Reckoning: The Ends of War in Guatemala

Book

Following the 1996 treaty ending decades of civil war, how are Guatemalans reckoning with genocide and with the fact that almost everyone collaborated in some way with the violence? Meaning “to count, figure up” and “to settle rewards and punishments,” reckoning promises accounting and accountability. Yet Diane Nelson shows that the means by which the war was waged, especially its raced and gendered modes, unsettle the very premises of knowing and being. Symptomatic are the stories of duplicity and living with “two faces” pervasive in post-war Guatemala and applied to the left, Mayan people, and the state. Drawing on over twenty years of research in Guatemala, Nelson explores how postwar struggles to reckon traumatic experience illuminate the assumptions of identity more generally. Nelson lashes together stories of human rights activism, Mayan identity struggles, forced-voluntary participation in massacres, and popular enjoyments like traditional dances, horror films, and carnivals, with exhumations of mass graves, official apologies, and reparations. She discusses the stereotype of the Two-Faced Indian as colonial discourse revivified by anti-guerrilla counterinsurgency and by the claims of duplicity leveled against Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú, as well as functioning as a survival strategy for some. Nelson examines suspicions that state power is also two-faced, from the left’s fears of a clandestine para-state behind the democratic façade to the right’s conviction that NGOs threaten Guatemalan sovereignty. Comparing anti-malaria and anti-subversive campaigns suggests biopolitical ways the state is two-faced, simultaneously taking and giving life. Emphasizing that the ends of war are always sites of struggle, Nelson offers a ground-up take on political transition as Guatemalans find creative ways forward, turning ledger books, technoscience, and even gory popular culture into tools for making sense of violence, loss, and the future.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Nelson, DM

Published Date

  • February 2009

Published By