Latin American Studies ETDs

Publication Date



Since the early 1980's the Indigenous Movement in Costa Rica has made extraordinary strides toward resolving its demands for political, economic and cultural autonomy. The leadership that has emerged at the forefront of the Movement has been adept at recognizing political opportunities and at utilizing the national and international system in order to build a national movement that maintains its base within the local and regional setting.

This thesis examines the processes by which the Indigenous Movement has begun to transform the inequitable political, social and economic relations that have historically marginalized and oppressed indigenous peoples. The Movement represents an interesting case study because it has been able to sustain itself over the last two decades and has had a significant impact on the national political system. In 1992 the Movement pressured the Costa Rican government to ratify the International Labour Organization Covenant 169 on Indigenous Populations, thereby re-defining the state's relationship to the indigenous territories.

This work presents and analyzes a participatory legislative process that took place between July and October 1997. This "National Indigenous Consultation" was the result of accommodations between the Costa Rican state and the Indigenous Movement, as such it serves as a meaningful lens through which to examine the Movement's interaction with state actors and its internal political and organizational practices.

This thesis draws on both social movement and community-based planning literature to elucidate the factors contributed to the Movement's success. It discusses the national political conjunctures that spawned organized resistance among indigenous communities in the early 1980's and highlights the international and national political opportunity structures that supported its development in the 1990's. In addition, by highlighting the Movement's community building, capacity building and organization building strategies, the study adds to the understanding of how movements build solidarity through the construction or affirmation of a collective identity. This identity, I found, is a necessary ingredient for successful strategic action.

The Indigenous Movement holds a lesson for social movement practices. Although the Movement engaged the state, it did so conditionally and with the purpose of re-claiming decision-making power from it . The Movement's success depended on its astute instrumentalization of the national and international political system and its ability to build a strong movement base rooted in a common political vision.



Document Type


Degree Name

Community and Regional Planning

Level of Degree


Department Name

Latin American Studies

Second Department

School of Architecture and Planning

First Committee Member (Chair)


Second Committee Member


Third Committee Member

Kenneth M. Roberts