación de Humanidades, Centro de Investigaciones Interdisciplinarias en Ciencias y Humanidades (CEIICH-UNAM). We wish to thank the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP), for letting us attend workshops as observers and the Programa de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias sobre Mesoamérica y el Sureste, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (PROIMMSE-UNAM) for their logistical support. María del Carmen Legorreta, Mauricio Guzmán, and Socorro Álvarez shared with us fieldwork experiences as well as enlightening discussions. Carlos Tejeda provided us with useful documents. We would also like to thank the three anonymous referees for their useful comments.

   Notes Top

  1. Advisory Councils have been established since 1992, and today 37 are in operation. It is noteworthy that the implementation of these bodies is optional; the Biosphere Reserves' Directors may decide not to create them (Díaz-Ávila et al. 2-005; see also LGEEPA Art. 17 and 30 for the Council's remit (Diario Oficial de la Federación 2004).
  2. It is useful to consult documents such as the Estrategia de conservación para el desarrollo (CONANP Undated) and Estrategia para la participación ciudadana en el sector ambiental (SEMARNAT 2008).
  3. Ejidos and comunidades are collective forms of land tenure in Mexico created by the state as part of the post-revolutionary land reform. The former are free land grants given by the government to groups of peasants, whereas the latter are lands that had been historically occupied by indigenous communities and that were recognised or restituted to them by the state.
  4. The mean time for CMP publication was calculated based on each PAs date of decree and the publication of a summary of the CMP in the Diario Oficial de la Federación (www.conanp.gob.mx; February 2010).
  5. See Reglamento de la Ley General de Equilibrio Ecológico y Protección al Ambiente Art. 18, II (LGEEPA 2014).
  6. Between 2000 and 2010, 11 new biosphere reserves were decreed adding more than 9.5 million ha to conservation (CONANP 2012).
  7. Federal PAs within the CZL cover more than 340,000 ha of community territory (around 75%). Besides the MABR, the other PAs established in CZL lands are the Chan Kin Flora and Fauna Protection Area, Bonampak Natural Monument, Yaxchilán Natural Monument, Lacantún Biosphere Reserve, and the Nahá and Metzabok Flora and Fauna Protection Areas.
  8. 'Irregular' communities refer to those settlements that have not managed to obtain-for various reasons-legal titles to their lands.
  9. Community members with legal land rights.
  10. Workshops minutes were elaborated by CONANP employees. These documents include a list of attendants and the description of the workshops activities, agreements, and testimonies both from peasants and authorities.
  11. Comisariados and Sub-comisariados are the communities' authority figures, elected by a communal assembly.
  12. Milpa refers to the peasant farmers' plots used for the production of maize, often combined with beans and other vegetables crops.
  13. It is worth mentioning that most of the CONANP park guards present at the workshop were native to the region and had important knowledge of local production systems, as they were also peasant farmers. Unfortunately, their participation at the workshop was limited, being very deferential to their superiors and without enough self-confidence to fulfill the role of intermediaries.
  14. Whilst it is logical that municipal governments be included in the AC, not least for planning purposes, in practice it can have negative effects, as they may not attend the meetings, thus risking the possibility of reaching the necessary quorum for the AC to take decisions.
  15. We owe this calculation to Alberto Zarazúa, who observed the meeting with the authors. Most of these 25 interventions occurred at the end of the meeting and were related to permits for extending the Reserve's infrastructure, access to water, and the lack of environmental surveillance in the Reserve.
  16. There have been sporadic efforts to 'educate' community councillors as to their role in the AC with short courses, but this strategy has not kept up with the changes in the composition of the AC, with the arrival of new representatives, and exit of those who have taken part in the training courses and visits to ACs in other PAs.
  17. AC meetings generally last between 4 and 6 hours and are scheduled two or three times each year. The main reason for limiting the meeting's duration is the cost of a second night at the hotel where the meeting is held. The Reserve's Director makes these decisions primarily based on budgetary concerns.

   References Top

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