Central American Rivers as Sites of Colonial Contestation


In the introduction to Troubled Waters: Rivers in Latin American Imagination (2013), Elizabeth Pettinaroli and Ana María Mutis have argued that rivers in Latin American literature constitute a “locus for the literary exploration of questions of power, identity, resistance, and discontent.” Many works of testimonial literature and literature of resistance written during and about the Central American civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s as a means of denouncing and resisting various forms of oppression would support their thesis. In the 2004 film Innocent Voices, directed by Luis Mandoki, Mario Bencastro’s 1997 story “Había una vez un río,” and Claribel Alegría’s 1983 poem “La mujer del Río Sumpul,” the traumatic events in the protagonists’ lives that occur in and near rivers create an inversion of the conventional use of rivers as symbols of life, purity, innocence, and re-creation by associating them with violence, death, and destruction. At the same time, the river often becomes a metaphor for the wounds of trauma, which allude to the psychological suffering not only of the protagonists, but to the collective pain of their countries torn asunder by war. Arturo Arias’s 2015 novel El precio del consuelo also features a river as the site of state-sponsored violence against rural citizens during the civil war period. In contrast with Bencastro’s and Alegria’s texts, however, Arias’s novel highlights issues of environmental justice related to the use of rivers in Central America that continue to plague the region to date. In the present essay, I argue that these works are compelling representations of the ways in which rivers have become sites of contestation between colonial and decolonial forces in Central America.


Rivers; Central America; Arturo Arias; Claribel Alegría; Mario Bencastro; Óscar Torres; Voces incoentes; Sumpul River

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Published : 2021-09-30

KaneA. (2021). Central American Rivers as Sites of Colonial Contestation. Review of International American Studies, 14(1), 177-199. https://doi.org/10.31261/rias.10043

Adrian Taylor Kane  adriankane@boisestate.edu
Boise State University  United States

Adrian Taylor Kane is a Professor of Spanish at Boise State University. He is the author of Central American Avant-Garde Narrative: Literary Innovation and Cultural Change (Amherst: Cambria, 2014) and editor of The Natural World in Latin American Literatures: Ecocritical Essays on Twentieth-Century Writings (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010). His areas of research include Central American literature and Latin American environmental literature. He holds a Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of California, Riverside.

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