Title: Good People: Revolution, Community, and Conciencia in a Maya-K'iche' Village in Guatemala
Name: Carlota McAllister
York University
Year: 2000
Type: Dissertation Fellowship

During Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, the Guatemalan army justified its genocidal violence against Maya Guatemalans by arguing that Maya were the armed insurgency's natural constituency. Since the war, Maya and their advocates have grounded their demands for justice in the claim that Maya have community instead of class consciousness, and were thus incapable of subscribing to the insurgency's revolutionary project. This dissertation challenges both representations of the Maya by presenting the case of Chupol, a strategically located Maya-K'iche' village in Guatemala's highlands that joined the insurgency as a community and suffered the consequences of this decision as a collectivity.

To recover the history of this decision, I show how Chupolenses acquired and used what they call conciencia (Spanish for both "conscience" and "consciousness"), meaning the God-given faculty for distinguishing bad from good action, and the concomitant duty to do good. Conciencia, which Chupolenses maintain led them to join the insurgency, emerged out of the articulation of Cold War geopolitics with longstanding relations of power in agrarian Guatemala’s rural area. By acting on their conciencia Chupolenses became agents of the insurgency's world-historical project, but agents whose ability to foresee the future of their struggle—and thus the consequences of their actions—was limited by the same conditions that allowed them to undertake that struggle in the first place. In arguing over the past, Chupolenses attempt to determine what claims conciencia can make in the wake of the defeat of their struggle, and thus how to ground the collectivity of "good people" in which Chupolenses feel they should participate.

By showing that Maya could become insurgents without sacrificing either their Maya nature or their legitimate claim to have been harmed by the war, I seek to recuperate the political commitments at the heart of Guatemala's war and thus to place the post-war human rights framing of such conflicts as struggles between innocence and evil in political and geopolitical context. People like Chupolenses, I show, can only be incorporated into contemporary Guatemalan political life if their revolutionary past and their debates over its significance are taken into account.