"May All Rise Up": Highland Mobilization in Post-1954 Guatemala

by Konefal, Betsy Ogburn

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation examines a difficult subject in a difficult period: activism by indígenas before, during, and after la violencia (1978-1983), the most brutal years of Guatemala's 36-year civil war. It was a time of increasing oppositional politics, and in that context, indígenas from different regions began discussions and organizing focused on ethnic and class identities, indigenous culture, justice, and state violence. This study analyzes connections among activists from across the highlands and the complex and evolving ways in which they expressed demands in the name of the pueblo indígena. Organizing was diverse: indígenas struggled for economic and cultural rights, challenged the state, even fought for revolution, in markedly different ways, some articulated around ideas of race and ethnic identity, others in terms of class struggle. In the context of armed insurgency in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, these class- and race-based tendencies among indígenas have been interpreted as diametrically opposed, even revolutionary and counter-revolutionary. I focus instead on links that existed among different forms of organizing. The dissertation documents how indigenous students and intellectuals, catechists, campesino organizers, and revolutionaries shaped, challenged, and reinforced each other's struggles. State violence had profound and contradictory effects on indigenous organizing: initially state repression had a mobilizing and radicalizing effect on young indígenas and was a catalyst in the formation of broadening pan-Indian identity. As extreme terror reached the level of genocide, however, it had its intended effect, the demobilization of political opposition. The experiences of extreme state terror directed specifically against the indigenous population significantly altered relationships among indigenous activists, and an "indigenous" struggle became divorced from broader opposition movements. La violencia continues to shape how indígenas and Guatemalan society as a whole remember the past and how they mobilize, or not, in the present. Despite a distancing on the part of many Mayas from a history of activism, this study shows that Mayas were not bystanders in the transformations that preceded and accompanied the civil war. Activism by indígenas helped shape that war; that war shaped indigenous activism.
Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Joshua Lund; Alejandro de la Fuente; Lara Putnam; George Reid Andrews

School:University of Pittsburgh

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:10/05/2005

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