MA Thesis

My master’s research focuses on Latin American disadvantaged communities and their struggle to obtain their human right to water and sanitation[1]. My first year as a masters student was funded by the FLAS fellowship, where Quichua I and II courses gave me the fundamentals of the language and introduced me to the influences of this culture in South American traditions and perspectives. During this year, I developed the case study of a Quichua community in Salasaca, Ecuador, whose lack of access to water impeded its development. To exemplify this problematic, I used the journey of Quichua community leader, Rosa Maria Mazaquiza, to establish the Katitawa School[2] in her native Salasaca.  She took on the task of petitioning city developers and local governmental organizations for water rights for her community. While her requests were denied by local entities, her perseverance in asking for help, gained international attention, obtaining a water distribution system from a United States university, system that is still used today[3]. This case study is a typical example of the endemic global struggles that disadvantaged groups face when demanding their voice be heard during decision-making processes.

My current research focuses on the community members of the Cervantes neighborhood located in my native city of Manizales, located in the department of Caldas, Colombia. As the Quichuas in Salasaca, this community is disadvantaged, not by belonging to an unrepresented ethnic group, but by belonging to a sector located on the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy of the city.

I am developing the case study of a series of tragic events, starting with a large landslide that covered the working water treatment plant and followed with loss of energy and gas, that left an entire city and surrounding municipalities without water for over 20 days. During this time, a second landslide occurred in the neighborhood of Cervantes taking with it 14 homes and leaving 48 dead. The faith of this neighborhood serves as a sample out of the many affected by landslides typical of the rainy seasons of Colombia. Decisions about the victim’s new living conditions have shown to completely disregard their petitions, which are based on their special connection to this neighborhood and the people residing there. Up to this day, the cause of the latter disaster is still being debated where either nature or individuals up in the social hierarchy are seen as responsible. Cervantes residents and a significant amount of Manizales citizens point fingers at the ex-city mayor for the lack of emergency preparedness and response, which led to almost a month without basic utilities. Additional blame is posed on the water utilities ex-manager’s priorities which included the purchase of a Peruvian water utilities instead of investing on the repair and maintenance of the water distribution system and a second water treatment plant which may have diminished the magnitude of this catastrophe. 

This upcoming semester will be funded by a GTA position in Latin American studies, where I will also be carrying out preparations for summer fieldwork in Manizales.


Restrepo-Osorio, Diana L, Brown, J. Christopher, Najafizadeh, Mehrangiz, & Timm, Robert M. (2015). DEFINING PERCEPTIONS OF WATERSHED MANAGEMENT IN A GREAT PLAINS AND IN AN ANDEAN WATERSHED.