A compelling study of a Guatemalan village, in the wake of civil war and genocide, facing an uneasy transition marked by gang violence, paramilitary security committees, and other power struggles
Guatemala’s thirty-six-year civil war culminated in peace accords in 1996, but the postwar transition has been marked by continued violence, including lynchings and the rise of gangs, as well as massive wage-labor exodus to the United States. For the Mam Maya municipality of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, inhabited by a predominantly indigenous peasant population, the aftermath of war and genocide resonates with a long-standing tension between state techniques of governance and ancient community-level power structures that incorporated concepts of kinship, gender, and generation. Showing the ways in which these complex histories are interlinked with wartime and enduring family/class conflicts, Maya after War provides a nuanced account of a unique transitional postwar situation, including the complex influence of neoliberal intervention.
Drawing on ethnographic field research over a twenty-year period, Jennifer L. Burrell explores the after-war period in a locale where community struggles span culture, identity, and history. Investigating a range of tensions from the local to the international, Burrell employs unique methodologies, including mapmaking, history workshops, and an informal translation of a historic ethnography, to analyze the role of conflict in animating what matters to Todosanteros in their everyday lives and how the residents negotiate power. Examining the community-based divisions alongside national postwar contexts, Maya after War considers the aura of hope that surrounded the signing of the peace accords, and the subsequent doubt and waiting that have fueled unrest, encompassing generational conflicts. This study is a rich analysis of the multifaceted forces at work in the quest for peace, in Guatemala and beyond.
- Chapter 1: War and La Violencia in Todos Santos: Accounting for the Past
- Chapter 2: Localities in Conflict: Spaces and the Politics of Mapmaking
- Chapter 3: Histories and Silences after War
- Chapter 4: Reimagining Fiesta: Migration, Culture and Neoliberalism
- Chapter 5: After Lynching
- Chapter 6: Life and Death of a Rural Marero: Generational Conflict after War
- Epilogue: Waiting after War
On December 29, 1996, I spent much of the morning in the central park in Todos Santos, a Mam Mayan town tucked into the Cuchumatanes mountain range in northwestern Guatemala. I was chatting with a group of young community leaders who were responsible for decorating the plaza in front of the church for the local celebration of the end of the country's thirty-six-year civil war. As they walked by with banners, paper decorations, pine needles, and other materials that would be used to adorn the area, I joined them to help with the preparations. They were looking forward to the dance that would be held that evening with a live musical group from a nearby town. The group hadn't been advertised sufficiently, so they insisted that I remind whomever I saw during the day to attend. "What about la paz?" I asked them, referring to "the peace," as the post-war period was called. "Aren't you excited about it?" "Who knows what will happen?" one answered. "It depends," said another. A third shrugged, reminding me: "Don't forget to tell people about the dance, and see you there."
Later that afternoon, the local ceremony to celebrate the signing of a set of peace accords by the government, the high command of the Guatemalan military, and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (a coalition of four socialist insurgent groups) began at the same time as the larger ceremony being held in the capital. I watched as the mayor and local leaders sat at a long table on the steps of the church and gave speeches in which they emphasized their role as trabajadores (workers), invited community members to sign a local peace document with their names or fingerprints, and, finally, released a number of doves and set off firecrackers and bombas (bags of gunpowder released from metal canisters), an essential finale to any celebration in the town. The event was rather solemn, especially by local standards. As acquaintances and friends returned from signing the document, I congratulated them on the end of the long war and on their participation in the local event. "I'm quite doubtful," one friend said to me. Another commented: "As long as we're still poor, peace hasn't arrived for us." A third observed: "Signing this document doesn't erase the past."
This commemoration and the reactions it evoked were a far cry from the jubilation in the capital, where members of the military, government officials, guerillas, and thousands of ordinary citizens celebrated war's end. Nor did they reflect the reportedly raucous spirit of fanfare in the guerilla camps. Throughout Guatemala, people marked this occasion in different ways, dividing along axes of urban and rural, ladino and indigenous, between genocide survivors and those who had been engaged in armed conflict, and between poor, largely agricultural Maya and those involved in the Pan-Mayanist Movement. These distinctions, which only begin to hint at the complexity of Guatemalans' engagement in and experience of war and its aftermath, spoke to how what came to be glossed as "the peace process" permeated unevenly in various national and local spaces. La paz, as Todosanteros made clear, resonated individually and was experienced in myriad ways.
In articulating their doubts, commenting on the impossible task of surmounting the past, and linking these sentiments to the current grim economic situation, which showed no immediate promise of improvement, Todosanteros highlighted central conundrums for post-war Guatemala, and for all states in transition. How should the complicated and widening space between what Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois categorize as the goals of justice and reconciliation, and redistributive justice—objectives that would ideally be considered complementary—be negotiated? Authentic democratization requires a radical redistribution of wealth and power, but the Guatemalan Peace Accords reaffirmed the economic status quo. What are we to make of the arbitrariness of separating war and peace, of imagining something called "post-conflict," as if there was an interregnum between the one ending and the other beginning? Finally, how do we maintain the hope of war's end and transitions—hope for inclusion, security,something better—in the face of the violence, crime, and impunity that came to redefine Guatemalan lives, livelihoods, and possibilities for the future during these periods? As Ellen Moodie movingly writes about El Salvador, a heady mix of expectation, nostalgia, and desire brews in periods after conflict; when this effervescent hope is thwarted by unprecedented murder rates, feminicide, narcotrafficking, and poverty, post-war periods come to be seen as "worse than the war." Questions and doubts about the peace period rose to the surface in Todos Santos on the late December afternoon when those of us who had gathered watched the doves of peace soar into the cerulean sky toward Mexico.
We stand on the cusp of a number of ostensible transitions from war to peace and from unchecked power to representative governance. The countries of Central America are often invoked as an example of successful regional transition from war to democracy, but in the wake of the initial fanfare and handshaking, the region was left wracked by economic upheaval, violence, and insecurity. Guatemala's experiences of the tensions and ambivalence that characterize the "post-conflict" period are the latest manifestations in the region. Well into the second post-war decade, attempts were being made to understand and quantify the achievements and failures of the past years. These attempts at auditing and measuring, by their nature, often exclude the everyday experiences and struggles of the vast majority of Guatemalans—the cultural practices and lived realities that render the aftermath of war and genocide knowable. To understand what the transition from war to post-war has meant, and how it has been experienced in Guatemala, I refocus our gaze toward communities and the individuals who comprise them, to the spaces where fear and grief intermingle very specifically with power and state control. How life is lived and how suffering is experienced in everyday ways, and what people struggle over historically and into the present, emerge as crucial factors in defining possibilities for the present and the future.
There is substantial debate about how to conceptualize, analyze, and investigate periods after war. Should we call these epochs "post-conflict," "post-war," "transition," or something else? What is the "data" of these periods, and how do we work with it to express the stories of so many disparate experiences? What comes next? These questions raise important points. Political process is only one of many aspects of these eras, and yet the vocabulary and the idioms of after war emerge from and are defined by it. The concepts and terms that we have for referring to a constellation of desirable outcomes that ideally lead to "democracy" imply the existence of some sort of transitional interval between two clearly bounded orders. This space is "an exceptional moment wherein the political body leaves behind the violence and arbitrariness of the past and enters into a newly inaugurated present".
Lived realities and social suffering point to something considerably more complex. The space of transition, where the fragility of power and the possibility of alternatives are negotiated in everyday life, is the subject of this book, which explores the years leading up to and following the end of armed conflict (from 1994 to the present), and explains how this period was experienced in Todos Santos Cuchumatán, a Mam Mayan village in the northwestern highlands.
Todos Santos is well known for its picturesque setting and the hand-woven clothing worn by women and men, and is a destination for tourists who want to travel off the beaten track. It is known to generations of students and travelers through the prize-winning ethnographic films directed by Olivia Carrescia; a classic ethnography, The Two Crosses of Todos Santos (1951), written by Maud Oakes; and the photographs taken by Hans Namuth in 1947 and from 1978 to 1987, compiled in the book Los Todos Santeros (1989). Todos Santos is, in short, an iconic Mayan village. It is a particularly good place for exploring the effects of the transition from war to after war, as many of the conflicts and forms of violence that characterize contemporary Guatemala (and other places in the region) have occurred here: lynching, the rise of gangs, re-paramilitarization in the form of security committees, massive wage-labor migration to the United States, and conflicts about which historical narratives will come to represent community members' vastly disparate experiences of war. The vicissitudes of transition, after war and after genocide, resonate very particularly among the Maya, for whom the state techniques of governance may combine in uneasy tension with community-level structures of power and hierarchies of authority to reshape local conceptions of belonging, kinship, gender, and generation.
As recent history makes clear, political transitions are often marked by consequences that are surprising, unsettling, and even profoundly disappointing. In Guatemala, these include the emergence of new forms of violence, the distortion or malfunction of democratic processes, and massive wage-labor exodus and other kinds of population movements. Ongoing impunity has contributed to one of the highest crime rates in the Western Hemisphere, while only two percent of all crimes make it to court.
The imperatives and mandates of establishing "democracy" and "keeping the peace" during these periods frequently clash with the actual struggles of everyday life. The welter of expectations and anxieties produced at transitional moments is typically understood as part of a series of failures and shortfalls due to the ongoing cessation of normality—the state of emergency and exception—in the face of violence. As many of these situations worsen rather than resolve, a different assessment of violence is called for, one that privileges the temporal and spatial dimensions and dynamics of power and politics.
Conflict and Power
Conflicts are central to social life. They are how we know history. Through them, we see the resonances of history in the present, and we come to understand their importance in enabling us to comprehend the present and imagine the future. The details of conflicts are what the archives are full of and are what people tell us about when they narrate their lives. Conflicts— with controlling parents or out-of-control children, with the dominant or absent state, with the uncaring or overly strict legal system, with exploitative bosses—are what consume people in quotidian ways. These grievances are fundamental and universal, although their details are particular. Most importantly, they show how power and violence operate through time and in particular places. They comprise the local motives that inform politics, lending violence an intimate character.
Todosanteros Edna and Estéban share a history of conflict that is a good example. They quarreled over land in the 1960s, during the retrenchment of agrarian reforms initiated in 1950s Guatemala. Their dispute arose from long-standing antagonisms that began with their grandparents, if not earlier. After Estéban lost this battle with Edna and she obtained legal title to the disputed plot, he migrated to the Ixcán, a fertile valley to the north of Todos Santos where many people settled beginning in the 1960s. There, he lived with other Todosanteros who did not have adequate subsistence plots (milpa) within the municipality. The fertile lands of the Ixcán attracted settlers from throughout the country, who used cooperative methods to forge lives for themselves. As a result, the Ixcán was thought to be a hotbed of revolutionary fervor and was targeted by the Guatemalan army in the 1970s and 1980s. Many settlers were either killed, lived in communities of populations in resistance (CPRs), or were forced into exile in Mexico. Todosanteros, including two of Estéban's three children and his wife, were among the victims of the genocidal massacres carried out in this region. In Estéban's mind, his misfortunes were the result of his quarrel with Edna, so he waited for an opportunity to even the score. Several decades later, he was living again in the municipality, and when a relative of Edna's began to hang out with the so-called mareros, or gang members, in Todos Santos, Estéban saw his chance and publically blamed the young man for a variety of crimes. The man was jailed, and subsequently, in a separate incident, he died.
There is nothing particularly extraordinary about conflict, especially conflicts over land and other resources. Their everyday, mundane nature is precisely the point. They are woven into the social fabric and are profoundly normal. Indeed, a certain degree of conflict is necessary for society to function. Historically and into the present, as part of a community or as families and individuals, everyone engages in disputes. These would hardly bear mention or notice except that during the lifetimes of Edna and Estéban, and of many other contemporary Guatemalans, conflicts occurred in the contexts of a long-running civil war, changing forms of state and local authority, and the unprecedented levels of crime and violence that occurred after the war. Disputes that had been ongoing for generations seethed in new registers and became newly consequential. The forms and significances they took gave violence its shape during the war and into the present. These disputes emerged from and were formed by mechanisms of power. They contributed to and created the local fractures that produced internal difference and ever-deepening struggles, re-forming families, communities, and the domain of the local. Conflicts shaped war and its aftermath, and they continue to shape millennial politics and possibilities in Guatemala.
Conflicts reveal the dynamic nature of communities, which is often hidden by appeals to collectivity. When people argue over water rights with their family members, neighbors, and the municipality, appealing to the past and revealing future imaginaries, they expose fields of "dense, overlapping relationships" and a "stew of overlapping and competing rights". William Roseberry advocated for the construction of typologies of contentious issues for investigating the concerns that infuse conflicts. Consideration of a range of disputes, he suggested, was critical to understanding local agency and significant lines of tension as well as sources of concern and activism. Revealing complexities inherent in the production of conflict would give weight to local experience. Rather than focusing on a strict typology of conflicts, which would be another form of enumerating the aftermath of war, I refocus the lens of conflict itself, with its tremendous agentive capacity, on relationships and their embeddedness within particular fields of power and force. While typologies generally engage abstraction for the sake of comparison, I emphasize the idea of range coupled with the specificity of ethnographic data. Through this shift in definition and mechanics, I draw on the productive tension between the generality of classifying types and the actual embeddedness of real, specific cases of conflict and violence that allow us to see how categories are made and remade, taken up and challenged. Ethnography, then, functions as a mode of inquiry and as a form of political engagement; it requires a fine-tuned attention to people's lives and the currents of power to which they respond.
Maya After War examines different kinds of conflicts that occur between members of a community and between community and state. Taken together, these conflicts demonstrate the forms of power and politics that are not revealed in the official documentation and accounting of war. Perhaps most importantly, they animate what matters to Todosanteros in their everyday lives, and how Todosanteros negotiate power in the spaces they inhabit. For analysts of post-war and transitional periods, with our own investments and hopes for aftermaths, this methodology provides one way of seeing the people we work with as "the authors of their own dramas, not necessarily the dramas we are most interested in".
Studying places like Todos Santos allows us to relate these everyday, community based conflicts, in their specificity and diversity, to national post-war contexts in Guatemala. The municipality was neither exceedingly revolutionary (although, at first, Todosanteros widely supported the guerillas and some joined their ranks) nor particularly pro-military (although paramilitary civil patrols, or PACs, functioned there until they were disbanded in 1996). There were no organized groups of nationally based Pan-Mayanists, collectives of widows, or exhumations of clandestine graves. Nonetheless, Todos Santos does have cultural activists, widows, a large percentage of households run by women, and a high rate of migration. There also have been various local attempts to deal with the past, live peacefully in the present, and forge a collective future. Todos Santos is neither obscure nor so well known that it thrives from tourism. Though it has experienced vast waves of migration, it has not become a ghost town. It witnessed the fierce schisms and expulsions that routinely occur in marginal communities, as well as sincere attempts by its citizens to craft collective strategies. In short, Todos Santos is like many places in the world where coping with transitions and aftermaths has become a way of life. But it is also particular in the terrain and contour of its experience.
The contemporary confluences that Todosanteros struggle with—identity, history, and community—are the very things that social scientists, development specialists, and government representatives have employed for understanding the Maya, marking how these categories are the results of dynamic processes and political decisions. The strategies embraced by Todosanteros for creating lives, livelihoods, and a community for themselves arise from their everyday choices and actions and occur within contexts of extreme structural inequality and violence. Understanding Mayan experiences of war and after war requires recognizing the inspirations and goals of their struggles.
Community, Conflict, and the State
Community and conflict among the Maya are often thought of as antithetical. However, even the most cursory of surveys of ethnographic and historical Mayan literature demonstrates that both have continuously been at the center of Mayan life. Within and outside of communities, sources of conflict in Guatemala range from power, age, land, ethnicity, religion, gender, and agrarian issues to disputes citizens engage in with the state, municipal governments, and regional and international institutions. Shared conflicts, including conflicts with one another, bind individuals to their communities as much as shared culture and mutual survival.
Communities are produced and defined relative to the state. In particular, several concepts of the state are useful for thinking about how power is newly configured after war. The everyday state, with its outposts and techniques of governance, provides the most consistent face of national power for Todosanteros. In post offices, health clinics, bilingual education classes, and even in banks, Mam Mayan citizens gain fluency in waiting for visits and services and adjusting expectations—powerful practical tools of the state. In these sites, they are taught what it means to be indigenous relative to the definitions of the state. In response, they develop forms of agency and power that allow informed local action to be taken on the ground.
The state is also a process, a producer of effects direct and indirect, and at the margins of the state's influence and regulatory mechanisms, its uneven nature is experienced as intermittently powerful. Thus, the state is recognized to be organized differently depending on the subjectivity of its citizens at a given time—wither they assume the role of citizens of the newly democratic Guatemalan nation, indigenous subjects, or actors in multicultural projects. Citizens/subjects may alternately be empowered, without rights, waiting, and/or subordinated, depending on what projects and tropes of power are being invoked by the state. They may be granted certain rights in an attempt to silence portions of larger political agendas, or they may be upheld as arbiters of national inclusiveness and successful incorporation. These possibilities set the stage and provide the tools for the development of local political practice and the array of options available to communities in the aftermath of war.
This transition period after war is characterized by ambiguity and uncertainty and is further complicated by geographical and infrastructural considerations and the construction of difference and interstitiality, which are conceptualized as "margins" and "frontiers". Having a paved road or one that is dirt, traveling eight hours to the national capital or two to the regional capital: these factors contribute to how difference is experienced and lived, and to how it plays out in terms of power and politics. These frontiers, margins, and interstices are cultural, economic, and physical. In their spaces, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship are negotiated. The state takes on more or less definition, and self-governance may flourish. State effects—how the state is made real and felt in everyday life—contribute to fundamental reorderings of personhood and sociality that normalize and legitimize political rule. These effects, together with a range of state actions and citizen relationships with the state, may be experienced as fleeting, inconsistent, or vague.
When state power was available to them, Todosanteros engaged it in the service of their conflicts with one another. In the aftermath of the mob lynching of a Japanese tourist and his Guatemalan guide in 2000, community members eagerly took part in the investigation, turning one another in to state investigators. This directly contradicted the usual, accepted anonymity of mob crimes; yet, for Todosanteros, the intermittent presence of the state was a powerful incentive in the pursuit of long-term disputes with one another, particularly when it was unclear whether or not individuals had participated in the lynchings.
Mayan communities throughout the highlands eagerly welcomed the national civil police appointed in the first years after the war. However, many of the police lacked authority or were poorly suited for their assignments (they didn't have the local knowledge and language skills that would have made them effective), resulting in their eventual widespread rejection and, often, expulsion from the communities. In the wake of their removal from many places by the mid-2000s, citizens were encouraged to actively participate in their own governance. Although police returned to Todos Santos intermittently, community members took self-governing to heart. When reprimanded for human rights violations early in the 2000s, in relation to the development of security committees and their clandestine imprisonment of captives, Todosanteros responded that the state had not assisted with citizen safety or the security needed to combat gangs, and as a result, the community had been forced to assume additional responsibilities, which they were unwilling to negotiate. In this case, the state ceded the realm of citizen safety to Todosanteros and a new subjectivity relative to the state developed. Once the line between state governing and self-governing became less clear, criminality bled into the state, contributing to corruption, confusion, and a sense that state power was mercurial and inconsistent.
The concept of community and its elasticity or solidity with regard to state power is critical to Mayan identity—to how Maya understand themselves in the world and to the development of Mayan political, economic, and cultural subjectivities. Communities and their conflicts, with one another and with the state, demonstrate how struggle contributes to the creation of social meaning by aiding the formation of new alliances and new possibilities for political action. These are processes that, when traced, expose how classifications and ways of categorizing are shattered and subsequently replaced with understandings that reflect local realities.
The community is also at the heart of the investigation into the particularities of various processes that are described as neoliberal. In Veltmeyer's view, a community constitutes a unit to serve as "the basis of efforts by governments, NGOs, and outside agencies" seeking to promote economic development. This form of development extends to monitoring human rights, implementing best practices in governance, and a host of additional efforts, and "the community" comes to resonate in newly important ways—as a resource and a site for understanding traditional and emerging forms of local politics and struggle.
Contexts and Keywords After War: Neoliberalism, Democratic Governance, and Violence
Guatemala's after-war period has been indelibly shaped by neoliberalism. Indeed, many otherwise disarticulated factors can be linked under its umbrella, providing new depth and complexity for the working of power. The difficulty with this is in identifying and analyzing the myriad ways in which things might be linked, what differences neoliberalism produces, and, in particular, how it has given new resonance to extant conflicts. A genealogy of neoliberalism in the Western Hemisphere begins with the theories of economist Milton Friedman, who, together with a cohort of University of Chicago colleagues, worked on a challenge to Keynesian interventionist policies in the late 1940s, one that would develop the democratic possibilities of the free market. The ideas they generated swiftly made their way "toward the heart of government", through foundations and think tanks in the United States and Europe, gaining practical form in Latin America, especially through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. By the 1980s, neoliberalism was associated with structural adjustment policies that focused on privatizing publically owned entities, courting foreign investment, and opening markets, with the goal of promoting fiscal balance for repaying loans. This early form of neoliberalism and the increasing immiseration that resulted from structural adjustment did not plague Guatemala as it did many other countries, in part because Guatemala did not receive loans. However, as structural adjustment policies were being imposed in neighboring countries, genocide against the Maya was taking place in Guatemala, carried out by the army in a systematic counterinsurgency campaign that peaked in 1982–1983. Beginning in the late 1980s, military-backed dictators began to implement new economic initiatives, like maquiladora assembly plants and export agriculture, and a small group of entrepreneurs started to emerge. By 1996, when the war officially ended, Guatemala's "transnational elite" had gained control and implemented neoliberal economic policies that culminated in the signing of CAFTA-DR (the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement) in 2005.
The end of the war corresponded with a shift in neoliberalism, with the movement from open-market economic policies to a substitution of the market for the state and society—from neoliberalism to neoliberalization, as Gledhill puts it. The repercussions for post-war society in Guatemala were profound. Democracy "as ideology, as experience, as expectation, as policy" met with the market to coproduce "free-market democracies". With this linkage, governance became "a nonpolitical problem in need of technical solution". Guatemalans were already uncertain about the role of the state after war, and democracy was upheld and supported by the legions of on-the-ground international peace workers who offered workshops, training, and pamphlets on what to expect (or not expect) from democratic governance. The workshops, at least as they were experienced by Todosanteros, functioned to set limits on citizenship and the idea of state largesse. They were not nearly as popular as the meetings held by aid and development organizations, where concrete assistance and training were offered.
Another emphasis of neoliberalism that trickled into the post-war era was on maximizing outcomes and achieving efficiency rather than promoting democratic participation or expanding citizen rights. This move cast citizens, many encountering "democracy" for the first time, as individuals with a moral duty to adapt to the market. It defined "rationality" in market terms, as the willingness to take risks, to self-discipline, and to self-police. Thus, new, self-auditing subjectivities were created. The very poor, who often lived in rural locations like the hamlets of Todos Santos, were, in this rubric, required to take responsibility for their poverty. Among the first to engage in the post-war migration exodus were residents of these locations. Long before migration was visible in the center, its intensification was notable in rural places.
Nikolas Rose shows how citizens of the liberal democracies of the European post-war period regulated themselves to become "active participants in the process rather than objects of domination." Within this framework of self-auditing, personal objectives and institutional goals intermingle until it is no longer clear where boundaries and functions of power are located. This book is a testament to how this aspect of personhood and subject making as it is expressed through community have functioned for Todosanteros, with the twist that transnational capitalism and the imposition of security regimes in the United States—where the state regulates migrants—and in Todos Santos—where community members regulate one another—have shaped a very different contemporary vision.
The rationale of self-regulation posits "failure" as the fault of the individual; the market will raise all boats. This is the concept of "neoliberal" governance now prevalent in most of the world. Pierre Bourdieu has described it as driven by the "structural violence of unemployment, of insecure employment, and of the fear provoked by the threat of losing employment". For many Todosanteros, this resulted in massive wage-labor migration, an important vector after war. Elsewhere in Guatemala, where rates of migration were not as high—for example, among the Momostecos described by Offit and Cook—neoliberal governance provoked such a climate of economic insecurity and anxiety that individuals retreated into a personal, private struggle for survival, which contributed to the methodical destruction of the collectives that sustained them. This signals the manner in which neoliberalism also promotes new relationships among people, often erasing traditional or historical ties and alliances in favor of others that may be based, for example, on the (legitimate) desire to consume. Neoliberalism, says Gledhill, "is the ideology of the period in which capitalism deepened to embrace the production of social life itself, seeking to commoditize the most intimate of human relations and the production of identity and personhood".
By now, the concept of neoliberalism has become almost meaningless without ethnographic particularities. Ong's emphasis on cultural specificity, Gledhill's and Harvey's theoretical interventions, and a host of pointed critiques, such as Hale's neoliberal multiculturalism, Postero's post-multiculturalism, and Kipnis's discussion of audit cultures, have indubitably changed the way we think about political-economic interconnections. Market forces have now become the forces of the transnational state, of governance, and of everyday life. In recent decades, scholars have convincingly demonstrated how neoliberal regimes create new forms of citizens and citizenship. A rich body of ethnographic literature illustrates the effects this has engendered among indigenous people throughout the Americas, showing a range of power and agency. Neoliberal multiculturalism has been broadly embraced to pinpoint the state-sponsored incorporation of historically marginalized populations. Inclusion occurs on a limited basis; certain identities are permitted, while others are not. Following Hale's analysis, this technique for upholding racial hierarchies in Guatemala (while appearing to promote widespread incorporation) has produced a series of interventions and relationships that have governance and management applications and control the modes and mechanisms of indigenous inclusion.
Permitido (permitted) or not, however, indigenous actors engage in everyday hegemonic battles that establish and shift balances of power and politics, taking informed action on the ground and exercising agency and power. Indigenous Bolivian peasants have used neoliberal political reforms to recast the racist exclusions of the past. Through the language of citizenship and their expectation of rights, they have demanded radical changes to the structural inequalities that have shaped their society historically and into the present. Likewise, indigenous Ecuadorians operating within civil society have utilized "vernacular statecraft" to challenge the formation of coherent national projects.
Within the constraints of neoliberalism, people create their own lives. Revitalization and recuperation of culture and the cultural, like fiestas and traditional dances, are particularly acute after war. A key state project is to establish which practices will represent the nation and how they will be incorporated. Migrants in Guatemala have taken up culture, understood as a commodity within this framework, as a way of securing membership in communities, in the process fulfilling goals that the state has outsourced.
Several decades into its role as an overarching doctrine for our times, neoliberalism has become an indispensable political-economic backdrop. Much is attributed to the cluster of techniques, practices, and effects that I have discussed in terms of their resonance for Todosanteros. By now, many analyses ascribe almost any constellation of political-economic relationships to the long arm of neoliberalism. It has become difficult, if not impossible, to discern its limits. Perhaps this is because, as a philosophy and practice, it is extraordinarily able to infiltrate public and private spheres; and, as recent data from the United States and many other places in the world indicate, as an "ideological project" that fosters greater inequality by establishing the conditions of capitalism under which elites amass more wealth, it has been wildly successful. That Guatemala has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world is in large part a specific function of this epoch and a national economic history that has aided such projects. Additionally, neoliberalism functions as a popular discourse as well as an academic one—embraced by activists, popular movements, and people in struggle throughout the world, it is at the center of how many people understand their own forms of marginalization and oppression relative to transnational forces.
In its catch-all capacity as a backdrop to almost anything, "neoliberal" has become an adjective, the assumption being that it means the same thing to all of us and refers to similar sets of histories that document its role in various places. After all, who can resist David Harvey's key analytical moment in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, when the bankruptcy of New York City, Madonna, and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat all figure in making sense of the structural adjustment underway in most of the global south. This is Process! The point is that neoliberalism and the state of being neoliberal (or being a neoliberal state, to stretch my point a tiny bit more) means something. Whatever analytical specificity is or is not found in this meaning, it encourages the simultaneous consideration of the social, the political, and the economic.
More than thirty years into neoliberalism’s ascendancy, some suggest that it is now on the wane. There are a number of contenders for the next all-encompassing theory. Of them, and in terms of the experiences of Todosanteros after war and into the new millennium, Daniel Goldstein's argument that "security" is the next orienting paradigm is particularly provocative. Security, he contends, calls on the power of fear to fill the ruptures produced by neoliberalism (and neoliberalization). In this sense, security is part and parcel of neoliberalism, and Goldstein substantiates his claim by tracking different kinds of violence. Security, including the reemergence in Todos Santos of patrols called "la seguridad," is the topic of Chapter 6, but different kinds of anxieties about security and insecurity are expressed throughout this book. O'Neill, Thomas, and Offit observe that the delegation of law enforcement to communities and private enterprises has led to the development of a common sense that involves blaming gangs for an atmosphere of danger and chronic insecurity, and the embedding of idioms of morality and self-discipline within the problem of violence. The recent historical processes that I trace in Todos Santos provide an unusually clear example of how these have occurred in one place, demonstrating the formation of a local "securityscape" of global circulation, national patterns, the past and the present, militarism and its everyday effects, and community moral imperatives that arise from histories of ongoing conflict.
Security and insecurity naturally intertwine with the preoccupations with violence and crime rampant in Guatemala. Every day, Guatemalans are reminded that no one is safe. As a UN official recently commented: "Guatemala is a good place to commit murder because you will almost certainly get away with it". As murder rates escalate, it is rare for suspected perpetrators to be investigated, let alone brought to trial. For many Guatemalans, it is more likely now that they will be killed than it was during the war.
The various kinds of violence in Guatemala, their periodicity, and their local contexts make investigating this topic difficult. There is the violence of war, post-war violence, violence related to crime and to transnational entities like gangs and narco-traffickers, collective violence, intimate gender violence, and intergenerational violence. The state also perpetrates violence directly, through ongoing impunity or in other, more subversive ways. For the purpose of capturing some of the complexity of this arena and promoting linkages, violence is often categorized and classified in such a way as to make sense of its multiple forms. Violence has been "neoliberalized" outside of state actors and produced by the scarcities and deficiencies of the privatizing state, mixed with the logic of transnational capitalism. In the hands of security forces, gangs, and mobs, it has been "democratized". "Structural violence," which refers to a form of violence where political, social, and/or economic structures keep people from meeting their basic needs, harming them in the process, has been ongoing since the arrival of the Spanish; half of the Guatemalan population still lives in extreme poverty, the vast majority being rural Maya. Structural violence takes form systemically and often indirectly, and is experienced "by everyone who belongs to a certain social order". It is referred to as structural, writes Torres-Rivas, "because it is reproduced in the context of the market, in exploitative labor relations, when income is precarious and it is concealed as underemployment, or is the result of educational segmentation and of multiple inequalities that block access to success".
In their foundational contribution to the study of violence, Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Phillippe Bourgois write: "Violence is a slippery concept—nonlinear, productive, destructive, and re-productive". But perhaps it need not be so slippery. Indeed, rooting violence firmly within processes of power and politics renders it less elusive and slick and connects it to normal, unrecognized, everyday forms of suffering. Cecilia Menjívar, writing of ladina women's lives in eastern Guatemala, shows the violence embedded in institutions and everyday life—the corrosive onslaught of overwork, verbal insults, humiliations, denigrations, and women's lack of self-esteem, and suggests that these may be more enduring and traumatic than injuries caused by direct physical violence. This kind of radical rehistorization allows us to see incidents of violence as the outcome of particular cultural, political, and economic struggles. It presents a challenge to the idea that violence is exceptional, or, as Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois suggest, that what goes around comes around. Getting a firm grasp on violence—on what it produces and how it works—means "staring at suffering," as Donham writes, and acknowledging that it is part of a whole fabric—one that is produced by cultural and political processes that are deeply historical.
Violence constituted in this way attends to the historicity of conflicts, their resolutions (or not), and their periodic resurgences. This approach to the details and processes that compose and create violence resolves some of the issues around the "data" of this topic, is produced, as many have noted, in ways that are different from the protocols of other modes of social scientific inquiry. Often, people are silent about their histories and experiences, or, for one or another reason, cannot tell their stories. At other times, contradictory resources or competing narratives result in a history of violence that is not necessarily the one that people would tell about themselves. These understandings of violence raise ethical as well as methodological dilemmas that require sensitivity to suffering and trauma, as well as analytical rigor. They call for ethnographic investigation that establishes respect, contributes to restoring dignity, and refocuses our gaze on the everyday aspects of life (and death) while locating conflict and struggle within larger contexts.
Conflict After War in Todos Santos
Maya After War is organized around a range of conflicts experienced in Todos Santos, many of which reflect local, national, and regional preoccupations. Focusing on these conflicts accomplishes two goals: First, it reveals forms of power and politics that shape how the post-war period was experienced in a particular community. These forms remain hidden in official narratives and accounts. Second, considering a range of conflicts exposes how they are linked to one another, or are convergent and overlapping processes. When examined together, they provide a broader and more complex view of the after-war decades and emphasize the commonplace. To paraphrase Carolyn Nordstrom, this is a different kind of after-war story.
The first section of this book introduces Todos Santos in two specific contexts: as a place where violence was experienced and counterinsurgency was lived, and as a specifically Mayan place. The first chapter provides a narrative of "la violencia," the word that is commonly used in Guatemala to refer to the counterinsurgency campaign that began in the early 1980s. (There is also a parallel word, "el ochenta," [the eighties] that Todosanteros are more apt to use.) In detailing local experiences, I emphasize how living under the army's counterinsurgency campaign sparked crucial redefinitions in social and political life.
In Chapter 2, I trace the construction of locality and the mapping of space figuratively and literally. I contextualize spatial understandings and their role in the war-to-post-war years in relation to the mapmaking workshop I conducted with primary and middle school students in July and August 1994, prior to the end of the war. At the time, spatial control and state artifacts (maps) were politically constituted in drastically different ways. The politics of mapmaking were complex in Todos Santos and in the capital, and showed a level of wartime state control that was, by then, on the wane. This chapter is an important marker in charting the rapidity and density of change in Todosanteros' experiences with the state in relation to everyday considerations and conflicts.
Understanding the specific experiences of war, violence, and everyday life in the context of the wartime state provides a foundation for understanding the conflicts that followed. Chapters 3 and 4 chart two issues that dominated the national terrain of Guatemala following war: the establishment of official historical narratives of the country's civil war, and the issue of massive wage-labor migration and some of its effects on communities. These two chapters are organized around a cluster of issues addressing cultural revitalization and recuperation in relation to the larger contexts in which local processes occurred.
Chapter 3 takes up the issue of contested histories about costumbre (Mayan religious/spiritual practices and beliefs) and the silences that developed in relation to an informal translation of Maud Oakes's ethnography The Two Crosses of Todos Santos (1951), an iconic account of Mayan spiritual practices in the 1940s that subsequently faded from public life. In the history workshops that followed the book's translation into Spanish and distribution throughout Todos Santos (cassette tapes in Spanish and Mam were provided for those who didn't read), Todosanteros analyzed the wellspring of discord that erupted around the book, as well as the suppression of public expressions of culture that were once such an integral part of community life—a phenomena the book helped to bring into public discourse. Foregrounding the special role of history in processes of transition, I explore Todosanteros' view of historical knowledge as a resource to be deployed for a collective future. As versions of history are debated and conflicts emerge over which will be favored, people search for a way to articulate a mutual, conflict-laden past silenced through wartime experiences of domination.
At the center of Chapter 4 is the renowned Todos Santos fiesta, where migrants' roles in perpetuating particular parts of it are analyzed relative to state projects of neoliberal multiculturalism. Transnationalism is radically reshaping contemporary notions of community, but some migrants are invested in orthodox forms of celebration that bring them legitimacy and authenticity. This relationship with tradition is in direct contrast to the challenges Todosanteros face in reconciling history with the present in other domains, such as the realm of historical forms of power, the ability to speak silenced histories, and the reconfiguration of transnational families, as discussed throughout the chapters.
The final chapters take up the most controversial "conflicts": lynching, the issue of gangs, and what I call re-paramilitarization, the establishment of security committees in which adult men are required to serve. Exploring these causes of regional anxiety ethnographically shows the deep-seated currents of community power and politics and the long-term histories of conflict that come into play through these processes.
Lynching has come to dominate the landscape of after-war Guatemala. In 2000, a particularly infamous incident left a Japanese tourist and his Guatemalan bus driver dead at the hands of a violent mob in Todos Santos. Although perpetrators of lynching often enjoy the anonymity of the mob, in this case, Todosanteros turned fellow citizens in during the investigation, taking advantage of the intermittent presence and power of the state to address age-old conclifts with one another. Villagers spoke of the climate of terror that they likened to el ochenta in reference to its ambiguity—at any moment, one could be accused of participating in or of having witnessed the actual lynching despite having been nowhere near the crime or the mob. Seeking to understand why some people cooperated against others, Todosanteros turned to their community’s history of conflict to account for actions in the present.
In Chapter 5, "After Lynching," I consider rumors, panic, poverty, and encounters with the legal system as domains of analysis for understanding the aftermath of the lynchings, and I look at how Todosanteros accounted for the murders that occurred in their village. After living in Todos Santos for more than thirty months, I left just three weeks before the lynchings. I initially read about the incident in the New York Times and followed it in various dailies in Guatemala. In Chapter 5, I scrutinize published accounts of the lynchings as a stark moment during which the fault lines of the multiculturalist project were revealed in startling ways.
Intergenerational conflict and the repressive tactics used to staunch its newest forms in Todos Santos are the topics of Chapter 6. Labeling rebellious youth and returned migrants as mareros (gang members) enabled community members to tap into regional and national anxieties about crime, security, and the "youth problem," and to justify using increasingly harsh tactics against youth, including establishing security committees to carry out illegal acts, like clandestine imprisonment. Ultimately, ongoing antigang measures led to the re-paramilitarization of Todos Santos, in forms very much like those imposed during war. Methods for "gang control" implemented during this period were ultimately considered so successful that they have been incorporated nationally. In this chapter, the story of Alfonso shows how this long-term community process is, in its current iteration, also about conflict between generations. Wage-labor migration, post-war transition, and transnational lives mix together to unsettle historical forms of authority and hierarchies of power.
These conflicts have been organized as individual chapters, but their relatedness quickly becomes clear and demonstrates the flows of power that continue to animate the after-war period in many rural places throughout Guatemala.
Notes on Method
Between 1993 and 2007, I spent thirty-eight months in Todos Santos, in periods ranging from a few weeks to more than a year. Most of this was from May 1996 to April 2000, the critical period leading up to the signing of the final Accords, the dismantling of the civil patrol, and other local promotions of transition to democracy. I also visited places in the United States where Todosanteros lived, like San Francisco and Oakland, California, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. During this period, I confronted a number of methodological complexities that are commonplace for anthropologists conducting community based studies, but were especially so during this epoch—difficulties including establishing the trust of Todosanteros, attempting to locate and then avoid axes of local conflict, and, eventually, noting what was left unsaid as much as what was said. By 1999, I was able to converse in Mam, exchange pleasantries, and tell jokes. (Until this time, I had communicated in Spanish, using the occasional Mam word and phrase.) So many people had played a part in my learning the language that there was much collective pride in this achievement. The benefits of knowing Mam were many, including deeper relationships with locals, especially with older Todosanteros.
With a mapmaking project conducted in 1994 and discussed at length in Chapter 2, I began an approach dedicated to long-term fieldwork: I listened to Todosanteros as they suggested how my anthropological training might be useful to them. As a result, my ethnographic practice and methodology became unusually inclusive, a conscious strategy, on my part, about how I would do the fieldwork. In July and August 1994, at the behest of a friend who later became my compadre (fictive kin), I taught the mapmaking workshop to primary and middle school students. The workshop illuminated a local spatial topography and the kinds of concerns and historical experiences that had shaped it. In 1999, I worked with a group of young Todosanteros to informally translate The Two Crosses of Todos Santos (1951) from English to Spanish. Following the distribution of the book and recordings of it in Spanish and Mam, I convened and facilitated a series of history workshops from November 1999 to March 2000, the topic of Chapter 3.
I also engaged in the more traditional cultural-anthropological methods of participant observation and interviewing. In 1994, I conducted interviews and asked to record them. I was almost always refused permission and the formality of these encounters produced stilted and unnatural conversations. A much more effective and open-ended interview style gradually evolved. In addition to these interviews, over the years, I bartered translation, editing, and graphic design work for free Mam lessons; taught an occasional English class in the middle school; participated in a number of language exchanges; attended meetings of local women's groups; and baked cookies in borrowed ovens and cooked food (that was never salty or sweet enough) in my pressure cooker for friends. I also attended a cursillo, a two-week series of nightly lectures (all in Mam) that served as preparation for godparents and others participating in sacraments in the Catholic church, tuj be' tey dios (on the path of God). This was an intensive initiation into an important vector of power and politics.
Given the contemporary movement of villagers, especially between Guatemala and the United States, my association with Todos Santos and Todosanteros hardly ended when I returned to New York after conducting fieldwork. In fact, in the United States, through my research in Guatemala, I met people I hadn't previously known, maintained contact with friends who moved elna (the Mam word for West, used to refer to the United States), and deepened and broadened my knowledge of migration and the material and political conditions that shaped choices made by migrants. More recently, I am reencountering, through social media like Facebook, people I knew as children, and instant messaging with friends who are still living in Todos Santos, something that was unimaginable just over a decade ago. This is a clear indicator of the difference that "free-market democracy" makes.
War and La Violencia in Todos Santos
Accounting for the Past
I went to Todos Santos for the first time with two vivid images in my mind that defined the town for me as a particular place on the map and as a place with a wartime history. Both of the images were from Olivia Carrescia's 1989 film, Todos Santos: The Survivors. The first was a pile of stones in the street, meant to block vehicles from reaching the town center in 1982. The second was the burned-out hull of a school bus, its jagged edges like a scar on the village landscape. The roadblock was long gone by the time I arrived in 1993, but the bus was parked in front of the cemetery—a silent, ever-present reminder of the war.
My own understanding of la violencia in Todos Santos developed in many ways, over an extended period. I didn't hear many testimonies, explicit civil war stories, or accounts of genocidal violence. For many years, I knew only the very basic histories of some key events. The army locked men in the church. Stones spelling "Todos Santos" were placed into the mountainside so the town could be quickly identified in the army's Cuchumatanes flyovers. Todosanteros lived in exile in Guatemala and Mexico. I gradually came to realize that I had been hearing about la violencia consistently, since my first summer of fieldwork in 1994. I was told the subtle details that evoked the variety of feelings, shifts in daily life, and ruptures in relationships that had occurred. These weren't testimonies. Instead, they conjured a general structure of feeling, a sense of lived and shared experience in the present that was indelibly shaped by the past. It took me some time to realize that these were war stories.
In 1999, the much-anticipated Memoria del Silencio, the exhaustively researched ten-volume report prepared by the UN-sponsored Committee for Historical Clarification (CEH), was released. From 1981 to 1983, the committee determined, genocide was carried out against the Maya, leaving approximately two hundred thousand dead in the wake of 626 army-perpetrated massacres. One million of Guatemala's 7.5 million people, mostly in the western highlands, were at least temporarily displaced. Importantly, Guatemala's long history of severe social inequality was officially acknowledged in the report as being among the causes of the war. With this, the CEH became the first commission of inquiry to make explicit the connections among structural violence and war and its aftermath. The committee demonstrated these connections by showing how the escalating civil war was linked to local conflicts and their fault lines: grievances among families, villagers, and communities.
The "scorched earth" campaign that came to define the brutality of the war was a systematic attempt to break down community structures and thereby destroy any possibility of nurturing insurgency. The military killed through acts so heinous they are difficult to recount. They destroyed sacred sites, ceremonial spaces, and cultural artifacts. Indigenous language and dress were repressed. Bases of traditional authority were undermined and communal forms of power were shattered. Much of this destruction was performed in an ongoing spectacle of terror, one that was particularly successful because the military assiduously cultivated parties already engaged in local conflicts, and forcibly inducted indigenous men and boys into military service, harvesting their insider knowledge while producing some of the fiercest killers in all of Latin America.
The National Picture: Prelude to Genocide
In 1954, following a decade of social and political progress, land redistribution throughout the Guatemalan countryside, unionization, and representative democracy, reformist president Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown in a U.S.-backed "anticommunist" coup. It was designed to protect the interests of U.S. investors in the country, particularly the United Fruit Company and their Guatemalan supporters. Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was initially placed in power, following an "invasion" from Honduras and the implementation of an experimental strategy involving diplomatic, economic, and propagandized campaigns that utilized radio broadcasting and pamphleteering. After Castillo's assassination in 1957, and an irregular election, General José Miguel Ramón Ydígoras Fuentes was placed in power. He would be widely considered a puppet president who supported U.S. business interests. An unsuccessful coup d'etat against Fuentes on November 13, 1960, by disaffected army officers, many of them trained in the United States, spurred the creation of the counterinsurgency Guatemalan state, thereby initiating the armed conflict that was to last for the next thirty-six years. Popular resistance and the government's repression of organized gatherings escalated after this point.
The war shifted in character and intensity over the almost four decades of its duration. It is often characterized as arising from a popular response to a conservative, U.S.-centric government that was almost entirely taken over by the military. However, Ball, Kobrak, and Spirer suggest that, at first, the conflict was "a 'Gentleman's War,' limited in scope and fought largely between members of the urban middle classes". A key moment was the replacement of the police by the military. Eventually, the insurgents, particularly the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP) and the Organization of the People in Arms (ORPA), expanded into the countryside. This development coincided with the growth of local liberation movements, particularly liberation theology and Catholic Action, organized groups of lay Catholics who attempted to bring a Christian influence to their environment.
The 1970s were marked by mounting repression at the national level, beginning with the declaration of a state of siege and the suspension of constitutional rights under then-president Arana Osorio (Levenson-Estrada 1994). In February 1976, a massive earthquake devastated the central highlands. Relief efforts transformed social alliances, bringing student volunteers and union members into closer contact with peasant villagers, who were the population most affected by the destruction. Although Todos Santos was not near the epicenter, aftershocks were felt in the Cuchumatanes range and the earthquake remains an important historical marker there as in the rest of the country. The quake catalyzed community based development and organizing, strengthening an already growing cooperative movement.
As the Guatemalan economy began to expand in the mid-1970s, a time of overall growth in Central America, more workers became involved in organized labor actions, and some seventy thousand went on strike in 1977, more than ever before in Guatemala's history. At the end of that year, a labor protest march originating with miners from Ixtahuacán, a Mam-speaking municipality in Huehuetenango, attracted thousands of participants en route to Guatemala City, demonstrating the burgeoning potential of a united front that combined participation from the city and the countryside. Within months, three student labor organizers from Huehuetenango who had worked with the strikers were killed. In 1978, the multiethnic, popular Committee for Peasant Unity (CUC) emerged in the western highlands, propounding a nationally based struggle and uniting poor ladinos, coastal plantation workers, and others who were mobilizing around a vision of social and economic change. The CUC quickly grew in membership, advancing the slogan "a clear head, a heart of solidarity, and a clenched fist". Indigenous activism, however, was met with swift retribution when 140 Q'eqchi' peasants were massacred in Panzos, Alta Verapaz, in the department of El Quiché, in May 1978, signaling how the state would respond to opposition under General Fernando Romeo Lucas García. In January 1980, CUC activists and university students occupied the Spanish embassy to call attention to the violence in El Quiché, and thirty-seven people were burned to death when state security forces stormed the building.
Following the 1979 Sandinista victory in Nicaragua, and guerilla offensives in neighboring El Salvador, the Guatemalan guerillas, especially the EGP, underwent a massive expansion. Within several years, the EGP claimed to have six operating guerilla fronts. By October 1981, General Fernando Romeo Lucas García had initiated a counterinsurgency campaign in Guatemala that was continued by his successors Generals José Efraín Ríos Montt and Óscar Humberto Mejía Victores. While the war in Guatemala lasted almost four decades, it was the early to mid-1980s that definitively changed the scope and terms of the conflict. A new concept of "internal enemy" was defined, one that explicitly included the Maya as an ethnic group that the army intended to destroy in whole or in part. Mayan communities were identified by color according to their suspected guerilla presence, ranging from "white," indicating villages thought to have no rebel influence, and that therefore would be spared, to "red," indicating villages with extensive rebel influence, which were designated for destruction, with the execution of all residents. Huehuetenango, where Todos Santos is located, was targeted by the army as a problem zone and was therefore subjected to campaigns of massacre and "scorched earth," which reached their zenith during this period.
El Ochenta and Beyond in Todos Santos
In Todos Santos (the town), sixty to eighty people were killed in 1981–1982. The army also burned an estimated 150 or more houses. Many of these houses remained destroyed and abandoned. We were told that the land of people who were killed is generally being used by relatives and not outsiders. Land does not appear to be available to buy, and this shortage may make it difficult for anyone returning to Mexico to buy land. Manz, 1988
In Todos Santos the shells of destroyed houses have remained in the town center for almost four years. No one has either been allowed or willing to re-inhabit these sites.
In Todos Santos in the 1970s, there was no national police or military presence, and young men were not drafted or forcibly conscripted into the military, despite this being the practice in many other parts of the country. In search of arable land, many Todosanteros—according to the parish priest at the time, up to one-third of Todos Santos's total population of about twenty thousand—migrated to the Ixcán, which was a two-day walk from Todos Santos. Located in the northeastern foothills of the Cuchumatanes range, in El Quiché, the Ixcán attracted Guatemalans from various parts of the country who were lured by the fertile agricultural land that the Guatemalan government offered for free to those willing to clear and settle it. By the mid-1970s, however, following a steep rise in the price of oil, the army, with the support of the Guatemalan oligarchy, instigated a campaign to retake the land for drilling, dispossessing the settlers. Some of the earliest migrants to the area eventually became members of Communities of Populations in Resistance, mobile communities that formed to flee the "scorched earth" policies implemented by the army in this area. In Todos Santos, new, local forms of organizing, such as cooperatives, arose. However, the most successful local organization, a weaving cooperative, Estrella de Occidente, was mired in conflict over leadership. Tensions existed between those who sold weavings locally and those who sold in regional market centers. Concurrent to these developments was the spread of evangelical churches, altough this occurred more rapidly at the end of the decade and into the 1980s.
The EGP became publicly active in Todos Santos in the early 1980s. Initially, they drew sympathy and support from the more educated, especially the teachers, and from agriculturalists who were swayed by their ideology of land redistribution and economic and social justice. The first group of guerillas, which included both men and women, appeared during the Saturday market in early 1981. Community-based contacts mobilized large crowds who came to the central park to listen to their message. The rousing speech made that morning ended with a warmly received call to "release the land to the people".
During these first months, clandestine military training was conducted for boys and young men, and by mid-year, the guerillas had placed their own Justice of the Peace in the town hall. At this point, some claimed that the group's philosophy, particularly regarding arbitration of local land disputes, had changed. Businesspeople and landowners were increasingly targeted, and some were eventually killed, among them one of the few prominent indigenous shopkeepers and cantina (bar) owners and a couple whose son was serving in the army. The corpses of victims were left in the town square, sometimes hanging.
On March 16, 1982, after community members and the guerillas put boulders in the road in an attempt to block army vehicles from entering the town, six men were captured and held in the church by the army. The following day, they were moved to Santa Isabel, an aldea of San Juan Ixcoy, a neighboring township, where they were executed. Their bodies showed signs of torture (CEH case #5031). Father James Flaherty, a Catholic priest who resided in Todos Santos at the time, recounted: "In the spring of 1982, the army barricaded the road and no one could get in or out. I remember seeing EGP supporters scattering large rocks and boulders in the church courtyard, so the army helicopters could not land there. But of course, they landed anyway". The army also placed white-painted stones spelling "Todos Santos" on the mountain above the center of town in order to more easily find the community while patrolling by helicopter.
In early 1982, two to three hundred elite army operatives, called Kaibiles (the Q'eqchi' term for warrior) and identifiable by their red berets, moved in and conducted a swift and devastating campaign in which 150 houses were burned, the vast majority of them in the hamlet of El Rancho. The guerillas had been active in this aldea, the most heavily populated in Todos Santos. On the way from El Rancho to the town center, the soldiers raped and otherwise attacked women, some of whom later died of their injuries. Residents were called to a meeting in the Catholic church in the center of Todos Santos, at which they were told that the army had come in retaliation for executions perpetrated by the guerillas that January and February. The captain of the Kaibil unit claimed that the army knew who the guerillas and their sympathizers were, and called out more than two hundred names of "subversives" that had been collected by local informers. He then ordered guerilla leaders to identify themselves, threatening to strafe the town from helicopters if they did not. Several men stepped forward. The Kaibiles systematically began to torture them in the middle of the meeting, and a number of the men were killed. That night, the bodies of the victims were carried to the cemetery and buried by other Todosanteros.
After this visit by the army, many people disappeared and others were abducted and murdered. Still others left to join the EGP. No one knew for sure who was responsible for the abductions and killings during these months. Some suspected army supporters; others thought the guerillas were seeking retribution for the devastation wrought by the army. On April 5, 1982, on the road from San Lucas, Ixcán, to Todos Santos, guerillas stopped the truck that shopkeeper Hilario Pérez Pablo was driving and beat him to death, burning the truck before leaving the scene (CEH case #11128). Shortly thereafter, two more men, Augustín Mendoza and Pedro Mendoza, were executed by the military (CEH case #15239).
Many other Todosanteros were massacred in the Ixcán. Father Flaherty claimed that of the thousands of Todosanteros living in that region, the army killed at least two hundred during the late 1970s and early 1980s in campaigns to deny the guerillas a popular base of support. Following those massacres, many of the Todosanteros who had migrated to the Ixcán left to live in refugee camps, especially in Campeche, Mexico. Others returned to Todos Santos.
In Todos Santos, on March 23, 1982, the army gathered villagers in front of the church to announce that all of the town would be burned. Adult males were locked inside the church and told that they would not live to see the next day. Threatened with immediate death if they tried to exit the building, the men waited out the long night, and when the first rays of morning light filtered through the stained glass windows, they noted the silence and slowly opened the doors. The army was gone and the town was intact. Turning on the radio, they discovered that General Efraín Ríos Montt had toppled General Romeo Lucas García in a coup the previous day, and all army units had been called back to their bases.
By July 1982, Ríos Montt had appointed rural mayors, often by force, who were to be integral to implementing permanent counterinsurgency measures locally. In conformance with Appendix H: Standing Orders for the Development of Anti-Subversive Operations of the National Plan of Security and Development, a long-term, elaborate, counterinsurgency campaign, these appointees were central to the philosophy of fighting the war on all fronts: "military, political but above all socio-economic. The minds of the population are our main target . . .". Abuses continued. In November 1982, in the caserío of Txanxmil, a hamlet of San Martín, Todos Santos, the army captured a man and brought him to the office of the military command, where he was beaten and deprived of food and water for three days, after which he was released. The victim was detained because the soldiers couldn't find his grandson, who was working on a farm in Mexico (CEH case #5408).
People most often talk about this period in relation to the nuances and suffering of day-to-day life. While la violencia is always a crucial marker in life histories and personal narratives, a typical detail slipped in might reference the way that Don Idelfonso went to his milpa every day. Even during el ochenta, after his family left for Huehuetenango, he continued to work his land. Such an act was dangerous; another man, while working in his milpa, missed the six p.m. curfew imposed by the army and was executed. His milpa was far from the town center and he had encountered an obstacle on the path home. Another anecdote might be how Don Javier, the carpenter, could not make coffins quickly enough, so sometimes multiple bodies were buried in a single coffin, or individuals were buried without one. This situation was so unimaginable that it had to be hidden from the elders. Other details: the market continued to operate, but most women were afraid to attend it alone, and there was little to buy; since some teachers had been ladinos from Chiantla and Huehuetenango who left Todos Santos at the height of the counterinsurgency campaign, children did not attend school for long stretches of time and instead would do housework and agricultural work and accompany their mothers on errands; because it was difficult to purchase thread, many women stopped weaving during el ochenta and no one had new clothing. There was nothing extra to sell through the weaving cooperative, which, because cooperatives were targeted by the military, shuttered its windows and remained closed for much of the period along with the buildings and businesses that had been owned by the ladinos who fled during the military incursion.
I found these details particularly important and poignant because they spoke to the ways in which everyday life for Todosanteros was affected during genocidal wartime conditions: men continued to work in the milpa, but adapted to curfews; women continued to patronize the market (not the shuttered stores), but were always accompanied; Todosanteros continued to bury their dead, but corpses often shared or went without coffins; and women living in Todos Santos stopped weaving. People suffered unspeakable horrors, yet they continued to strategize daily lives for themselves, while fear, as Green has described, became a way of life. One older woman summarized the situation in the late 1980s: "Here, it used to be good. People worked very hard and the land gave us our necessities. But now we are distracted. Our children and grandchildren have left for their safety or to look for better living conditions elsewhere. And we who remain are still frightened".
Many physical reminders of la violencia dotted the everyday landscape of village life: burned houses, scorched fields, rusting hulks of the aforementioned bus and other abandoned vehicles. To these, Todosanteros added another. To accompany the two crosses in front of the church that Oakes immortalized in her ethnography, a third cross was erected among the ruins—the center of the twi-witz (sacred ground), where communication with ancestors most commonly took place—to commemorate the victims of la violencia.
Politicization of Local Conflicts
In 1988, Harvest of Violence: The Mayan Indians and the Guatemalan Crisis, a collection edited by Robert Carmack, was published. The volume, written by U.S. anthropologists who had extensive pre-war fieldwork experience, comprised ten before-and-after accounts of the effects of violence in particular indigenous communities. One emphasis of the contributors was to distinguish how they, as anthropologists, had obtained the information on which they based their case studies—through listening to the Indians—from how the U.S. government had acquired its data supporting the war—often through newspapers or helicopter trips with the Guatemalan military. Even news from the guerillas, they pointed out, "took precedence over the Indians as sources of information". This pioneering insight for wartime anthropology was incorporated into the methodology of anthropologists who worked among the Maya beginning in the 1990s, and yielded the crucial observation that what people did not say was often as important as the stories they could tell. In constructing this account, I have been sensitive to both of these ethically informed methodological approaches.
Anthropologists who "listened to the Indians" during the war revealed how personal and community-based conflicts were politicized by both the Indians and the military to fuel the intensification of warfare during the early 1980s. People almost always knew who was behind a denunciation that led to the death of a loved one and often could identify the conflict that likely precipitated the accusation. Conflicts commonly occurred over land disputes, water rights, unpaid debts, and internal tensions produced by class differences. Some people felt guilt over the consequences of their actions, while others brazenly confronted survivors. One woman recounted to me what occurred following her parents' murder by the army. She and her brother had remained hidden, watching the event. The following day, she went to the store to purchase candles to mark her parents' deaths. She encountered neighbors with whom her family had recently engaged in a serious conflict, who inquired into her parents' whereabouts. Eleven years old, scared, and unsure of what to say, she told the neighbors that her parents were at home. The neighbors began to laugh. "These were very solemn days," the woman recounted. "People didn't just laugh like that."
As survival of the brutal counterinsurgency began to seem possible by the late 1980s, the character of people's conflicts and the ways in which they were related were notably more vehement. Discussing the struggle between evangelicals and Catholics, an evangelical man referred to Catholics as "devils with wings". For many evangelicals, Catholic Action and liberation theology, with their underlying ideology of social justice, were seen as having directed the wrath of God and the generals onto the Maya. Scorn for the Todosanteros who went to the Ixcán to eke out livelihoods for themselves and their families was close to the surface; by accepting land in a place that became a base of support for the guerillas, these villagers had provoked the vengeance of the army.
In their tellings, many Todosanteros professed to care less about whether military forces or guerillas killed their family members than about the neighbor or community member who might have been responsible. These latter accounts usually remained unspoken, emerging only at extraordinary times, as in the aftermath of the lynchings discussed in Chapter 5. Emphasizing the ways in which these conflicts remained central even while they were repressed reminds us that the histories people try to make for themselves as communities, as neighbors, and as households are not necessarily the histories they have experienced. Instead, daily life occurs in concordance with the tension of shared values and culture and the unspoken and unspeakable past. Understanding the parameters, axes, and historicity of these conflicts among fellow villagers and with the state shapes the resources that are available for political action, agency, and struggle in the present. Ultimately, what the Indians have to say may not always be what they want to say, or what those of us who listen expect to hear, a point discussed in greater depth in Chapter 3.
Civil Patrols and the Breakdown of Justice
"Our strategic goal has been to reverse Clausewitz's philosophy of war to state that in Guatemala, politics must be the continuation of war."
—General Hector Gramajo, Minister of Defense, in The Guatemalan Military Project: A Violence Called Democracy
In the 1982 Thesis of National Stability, a document marking a strategic shift in philosophy, the Guatemalan army acknowledged "the poverty and discrimination at the roots of the insurgency" and vowed to "address these by way of eliminating further threats to national security". Central to this project was the implementation of government on the village level.
By the end of 1982, under army direction, all able-bodied men between eighteen and sixty years of age were organized into civil patrols (PACs) that were expected to spend "one day every 8–15 days protecting roads and inhabitants in their villages from guerilla intrusions". This was a labor obligation of approximately forty-five to fifty days per year, representing a labor tax equivalent to anywhere from one-fifth to one-half of a family's monetary income at that time, a devastating state of affairs for most peasants as well as a crushing blow to the rural peasant economy. As a result, mandatory participation in the civil patrols was not only a way of suppressing the guerilla movement, but a method of controlling rural indigenous populations. In addition to patrolling in pelotónes (platoons) in twenty-four-hour rounds, males were also required to build roads and carry out other community-based rural development projects for the army's counterinsurgency program, or to work for the local military commanders in nearby garrisons. These obligatory "search operations" forced men to be prepared to serve the army at any moment without knowing precisely when they would be needed or for how long. While a "Food for Work" (FFW) program, Fusiles y Frijoles, paid for the men's labor with food (and other items, such as metal sheeting for roofs) between 1982 and 1985, after 1986, when the patrols officially became "voluntary committees," the work went unpaid and men provided their own food and sometimes their own guns. In the early years of their formation, the patrols were presented as a sure way of divorcing communities from any association with the guerillas in the eyes of the army. Eventually, however, these organizations often came to be sources of abuse of power and authority, used to settle interpersonal or interfamilial rivalries. Davis points out how the civil patrol system "replaced the national judicial system as an institution for resolving local conflicts and disputes". The national judicial system was always a last resort because of widespread discrimination and corruption, but at least theoretically, it provided a nonviolent, codified alternative for dispute resolution. By 1985, Davis reports, disputes were settled "through arbitrary acts of violence by local civil patrol commanders, members of civil patrol units, or, in the final instance, local or regional army commanders". Rural villagers thus became completely cut off from legal processes: they were effectively removed from democratic practice and, as a military officer explained, subjected to the imposition of "the discipline of the army on the pueblo [town]".
The army had planned for civil patrol leaders to assume civilian leadership positions as soon as they became available. Patrol leaders, however, refused to step down from their paramilitary leadership positions as long as the war was ongoing. This led to the growth of a strong sense of localized sovereignty within communities, precisely what the army wanted to achieve as part of a project of localized statism: from Bullets and Beans to the construction of a pan-highlands network of centrally controlled but seemingly localized security, this situation was "development within a context of rational and effective security".
In Todos Santos, Don Gaspar, the head of the civil patrol during its first decade, had come to the attention of commanders at the local military base in Chiantla, at the foot of the Cuchumatanes range, after soldiers seized his car in 1982. Making visit after visit to the base in an effort to reclaim the car, he was eventually told that it had been "blown up after serving in undercover operations by G-2 [secret service] agents". As Perera points out, while Gaspar lost his car, his visits to the base had taught him how to "curry favor" with the commanders. As a result, after he and his nephew Benito Ramírez went to the base to heroically offer themselves up in exchange for the two hundred people on the "subversives" list, Gaspar was invited to lead the new civil patrol. As he tells it, he saw this as another opportunity to protect his community. While he became very adept at "singing the army's praises and denouncing the guerillas" to his bosses (the army commanders), behind their backs, Perera reports, he advised his patrollers to "look the other way if they encountered non-belligerent (my emphasis) guerillas on their patrols".
Both Perera and Carrescia mention that the civil patrol in Todos Santos did not engage in armed combat once during its first seven years of existence, which is consistent with reports that Todosanteros served in the PACs without protest or rebellion but, unlike patrols elsewhere in the country, were nonaggressive. In 1995, asked when the patrols had last spotted subversive activity in the municipality, a twenty-year-old patroller in the altiplano (high altitude) hamlet of La Ventosa answered: "Mil novecientos ochenta y dos ." Whether or not the patrols found or killed guerillas in the mountains, their leadership wielded substantial power in the village, and, as paramilitarized entities, the patrols contributed to undermining any remaining sense of community trust. Additionally, corruption was often rampant among the PAC leadership. Although the kinds of blatant get-rich-quick extortionist schemes described elsewhere in the country weren't reported in Todos Santos, Gaspar was exceptionally well-off and remained so throughout his leadership. His status as a former caporal (agent for the coastal plantations) who owned a car in 1982 indicates that he was substantially better-off than the vast majority of townspeople, even before la violencia.
Intracommunal and even intrafamilial distrust, the omnipresent threat of denunciation by parties to a conflict, financial pressures, lack of democratic alternatives, continuing impunity, rumors of orejas (literally "ears," but used colloquially to refer to spies), and the accompanying economic crisis all contributed to the earliest wave of men migrating to the United States from Todos Santos. As people returned from the refugee camps in Mexico and from the Ixcán, new pressures emerged on already stressed land and resources. A long period of economic decline further exacerbated local tensions. Early wage-labor migrants to the United States almost always identified the ongoing war and uneasy political situation as a major contributing factor to why they left. And yet, migration to the United States at that time was looked upon with criticism: responsible citizens and workers were expected to farm their milpa plots and served in the civil patrol.
Despite the wishes of Don Gaspar and his patrollers to view and present themselves as neutral protectors of the community, in 1993, they were challenged by the appearance of a Todosantero who had allegedly served as an EGP commander in the early 1980s. Now a representative of the Guatemalan refugee community in Mexico, and a member of the land committee of the UN Commission on Refugee Status, Joaquín Jiménez came back to the town while in the area surveying land available for returning refugees. He was nearly lynched by an angry mob, then taken into custody, tortured, and later released by civil patrollers who alleged that they had saved him from certain death at the hands of the crowd. The civil patrollers also alleged that Jiménez was responsible for the murder of eighty-three residents of Todos Santos in 1982. The PAC later turned Jiménez over to the local military base, where he was briefly detained and then released by order of the Minister of Government. He returned to Mexico at the end of August. The Huehuetenango attorney general filed charges against the civil patrol over this incident. Coming to the defense of the PAC, Defense Minister Enríquez claimed that "guerilla or ex-guerilla," Jiménez was "rescued" by civil patrollers from enraged villagers who "remembered the terror he sowed" in the early 1980s (Ibid.). At the time, refugee leaders argued that the defense minister's charges aimed to discredit them.
Jiménez continued to polarize community members in a way that neither the PACs nor their current incarnation, the Comites de Seguridad, do. The fault lines of historical conflict run deep. While these latter entities have engendered substantial ambiguity, both during wartime and after, part of their continuing power in places like Todos Santos—indeed, throughout the country, as seguridad is now being implemented nation-wide—lies in the spaces they provide for the negotiation of power. During the war, patrol leaders refused to put down their arms and assume leadership positions until the war was over. Although the PACs were officially demobilized in 1995, and they returned their weapons to the army, the social capital and political power that the patrol members had accrued over the years was, quite naturally, difficult to surrender. It is no accident, nor is it surprising, that a resurgence of the PACs emerged after only a few years, albeit with quite a different resonance in the post-Accords world of neoliberal democracy. From their experience participating in and engaging with the patrols, Todosanteros had adopted a particular form of political subjectivity, one that was hypermasculine and adaptable across a range of anxieties, worries, and contexts. In the post-9/11 world, as it turns out, concerns with security and the state's failure to provide it rendered this in-place and available set of alliances and networks extraordinarily useful, and they were quickly implemented: in a particularly neoliberal turn, preexisting resources and knowledge could be engaged in the project of outsourcing security to communities. The civil patrol set a precedent for the kinds of repertoires that could be considered acceptable for dealing with conflict in the post-Accords era. The reactions to the alleged ex-guerilla provided the impetus to engage in the spectacle of control and reaffirmed the patrol's place and importance in local hierarchies of power.
“Anthropologist Burrell writes movingly and incisively about how that common story has played out in one well-known Maya community, Todos Santos Cuchamatin...From her vantage point in a single indigenous community, Burrell gleans special insights into the varied consequences of labor migration and remittance on social order at home and on a young generation's effort to chart a new course in the world. A highly readable and evocative work. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”
“A significant contribution to Mesoamerican ethnography and social scientific studies of violence and its aftermath. . . . Burrell engages the major social forces (violence, migration, neoliberalism) that have affected the Highland Guatemala region. Her multilevel analysis of conflict is sorely needed within anthropology in general and regional ethnography in particular.”
Thomas A. Offit, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Baylor University
“Burrell’s ethnography depicts the contradictions and competing interests that emerge among residents of a Maya town adjusting to life ‘after war.’ Neoliberalism, insecurity, conflict, democracy—the key words of the twenty-first century can all be found here, cannily interpreted through an ethnographic lens that situates global issues in the daily realities of people struggling to make a life amidst loss, anger, and grief. The book is essential reading for all seeking to understand Latin American history and society and the lives of indigenous people in the aftermath of violence.”
Daniel Goldstein, Professor of Anthropology, Rutgers University
“A beautifully written and deeply engaged book about indigenous people who, during war, experienced revolutionary mobilization, massacre, para-militarization, and displacement, and, ‘after war,’ confront migration, gangs, tourism, development, and lynching. In this, Todos Santos is a microcosm of the last fifty years of Guatemala’s history, and Burrell’s two decades of fieldwork afford readers a lovely and nuanced sense of people and place. Richly personal accounts mesh easily with rigorous analysis. . . . Local struggles over authority and resources mesh with more national and global forces in ways that make this very traditional place completely cosmopolitan, and [the struggles] continue to simmer—tendrilling into the postwar, sometimes emerging as acts of horrifying violence and grievous remorse. This is a profound and essential exploration of identity, sovereignty, organizing, and struggles over generational and gendered authority, as well as of anthropology itself.”
Diane M. Nelson, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Women’s Studies, Duke University