Paraíso for Sale

Sergio Cueto
November 24, 2014

As part of the 3rd course, Human Rights, we all got the opportunity to travel to Bocas del Toro, Panamá. The goal of our travel was to see how tourism development is affecting indigenous communities on the islands of Bocas del Toro. In addition, we also got to examine how the human rights of these indigenous communities have been violated. We spoke with indigenous community members, local indigenous leaders, and indigenous women activists. On our first day of arrival we watched the documentary, Paraíso for Sale directed by Anayansi Prado. The documentary is actually filmed in Bocas del Toro and examines the issues of neocolonialism, global gentrification, and the violation of indigenous rights.

During the late 1990s, Bocas del Toro became “the new paradise” for foreign retirees and the tourism industry. This has created a major problem because foreigners buy the land for the purpose of building hotels, houses, and businesses. In addition, indigenous communities that live on these lands end up being forcibly removed or have to find elsewhere to go. The manner in which these lands are bought is sometimes through false documentation and bribery initiated by the foreigners in compliance with the Panamanian government. As mentioned in the documentary, 70% of foreigners moving to Bocas del Toro are from the United States and Canada. In some cases, foreigners burn down the houses of indigenous natives as a violent form of removal.

The documentary also highlighted the story of indigenous leader Feliciano which we got to meet during our stay at Bocas del Toro. Feliciano has become an active member in his community and has fought against this invasion. Fortunately, some foreigners are also fighting for indigenous rights and are establishing eco-friendly hotels. In addition, these foreigners only hire local natives and give back to these communities. Though the documentary only focused on Panamá, this current problem of neocolonialism is happening in other countries as well. Simply becoming aware and understanding this social issue can lead to new change. The fight continues for indigenous rights! Check out the link below for more information on the documentary Paraíso for Sale.

Bocas del Toro map. A photograph of Panamanian women, each holding a paper responding to the question: What makes you feel proud about being a woman? A community indigenous house we visited. A private property sign in front of a boat dock area. Many foreign business owners put up private property signs as a manner of keeping away Panamanian natives. A boat dock in one of the communities we visited. When foreigners build boat docks this causes problems for local communities. In some cases, children who go to school by a canoe must take a different route due to the boat dock blocking their pathway. In other cases, some community members can no longer fish in the area for food. A pathway from one of the indigenous communities we visited. As the tourism industry increases in Bocas del Toro so does the amount of trash in local communities. One of my favorite pictures is of this little girl peeking outside from one of the communities we visited. While new businesses are thriving, local community houses are left neglected and without access to resources. A three floor luxury house we saw while walking in one of the communities. Many foreigners that come to Bocas del Toro build their houses with water tanks for clean water. There were many of these signs for the purpose of promoting and selling land. A five star hotel we visited with its own privatized beach area. The privatization of beaches in Panamá is just another form of keeping away Panamanian natives from accessing the beach. A group picture with Feliciano.

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Sergio Cueto

<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hello! My name is Sergio Cueto and I was born in the city of Juarez, Chihuahua located in Mexico. I came to Chicago when I was two years old and currently reside in the Logan Square neighborhood of the city. I am an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, majoring in Latin American and Latino Studies with a minor in Sociology. I am also a volunteer for the Chicago Latino Film Festival. I love photography, films, reading, writing, video games, and spending time with friends and family.</span></div>

2014 Fall
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University of Illinois at Chicago
Latin American Studies
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