This article examines how a regional NGO and a local-issue GRO in Puerto Rico have approached health and environmental concerns over water pollution from pharmaceutical production, and the consequences this has had for corporate–community–government relations. Through the analysis of historical material, public meetings and interviews, the processes through which micropolitical patterns have developed, and through which residents least conciliatory towards the drug companies are silenced, are discussed. The article questions whether persistent conflict between the corporate–government alliance and grassroots environmentalists is attributable to a ‘gap in understanding’ and suggests that the relationship is better understood through the complementary theories of ‘coercive harmony’ and ‘deep capture’. In conclusion it points out that researchers should be wary of assisting or supporting negotiations, and rather should focus on critically examining the dynamics of ‘stakeholder dialogue’ as a negotiation between relative equals.