'We Existed Before Columbus': Indigenous Movements and Public Goods Provision in Argentina
Recent decades have witnessed a striking transformation in Latin America. Indigenous people became a formidable political force in their own right, something unthinkable even a generation ago. What are the implications of indigenous mobilization for development and human welfare? In response this paper pursues a subnational comparative analysis of three provinces in Argentina to explore how and when indigenous movements make a difference with respect to their core demands, the implementation of constitutionally guaranteed land rights and the improvement of water provision in indigenous communities. The three neighboring provinces of Tucumán, Salta, and Catamarca are surprisingly similar in their geography, political economy, and their relative levels of human development. Yet, these three provincial states vary dramatically in the implementation of a new national law, which requires all Argentine provinces to survey and document indigenous land claims, a crucial first step in establishing communal land rights. As of October 2014, the land survey is almost complete in Tucumán; in Salta, the survey is far from completed; and in Catamarca, the survey has not even started. The provincial state of Tucumán also exhibits greater competence in managing local projects to improve access to potable water. Based on this comparison the paper develops an innovative theoretical framework that calls attention to the specific mechanisms by which indigenous movements might influence the institutional competence of states to manage land conflicts and water provision, most prominently naming and shaming, shifts in state-society linkages, and changes in the perceptions of state officials. It also suggests, by drawing on yet also moving beyond the existing political mediation model in social movement studies, that indigenous movements are more likely to affect state capacity if they have the organizational infrastructure to sustain collective action, and operate in a political space free of major veto players.