Home Institution

Swarthmore College

Publication Date

Fall 2007

Program Name

Argentina: Social Movements and Human Rights


With limited resources and overpopulation on a global level, sustainable development is the only way that human beings will be able to survive on this earth. The problem is that the dominant model of development stresses the importance of economic profits in the short term and far too often exploits natural resources and less powerful cultural groups. This creates dangerous long-term affects as natural resources and indigenous cultures that depend on them continue to disappear with no plan, or possibility, to replace them. Sustainability seeks the least negative impacts possible on the natural environment and indigenous cultures in order to preserve and protect them for future generations.

Sustainable development in tourism is extremely important because tourism is very influential in the global economy. It provides millions of jobs worldwide and involves millions more as tourists and locals who are affected by tourist activities. Unfortunately, tourism has not been developing sustainably as a handful of large operators continue to exploit natural places and their cultures at a rapid pace. It is imperative to move away from thinking of tourism solely as a way to make money but as I way to generate respect for nature and peace and understanding among the people of the world. Sustainable tourism involves governments, local people, and tourists to create greater respect for and understanding of differences and similarities among all of us.

A perfect way to encourage this transition is in places that have yet to be negatively exploited as a tourists destinations yet have the potential to do so. Villa Pehuenia, a small town in the mountains of Patagonia several hours west of Neuquén, began developing less than twenty years ago specifically to create a tourist town. The area is rich in natural resources and opportunities for tourists. It is also rich with local culture in the indigenous Mapuche communities that live in the region. Rapid development has greatly affected the Mapuche, bringing challenges as well as opportunities to their communities.

I spent time in Villa Pehuenia as well as on land of the Mapuche Puel community to find out how tourism is developing sustainably and what still needs to be improved in order to continue on a sustainable path. The Mapuche have a very interesting and complex culture and history, especially with regards to their land. They consider themselves part of the land and animals and do not believe in exploiting it for economic gains. To some extend, this contradicts the newly created municipality of Villa Pehuenia that functions under a capitalist model. Luckily the municipality is doing more to protect the environment than most and sustainable tourism seems to be important, but there are several areas that need improvement, including the relationship between the government and the Mapuche.

The municipality has been developing and making decisions in what would be considered an unstable manner, without consulting the Mapuche. This has brought negative affects to the Mapuche culture, their land, their unity and community, and their work opportunities. At the same time, the Mapuche have begun developing their own turist activities that have allowed cultural recuperation, job opportunities, and unity behind a common fight to maintain ownership of their land. By looking at the costs and benefits of tourism development on the Mapuche from a sustainable perspective, we can begin to understand the path to a sustainable future.


Environmental Health and Protection | Growth and Development


Article Location