Transnational environmental politics: The case of United States NGOs in Colombia

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


International Studies

First Committee Member

Bruce M. Bagley - Committee Chair

Second Committee Member

William C. Smith - Committee Member


This dissertation examines the role of Northern environmental groups in mitigating environmental degradation in poor countries that have high ecological value and low levels of environmental protection, a topic presently under-studied and under-theorized. The purpose of the analysis, which is qualitative and historical, is to achieve some clarity regarding the activities of three U.S.-based conservation groups in the country of Colombia during the 1990s. The analysis focuses on the ideas (worldviews as well as principled and causal beliefs) that motivate the groups' activities; the local and outside interests served or advanced by those activities; and the nature of the political opportunity structure for transnational civil society actors operating in Colombia. The organizations studied are Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, and World Wildlife Fund. The data came from interviews with NGO staff members, academics, and other informants in Washington DC, Bogota, and Cali, Colombia between 1994 and 1998; from documents and publications of the U.S. groups and their Colombian partner organizations; and from secondary analyses in U.S. and Colombian newspapers, journals, and books. The empirical chapters describe and contrast the three organizations' origins, evolution, funding sources, and governance style, the type of projects they engage in overall, and the specific content of their Colombia programs---particularly the biophysical and social context of actual projects. The dissertation arrives at the following conclusions: that the groups vary in the strain of environmentalism they promote in their Colombia programs, and that the influence of transnational, environmental groups is severely constrained in a country such as Colombia because of its weak state capacity, elitist political system, corrupt and/or poorly functioning institutions, longstanding internal sociopolitical conflict, and vulnerability to predatory behavior by national and foreign economic actors.


Political Science, International Law and Relations; Environmental Sciences

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