Throughout the 20th century, Central America experienced two key waves of communist-party formation. The first wave lasted from 1923 to 1931 and the second from 1949 to 1954. The first-wave parties actively participated in four fundamental historical processes: in El Salvador, in the rebellion of 1932; and in Costa Rica, in the banana strike of 1934, in the reforms of 1940 to 1943, and in the civil war of 1948. The second-wave parties participated decisively in the radicalization of the Guatemalan social reforms (1951–1954) and in the 1954 Honduran banana strike. These parties had a differentiated impact on Central American societies. In Costa Rica and Panama, the communists promoted social changes whose success worked against the communists themselves. In Belize, an active Labor party prevented a communist party from developing there. In Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, repression neutralized the role that communist parties could play as institutional modernizers. In the mid-1940s, the military assumed this modernizing role: in Guatemala, with the collaboration of the communists; and in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, against the communists. The most radical of these reformist experiences was the Guatemalan, which ended in 1954 due to a US-backed coup. In the other countries, the military endorsed socially limited reforms without political democratization. In this context, the communist parties began to be displaced by guerrilla movements from 1959 to 1963. In Honduras, the military managed to stop this displacement in the early 1960s through broader reformist policies, but the guerrillas in the other countries led a successful revolution in Nicaragua (1979), fought lengthy civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, and turned Central America into one of the main battlefields of the Cold War in the 1980s. Beginning in the 1990s, these guerrilla movements became political parties, electorally strong in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and marginal in Guatemala, but different from the communist parties that preceded them. At the beginning of the 21st century, the communist parties that still exist in Central America barely maintain a presence on Facebook.
Humanizing Deportation is a community archive of digital stories (testimonial video shorts) that recounts personal experiences related to deportation and deportability. The largest qualitative archive in the world on this topic, its bilingual (English/Spanish) open access website, as of March 2020, holds close to 300 digital stories by nearly 250 different community storytellers and continues to expand. All digital stories are created and directed by the community storytellers themselves. While the vast majority of the stories were created by Mexican migrants currently living in Mexico’s largest border cities (Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez), and other major urban metropolitan regions (Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey), it also includes some stories of migrants living in the United States, as well as other migrants, many in transit, passing through Mexico from such countries as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, and as far from North America as Cameroon. Launched in 2017, Humanizing Deportation’s teams of academic facilitators remain active, and the archive continues to grow.
The magnitude and brutality of the internal armed conflict of Guatemala led to its becoming infamous worldwide. Although the militarized state became a monster that brutalized many different groups, indigenous communities suffered at a rate far greater than the Ladino or non-indigenous population. It is pertinent to note that the term “Ladino” in Guatemala has a long and complex history that stems from the colonial period. Its meaning has morphed through time, from being used by colonial authorities to define indigenous peoples fluent in the conqueror’s language—Spanish—to its current meaning that defines all peoples, from white to mestizo, who are not part of the elite class and do not identify as indigenous. It is important to note that while not a formal social scientific term, “Ladino” was included in the latest Guatemalan census (2018) and, as posited by social scientists, is a contested term the meaning of which might continue to change. Nevertheless, the dichotomy of Ladino and indigenous has underscored issues of power and wealth in Guatemalan society since the early colonial period and continues to do so. During the bloodiest years of the conflict, the military stepped up its repression and violence, leading to a series of massacres and displacements of tens of thousands of highland villagers and the razing of hundreds of communities. The focus on indigenous ethnicities as a factor of war allowed the massacres to be categorized as a genocide. What often gets lost in the recount is the historical foundations that made such atrocities possible. The cost of the war in Guatemala is ongoing and immeasurable. However, partial approximations can be made in both human and economic costs. What remains clear is that the war came at a great cost to future Guatemalan generations, as its repercussions continue to impact Guatemalan society.
Proposals challenging male authority gained strength in Costa Rica during the 20th century and, especially at the turn of the 21st century, and questioned naturalized sexual and gender identities. The effects of these discursivities are varied. The experience of feminists, of middle-class women outside these discursivities, and of women of the subaltern classes demonstrate the plurality of meanings attributed to gender relations as filtered through subjective experience. The introduction of alternative identity proposals destabilizes the established parameters of sexual and gender identities, but, at the same time, produces new conservative discursivities that limit the potential for change. Two feminist movements, one that reached its peak in the 1920s and a second that arose in the final decades of the 20th century, brought about substantive changes in female identities, revealing the power relations that underlie the discursive representation of patriarchal power as eternal and immutable. An assessment of contemporary feminism based on the experiences of its protagonists shows the movement’s significant gains as well as the challenges and weaknesses it has faced over its history, the most important of which may be how to reach beyond the sphere of well-educated, heterosexual, middle-class women. In conclusion, public discourses that have politicized gender and sexuality in Costa Rica are creatively constituted in the social world, according to what changes appear attainable at different moments of history. Carved out by actors committed to change, these discourses have achieved substantive transformations in institutional structures and subjectivities. However, present experience shows clearly that every affirmation of identity is precarious, and that the gains achieved require the ongoing, active engagement of civil society.