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Humanities 2016, 5(3), 56; doi:10.3390/h5030056

The Movement, the Mine and the Lake: New Forms of Maya Activism in Neoliberal Guatemala

Department of History, Georgia State University, 25 Park Place, NE, 20th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30303, USA
Academic Editors: Karen L Thornber and Tom Havens
Received: 13 November 2015 / Revised: 16 December 2015 / Accepted: 17 December 2015 / Published: 15 July 2016
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Global Indigeneities and the Environment)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [233 KB, uploaded 15 July 2016]


This article explores the social, economic, cultural and political issues bound up in two matters relating to the environment in the Sololá and Lake Atitlán region of the Guatemalan Mayan highlands in 2004–2005: the violent breakup of an anti-mine protest and the various reactions to a tropical storm that threatened the lake ecosystem. It views these events as part of a historical conjuncture and centers them in a larger discussion of Maya political activism, environmentalism and neoliberal development in Guatemala from the 1990s–mid-2010s. It begins with the transition from war to peace in the 1990s, charting how Maya participation in municipal politics soared even as the official Mayan movement waned as the state turned to neoliberalism. Zooming in on municipal development and politics in Sololá in the early 2000s, it then traces at the ground level how a decentralizing, “multicultural” state promoted political participation while at the same time undermining the possibility for that participation to bring about substantive change. The center of the article delves deeper into the conjuncture of the first decade of the new millennium. By mapping events in Sololá against development, agrarian transformation and rural urbanization, it argues that resilient Maya community structures, although unable to stop the exploitative tide, continued to provide local cohesion and advocacy. Activists and everyday citizens became more globally attuned in the 2000s. The article’s final section analyzes municipal plans made between 2007 and 2012, arguing that creating and controlling community structures became increasingly important to the state in a time when Guatemala’s “outward” global turn was accompanied by an “inward” turn as people confronted spiraling violence in their communities. Critics called young people apolitical, but in 2015, massive demonstrations led to the imprisonment of the nation’s president and vice-president, showing that there is a chapter of Guatemala’s history of activism yet to be written. View Full-Text
Keywords: Maya; Guatemala; environment; mining; agriculture; development; globalization; politics; neoliberalism; urbanization Maya; Guatemala; environment; mining; agriculture; development; globalization; politics; neoliberalism; urbanization
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Way, J.T. The Movement, the Mine and the Lake: New Forms of Maya Activism in Neoliberal Guatemala. Humanities 2016, 5, 56.

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