Tourism Troubles: Feminist political ecologies of land and body in the making of residential tourism space in Panama

I examine the ways in which settler colonial logics shape residential tourism development on the Atlantic Coast of Panama. With a focus on the Bocas del Toro archipelago, I entangle feminist political ecological assertions with anticolonial feminist understandings of land and body, drawn from a fusion of postcolonial, decolonial and black feminist thought embedded in the concept of postcolonial intersectionality. Through this lens, I seek to illustrate three key findings. First, settler colonial place making in Bocas is partially articulated in the legal geographies of the Panamanian state’s tourism-as-development strategy, a process that invites foreign land ownership. Second, critical development studies in Latin America tends to centre Indigenous women’s livelihoods and rights as emblems of gender mainstreaming and social inclusion. By contrast, I focus on Afro-Panamanian women and illustrate, through ethnographic testimonies, the ways in which settler logics of elimination manifest in the naturalization of Afro-Panamanian women as “maids”. Such imaginative and material geographies reflect conventional racial-sexual-gendered histories that erroneously take for granted black female servitude and landlessness on the Atlantic coast. Lastly, I will show, notwithstanding the coast’s violent past (and present) that a deeper engagement with place-based histories offers possibilities for sustainable development policy makers, one with the concomitant recognition that any sustainable tourism policy that erodes local peoples control over land and bodies is not, in fact, sustainable. Thus, I argue that Afro-Panamanian women’s participation in Bocas’ tourism enclave—a project that seeks to erase Indigenous and Black relationships to coastal lands and foster their subjection to foreign nationals—is simultaneously an articulation of their rights to remain on the coast.