Economic Anthropology

Loci of Greed in a Caribbean Paradise: Land Conflicts in Bocas del Toro, Panama

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ABSTRACT

The Bocas del Toro archipelago on the Caribbean side of Panama has seen the rise of tourism as the dominant and almost exclusive industry since the early 1990s. The archipelago has been in the national limelight since 2000 due to the abundance of land conflicts sparked by “residential tourism,” resort development and subsequent land speculation. In response, the Panamanian government has attempted to evolve a regulatory system that fosters economic growth through foreign investment in the region while also appeasing and controlling citizen, expatriate retiree, and investor angst due to the burgeoning conflicts. This article examines the motivations behind the regulatory mechanisms enacted, as well as the motivations of various actors involved by identifying various loci of greed that anchor the accusations of greed to particular social actors. In the process, it examines the discourses used by these actors to interpret, ignore, or modify the regulatory framework within the context of the land conflicts in order to serve their interests. I suggest that it is necessary to operationalize the concept of greed to allow for systematic cross-cultural comparisons. Studying narratives of greed and the associated social actors helps us understand how greed is emically defined and allows us to move past subjective moral judgments.

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