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Chicken Thieves, Witches, and Judges: Vigilante Justice and Customary Law in Guatemala

  • JIM HANDY (a1)

This article explores the reasons for the spread of vigilante justice (linchamientos) in contemporary Guatemala. It investigates three specific linchamientos and suggests that the roots of such vigilante justice lie in a collapsing peasant economy, insecurity of all sorts, and an unravelling of the social fabric in rural communities through the militarisation of rural Guatemala.

The article also argues that linchamientos are caused partly by a conflict over the attempts by the Guatemalan state to impose a certain type of order in rural Guatemala. It discusses the literature on customary law, in Guatemala and in various other locales around the world, and suggests that attempts to impose a state sanctioned legal system without adequate provision for customary law has helped contribute to a perception that the legal system is illegitimate, not just incompetent.

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Some of the research for this article was carried out with the assistance of a SSHRC (Canada) research grant. The author wishes to thank two anonymous reviewers for the Journal of Latin American Studies for their valuable comments.
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Journal of Latin American Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-216X
  • EISSN: 1469-767X
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-latin-american-studies
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