Gold Mining on Mayan-Mam Territory: Social Unravelling, Discord and Distress in the Western Highlands of Guatemala

Citation:

Caxaj, C. Susana, Helene Berman, Colleen Varcoe, Susan L. Ray, and Jean-Paul Restoulec. 2014. “Gold Mining on Mayan-Mam Territory: Social Unravelling, Discord and Distress in the Western Highlands of Guatemala.” Social Science & Medicine 111 (June): 50–7. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.03.036.

Authors: Susana C. Caxaj, Helene Berman, Colleen Varcoe, Susan L. Ray, Jean-Paul Restoulec

Abstract:

This article examines the influence of a large-scale mining operation on the health of the community of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala. An anti colonial narrative approach informed by participatory action research principles was employed. Data collection included focus groups and one-on-one interviews from August to November of 2011. Over this period, we interviewed 15 Mam Mayan men and 41 women (n. 56) between the ages of 18 and 64 including health care workers, educators, spiritual leaders, agricultural workers and previous mine employees from 13 villages within the municipality. Participants’ accounts pointed to community health experiences of social unraveling characterized by overlapping narratives of a climate of fear and discord and embodied expressions of distress. These findings reveal the interconnected mechanisms by which local mining operations influenced the health of the community, specifically, by introducing new threats to the safety and mental wellbeing of local residents.

Keywords: Guatemala, mental health, violence, community health, mining, suffering, insecurity, Psychological distress

Topics: Coloniality/Post-Coloniality, Economies, Extractive Industries, Health, Mental Health Regions: Americas, Central America Countries: Guatemala

Year: 2014

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