Civil War and Genocide in Guatemala
Hundreds of families are fleeing from their small villages because an army invaded their land that was once their home. In Guatemala the rise of the civil war and postwar has caused a disruption in the nation and extreme violence. A war that has lasted about 34 years has forced entire villages to migrate and put the nation in a state of genocide. The cause of migration varies because it is believed that there were different factors that contributed to the rise of the war. Authors such as Andrew R. Morrison and Racher A. May in Escape from Terror and Violence and Migration in Post-Revolutionary Guatemala, believe that “the combined effects of political crisis, war, and the economic crisis aggravated by political conditions have transformed a normal migration flow into massive displacement” (p. 112).
Nevertheless, Diane M. Nelson in The More You Kill the More You Will Live believes that by understanding the war as a war of race and class will help one understand the reasons for such violence. Lastly, Charles R. Hale in Consciousness, Violence, and the Politics of Memory in Guatemala reinforces the statements that the previous authors mentioned about race such as Ladinos and Mayas, and how the violence and threats affected the people in Guatemala. The civil war in Guatemala is a key moment in the nation’s 20th century political history and the aftermath that affected migration to the United States. The rise of the development of economic growth in the agriculture sector angered many Guatemalans. The war caused the debate and issues between race such as being Maya or indigenous and ladino, and the genocide in Guatemala.
In Guatemala’s 20th century political history, the nation had to deal with the United States imposing themselves in their government and economics, and the rise of a civil war. Before the Civil War, Guatemala experience imposition from the United States. In 1954 the CIA backed a coup against the elected reformist Colonel Jacobo Arbenz. This angered many Guatemalans army officers and caused them to form a revolutionary guerrilla movement, thus the start of the civil war (Nelson, 125). After this there had been various elections for the rise of different authorities and presidential candidates. Morrison and May state that in 1966 Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro a civilian candidate was elected yet the military remained in firm control throughout his term (p. 116). Under the administration of many candidates, they failed to control the threat of political violence. Aside from the rise of presidential elections, there was a rapid “development” and economic growth in the agriculture sector in the 1960s. This means that there was a shift in the agricultural sector from independent production to wage, labor and plantation agriculture in cotton, cattle, sugar, and coffee (Morrison & May, p. 116).
By 1970s those who had villages or all campesino households were in some sense connected to a capitalist market. As Morrison and May state that campesinos have been removed violently from their land in the name of economic development. While others are forced to migrate, the agriculture labor force and the system of land possession is after all affected (p. 113-114). Agriculture had been modernized and agricultural workers are forced to become wage laborers and basic consumption drops for most of the Guatemalans. These economic motivations played a role in Guatemalan political violence. It was predictable that there was going to be an authoritative violent response and retaliations to this change in their land. In 1966, more than nine thousand rural military commissions were stationed in villages throughout Guatemala (Morrison & May, 117). Because of this many of these campesinos had to deal with poverty, losing land, and most of all the violence that was erupting in Guatemala. It was evident that the violence was going to rise because the war was motivated by the disagreement of the elite, in other words known as Ladinos, repressing the Mayan and mestizo majority (Morrison & May, 113). The control that these Hispanic and European economic elite had on the Mayan and mestizos endangered their uprising and resistance. Nelson argued that “1980s was a class war with an ethnic component (left versus right, society versus the state, poor versus rich—with most indigenous people being poor) is, in the early twenty-first century, a race war” (p. 123).
Nelson specifically argues how race is an important factor to understand the war and the conflict between Maya and ladino. Maya are seen as indigenous people and classified as poor. “When Ladinos were asked to describe an ‘Indian,’ physical attributes—the color of skin, height facial features, and even smell—were central definitions…nonphenotypical stereotypes of Indians as lazy, traditional, conformist” (p.130). Race however based on the notes from October 10, 2012, Professor Arredondo explained that race is socially constructed and keeps developing. She also went to explain that racism involves inclusion and exclusion. It is a process of race-making. Ladinos and Mayas are a perfect example because Mayas see Ladinos as Nelson states, “someone who speaks Spanish, wears “Western” clothing, is Christian or secular, and modern” (p. 129). The reason why some rather be known as mestizos than Ladinos is because Ladinos to some are mestizos who still refuse to acknowledge that they are mixed with indigenous (Nelson, p. 134). In the meanwhile, Ladinos see Mayas as these lazy and “Indian” types of people. The main population that was killed in the devastating attacked was Mayas. “In February 1999 the CEH concluded, after four years of archival and interview work, that the Maya as a group have suffered genocidal violence” (Nelson, p. 127). Hundreds of villages and the people living there, mainly of indigenous population, were destroyed by the guerrillas and the military governments.
Charles R. Hale’s article mentioned from another author named Richard Wilson that many families were killed and massacred. “The village of about 30 families of smallholders, the majority bilingual Maya-Achi-and Castilian-speakers, was preparing a case against the Guatemalan government and some 60 soldiers and local vigilantes who had entered the village at midday on market day on July 18, 1982 and massacred 268 people” (p. 834). Although many of the victims were Mayans, in Nelson’s article she states that they confronted racism within the revolutionary and radical grassroots movements led them to begin organizing differently, around indigenous identity (Nelson, p. 126). As seen in the article Mayas stress this advocacy for cultural identify and human rights even though they dealt with genocide. In other words the concept of indigeneity is presented because they use what they saw from revolutionary movements to another step to assist them. Guatemala in the 20th century had significant events; mainly the civil war that turned out to be genocide Andrew R. Morrison and Racher A. May explained that the civil war was the result of the revolutionary guerrilla movements from angered Guatemalans. The war has evolved from minimal killings to massacres of Mayas and Ladinos. In addition, Diane M. Nelson analyzed the war in another perspective such as race and racism between Mayans and Ladions. She brings up the irony of how Mayans were killed by both the right and the left, which composed of both Ladinos. Most interesting is the fact that “most foot soldiers in both the army and the guerrilla have been indigenous” (p. 128). In this case why is it that these people are being killed? Ladinos as well are killing not only Mayans, but Ladinos.
1. Hale, Charles. R. “Consciousness, Violence, and the Politics of Memory in Guatemala.” In Current Anthropology. Published by: The University of Chicago Press. 817-838. 1997. 2. May, Rachel. A, Morrison, Andrew. R “Escape from Terror: Violence and Migration in Post-Revolutionary Guatemala.” In Latin American Research Review. Published by The Latin American Studies Association. 111- 136. 1994. 3. Nelson, Diane M. “The More You Kill the More You Will Live,” The Maya, ‘Race’ and Biopolitical Hopes for Peach in Guatemala.” In Race, Nautre and the Politics of Difference, edited by Donald S. Moore, Jake Kosek and Anand Pandian, 122-146. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.