In recent years, significant changes have been seen in the approaches and tactics by civil society entities in the political arena, as well as an unprecedented increase in their visibility and influence. With the end of the Cold War, the term “civil society” and the debate about its relevance in the context of globalization and regionalization taking place in the world have taken on growing importance. The heterogeneity and diversity of this incipient civil society is seen in its composition, with the convergence of mainly two types of organizations: non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social movements, particularly those called “new social movements,” though also including the continuance of older movements, such labor organizations, nationalist groups, and traditional political parties. The most important entities on this stage, however, will be those associated with various social interests and causes, such as ecological, feminist and ethnic movements, professional associations, think tanks, cooperative movements, and human rights organizations.
In general terms, it is estimated that there are more than a million civil society organizations (CSOs), both registered and unregistered, in the Latin America and Caribbean region and that they invest more than $3 billion annually in their activities and programs. A small portion of these CSOs are NGOs and the large majority are non-profit organizations, educational institutions, health services, research institutes, cultural organizations, sports and recreation groups, and other similar entities. Approximately 100,000 of these organizations are religious in nature and about a third of them are organizations that are not formally registered or incorporated.
Although data about the CSOs in the region is often hard to obtain and unreliable, and is based mainly on estimates, the following data provides an overview of the CSO scene in comparative terms, in relation to the size of the populations they serve. The table shows an index of 1.27 CSOs per 1,000 inhabitants in the Caribbean continental and island region, which compares favorably to the rate in Brazil(1.18), but is less than the rate, for example, in Bolivia (1.95) or Colombia (1.65).
Registered secular civil society organizations
|POPULATION||NUMBER OF CSOs||NUMBER PER 1,000 INHABITANTS|
|Greater Caribbean Region|
(not including Cuba andHaiti)
CSO income comes from a combination of sources, including membership dues, government agencies, foreign aid organizations, and philanthropic contributions from the private sector, in that order. Increasingly, many governments and development agencies see these civil society organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean as hindrances to their objectives, with the result that government support for these organizations is limited. Therefore, CSOs in Latin America and the Caribbean are highly dependent on external funding. In other words, in the measure that they receive little funding from their own governments, towards which they often take a confrontational posture, the CSOs are highly dependent on external funds, whether from intergovernmental cooperation agencies (for example, the U.N.), international organizations or NGOs in the first world.
Despite the financial challenges the CSOs in the region face, it is clear that they have grown and expanded over the past three decades since 1980. A series of factors has contributed to their gradual expansion and development, including regional and subregional integration processes since the 1980s and the proliferation of free trade agreements, and efforts by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank or the Organization of American States (OAS) to strengthen democracy and development.
According to Andrés Serbin, one of the most pressing challenges facing CSOs in the Caribbean region is adapting to the waves of democratization that the region has experienced in the last two or three decades. The emergence of these civil society organizations cannot be separated from the region’s political and cultural situation. The Caribbean is a region with wide linguistic and cultural diversity and a political culture strongly influenced by personality-based politics, cronyism, parochialism and intransigence. The political cultures of the region, characterized by a high level of personality-driven leadership, cronyism and corporate influence often influence the political approaches of the NGOs and emerging social movements in the region, which seriously affects their capabilities and impact. These origins, often associated with a high degree of politicization and ideology, have affected their evolution in recent times and their transformation and expansion into national or regional networks. Many NGOs have had difficulty adapting to the new times and introducing significant changes in objectives and strategies to broaden their range of action and to incorporate programs with broader reach that are promoted by governments and international organizations. In this environment, the transition from attitudes and strategies of confrontation that were developed in earlier decades to participatory strategies in a democratic framework has rarely been easy, especially considering the lack of trust in the government and its agencies that developed in earlier times, and in some cases under authoritarian regimes. These confrontational strategies can clearly be seen in regional and subregional organizations such as the Continental Social Alliance or the Assemblies of Peoples, in which the dominant attitude is criticism of government activities and neo-liberal policies, particularly in reference to free trade agreements. These initiatives share in common an element of criticism and questioning either the undemocratic nature of processes or the exclusion and social ills they lead to. In any event, this fundamental characteristic of many of the CSOs in the Caribbean is particularly important in the post-9/11 era, given that the policies adopted by the United States in terms of security and fighting terrorism have forced many of these organizations to adjust their objectives due to concerns that these policies could have a negative impact on the progress made in terms of human rights and civil liberties (in particular the right to free expression, association and transit) and the resurgence of repressive measures that could eventually affect the foundations of democracy in the region.
While the CSOs in South America are associated with democratization and the struggle for human and civil rights, in Central America and the Caribbean they are inevitably linked with efforts to consolidate peace and democracy, as well as promoting socio-economic development, eradicating poverty and defending the environment and indigenous communities in the region.
The following is a partial list of the most important civil society organizations in the Caribbean region, based on data from the OAS. (International or global civil society organizations are not included, although many of them also operate in the Caribbean through local chapters or initiatives, such as Human Rights Watch or the World Bank. Included are organizations that are local, regional or national in nature). The list shows the preponderance of organizations dedicated to the environment, the rights of indigenous or ethnic peoples, women’s rights, and human rights or the families of the “disappeared” in the Caribbean.
ANTIGUA and BARBUDA
· Island Resources Foundation
· Environmental Awareness Group (EAG)
· The Bahamas National Trust
· Caribbean Conservation Association (CCA)
· Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES)
· The Barbados National Trust
· Caribbean Development Bank (CDB)
· Caribbean Conservation Association
· Woman and Development Unit, University of West Indies
· Human Rights Commission of Belize
· National Garifuna Council
· Toledo Maya Cultural Council
· Ideas Integrating Development, Environment and Sustainability
· Alianza Trinacional, Golfo de Honduras (TIDE)
· Help for Progress
· Asociación Consejo Nacional de Mujeres Indígenas Costarricenses (ACONAMIC)
· Floresta Inc.
· Fundación Neotrópica (FN)
· Tropical Science Center
· Corporación Educativa y Cultural Centroamericana (CECC)
· Comité Regional de Recursos Hídricos (CRRH)
· Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBIO)
· Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología (ULACIT)
· University for Peace
· Asociación Latinoamericana de Organizaciones de Promoción (ALOP)
· Consejo de la Tierra
· Estación de Biología Marina, Universidad Nacional-Puntarenas
· Foro Nacional de Convergencia (FONAC)
· Dominica Conservation Association
· National Association of NGOS-NANGO
· Cámara de Comercio Guatemalteco Americana
· Centro de Prevención de Desastres de América Central (CEPREDENAC)
· Comisión Centroamericana de Ambiente y Desarrollo (CCAD)
· Comisión Nacional para el Medio Ambiente (CONAMA)
· Cooperación Guatemala-Alemania / Programa las Verapaces-Desarrollo Municipal y Regional
· Fundación Defensores de la Naturaleza
· Fundación para el Ecodesarrollo y la Conservación (FUNDAECO)
· Programa Ambiental Regional para Centro América (PROARCA/CAPAS CCAD-USAID)
· Comité Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala
· Asociación Amigos del Bosque
· Audubon Society, Guatemala
· Fundación para la Conservación de los Ecosistemas Mayas
· Asociación de Pueblos Amerindios (APA)
· Guyana Human Rights Association
· Centre Oecuminigque des Droits Humains
· Justice et Paix
· Ligue Haïtienne de Droits Humains
· Federation des Amis de la Nature
· Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Honduras (CODEH)
· Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos de Honduras
· Consejo Asesor Hondureño para el Desarrollo de las Etnias Autóctonas
· Asociación Hondureña de Ecología
· Red Internacional de Consultores y Auditores Ambientales (Rica Honduras)
· Asociación Asang Langa – Indigenous Tawahka
· Foundation for Investment and Development of Exports (FIDE)
· Fundación Ecologista “Héctor Rodrigo Pastor Fasquelle”
· Fundación Vida
· Grupo Ecológico de Olancho
· Mesa del Sol, S. de R.L. Elaboradores de Bohío Tropical
· Organización Negra Centroamericana (ONECA)
· Fundación PROLANSATE
· Unión Nacional de Campesinos (UNC)
· Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT)
· Dispute Resolution Foundation
· Association of Development Agencies
· Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation
· Caribbean People Development Agency (CARIPEDA)
· Dispute Resolution Foundation Ltd.
· Environmental Solutions Ltd.
· Sustainable Community Development Focus Group (UNEP COMIDA)
· Servicio, Desarrollo y Paz A.C.
· Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos
· Red Nacional de Organismos Civiles de Derechos Humanos
· Congreso Nacional Indígena de México
· Asociación Mexicana de Arte y Cultura Popular, A.C. (AMACUP)
· Cultura Ecológica
· Centro de Ecodesarrollo
· Fundación Miguel Alemán, A.C.
· Acción y Desarrollo Ecológico, A.C.
· Asociación Nicaragüense Pro Derechos Humanos
· Fundación Nicaragüense para el Desarrollo Sostenible
· Centro Humboldt para la Promoción del Desarrollo Territorial y la Gestión Ambiental
· Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (ANCON)
· Círculo de Estudios Trabajo e Investigación Científica (CETIC)
· Fundación de Parques Nacionales y Medio Ambiente
· Grupo de Tecnología Apropiada
· Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
· Centro del Agua del Trópico Húmedo para América Latina y El Caribe
· Asociación Oceánica de Panamá
· Sustainable Development Network
· Universidad Santa María la Antigua Dirección de Relaciones Internacionales
· Comité Dominicano de los Derechos Humanos
· Centro de Planificación y Ayuda Ecuménica
· Centro Dominicano de Asesoría e Investigaciones Legales
· Fundación Progreso
· Worldwide Fund for Nature
ST. VINCENT and the GRENADINES
· Caribbean Water and Waste Association
· Caribbean Environmental Health Institute
· Foundation for a Pure Suriname
· MOIWANA 86
· Asociación de Organizaciones Indígenas AIS
TRINIDAD and TOBAGO
· Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club
· Environment Tobago
· The Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women
· Fundación La Salle
· Fundación Venezolana para la Conservación y la Diversidad Biológica (BIOMA)
· Universidad Católica Andrés Bello
· Sociedad Conservacionista Araguara
· Federación Latinoamericana de Asociaciones de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos
· Consejo Nacional Indio de Venezuela (CONIVE)
Finally, in addition to this list there are CSOs that are regional or subregional in nature, including the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC), the Mexico Mutual Support Forum (FAM, for its Spanish acronym), the Civil Initiative for Central American Integration (ICIC, for its Spanish acronym), and the Greater Caribbean Civil Society Forum, whose first meeting took place on November 23 through 26, 1997, in the city of Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, with the participation of more than 400 non-governmental organizations.
Author: Luis Galanes
Published: January 17, 2013.
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