Historians of Guatemala regularly feed on two fundamental questions: "How do historians and social scientists divide society?" and "What forces propel change?" One Guatemalan, Severo Martínez Peláez, shifted the historiographical debate around these two questions almost single-handedly in 1970 with his acclaimed publication, La Patria del criollo. We finally have a deftly edited and sharp translation of this monograph. Susan Neve and George Lovell have accomplished this labor-intensive project with two additional dollops, a captivating introduction into the life and works of Professor Martínez Peláez (coedited by Christopher Lutz) and a handy "go-to" glossary for those essential Spanish and indigenous words that defy easy translation.
The publication of La Patria del criollo offers an extraordinary entrée into the classic dialogue between the twentieth-century intellectual and committed revolutionary, Martínez Peláez, and the late eighteenth-century chronicler and visionary for the emerging Creole class in colonial Guatemala, Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán. He argued that Fuentes y Guzmán created the notion of "patria" in his Recordación Florida in reaction to the "threat of transformation implicit in imperial policy and in the arrival of Spanish newcomers" (p. 73). The "true heirs of the Conquest" faced an extraordinary competition and his chronicle attempted to provide a "florid remembrance" of the good ole times. The struggle between the "Two Spains" represents the opening salvo of La Patria del criollo while his treatises on the "Indians" and "Race Mixture and the Middle Strata" get at the heart of the author's convictions. Independence from colonial Spain and the ensuing liberal governments, Martínez Peláez concluded, implanted the colonial vision of the patria of the criollo to protect and enhance control over land and the indigenous and ladino workers.
Class dominated Professor Martínez Peláez's analysis. He sought to expose the superficial ethnic tensions between the Indian and ladino, which divided the emerging proletariat. La Patria del criollo becomes an exposé of the conversion of a young Guatemalan intellectual to a Marxist framework in order to understand the dominating role of capitalism, reinforced by U.S. hegemony, from a historic framework. Martínez Peláez's overreach on this particular insight provoked Guatemalan and international social scientists. The introduction by George Lovell and Christopher Lutz hones in on this philosophical leap. Citing [End Page 425] Carlos Guzmán Böckler and Jean-Loup Herbert, they countered that "Guatemala is at heart a plural society, one in which Indians and Ladinos coexist in mutual distrust and misunderstanding" (p. xxxiii).
Professor Martínez Pelaez's conviction and passionate analysis makes sense today at a crucial level. Land and the control of labor became the heart of wealth in colonial and nineteenth-century Guatemala. The liberal republic of Justo Rufino Barrios and subsequent "coffee dictatorships" represented the "full and radical realization of criollo notions of the patria" (p. 278). Anyone hoping to challenge impoverished Guatemala would have to confront the historic power of colonial elites now vested within the champions of the liberal reforms. Martínez Peláez witnessed firsthand, as a young lad, overseers parading shackled gangs of indigenous peoples through the streets of Quetzaltenango as they headed to harvest coffee. The October 1944 revolution sought to challenge both the concentration of land and the control of labor. When Carlos Castillo Armas dashed these revolutionary hopes with his CIA-backed intervention in 1954, Martínez Peláez soon became a dedicated member of the Partido Guatemalteco de Trabajadores (Guatemalan Workers Party) to challenge this historic legacy and power. Professor Martínez Peláez wrote this groundbreaking tome over the next decade and a half after he sought political refuge in Mexico, where he remained for much of his adult life.
The English translation of La Patria del criollo offers a gallant foray into the massive production that has sold more than 50,000 copies in Guatemala and elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world. The team of translators and editors made tough decisions about cutting the text and rich footnotes, and in more than one spot, actually improved Professor Martinez Peláez's Spanish prose. As the Spanish text became fundamental to Guatemalan historiography, this translation will become a staple of Latin American historiography.