International Development, Community and Environment (IDCE)

Date of Award


Degree Type

Research Paper

Degree Name

Master of Arts in International Development and Social Change (IDSC)


International Development, Community and Environment

Chief Instructor

Denise Humphrey-Bebbington

Second Reader

Rinku Chowdhury


This paper argues that areas of environmental conservation in the Panama Canal Watershed Zone were originally designed to fit an economic utility rather than to protect habitat. As a result there was an exclusion of forest-based communities in policy design and implementation, creating lasting impacts on indigenous Emberá territorial rights, livelihood opportunities, and traditional cultural practices. Based on recent fieldwork and a review of relevant secondary literature, this paper discusses how Emberá communities in in Chagres National Park have adapted their culture and livelihoods to accommodate environmental regulation and explores what prospects the Emberá see for future generations if they do not mobilize for territorial rights. This paper concludes by recommending that the Panamanian government look towards community-based conservation management in order to most effectively achieve the preservation of the Canal Zones’ valuable natural and cultural resources.



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