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Guatemala: Settlers as Minority Colonizers and Decolonization

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Daniela Gunn-Doerge

on 19 March 2013

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Transcript of Guatemala: Settlers as Minority Colonizers and Decolonization

The conquest has not yet ended, and neither has resistance to the conquest.
-Juan Adolfo Vasquez Guatemala: Settlers as Minority Colonizers and Decolonization Mayan People Before Colonization The overthrow of Arbenz led to a vicious civil war that lasted for 36 years 1960-1996: Civil War
(Part 1) 1960-1996: Civil War
(part 2) The Maya civilization existed as early as 15,000 B.C. along the volcanoes in Chiapas Mexico, down to what is now Honduras and El Salvador
They operated under a circular worldview and understood the cycles of creation and destruction
The separation between genders and different kinds of life were more ambiguous
Their achievements in art, writing, architecture, astronomy and math rivaled those of Ancient Egypt or classical Europe
Mayan scroll books, songs, art etc. were destroyed by the Spanish colonizers, who later claimed that the Maya people had no history Settler Invasion/Conquest & Indigenous Resistance Most of the stone cities had been abandoned by 900 C.E. for reasons that are not entirely clear, and the Maya People were divided among confederations, with no unified force to fight the oncoming Europeans
Each independent Mayan state had to be taken by force, as the indigenous people fought back for over 20 years to remain the keepers of their land
The Spanish ultimately established dominance and their capital in 1527.
They aimed to enslave the indigenous people, which they justified under their Catholic beliefs 1954: The rise and fall of the Arbenz government
and the lost hope of agrarian reform (part 1) In 1944, Jorge Ubico, dictator of Guatemala, was overthrown by a group of soldiers, including army Captain Jacobo Arbenz and General Francisco Xavier Arana.
The presidency was assumed by Juan José Arévalo, a socialist philosopher, intent on establishing social programs to benefit the marginalized Mayan majority.
In 1952, Jacobo Arbenz was elected President. He wanted to initiate agrarian reforms that would allow Mayan farmers to access unused and arable land owned by the United Fruit Company. 1954: The rise and fall of the Arbenz government and the lost hope of agrarian reform (part 2) The United Fruit Company retaliated and enlisted the help of the influential Dulles brothers: “U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother, CIA director Allen Dulles, and the U.S. State Department embarked on a destabilization campaign and propaganda blitz to convince the public that President Arbenz was a Soviet sympathizer”
“Before Allen Dulles became CIA Director under Eisenhower, he worked for a powerful law firm that arranged profitable deals for United Fruit in Guatemala, where it owned extensive plantations and rail lines and regularly crushed incipient labor unions. Allen Dulles even promised the company that whoever CIA selected to be the next Guatemalan leader would not be allowed to nationalize or in any way disrupt the company's operations”
In 1954, President Arbenz was overthrown by a CIA funded group of mercenaries. The rights and livelihoods of Guatemala’s indigenous Mayas were once again repressed by an imperial power. The military regime that took power waged a genocide against the resisting peasant farmers (campesinos), who were mixed-blood (landinos) and Maya. In the 1970s, an alliance between civilian and military officials established a "police/military/paramilitary/parapolice/vigilante structure" that violently persecuted the Mayan and landino rural population Ironically, the Kaibiles, a particularly monstrous death squad, were named after Kaibil Balam, a Mayan king who evaded capture from the Spanish. This group was trained in part by American Green Berets - Between 1978 and 1984, Guatemala's government enacted the "Scorched Earth" policy, ''that left 100,000 to 150,000 dead or "disappeared" between 1981 and 1983 alone''. In cities, opposition leaders including politicians, professors and union leaders were murdered. In rural areas, entire indigenous communities were annihilated with over 600 massacres reported.

-In 1982, different factions of the peasant resistance united to form the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG). They made important gains in the West of the country, with strong support from the Mayan community.

-In 1986, the first democratically elected leader since the fall of Arbenz took power, a Democrat named Vinicio Cerezo. 1996 Peace Accords -Vinicio Cerezo (1986-1990) refused to negotiate with the resistance leaders.

-The UNRG accepted that it could not take control of the country and that the toll on the rural population would be too great if they continued with this goal.

-By 1990, with both sides in a stalemate, neither having the means to defeat the other, the government was under pressure from Guatemalan civil society and the international community to negotiate a settlement but the civilian and military elites resisted.

-Between 1991 and 1996, the URNG and civil society organizations, some sponsored by the United Nations, engaged in negotiations with the government. But the war on the ground still continued.
Finally, in December 1996, peace accords were signed “that dealt with a definitive cease-fire, constitutional and electoral reforms, and the URNG's legal reintegration (entailing a partial amnesty for both the URNG and the army).” - Modern economic policies, espoused by the government, invite exploitation of the country’s natural resources by multi-national mining and agricultural corporations. “The Maya in the Guatemalan countryside are undergoing what they themselves describe as another invasion, the wrestling of their territories and sacred land, for the exploitation of gold and silver.”

-Having been self-sufficient during all these years, the indigenous population have adopted cooperatives as a means to insure their livelihoods. Peasant Mayan coffee farmers are pooling together resources to buy communal land. They are also pressuring the government to pass the Comprehensive Rural Development Law. http://nisgua.blogspot.com/2012/11/indigenous-and-farmworker-organizations.html

-Having de-militarized, Mayan peasant farmers practice non-violent civil disobedience. In 2012, ten thousand peasant farmers marched 200 km from the North to Guatemala City. Government officials initially refused to meet with leaders of the movement, but the groundswell was so strong, that officials relented and agreed to hear their demands. De-colonization efforts (part 1) -The peace process has been tenuous at best. Unemployment in Guatemala hovered around 60% throughout the 1990s. Unfortunately, the Peace Accords did not immediately produce an agreement on agrarian reform. The hope for a better redistribution of land to benefit Mayan indigenous populations has not materialized.

-Most Mayan peasants are forced to work for wealthy land owners who pay them about $1 a day and endure long hours of hard labour on coffee or other types of plantations. Others, who have been loaned land, are charged interest rates that they cannot afford and after having worked on the land for many years, the banks reclaim the land once the terms of the agreement have expired, leaving the peasants destitute and landless.

-"In Guatemala 70 per cent of farmable land are concentrated in less than 2 per cent of the population. Unequal land distribution has been hailed as one of the main causes of hunger and malnutrition in the country. According to leading humanitarian agency United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Guatemala’s ‘chronic undernutrition rate for children under 5 is 49.8 per cent, the highest in the region and the fourth highest in the world,’ while ‘chronic undernutrition in indigenous areas is 69.5 per cent’." De-colonization efforts (part 2) -The situation in Guatemala is slowly changing but much uncertainty remains. The government recently indicted former dictator Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. On the other hand, protests against irresponsible exploitation of land are met with government repression by violent means, not to mention that the current president, Otto Pérez Molina is a former general who was implicated in the massacres that took place during the 1980s.

-“2013 promises to be filled with conflict. On one hand, this can be viewed as something negative, and can be when social struggles are met with repression and violence, but I also see this to be a rather hopeful prediction. It means that in 2013 people will continue to struggle to protect their water, land and the health of their communities. It means that people will continue to stand up to their government to demand that development strategies are focused on breaking down the structures that create poverty and inequality, instead of perpetuating them.” “The movement leaders have issued a press statement, “Declaration of the March for Resistance and Dignity, in Defense of the Earth and Territory” in which they have made the following demands– reiterations of longstanding grievances of the Indigenous and campesinos in Guatemala:

- Elimination of agrarian debt imposed by the state on farmers; a just redistribution of land, allowing farmers at least a terrain to provide subsistence crops.

- Termination of forced relocations, in particular the ongoing problem in the Polochic Vally, Alta Verapaz, where hundreds of families were violently evicted from their homes to make way for African palm and sugar plantations in March of 2011.

- End to persecution and criminalization of Indigenous people fighting for their rights, including the 8 Indigenous women of San Miguel Ixtahuacán who have orders for capture for speaking out against the Marlin Mine.

- Cancellation of the concessions for mining, petroleum, hydroelectric, and mono-culture agriculture. Moving forward Demands for social justice Colonial Rule in Guatemala The Spanish allowed the Maya to live in rural communities called "pueblos de indos". This Maya land and labour was used to pay tribute to the Spanish crown (production of textiles, cacao)
The colonizers changed human and non-human life forever with the introduction of new plants, animals and fatal diseases, as well as sexual exploitation, slavery and genocide
The Maya adopted some elements of their victors' culture, but were determined to maintain their own traditions, language and dress. Post-Colonization Spain withdrew from the region in the 1820s, after many movements for independence, but this did not erase their legacy. Racism and exploitation of the land and its people continued long after the fall of the europeans in the region
In 1847, riots and then war between "castes" erupted, polarizing people on racial lines and by 1850, war, famine and disease had killed up to 40,000 people
In the liberal reforms of 1871, an attempt to modernize the country, liberal intelligentsia used their power with the press to convey that the primitivism and and ignorance of the indigenous peoples made them unfit for citizenship. Sources Used Global Colonality of Power in Guatemala: Racism, Genocide, Citizenship by Egla Martinez Salazar
Stolen Continents: The "New World" Through Indian Eyes since 1492 by Ronald Wright
The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics by Eds. Greg Grandin, Deborah T. Levenson, & Elizabeth Oglesby
Guatemala: Never Again! Recovery of Historical Memory Project (The Official Report of the Human Rights Office, Archdiocese of Guatemala)
Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico by Ronald Wright
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