From the street to the courts: The judicialization of environmental struggles in Guatemala

Authors: Anna Sveinsdottir*, University of Denver
Topics: Legal Geography, Latin America, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: Guatemala, Environmental justice, Environmental conflict, Mining, Extractive industries, Judicialization, Consultas comunitarias, Contentious politics, Resistance,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 4:30 PM / 6:10 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In recent years unprecedented environmental struggles led by strong social movements have emerged in response to mining and hydroelectric projects in Guatemala. These movements include some of the most marginalized social groups in Guatemala - indigenous peoples and the rural poor. Their resistance addresses a range of interrelated concerns, including claims to political autonomy; the rights to lands and territories; environmental impacts; the politics of livelihood; memoria histórica and cultural survival. Anti-extractive movements engage in diverse repertoires of contention. In Guatemala, community referendums have become a common tool for resisting extractive projects. Movements have been able to assert the rights of communities and indigenous peoples to be consulted prior to the implementation of extractive projects in their localities, sometimes resulting in the halting and cancelation of extractive projects. In this paper we examine the growing importance of legal action in environmental struggles, asking the overreaching question: How are activists and social movements in Guatemala opening up news spaces for contentious politics through the law? Our analysis draws on data gathered through fieldwork from 2013-2017. We argue that due to lack of adequate political spaces to advance environmental struggles, activists have turned to the courts as a strategy to expand their repertoire of resistance. In doing so, they push to open up new spaces of politics for recognition, representation and redistribution. This raises important questions about the proliferation of new forms of resistance that transgress boundaries of scale, produce new scales, and restructure existing scales of resistance and environmental struggles.

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