Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Counterinsurgency Ecotourism in Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Counterinsurgency Ecotourism in Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve

Article excerpt

Abstract. Through analysis of a Guatemalan ecotourism project, this paper examines how tourism development is driving the militarization of conservation through a modality of violence I identify as counterinsurgency ecotourism. I look at four manifestations of counterinsurgency ecotourism: the repurposing of the army to enforce conservation law; the creation of an environmental 'predator' discourse; the eviction of peasants from protected areas; and the construction of military outposts. These practices illustrate that ecotourism development has become a means by which the Guatemalan state is militarizing conservation spaces in ways that revive and repurpose tactics of counterinsurgency warfare from the country's civil war (1960-96). Furthermore, this militarized approach to ecotourism development obscures the structural production of poverty, insecurity, and deforestation in northern Guatemala and undermines environmental conservation and social justice efforts. The counterinsurgency ecotourism practices identified in Guatemala resonate with many other conservation and ecotourism spaces found across the world, such as UNESCO Biospheres, as well places across the Global South with histories of counterinsurgency warfare.

Keywords: tourism, conservation, counterinsurgency, Guatemala

1 Introduction

In early March 2010 in the humid, blistering heat of the lowland Guatemalan summer sun, several armed vehicles carrying dozens of military officials arrived in the remote village of Limon in the northern forests of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Limon once held a community forest concession in this protected area, but the Guatemalan state revoked the concession because of alleged illegal land sales by concessionaires to narcotraffickers and cattle ranchers. That afternoon, in a flashback to the civil war

days of counterinsurgency warfare, soldiers destroyed what remained of the village. Within weeks, the army repurposed the former village's school as a military outpost, one of dozens recently created throughout the Maya Biosphere Reserve. President Alvaro Colom flew to the site by helicopter and addressed the crowd of soldiers, state officials, conservationists, press members, and residents from neighboring villages. He explained that Limon was emblematic of efforts to "recover governability" in the Maya Biosphere in the name of the Four Jaguar ecotourism project, one of six priorities he identified during his inaugural address (personal observation, 27 July 2010).

This paper suggests that ecotourism plays a vital, yet underappreciated, role in the militarization of conservation. Ecotourism has become inseparable from ideas about economic sustainability in conservation efforts that insist you have to "sell nature to save it" (McAfee, 1999). Yet, capitalizing on nature requires that tourism sites are safe places, and this logic of security frequently translates into practices of militarization and violence. Across the globe, practices of land dispossession, enclosure, and accumulation by dispossession pave the way for ecotourism development and the construction of paradisiacal places (Duffy, 2012; Gregory, 2006; Harvey, 2003; Ojeda, 2012). The northern forests of Guatemala are no exception.

In Guatemala, however, tourism-enabled practices of racialized dispossession interweave with the living histories of Guatemala's civil war to produce a unique modality of violence I identify as 'counterinsurgency ecotourism'. Counterinsurgency ecotourism is formed through the articulation of tourism-related practices of land dispossession and securitization with Guatemala's civil war history of counterinsurgency. While the Guatemalan case is historically and geographically specific, counterinsurgency ecotourism is not unique to the Maya Biosphere. This modality of violence can be found in many places throughout the world where ecotourism development projects unfold on historical terrains and memoryladen landscapes of civil war violence and counterinsurgency warfare. …

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