Human Rights in the Maya Region

Global Politics, Cultural Contentions, and Moral Engagements

Human Rights in the Maya Region

Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 1 map Published: December 2008

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies

In recent years Latin American indigenous groups have regularly deployed the discourse of human rights to legitimate their positions and pursue their goals. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the Maya region of Chiapas and Guatemala, where in the last two decades indigenous social movements have been engaged in ongoing negotiations with the state, and the presence of multinational actors has brought human rights to increased prominence. In this volume, scholars and activists examine the role of human rights in the ways that states relate to their populations, analyze conceptualizations and appropriations of human rights by Mayans in specific localities, and explore the relationship between the individualist and “universal” tenets of Western-derived concepts of human rights and various Mayan cultural understandings and political subjectivities.

The collection includes a reflection on the effects of truth-finding and documenting particular human rights abuses, a look at how Catholic social teaching validates the human rights claims advanced by indigenous members of a diocese in Chiapas, and several analyses of the limitations of human rights frameworks. A Mayan intellectual seeks to bring Mayan culture into dialogue with western feminist notions of women’s rights, while another contributor critiques the translation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights into Tzeltal, an indigenous language in Chiapas. Taken together, the essays reveal a broad array of rights-related practices and interpretations among the Mayan population, demonstrating that global-local-state interactions are complex and diverse even within a geographically limited area. So too are the goals of indigenous groups, which vary from social reconstruction and healing following years of violence to the creation of an indigenous autonomy that challenges the tenets of neoliberalism.

Contributors: Robert M. Carmack, Stener Ekern, Christine Kovic, Xochitl Leyva Solano, Julián López García, Irma Otzoy, Pedro Pitarch, Álvaro Reyes, Victoria Sanford, Rachel Sieder, Shannon Speed, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, David Stoll, Richard Ashby Wilson


“[Human Rights in the Maya Region] is recommended reading for anyone interested in Maya culture, the relationship between human and indigenous rights, and the external forces that shape local practices.” — Julie Stewart, Human Rights Review

“This edited volume does an impressive job of bringing together diverse commentary from some of the most learned scholars working on questions of human rights and resistance in the Maya region. . . . [T]he book contains many valuable insights from a diverse set of scholars and is highly recommended for anyone exploring the study of human rights, indigenous rights, postwar politics and social change in the Americas.” — Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, A Contracorriente

“This engaging and thought-provoking volume will be valuable to those interested in Maya culture, the relationship between human and indigenous rights, and the ever-changing role of the state in this age of globalization.” — Julie Stewart, Mobilization

“The notion of ‘universal human rights’ has had a checkered career over the past sixty years. Touted by some as one of the most effective tools for the empowerment and liberation of women and the poor in the so-called third world, it is denounced by others as a self-serving cultural imposition on the part of the Western world. Human Rights in the Maya Region takes us well beyond these extreme positions. By focusing on an exemplary case—the diverse experiences of the Mayan peoples of Chiapas and Guatemala—and never belittling the existing power asymmetries or the complexities of cultural translation, this coherent and well-grounded volume enlightens us on the multiple ways in which local groups make effective use of rights discourses on the basis of their distinct conceptions of persons and the world. At a more general level, the volume offers a nuanced and compelling explanation of the conjunctures of culture, rights, and power that are at play whenever ‘rights’ are deployed anywhere in the world. The volume will be of great value to those interested in human rights, indigenous peoples, social movements, traditional law, and the cultural-political dynamics of globalization.” — Arturo Escobar, author of Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes

“This is an important book. It brings together in one place state-of-the-art pieces by the scholars and scholar-activists who have made—and are making—the Maya area, especially Chiapas and Guatemala, one of the leading regions in the world for the theory and practice of indigenous human rights advocacy.” — Jan Rus III, coeditor of Mayan Lives, Mayan Utopias: The Indigenous Peoples of Chiapas and the Zapatista Rebellion


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Pedro Pitarch is Professor of Anthropology at the Complutense University in Madrid. His books include Ch’ulel: una etnografía de las almas tzeltales.

Shannon Speed is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the author of Rights in Rebellion: Indigenous Struggle and Human Rights in Chiapas and a co-editor of Dissident Women: Gender and Cultural Politics in Chiapas.

Xóchitl Leyva Solano is a researcher and professor at the Centro de Investigaciones e Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) in Chiapas, México. She is the author of Poder y desarrollo regional and a co-editor of Encuentros Antropologicos: Power, Identity, and Mobility in Mexican Society.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Abbreviations vii

Introduction / Shannon Speed and Xochitl Leyva Solano 1

Part 1: Global Politics and Nation-States

1. Cultural Rights and Human Rights: A Social Science Perspective / Rodolfo Stavenhagen 27

2. Perspectives on the Politics of Human Rights in Guatemala / Robert M. Carmack 51

3. Legal Globalization and Human Rights: Constructing the Rule of Law in Postconflict Guatemala? / Rachel Sieder 67

Part 2: Cultural Contentions

4. The Labyrinth of Translation: A Tzeltal Version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights / Pedro Pitarch 91

5. Are Human Rights Destroying the Natural Balance of All Things? The Difficult Encounter between International Law and Community Law in Mayan Guatemala / Stener Ekern 123

6. "Here It's Different": The Ch'orti' and Human Rights Training / Julián López García 145

7. Indigenous Law and Gender Dialogues / Irma Otzoy 171

8. Human Rights, Land Conflicts, and Memory of the Violence in the Ixil Country of Northern Quiché / David Stoll 187

Part 3: Political Engagements

9. Global Discourses on the Local Terrain: Human Rights in Chiapas / Shannon Speed and Xochitl Leyva Solano 207

10. Breaking the Reign of Silence: Ethnography of a Clandestine Cemetery / Victoria Sanford 233

11. Rights of the Poor: Progressive Catholicism and Indigenous Resistance in Chiapas / Christine Kovic 257

12. "Asumiendo Nuestra Propia Defensa": Resistance and the Red de Defensores Comunitarios in Chiapas / Shannon Speed and Alvaro Reyes 279

Final Comments

Making Rights Meaningful for Mayas: Reflections on Culture, Rights, and Power / Richard Ashby Wilson 305

References 323

Contributors 357

Index 361
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4313-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4296-0
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