restricted access 12. Harvest of Conviction: Solidarity in Guatemalan Scholarship, 1988–2008 - David Stoll
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162 / Benson and Fischer also pries open the possibility that the state is not entirely to blame for the reality of lasting failures). Meanwhile, in a new media world the “perpetrator” is now represented as a more anonymous and diffuse specter of “crime,” usually equated with gangs and delinquency (Benson 2004). Delinquents become that segment of the population not effectively or integrally partnered with the state and other groups to achieve peace and security. One result is that the deaths and suffering get washed away in the larger flood of violence overwhelming the country. It is the best cover for political violence.This is not to divert blame from the state and its armed services.The military is widely and credibly believed to be tightly connected with drug traffickers . In 1990, members of the notorious presidential guard killed anthropologist Myrna Mack. Government forces have been involved in other acts of intimidation and coercion. Yet, the majority of politically motivated killing in recent years seem to have been carried out by private death squads, while the sustained wave of common crime is largely the work of freelance criminals working for profit rather than for politics (except when politics are profitable). Far from a waning of power, the state benefits from relinquishing its monopoly on force in several ways. Foreign observance and attention of the social situation can decline because the kinds of suffering that emerge in the wake of genocide do not, perverse as it may be, carry the cultural capital or marketing potential as warfare. In the 1990s, foreign military aid to Guatemala dropped precipitously. After 1996’s Peace Accords, military aid dropped further and the Guatemalan government began a major reduction in the size of its armed forces.Although the Peace Accords mandate that the military focus exclusively on external threats, recent presidents have invoked special powers to keep the army deployed to help fight the nationwide wave of violent crime. The social production of fear through rumor, images, and empirical experience allows the state to position itself as mano dura (an iron fist), something that civil society needs to function properly. Important social implications of the narrow focus on “security” issues were seen in the national political campaigns of 2003 and 2007. Most leading candidates adopted a “tough on crime” platform and portrayed themselves—in stump speeches and roadside billboards—as eager to stamp out crime and eager to potentially utilize force and coercive power in the process. One right-wing candidate’s slogan was “seguridad total” (total security), giving the impression of an ensuing clampdown. Viewers of campaign propaganda are not supposed to fear that the state might victimize or violate them or their civil rights in order to achieve aggregate safety and security.Viewers are supposed to imagine that those who will be stamped out are delinquents, never the interpellated voting subject. The state claims to categorically distinguish within the fabric Neoliberal Violence / 163 of civil society itself and treats subjects differently. While “gang members” are targeted for punishment, innocent citizens are presumably protected. But here lies the problem with such a politics, a problem that is at once philosophical and practical. The state represents the “people” in aggregate and, at the same time, makes sometimes less than fine distinctions based on such factors as race, class, background, and geography. The rub of “security” campaigning is that such a position inevitably pits the government against the public electing a particular candidate. The state and its functionaries are positioned in opposition to the “people,”assuming a hybrid role as protectorate and punisher.Susan Buck-Morss eloquently describes this aporia of democratic political entities as follows: From the perspective of the end of the twentieth century, the paradox seems irrefutable that political regimes claiming to rule in the name of the masses—claiming, that is, to be radically democratic—construct, legitimately , a terrain in which the exercise of power is out of control of the masses, veiled from public scrutiny, arbitrary, and absolute. Modern sovereignties harbor a blind spot,a zone in which power is above the law and thus,at least potentially,a terrain of terror.This wild zone of power,by its very structure impossible to domesticate, is intrinsic to mass-democratic regimes. [ . . . As] regimes of supreme, sovereign power, they are always already more than a democracy—and consequently a good deal less. [2000: 2–3] In politically representing the nation on whole, the state also comes to protect that body politic from internal elements, warding...


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Subject Headings

  • Mayas -- Guatemala -- Government relations.
  • Mayas -- Guatemala -- Politics and government.
  • Mayas -- Crimes against -- Guatemala
  • Guatemala -- History -- 1945-1985.
  • Guatemala -- History -- 1985-.
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