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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Defending Indigenous territories through energy sovereignty : community energy projects in Guatemala Silva Santos, Maria Larissa


In an environment where large-scale hydropower projects pose a continuous threat to Indigenous livelihoods and territories, this research follows Indigenous communities and a civil society organization (CSO) in Guatemala as they defend Indigenous territories by establishing and controlling small-scale community energy initiatives. These projects represent concrete energy alternatives that go beyond typical forms of resistance against extractivism prevalent across Latin America. This study delves into the activities of Colectivo Madreselva (CMS), a prominent civil society organization (CSO) that supports communities in designing, building, and managing micro-hydroelectric projects in Zona Reina region (Uspantán, Quiché). Their advocacy carries a particular significance in Guatemala, a country deeply scarred by a 30-year genocidal civil war against Indigenous peoples. The core of the analysis revolves around the Indigenous communities' unique strategy of defending their territories through energy sovereignty. By building and controlling small-scale hydropower projects, these communities not only secure an energy provision for themselves but also resist large-scale hydropower initiatives. This thesis provides a detailed examination of the role played by CMS in fostering these micro-hydropower projects and explores the challenges that communities face in their quest to maintain autonomy over their energy projects as an alternative to mega-developments. The study also scrutinizes the past and present impacts of the Guatemalan state's and corporations' counterinsurgency tactics against Indigenous peoples now involved in developing community energy projects. In shedding light on the intricacies of energy and food sovereignty, land rights, and Indigenous resistance in the context of post-war Guatemala, this thesis offers insights into the possible trajectories toward achieving a sustainable and just energy transition.

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