Indigenous people in Panama do not enjoy full autonomy within their comarcas (traditional land reserves): they only control surface resources, while the state retains control of underground resources. This article analyses direct action by the Ngäbe-Buglé, who successfully defeated the latest attempt by the government to exploit underground resources within their comarcas. It describes government strategies for retaining control over Indigenous people’s land and analyses how the Ngäbe-Buglé counteracted these strategies with support from burgeoning civil society movements. We argue that this is due to an unprecedented alliance between Indigenous people and other social movements in Panama, as well as to the fact that Indigenous people have succeeded in federating all major civil society organizations around their discourses and actions.


We thank the SENACYT of Panama for providing financial support to our study.

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