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.