Stay informed: Sign up for eNews Subscribe
Read Chapter 1

Approaching Violence in Eastern Guatemala

"The aim of the psychological war is to win people's 'hearts and minds' so that they accept the requirements of the dominant order and, consequently, accept as good and even 'natural' whatever violence may be necessary to maintain it."

Ignacio Martín-Baró, "Violence in Central America"

"Rather than view violence ... simply as a set of discrete events, which quite obviously it also can be, the perspective I am advancing seeks to unearth those entrenched processes of ordering the social world and making (or realizing) culture that themselves are forms of violence: violence that is multiple, mundane, and perhaps all the more fundamental because it is the hidden or secret violence out of which images of people are shaped, experiences of groups are coerced, and agency itself is engendered."

Arthur Kleinman, "The Violences of Everyday Life"

Much has been written about violence in Guatemala, a country that has come to be known for the contrast between its spectacular beauty and its unspeakable suffering. This book, however, is not about the direct, political violence in the highlands (Altiplano) targeting the Maya, a form of violence for which Guatemala has long been known. It is about the everyday violence in the lives of ladinas in Oriente (eastern) Guatemala, where few outsiders, either scholars or tourists, venture to visit. It is about violence not directly attributable to individual actions intended to cause harm but embedded in institutions and in quotidian aspects of life-the familiar, the routine; violence so commonplace and so much a part of life that it is often not recognized as such. In contrast to many other works about Guatemala, this book is about the violence that becomes visible only when its consequences, in the form of suffering, are talked about. It is about the violence that women habitually experience, which is intertwined with the other forms of violence that have held sway in Guatemala for a long time.

Guatemala is a society dealing with the aftermath of nearly four decades of state terror (Grandin 2000; Manz 2004) and undergoing "civic insecurity," with high levels of violence, persistent impunity, and an inability to address the postconflict instability (Torres 2008: 2). Although it has been more than a decade since the Peace Accords were signed in 1996, Guatemalans are still experiencing the consequences of an internal armed conflict that was, in some respects, the most brutal in the region during the past century. The United Nations-sponsored Truth Commission estimated that as many as 200,000 people were killed-a majority at the hands of government forces-during the thirty-six-year war that ended in 1996. The victims were mostly unarmed civilians, and the government's methods were often extraordinarily cruel. According to the U.N. commission, the methods employed by the state could be said to constitute "acts of genocide." The armed conflict left the country awash in weapons, with webs of people trained to use them and a civil society accustomed to the horrors of violence. The conflict not only left widows, orphans, and whole communities traumatized; it also left a population distrustful of the authorities.

Therefore, recent ac