Saturday, February 19, 2011

More news: war, violence, and the politics of language

The war is not over, not by a long shot.  Just a casual glance at news stories in today's paper, for example, demonstrates the long-lasting impact and many unresolved issues. One article discussed a group of people who had been forced to flee because of the war and who returned to their community to reclaim lands. The current residents stopped them. The mayor met with them and declared that the government had to do something about the situation.

That's the link for the article. One of the women is carrying a sign saying "I returned to MY Cubulco, 30 years after they killed my parents, siblings and burned our house." It doesn't say what the ethnicity is of the people who are opposed to returning these lands to the war survivors. But this speaks to one of the overarching problems in Guatemala: land reform. This is on my mind as we were supposed to have had a workshop on the subject of agrarian reform this afternoon (but it didn't happen because of lack of coordination).  So I've been reading up a bit and thinking about this.

The war left many scars: the graves, marked and unknown, of the hundreds of thousands who were killed; the psychic and physical scars on those who managed to survive rape and torture. But in addition, the war occasioned a massive redistribution of land .. and largely away from indigenous residents and into the hands of ladinos, the military and its allies and supporters, and other elites.  Perhaps as many as a million people fled their homes to escape the violence, becoming internal or international refugees. In many cases, as this women's placard indicates, the military razed the villages, burning crops and killing livestock. But they also then grabbed the lands for themselves, or gave them away. The original inhabitants may not have had any formal paperwork that indicated their ownership (or they may not, in fact, have been legal owners of lands that they had inhabited and cultivated for generations .. the problems in land ownership and the structural inequalities in tenancy and ownership really date back to the conquest), but the new inhabitants (especially if they were military or local elites) were usually able to get papers (by hook or crook -- probably crook, if you ask me) and thus the original inhabitants were often effectively robbed (de jure as well as de facto) of their lands.

Another article announced the publication, some twenty years after it was started, of a K'iche' translation of the Bible. One of the priests spoke about the importance of being able to read scripture in one's native tongue (even an atheist like me can appreciate that). The work on the translation was apparently, one of the smaller casualties of the war (I'm having trouble reloading the page of the newspaper to get the exact text of the article and also add the link, but will add it when I can).

Violence continues to plague the country. Fortunately it has not been a direct issue for me here in Chinique. But yesterday eight people including a candidate for mayor in a town in Jutiapa were killed; today the woman's mother died of a heart attack (related? when I can read the story, I'll find out). And another person, a youth of 16, who had been wounded in the attack, died last night.  Yesterday's paper -- or rather the web page -- also carried a late-breaking bulletin that the secretary/treasurer of one of the major soccer (fútbol) teams, Xinabajul, was killed in an armed attack. Today's paper had some additional stories of armed attacks (two police wounded, in one story) and deaths by violent means.

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