Modelo de desarrollo indigena

A new economic development model for our indigenous peoples


To know more about how the tax system can help close the racial and ethnic gap in Latin America, you can download Splitting the Bill: Taxing and Spending to Close Ethnic and Racial Gaps in Latin America for free, here!


Petita Ayarza’s strengths are evident. At 54, she is a successful businesswoman in manyfields, including tourism and clothing. She is also a community leader and defender of the rights of indigenous peoples, who this year became the first Guna congresswoman in Panama’s National Assembly.

Her career is grounded on her strong social beliefs. When asked what her biggest weakness is, Petita replies: “My empathy for others, the desire to always give. I just don't want to see people toiling so hard. It is a weakness that drives me in my ventures.” Her response is a reflection of the identity, culture and worldview of her people, the Guna  of Panama’s Guna Yala Region.

For the Guna - as for many indigenous communities in Latin America - the concepts of "personal wellbeing" and "prosperity" are intrinsically linked to the bonds of kinship and living conditions of their community, which they consider an extended family.

Another pillar of the Guna culture is its concept of "economic development", which prioritizes the respect for its territory and the natural resources it holds. “I feel that the predominant economic development approach revolves around materialism,” says Petita. “But our ancestors taught us that wealth is also about love of the earth, trees, the sea, the air we breathe and biodiversity. These are our siblings and we must take care of them,”she says.

Interview with Petita Ayarza, First Guna Congresswoman in Panama's National Assembly


The contrast between indigenous identity, traditions and values ​​and Western concepts of economy and growth has posed challenges to those seeking to boost the prosperity of native people. Stephen Cornell, founder of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, points out that there is ample proof that the formulation of public policies and investments without the participation of indigenous people is unproductive and entails higher costs.

"The aspiration is that policymakers and decision makers consult the people about what they think they should do to improve their situation, what their vision of the future is and how they can support them to get there," says Cornell . "That support can come in the form of dollars, institutional support, educational programs and can also come in the form of simply giving permission and getting out of their way."

Interview with Stephen Cornell, Ph.D., professor of sociology, faculty chair of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona


Petita agrees: “When investors come to the region to impose programs or to build things that are not in line with our vision, aspirations and values, the response of indigenous institutions is rejection. We have the right, as all indigenous peoples have, to be consulted on whether a project is in our benefit or not,” she says. The consideration of governance and indigenous institutions is another key factor in the success of initiatives aimed at indigenous peoples.

"My message to all governments, including the one I represent as a congresswoman, is don’t impose, consult and listen so that your proposals can be adapted to our needs," says Petita.

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is currently implementing and promoting a model of Economic Development with Identity of indigenous peoples, a concept that is still not widely known or discussed in the region. The model prioritizes the identity, territory and economic autonomy of indigenous communities.

“This approach has a transformative potential for indigenous peoples and represents an opportunity to formulate new responses to close gaps, reduce inequities and advance towards an inclusive and more sustainable development at a social, cultural and environmental level,” says Carmiña Albertos, a principal specialist in indigenous peoples and diversity at the IDB.



This vision of development is focused on the creation of comprehensive and participatory public policies that give a place to all indigenous peoples, no matter how small their communities may be. Because, as Petita says, it is in small things that we often find the greatest treasures. “My name in French means tiny. But throughout my life I learned that great things come in small packages, like a perfume or a pearl,” she says.

To know more about how the tax system can help close the racial and ethnic gap in Latin America, you can download Splitting the Bill: Taxing and Spending to Close Ethnic and Racial Gaps in Latin America for free, here!

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