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Claudia Leal

The history of Colombian national parks started in 1948 with the establishment of a reserve for scientific research, which stood alone until the 1960s, when various state agencies created a few parks with quite different goals in mind, including preserving imposing landscapes and conserving water. This rather casual development changed after the growing international concern for the environment led to the creation of an environmental agency in 1968 and the enactment of an environmental code in 1974, which served as institutional platform for the planned expansion of a system of national parks based largely on ecological criteria. Chronically underfunded and understaffed, the Office of National Parks has confronted its weakness by establishing parks which confer legal protection on areas whose natural attributes were deemed valuable. Such a strategy has led to confrontations with local populations living in and around parks, whose rights to resource use have been hampered. The office’s incapacity to properly enforce rules and its attempts to work with rural communities, especially indigenous groups, have to some extent mitigated such tensions. It has further sought to enlist the support of the middle classes and been forced to deal with illegal armed groups on the left and the right, as well as the national army, vying for territorial control. Although parks have not fulfilled their ideal, they have fostered the notion that the nation has a natural patrimony and have contributed decisively to its conservation.


Before the Portuguese arrived in Brazil at the beginning of the 16th century, the vast area that today constitutes the national territory was occupied by different indigenous groups, the native peoples of the land. The origins of human settlement in Brazil have been the subject of heated debates. Brazilian archaeology has long been dedicated to the issue, in conjunction with researchers from several countries, because the question holds implications for charting early human life across the Americas. Their findings have made it possible to better understand the long history of indigenous societies in what is today Brazil based on their material remains, because it is rarely possible to establish a correlation between one group or another based solely on ethno-historical sources. The archaeological research has also made meaningful progress on cultural history, addressing questions related to the way of life of hunter gathers and ceramist groups. The latter were numerous and diversified in the past, but the importance and wide distribution of the Tupi, the first indigenous group with whom Europeans came into contact, should be highlighted. Another issue of interest is the sociopolitical complexity and the material sophistication of late precolonial Amazon societies.