College of Liberal Arts

Histories in the Making of Place-in-the-Present: Residential Tourism Development on the Panamanian Atlantic Coast

Friday Jan 20, 2017 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM | CLA 0.128

Dr. Sharlene Mollett, Department of Human Geography and the Centre of Critical Development Studies (UTSC)
Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto

In this lecture, I reflect on the ways residential tourism development in Panama, motivated by the state’s Sustainable Tourism Development Master Plan (2007-2020) unfolds along the Atlantic Coast. With financial and technical support from the Inter-American Development Bank, United Nation’s Development Program and Panama’s Tourism Authority (ATP), state promises under the Plan offer tourism development as a key source of economic growth, employment and poverty alleviation. In the province of Bocas del Toro and the archipelago known commonly as “Bocas”, residential tourism development is actively remaking space through significant policy changes that among them sanction foreign ownership of land. Such reforms are joined by a steady influx of affluent migrants primarily from the global north looking to take advantage of a bourgeoning land and real estate market. For indigenous and Afro-descendant community leaders, however, the remaking of Bocas—a former United Fruit Company Plantation-- as a tourism enclave is punctuated by land and natural resource struggles. Such contests are intensified by foreign and elite land control and concomitant and multiple forms of Ngöbe-Buglé and Afro-Antillano dispossession. Drawing from the entanglements of feminist and postcolonial political ecologies, critical racial studies, and historical geographies of race, I seek to show how shifting property regimes and concomitant discourses in Bocas, share racial and gendered logics and imaginaries that mimic the past, but which are reproduced in the making of residential tourism space in the present. Through blending ethnographic narratives and historical data collection with news media, government documents and secondary resources, I illuminate the ways in which such historical logics of race and gender, and their contemporary reproduction, render tourism as a tool for poverty reduction, a fallacy.

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