Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Neoliberal Strategies, Indigenous Resistance and State-Sponsored Violence, part 3: chronologies and geographies

Time, history and memory filter through these reflections, and they are important elements in Maya culture, politics and everyday life. These are complementary to the concepts of tierra and territorio, and what I will try to do here is suggest some of the ways that chronologies and geographies shape (and are shaped by) the current cycle of neoliberal incursions, protests and repression.  This entry is a little more abstract and breaks the historical flow of the first two, but I will try to regain that narrative in the next entry. 

The larger historical frames that I have traced earlier -- the Spanish conquest, the 1954 coup, the civil war and particularly the years when the highlands were turned into "killing fields", the Peace Accords of 1996 -- are part of the "commonsense" of many people in Maya communities, not just professionals and professional activists. Gramsci's writings are relevant here, for Maya communities are full of organic intellectuals, ranging from Maya priests to school teachers, and many young people  Of course, because of my linguistic limitations (I don't speak any Maya languages fluently; I recognize several dozen words in K'iche' and maybe a dozen in Q'anjob'al), I can only attest to those organic intellectuals who speak enough Spanish for us to communicate in a lingua franca. 

The significance of time, and the many ways it can be imagined, reckoned and projected, in highland Maya culture, has been well discussed by scholars such as Barbara Tedlock, whose Time and the Highland Maya delves into the complex, multiple and overlapping calendrical systems. Among the various types of Maya priests, there are those who specialize in interpreting the calendrical systems, often called "day keepers". One whom I interviewed in Xela referred to this work as "counting time"; he said that as a young person who had little sense of his Maya identity, learning to "count time" was something that changed his life. People keep track of multiple chronologies simultaneously -- important dates in Guatemalan national history (these are enforced through schools, national media, and government and civil society institutions -- the Day of the Armed Forces, Flag Day, Independence Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords), the calendar of patron saint festivals in neighboring towns (nearly everyone in El Quiché knows the dates of the patron saint feasts in other towns in the department, including ones they have never visited -- the media play a role here, as well, as local cable stations often show hours upon hours of live or taped coverage of parades, concerts and other components of the feasts). And then there are personal histories, also marked in time: the dates of the disappearances or murders of relatives who were victims of the armed conflict.  Most migrants I interviewed (and returned migrants I have spoken to informally) remember the date they left Guatemala, the date they crossed the border, and the date they arrived (if they did) at their final destination.

There are other collective historical markers, not as broadly national as the official holidays, but more localized, and perhaps limited to those who want or need to remember. These include the dates of massacres (and these may overlap, to a degree, with the dates of the deaths of specific individuals -- although not everyone who died or disappeared during the war was a victim of a large-scale massacre). Among these are the nationally significant ones -- Panzós, the Spanish Embassy -- that are often commemorated with public ceremonies or actions. They also include the anniversaries of assassinations or disappearances of important leaders, such as Msgr. Juan Gerardi, key figure in the Recuperation of Historical Memory initiative that gathered survivor testimonies, and one of the compilers/authors of the massive collection Guatemala Nunca Mas. (Guatemala Never Again). 

During the past three years, there is another series of dates that are etched in the minds and hearts of indigenous activists throughout Guatemala. These include May 1, 2012, when a peasant leader was killed by company security guards in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango; October 4, 2012, when 8 community leaders from Totonicapán were killed when the army opened fire on a peaceful protest along the Panamerican Highway; April 16, 2013, when the murdered and tortured body of Q'anjob'al leader Daniel Pedro Mateo was discovered in the aldea of Quetzál, Santa Cruz Barillas.  

And again, these are accompanied by more locally significant ones: the dates of the "consultas comunitarias de buena fé" -- the "community consultations in good faith" -- a form of popular referendum that has been carried out in several dozen municipalities throughout Guatemala, in which community members of all ages (at least those old enough to hold a pencil, read a ballot and mark a box) are invited to express their opinions about whether or not their community should accept mining, hydroelectrics or any other mega projects. In nearly every consultation that has been carried out, over 90% have voted NO, and in many cases the figure is closer to 100%. Although these consultations are not binding (that is why they are labeled "in good faith" as that is a legal construct; if they were binding they would be labeled "vinculante"), they carry tremendous symbolic weight in indigenous communities throughout Guatemala and are widely accepted as an authentic and legitimate expression of  community opinion.  In many municipalities, the anniversary of the consultation - including in municipalities where there has been state repression, company and state intimidation, and social conflict -- is celebrated as a civic holiday.

Moving from time to space, the events that I have indicated above, and others, are also part of a new cartography of Guatemala, one that is marked by the sites where there have been resistance movements, state or company-sponsored repression, violence, and deaths.  In light of the recent events, in the last few days someone published a map of Guatemala online with an image of a black bow (a nationally recognized symbol of mourning: at the home where someone has died, the family will place a black bow, sometimes made of recycled plastic bags, over the doorway to indicate that it is a house of mourning), and then the points that were highlighted on the map with the name of the municipality and a black bow were the places where there have been conflicts, peaceful resistances (occupations) and murders: San Juan Sacatepéquez, Monte Olivo in Alta Verapáz, Santa Cruz Barillas, and so forth. This new geography of postwar conflict, repression, resistance and violence, can be overlaid on the map of massacres and other violent events from the armed internal conflict. Not all the sites where there are proposed or functioning mines, hydroelectric dams, African palm plantations and other mega-projects were the site of wartime massacres, but many are, and so the historical memory of the wartime violence -- and the mostly indigenous population's memory of the behavior of the state security forces (military, police, civilian patrols and paramilitary death squads) -- are important pieces of the puzzle.

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