Lawyer and scholar Juan Castro will discuss Maya concepts of home, including the deep and complex roots of Mayan conceptualization of place. He will show how this concept of home arises from the longstanding historical and literary traditions of Mayan people and informs ongoing resistance to colonization and extraction. This talk is a vital aspect of the courses that we are teaching, which embed interaction with Indigenous scholars, knowledge keepers and activists. We are especially aware of the crucial relevance of this discussion in light of both global climate change and localized manifestations, including the burning of the forests in Brazil and the continuing dispossession of Mayan and other indigenous people.
Castro can speak directly to the criminalization of Maya authorities defending lands and rivers in Guatemala, including women. In doing so, he analyzes the legal mechanisms by which the state of Guatemala has historically appropriated Maya territories for the profit of extractive industries. He complements this historical approach with insights into the politics of state repression against Indigenous resistance today, which has resulted in the state-orchestrated assassination of leaders like Berta Caceres. Castro argues that “our Maya identity is a political one; we defend our territories, we speak Indigenous languages and understand Maya cosmovision.” A Maya lawyer is a political identity, one that challenges conventional legalities and quietly redefines state authority. His presentation offers a decolonial approach to litigation.
Juan Castro is an indigenous Maya lawyer and scholar in Guatemala. He is the founder and director of the Legal Center for Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala. He is a dynamic member of the Association of Maya Lawyers and Notaries of Guatemala and also teaches law at the Maya University of Guatemala. He has previously worked at the OHCHR in Guatemala. He specializes in Indigenous collective rights and is considered by Maya Indigenous authorities as their representative in state courts. He is currently one of Guatemala’s most prominent lawyers, working on 19 such cases, some very emblematic, like the defense of Maya authorities taken as political prisoners for contesting extractivism in their territories.