Title: Bitter Earth: Counterinsurgency Strategy and the Roots of Mayan Neo-authoritarianism in Post-revolutionary Guatemala
Name: Nick Copeland
Year: 2006
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: My dissertation, Bitter Earth: Counterinsurgency Strategy and the Roots of Mayan Neo-authoritarianism in Post-revolutionary Guatemala, examines sixty years of interaction between rural indigenous communities and the Guatemalan state, focusing especially in the period after the 1996 Peace Accords. Based on 14 months of fieldwork in a Mayan-Mam town in the western highlands, it describes grassroots responses to state strategies of violence, surveillance, thought control, development, and political inclusion. It shows how state strategies have shaped conceptions and practices of politics, development, community and self in Mayan towns. These findings introduce new perspectives into debates about violence, memory, development and indigenous politics in postwar Guatemala and elsewhere, and about global neoliberal governance. This work ethnographically depicts an indigenous, subaltern experience of democracy under neoliberalism that is quite alien to neoliberal discourses on freedom. Far from including Mayans as full citizens with distinct rights, these policies undermine the promise of multicultural democracy by opening limited spaces for political and economic advancement while systematically eroding awareness of and trust in organized reformist politics, faith in collective political agency, and community solidarity and autonomy. Furthermore, these conditions prevent widespread resistance to the apartheid-like Guatemalan social order and to neoliberal economic policies from finding coherent expression within official democratic procedures. I contend that the basis of the appeal of neo-authoritarian politics is not, primarily, ideological resonance or fear of repression, but an effect of the brutal displacement of Mayan collective struggle for rights, resources, and dignity into miserably inadequate, and highly compromising, state-sanctioned spaces. However, by describing the micro-processes through which political ideas and practices become habituated, emerging contradictions between inclusive and repressive state strategies, and local forms of resistance, this research points to alternatives. Specifically, it illuminates subaltern conceptions of human rights and development incommensurable with authoritarian, neoliberal and leftist programs for national reconstruction.