Guatemalan Genocide of the 1980s

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The Guatemalan Genocide

Indio visto, Indio muerte

Country: Guatemala

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Guatemala’s Brutal Civil War:

Guatemala experienced a long and bloody 36-year civil war from 1960 to 1996. During this time, roughly 200,000 people were killed and more than 1.5 million were displaced. Under the leadership of military dictator Rios Montt, a campaign specifically targeting Mayas took place. Under the rouse that the indigenous peoples of Guatemala were against the government, the Guatemalan army began brutally terrorizing and destroying Mayan villages. In the 17 months of Montt’s rule, more than 1.770 Ixil Mayans were murdered, 626 villages were destroyed, and many more horrors such as rapes and beatings took place. The ‘slash-and-burn’ method of leveling Mayan villages and fields by burning them was also widely used during this period. After this period of highest bloodshed in the early 1980s, with the removal of Montt as leader, the peace process slowly began and in 1996 a UN back peace agreement was signed marking the end of the Civil War.

Position Statement:

There aren’t very many memorials for the Guatemalan Genocide. Guatemala is very poor country, and this might contribute to the lack of memorials as the government has very little money to spend on something like that. Also, there may or may not be ties to the genocide and the current government. I think that these two factors have helped contribute to the lack of memorialization of the genocide. There also hasn’t been a big U.S. push for education of the genocide probably because of the U.S. government’s involvement in it through the supplying of arms and training to the government that carried out the genocide. They only memorial I’ve found in my research is The Granito Project, which is completely online.[1] I think that a physical memorial is important in preserving memory and legacy. This memorial will be similar to The Granito Project in that it will also work to preserve identity and education current generations about past atrocities, however it was be mainly for people who aren’t related to the genocide directly. This memorial will be more for people who know nothing about the genocide, or maybe not even know it happened, and will be location in the United States. I think it’s important to reconcile the U.S.’s role in perpetrating the genocide. I want this memorial to be relatively basic so that it can reach as large an audience as possible.

The Guatemalan Genocide occurred during Guatemala’s long civil war, in the years 1981-1983. The Guatemalan government committed genocide against the Mayan population of Guatemala, attacking and destroying 626 villages, killing 200,000 people and displacing 1.5 million more.[2] During the genocide, the national army rounded up Mayas and dragged them out of their homes to be brutally beaten and killed. The government also maintained a ‘scorched earth policy’ during this time. According to a UN report, the genocide “demonstrat[ed] an aggressive racist component of extreme cruelty that led to extermination en masse of defenseless Mayan communities, including children, women and the elderly, through methods whose cruelty has outraged the moral conscience of the civilized world”.[3] The ‘president’ during the genocide, Efrain Rios Montt, is currently on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. Because of this trial is occurring, I think that now is a very poignant time to create a memorial. I want to incorporate the identity of Mayans and Maya life into the memorial, because I think that it is important to examine the intent of genocide as a way to destroy culture and identity. Mayans are a minority population so I think that preserving part of their culture is very important.


[1] Granito Every Memory Matters. Granitomem, n.d. Web. 6 May 2013.  <http://www.granitomem.com/&gt;.

[2] Holocaust Museum Houston. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2013. <http://www.hmh.org/la_Genocide_Guatemala.shtml&gt;.

[3] Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification: Guatemala. N.p.: CEH, n.d. Guatemala: Memory of Silence. Web. 2 May 2013. <http://shr.aaas.org/ guatemala/ceh/report/english/toc.html>.

Theme(s): Identity and Memory and Legacy

I plan on doing a memorial for the Guatemalan Genocide. I think that this is an important genocide to memorialize because during my research of different memorials I found nothing for the Guatemalan Genocide. I think this is also a good time for some sort of memorial given the current trial of lead perpetrator, Rios Montt. I’m going to work alone and examine memory and legacy and identity. I think identity is important especially in this case because the indigenous peoples of Guatemala (as well as in other countries) have faced a lot of adversity and exclusion from society due to different types of clothing, customs, language and religious practice. As these practices die out, the identity of these people also changes and is lost. Guatemala is a very poor country which often makes memorializing things like genocide harder or lower priority. Because of this, I want this memorial to be able to reach as many people as possible (across different age groups, ethnicities, etc). 

Memorial Overview:

This memorial is inspired by traditional Guatemalan shrines. Many Guatemalan shrines include offerings of flowers and food, as well as candle and pictures of loved ones. Typically, the shrines feature some religious reference, usually a cross. I wanted my shrine to closely resemble something more traditional. I chose a softer and more earth wood to give it an authentic feel.

photo 3 (2)photo 3photo 5Because this is not a personal shrine to one specific individual but more a memorial for the genocide as a whole, I decided to use a faceless sculpture instead of pictures.The sculpture included in this memorial is painted in bright colors which is very typical of traditional Mayan apparel. The woman is also wearing a huipil and a cinta, both articles of traditional Mayan clothing.

url-1 21-56-09url-1(huipil)                                                                                                                (cinta)

[0] Canby, Peter. “The Mayan Genocide Trial.” The New Yorker May 2013: n. pag. The New Yorker. Web. 6 May 2013. <http://www.newyorker.com/online/ blogs/comment/2013/05/the-maya-genocide-trial.html>.

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