Approximately three million years ago, the continents of North and South America were physically distinct and separate. The geographical transformation known as the Great American Interchange resulted in the joining of the continents, and the isthmus that joined them became contemporary Central America. The joining allowed for the integration of ecological zones, including plant and animal species, such that in Guatemala there are pine trees and palm trees, maple groves and banana plantations, river otters and howler monkeys. There are also several distinct climatological and geographical zones, among them, highlands, sub-tropical areas, rainforest, and both Pacific (volcanic) and Caribbean coastlines. The environmental diversity of the country is impressive in both its range and beauty. The Great American Interchange might also serve as an appropriate metaphor for other geographical disruptions and integrations, in this case of the human and moral varieties. The social and political relationships between the countries of North America and Guatemala replicate colonial patterns of extraction and exploitation, which are also resisted by civil society actors with the same transnational pedigrees. Michael Flitner and Dietrich Soyez claim that these actors, both the perpetrators and resisters of colonial and post-colonial practices, create “new ‘transnational geographies’ in terms of both innovative constituting contexts and pervasive spatial impacts” (2000, 2). Therefore, this chapter makes the political/social science case for the humanities/literary argument advanced by Pablo Ramirez (Chapter 4, this volume). Both chapters contest the existence of and utility of fixed borders and demonstrate instead the conceptual superiority of borderlands, which are more complex, nuanced, vibrant analytical spaces. As such, they offer possibilities for understanding beyond the boundaries of oppression/resistance, tradition/progress, past/present, inside/outside, and national/international. The continued patterns of extraction and exploitation include such practices and industries as mining, agro-export business, and garment factories (maquila). In 2014, there were over 100 metal mines operating in Guatemala, and “close to 350 active licenses for exploration or production, with nearly 600 pending” (Guest, 2014). Of these, a significant proportion is held by foreign-owned companies. And while the government
promotes the sector as a way to raise revenues, Guatemalan legislation only requires that 1% of all mining royalties remain in the country, which results in a mere 2% of the country’s GDP generated through mining (Guest, 2014). In December 2014, the Guatemalan Congress passed legislation that raised this proportion of royalties to 10%, but the matter of revenue-sharing is only one part of a very complex environmental and political set of problems (Jamasmie, 2014). Lack of respect for internal political processes (such as community consultas, see for instance Laplante & Nolin, 2014), depletion of freshwater resources, contamination of the environment, and physical violence as a means to ensure compliance, are also the unfortunate consequences of the mining industry in Guatemala (Rey Rosa, 2014). A recent report by Oxfam makes the connection between pre-civil war economic exploitation and post-civil war extractive industrial imperialism:
A US mining company is at the center of a contentious debate in Guatemala that has led to a government crackdown on communities and outbreaks of violence. This is happening 60 years after another American company, the United Fruit Company, together with the CIA, overthrew a democratically-elected government and installed a dictatorship to protect their interests in Guatemala. Although there are important differences, the parallels raise questions.