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Building Mayan Authority and Autonomy: The “Recovery” of Indigenous Law in Post-Peace Guatemala

Studies in Law, Politics, and Society

ISBN: 978-1-78052-080-3, eISBN: 978-1-78052-081-0

Publication date: 30 June 2011


Across Latin America, debates and practice around indigenous law provide a window on shifting relations between indigenous movements, states, and international actors. In Guatemala, the practice of indigenous law is a reflection of cultural difference, a response to past and present violence, and a resource for a population denied access to justice. In the postwar period, indigenous law has become a central element of contemporary Mayan identity politics. Together with the policy shift toward state-endorsed multiculturalism, this has meant it has become a highly contested and politicized terrain. This article examines attempts by indigenous activists to “recuperate” and strengthen indigenous law – or what is now termed “Mayan law” (derecho Maya) – in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala. Analyzing the tensions between local demands, the Mayan movement, international NGOs and intergovernmental bodies, and the Guatemalan state, it reflects on what they reveal about the limits and contradictions of the multicultural model of justice promoted since the end of the armed conflict.


Sieder, R. (2011), "Building Mayan Authority and Autonomy: The “Recovery” of Indigenous Law in Post-Peace Guatemala", Sarat, A. (Ed.) Studies in Law, Politics, and Society (Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, Vol. 55), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 43-75.



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