Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Forgotten Guatemala (WOF)

Something that's been bugging me since we dove into the analysis of Chua's section on Latin America is how focused it has been on only some examples - namely Bolivia, Brazil, and Peru - in spite of her explanation that Bolivia and Peru are only two of the four Latin American countries with a majority indigenous population (what degree of indigenous ancestry that constitutes was unmentioned, just like Haiti and Brazil for being primarily non-white as well). More conspicuous than the lacking analysis of Ecuador is the omission of Guatemala - this is a state removed from the presidential campaigns in the harsh valleys of the Andes or the favelas of Brazil. It's an example in a completely different part of Latin America, which should be included and analyzed if Chua's ostensibly universal observations are in fact universal.

For reasons unrelated to this project, I started reading a collection of ethnographies, Genocide: Truth, Memory, and Representation which included a piece by Debra H. Rodman entitled Forgotten Guatemala which explored Guatemalans reactions to decades of massacres, civil war, and violence. Strikingly, the analysis of the conflict calls into question the supremacy of Chua's observations about the racial and economic hierarchy in Latin America. As Rodman describes it, during the nineteenth century, the Guatemalan hero Raphael Carreva "[a] Ladino [a person of mixed ancestry] from the Eastern Highlands, [...] led a conservative counter-revolution that was crucial to Guatemala's nation-building and that secured Ladino power from the white elites of Guatemala City" (Hinton, 196*). In other words, Chua is not describing a new phenomenon of various Latinos of color contesting white dominance, at least in the case of Guatemala. Instead, Ladinos, those with highly intermixed racial ancestries, have long dominated Guatemalan society. As Rodman explains, military recruitment during the Civil War followed general "policies, which included the recruitment of elite Ladinos as military officers" (Hinton, 194). In some ways, Ladinos disprove Chua's assertion that Whites constitute the market-dominant elite throughout the whole of Latin America.

In others, however, they challenge the very idea of a simple dichotomy between an elite, "market-dominant" minority (Whites, Ladinos) and a ethnically-dissimilar and impoverished majority (Indios, Mulattos, etc). In short, non-elite Ladinos exist and form an integral part of the social system. During the same periods of willing recruitment of privileged Ladinos into officer positions, Rodman catalogues "the coerced conscription of indigenous and poor Ladinos as foot soldiers" (Hinton, 194). The decades of violence in Guatemala reflect various dynamics - elite Ladino paranoia regarding potential lower class Ladino revolutionaries, anti-Maya sentiments, and at times fusions of the two. Chua's point rests on the assumption that ethnic groups throughout the world (including Latin America, and therefore Guatemala) frequently if not inherently constitute economic classes. The in-fighting within the Ladino community in Guatemala emphatically contradicts any belief that a fused economic and ethnic identity is more common, more natural, or more likely.

In light of this, you have to wonder why Chua's largely skipped over Guatemala.

(*All citations are to Forgotten Guatemala as reproduced in Genocide: Truth, Memory, and Representation)

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