Environmentalists with Guns: Conservation, Revolution, and Counterinsurgency in El Petén, Guatemala, 1944-1996


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project examines the long, violent, and mostly forgotten history of forest conservation in the lowland tropical forests of El Petén, in northern Guatemala. It traces the origins of conservation in El Petén from a progressive vision of applied science and social justice in the 1940s, through its appropriation and expansion by successive authoritarian regimes over four bloody decades. In the crucible of the Cold War, the institutions of forest management helped to build the military state, imprinting a militaristic ethic onto conservationist ideas and practice that foreclosed the possibility of democratic alternatives. The landscapes of El Petén today are a legacy of the counterinsurgent environmentalism deployed by the Guatemalan military—and its international partners—to contain the human and ecological fallout of its own scorched earth policies. Never an objective science, conservation in northern Guatemala served as a tool to fight a civil war by other means.