The chapter critically explores ideas about nature conservation occurring in Latin America today, drawing on a political ecology perspective. Moving beyond mainstream thinking on preservationism, neo-Malthusianism and sustainable development, many Latin American writers have embraced radical critiques coming from eco-Marxism and eco-socialism, as well as from political ecology and popular environmentalist thought. Lately, notions of ‘good living’ and the ‘rights of nature’ are put forward as part of an alternative development paradigm that promotes social and ecological justice. Specifically, this chapter explores these themes in the context of nature conservation initiatives in Ecuador – notably, the national system of protected areas as well as the Programa Socio Bosque (Forest Partner Programme) of the Ecuadorian government. We argue that, in post-neoliberal Ecuador, although it is the cradle of alternative struggles centred on good living and the rights of nature, the mainstream sustainable development paradigm has not been replaced. Indeed, the core idea of that paradigm of conserving nature while alleviating poverty is extremely politically useful today in that it provides a convenient cover for expanding natural resources extraction while maintaining a green international image. Further, a conservation project such as the Programa Socio Bosque becomes part of a territorial ordering that dispossesses indigenous peoples of land vital to contemporary neoliberal extractivism. In this way, a promising and radical alternative approach is subverted by an Ecuadorian state still beholden to transnational capital.
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