Theorizing a third current of Maya politics through the San Jorge land struggle in Guatemala
Thelen, Czarina Faith
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In response to the highly exclusionary Guatemalan state and the genocide of Mayas during the 1980s, the paradigmatic currents of the Maya Movement have been engaging the state in their struggle for rights. Some have been negotiating from within the Guatemalan government by occupying bureaucratic positions within less powerful state ministries. Other Maya actors press for more favorable socioeconomic policies using social movement tactics. While most literature focuses on the above two currents as a dichotomy, I argue that a third current of Maya politics has the most political potential. One promising example emerged in the course of the land struggle of San Jorge La Laguna (1992-1999). A sector of rural Mayas (mostly poor farmers and teachers) began to look away from the state in their quest for empowerment. They became less concerned with rights granted from a distant state, and prioritized instead practices that reach towards community self-determination and ontological autonomy. This clearly represents a third current of Maya politics grounded in the social fabric of rural Maya communities and their values, social relations, and worldview. This current, which I call Tejido Social (social fabric), is also possibly present in other spaces in Guatemala and likely had existed in prior times but did not pronounce itself publicly until this period. I use Escobar’s theorization of postliberal, postcapitalist politics of relationality to analyze the significance of this third tendency of Maya politics. This study contributes to the theorization of emerging third current / Afro-indigenous movements in the Americas through an ethnographic approach which focuses on political interventions that are lived principles embedded in socio-political practice.