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.
Michele McArdle Stephens
The Huichols are an indigenous group inhabiting the west Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Durango, and Zacatecas, who maintain a culture distinct from Mexican society at large. Since their conquest by the Spanish in 1723, the Huichols have selectively adapted elements of Spanish and Mexican political and social norms in order to serve their best interests, whether that be the protection of their lands from usurpation, the disappearance of their culture through assimilation, or the destruction of their religion by conversion. For the Huichols, land and territory have spiritual significance, which governs their actions and reactions. A loss of land would result in a destruction of their culture and identity. Culturally unified through their religion and language, the Huichols demonstrate a political disunity by which leaders of the different Huichol towns acted in ways that were most beneficial for their communities, often without regard for how their actions may impact other Huichol towns. Ironically, it is this disunity that has helped them weather centuries of warfare, modernization, land alienation, and intrusion by national, federal, and multinational entities.
From 2001 to 2003, Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación del Perú, or CVR) investigated and reported on human rights abuses committed in Peru by state forces and insurgents between 1980 and 2000. That twenty-year armed internal conflict began when militants of the Peruvian Communist Party-Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) launched an armed struggle against the Peruvian State. The smaller MRTA (Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) waged a separate armed struggle from 1984 until 1997. Peru’s armed forces, police, and peasant civil defense patrols carried out a counterinsurgency that lasted until the collapse of Alberto Fujimori’s authoritarian regime in 2000.
The CVR’s official mandate was to analyze why the violence occurred, determine the scale of victimization, assess responsibility, propose reparations, and recommend preventative reforms. The CVR collected nearly seventeen thousand testimonies about the violence, including harrowing stories of massacres, disappearances, torture, and sexual abuse. The CVR also held twenty-seven public hearings, broadcast on Peruvian television and radio.
Commissioners determined that the death toll from the armed internal conflict was 69,280. This number was more than twice as high as previous estimates. The CVR established that 79 percent of the victims lived in rural areas, and 75 percent of the dead spoke Quechua or another Indigenous language as their first language. Commissioners also determined that the PCP-Shining Path was responsible for 54 percent of the reported deaths. The Final Report recommended institutional reforms including changes to Peru’s educational system, limits on military autonomy, changes to policing, and greater controls over intelligence agencies. It also made a series of recommendations regarding individual and collective reparations, as well as judicial actions. These conclusions and recommendations appear in the CVR’s Final Report, a nine-volume analysis of the violence, totaling about eight thousand pages.
Commissioners forwarded forty-five cases to the Peruvian Attorney General’s office (Ministerio Público) and two cases to the Peruvian Judiciary (Poder Judicial) for investigation and possible criminal trials. Most of these cases, however, stalled in the courts. The most significant exception to these frustrated legal efforts was the trial of former president Alberto Fujimori, who was found guilty of human rights abuses and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison.
The CVR proved highly controversial inside Peru. Many Peruvians argued that reconciliation would be tantamount to forgiving and forgetting terrorists’ crimes. Another heated controversy involved the accusation that the CVR was unduly sympathetic to the Shining Path and unfairly critical of the Peruvian military. Although the CVR’s work galvanized civil society, the return to power of political and military figures sharply criticized in the Final Report has led many observers to question the Truth Commission’s impact. There has also been significant disappointment with the CVR because it generated expectations for compensation and sociopolitical transformation that have not been met.