Official Blog of the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Spring Tinker Fellow – Professor José Pablo Prado Córdova

Professor José Pablo Prado Córdova was the Spring 2012 Tinker Fellow coordinated by the LACIS program. He is an agronomist by training with a Masters of Science (MSc) in Environmental Sustainability from the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom and a PhD in Conservation Ecology from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. He is a tenured lecturer in the Social Sciences and Rural Development Department, Faculty of Agronomy, at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Professor Prado teaches courses related to Scientific Methods, Environmental Science, Food Security and Ecological History.

As a Tinker Fellow during spring semester, Professor Prado paid a visit to Professor Janet Silbernagel´s seminar on The Practice of Conservation Biology and Sustainable Development, where he lectured on the topic The Conservation-by-cultivation Approach in Guatemala in three sessions.  He also visited Professor Lisa Naughton seminar on Conserving Biodiversity amid Rapid Social Change, where he delivered a one-session talk on the topic Collective Boundaries and Local Nature Conservation in Western Guatemala. His main activity, however, was teaching a seminar  called “Conservation Discourses and Rural Livelihoods Across Geographies.” The seminar focused on an assortment of contentious issues drawn from the interface between conservation and human well-being in rural areas. The students learned about political ecology, including theories about power and natural resources, and also spent time discussing how the discourse from mainstream conservation organizations can impact the livelihoods of people living in rural areas. The class also spent some time reading and discussing the decentralization of forest resources in Guatemala. This involved theories of core and periphery and pinpointed linkages between geopolitics and conservation. The students were tasked with organizing discussions and each group came up with a distinctive way of doing so, namely: (i) Group 1 used the approach of Integral Ecology to frame the discussions on mainstream conservation and the political economy of nature appropriation; (ii) Group 2 organized a role-playing game to address different stakeholder’s perspectives in regard with nature conservation and land use; and (iii) Group 3 invited a number of speakers and organized an outing to Troy Gardens in order to explore community-based work and the rights-based approach.

The seminar had various guest speakers. Dr. Martin Tchamba from the University of Dschang in Cameroon spoke about elephant conservation and the problem of wildlife poaching. Another guest speaker was a member of the Menominee tribe from Keshena, Wisconsin named Ada Deer. Deer is a Native American advocate and scholar who holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Master of Social Work degree from Colombia University. Deer was the first member of the Menominee Tribe to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the first member of the Menominee Tribe to receive a master’s degree, and the first woman to serve as chair of the Menominee Restoration Committee. Deer was also the first Native American woman to serve as the head of the United States’ Bureau of Indian Affairs, a position she held from 1993 to 1997. As a guest speaker, Deer discussed the Menominee Tribe’s struggle in Wisconsin regarding conservation of tribal lands.

The students in the seminar organized a trip to Troy Gardens; a local community initiative that merges community development with land trust and conservation. Troy Gardens are part of a larger community development and housing project that is led by the nonprofit organization called Community GroundWorks. According to their website, Community GroundWorks connects people to nature and local food by using hand-on education initiatives so that children and adults can learn about gardening, urban farming, healthy eating, and natural areas restoration. Community GroundWorks was founded in 2001 and was formally known as The Friends of Troy Gardens. The organization is dedicated to developing, managing, and stewarding the 26-acres of urban property. Troy Gardens includes community gardens, an organic farm, and restored prairie and woodlands. The gardens are also open to the public and more information can be found at the Community GroundWorks website:

Prado said that he couldn’t have been happier with the outcome of the seminar and said it was the highlight of his stay at the UW-Madison. Further, he had no idea that he would be able to teach such a committed group of students that contributed greatly to the seminar’s conducive learning environment by making a concerted effort to read every single paper he assigned. Prado structured the course in a decentralized manner whereby he would present topics at the beginning of class and then groups of students would lead the class discussion on weekly topics. This gave students a degree of autonomy with the opportunity to focus on particular aspects of the topic that they found to be most interesting or felt were the most important to discuss as a group. He said that the students were very opinionated and enjoyed the opportunity to guide the discussion, so this structure worked out very well.

During his semester in Madison, Prado also took advantage of the many extracurricular opportunities available on campus. He attended university-sponsored talks once or twice every week. Pablo was particularly impressed with presentations by Bob Nixon, Patti Low, and various LACIS-sponsored talks he attended. Prado recalled Bob Nixon’s talk about environmental degradation, which Nixon described as a form of slow violence and aggression on the poor given that it takes so many years to see the consequences. This dynamic is further exacerbated by the fact that environmental degradation-related news don’t make the front page of the news because they typically lack the shock factor the media seeks to increase sales. Pablo described Patti Low’s talk as passionate and full of energy. Low spoke on a panel with four other Menominee tribe representatives ( The panel spoke about reservation land and the debate regarding open pit mining in Northern Wisconsin. Low spoke about the history of tribally-owned land in Wisconsin, the negotiations over land with the Federal government, and the subsequent land treaties that were signed. The open pit mining discussion included the concern by the Bad River Chippewa tribe given the proximity of their tribal lands to the proposed mining area and the fear of pollution that would damage the area where the tribe grows wild rice, fishes, and carries out other sacred tribal customs.

Prado also attended various LACIS-sponsored talks and the LACIS film festival. During the film festival, Prado saw Black Bread (Pa Negre), which is a 21st century Catalan film that takes place in post-Spanish Civil War Spain. The film tells the story of a young boy who is adopted by a rich family and then must confront accusations that his biological father committed an assassination. The film won nine Goya awards and 13 Gaudí awards. Prado was thankful that LACIS put in the effort to organize the film festival so that both students and faculty have the opportunity to see films from Latin American, Iberian, and Caribbean countries.  Prado attended a LACIS-sponsored lecture by Ezequiel Gonzalez Ocanto called, “The Ideational Foundations of Judicial Power: Legal Cultures, Strategic Litigation and Judicial Behavior in Cases of Gross Human Rights Violations in Peru.” Ocanto discussed his original theory of litigation-induced institutional changes within judicial branches to explain why in some Latin American countries amnesty laws, statutory limitations, and presidential pardons (among other impunity dispositions) were overcome to open criminal investigations again those who designed and executed state-sponsored systematic attacks against civilian populations during authoritarian regimes and internal armed conflicts in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Prado also attended a talk called “Mayan Cosmovision: Politics and Spirituality in 2012” given by Carlos Escalante that was coordinated by the sociology department and LACIS. Escalante is a Mayan spiritual guide and intercultural coordinator of Sustainable Development for Guatemala (DESGUA) and he presented on current social and political issues facing Guatemala, Mayan cultural policy, and current perceptions of Mayan predictions regarding 2012.

One other Madison activity that stuck out in Prado’s mind was regularly attending lunches and dinners organized and run by the Slow Food UW Madison organization. Slow Food UW was founded in 2007 and is made up of a group of UW Madison students whose mission is to promote affordable access to ‘good, clean, fair’ food by creating awareness about and engagement with our food system. Prado attended lunches on Wednesdays at the Slow Food Café.. Prado said it was extremely pleasant to sit down to eat locally grown produce and enjoy stimulating conversation at these community student-organized events. More information about the Slow Food UW organization can be found at their website:

Adjusting to his new environment in Madison was relatively easy for Prado. He enjoyed the opportunity to jog at picnic point, ride his bike around campus, walk through the city parks, and admire Madison’s architecturally interesting buildings. He said that it was a nice break from the rush of a large urban center such as Guatemala City. Prado was particularly amazed by the ability to travel with a bike on the Madison city buses. He specifically liked trying the food at Mickey’s Tavern, watching films at the Wisconsin International Film Festival and at Sundance Cinema, visiting the Orpheum, and spending a night at the Cardinal Bar where he was impressed by the local salsa dancers. He mentioned that salsa dancing in his usual night life in Guatemala is not very common so it was interesting for him to see that part of Madison’s night scene. Prado also met the Cardinal Bar owner, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba some 50 years ago. Before heading home in the beginning of June, Prado also planned to visit Olbrich Gardens. Overall, Prado confirmed that he thoroughly enjoyed the semester at UW-Madison and that he will miss living in Madison.

Prado is grateful for the opportunity to interact with so many renowned scholars at UW-Madison and will maintain contact with his UW colleagues for collaboration in the future. Prado looks forward to sharing his experiences at UW-Madison with his students back in Guatemala. He would like to work in etnobotony (the study of the relationship between people and plants) and how different groups of people use plants when he returns to Guatemala. He also expressed interest in spending time working in Europe in the future.

Two UW-Madison professors and Professor Prado are collaborating to teach a Fall 2012 course that will be simultaneously taught at the University of San Carlos of Guatemala and at UW-Madison. The course will function as a joint project by utilizing video conferencing so that both the students in Guatemala and the UW-Madison students can communicate throughout the course of the semester. The course is called “International Food Security and Environmental Conservation in Botany and Plant Pathology.” This 500-level course will be cross-listed between the Botany and Plant Pathology Departments. The students at UW and in Guatemala will interact frequently – at least four lectures will be conducted via videoconference. Prado will collaborate with Don Waller (Botany) and Caitilyn Allen (Plant Pathology) to teach the class. The course will examine the tension between agriculture and the conservation of environmental resources by using case studies from the American Midwest and Guatemala. There will also be a field trip in Guatemala next January where the UW-Madison students will have the opportunity to meet the students in the Guatemalan partner class and can compare agriculture and nature conservation practices in the Midwest to those in Guatemala. The trip will visit three regions in Guatemala; the highlands, the north, and the coast. The course will be available to both undergraduate and gradate students. The course aims to help students: 1) develop critical thinking skills at the interface of biology, policy, and culture; 2) learn specific content about crop production and conservation biology in the developing tropics; 3) appreciate the universal and culture-specific aspects of these topics; and 4) gain familiarity with the complex mixture of human cultures and natural and manmade landscapes in Latin America.