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Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies pres.

LACS Central American Contexts Series. From Coffee to Tourism: Grassroots Organizations and Returned Migrants Navigating Economic Shifts in Guatemala

Eric Sippert, PhD Candidate, University of Massachusetts-Amherst

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Much of the recent news coverage and scholarly attention on Central America has focused on reasons for migration including violence, climate change, and dismal economic conditions. Less common is a focus on the influence of returning migrants and the efforts of those attempting to remain. This lecture will showcase local responses in Guatemala to global economic trends, in particular in the coffee and tourism industries. In contemporary Guatemala, market fluctuations and disease have radically altered the structure of the coffee industry creating an opening for other raw products, increasing migration, and driving a shift towards a service economy. Part of this growing service economy is the tourism industry, which is a site of political contention over national identity, development, culture, the past and future. Using ethnographic data from a network of grassroots organizations in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, this talk will discuss how local actors, including former guerrillas, coffee workers, and returned migrants, have used increased tourism for both economic and political ends. These experiences highlight the importance of transnational platform intermediaries that direct tourist flows, opportunities for community-led development, and the risks of a reliance on tourism.

Eric Sippert is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Visiting Scholar with the University of Michigan Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. He is a student of Comparative Politics and Political Theory with research interests that are broadly located at the intersection of resistance, globalization, and development, with a particular interest in Guatemala. Sippert's research aims to understand what types of political action (broadly understood) globalization engenders and what forms it takes. He uses ethnographic methods as well as network mapping to study how groups understand and interact with economic, cultural, and political transnational flows including, but not limited to, capital, aid, migration, and tourism.
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