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Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Terror, and Hope

Beatriz Manz
With a foreword by Aryeh Neier
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 330
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pprx1
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  • Book Info
    Paradise in Ashes
    Book Description:

    Paradise in Ashesis a deeply engaged and moving account of the violence and repression that defined the murderous Guatemalan civil war of the 1980s. In this compelling book, Beatriz Manz-an anthropologist who spent over two decades studying the Mayan highlands and remote rain forests of Guatemala-tells the story of the village of Santa María Tzejá, near the border with Mexico. Manz writes eloquently about Guatemala's tortured history and shows how the story of this village-its birth, destruction, and rebirth-embodies the forces and conflicts that define the country today. Drawing on interviews with peasants, community leaders, guerrillas, and paramilitary forces, Manz creates a richly detailed political portrait of Santa María Tzejá, where highland Maya peasants seeking land settled in the 1970s. Manz describes these villagers' plight as their isolated, lush, but deceptive paradise became one of the centers of the war convulsing the entire country. After their village was viciously sacked in 1982, desperate survivors fled into the surrounding rain forest and eventually to Mexico, and some even further, to the United States, while others stayed behind and fell into the military's hands. With great insight and compassion, Manz follows their flight and eventual return to Santa María Tzejá, where they sought to rebuild their village and their lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93932-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Aryeh Neier

    The 1970s and the 1980s were a terrible period in Latin America. Country after country—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, among others—was ravaged by repression and internal armed conflict. The toll in lost lives and in suffering was immense. But it was greatest of all in one of the smaller countries in the region where, for a variety of reasons, it was least reported as it was taking place. We now know that about two hundred thousand Guatemalans, most of them Mayan Indians, were murdered during this period. The overwhelming majority were slaughtered by the...

  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Maps
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-32)

    Near the Mexican border a serpentine path meanders through the dense, verdant rain forest of northern Guatemala, skirting tall mahogany trees and brown hanging vines, traversing the undulating terrain toward the remote village of Santa María Tzejá. Landless Mayan peasants from the highlands made the difficult weeklong, 150-mile journey to settle the village in 1970, building a new life with little more than sweat, hope, and a few antiquated hand tools. Twelve years later, on February 13, 1982, a long column of soldiers traveled that twisted path weighed down with combat gear in the languid heat. Their feet sank in...

  8. chapter 1 The Highland Homeland
    (pp. 33-57)

    The land, breathtaking in its beauty, reflects the turmoil beneath it. A range of high rugged mountains tumbles into western Guatemala from the Mexican state of Chiapas and finally slips into northern Nicaragua, defining an imposing landscape that is the geological core of Central America. Powerful tectonic movements shook the earth thousands of years ago and violently thrust it upwards, molding towering peaks and deep valleys out of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rock. The highest of these massive blocks is the Cuchumatán Sierra, a limestone plateau that spills into Guatemala south of Chiapas at an altitude ten thousand feet above...

  9. chapter 2 Settling in the Promised Land
    (pp. 58-90)

    As 1970 approached, the prospective settlers were awash with conflicting emotions: hope mixed with dread, optimism laced with apprehension, excitement fueling a deep determination. They knew they were about to leave the familiar refuge of their highland homes. They were saying good-bye, perhaps forever, to a place where their fathers and mothers had tilled the land, where they had spent their childhoods, where the morning mists were familiar, and where for generations their ancestors had walked the cool mountain paths. Their destination was a distant, uncertain place they had nonetheless begun to call the “promised land.” This new place was...

  10. chapter 3 The War Finds Paradise
    (pp. 91-123)

    The growing presence of the guerrillas and the resulting escalation of military terror created a tense, nightmarish situation in the Ixcán. It is too simplistic an analysis, however, to simply link military violence with guerrilla growth. “Even without subversion the army is abusive,” Pedro Lux told me, “because they have always had the power, they have the weapons.”¹ Nonetheless, the army unleashed a far more extensive and brutal campaign of terror against civilians to dampen guerrilla expansion. The villagers of Santa María Tzejá, distant from the turmoil of the south coast and Guatemala City, found themselves at the epicenter of...

  11. chapter 4 Ashes, Exodus, and Faded Dreams
    (pp. 124-154)

    In the early morning hours of February 16, 1982—the day after the massacre in Santa María Tzejá—the intense heat of the sun began enveloping the rain forest as it did on any other day. The sounds of birds in the forest and the smell of the thick, verdant vegetation had not changed. Something, however, was eerily, tragically different that sad morning: no human sounds at all. No noise of children playing, no yelling across a field, no chopping wood, no morning laughter, no grinding of corn, no smoke, no cooking. The clearing at the center of the village...

  12. chapter 5 A Militarized Village
    (pp. 155-182)

    On the charred remains of the villages it had incinerated, the army began to resettle the Ixcán. It sought to impose a military model on the very structure of village life—what the generals began to call “the new Guatemala.”¹ Beginning in 1983, “Army strategy toward the displaced population was designed to bring it under military control,” according to the CEH (U.N.) report; “amnesties were offered and those who accepted were resettled in highly militarized communities.”² In Santa María Tzejá this new approach combined three elements that were more or less introduced simultaneously: the army brought large numbers of new...

  13. chapter 6 Reunification
    (pp. 183-223)

    After the living hell the village endured, survival would have been a victory in itself. And the village did survive. Villagers built homes on the ashes of the wreckage, worked their land parcels in the unforgiving sun, and once again harvested corn as they always had. The shootings, the torture, and the viselike military control wounded the survivors but failed to extinguish totally the idealism and hope that had inspired them in the first place. As the village was rebuilt from the ruins in 1983, the fate of three groups of peasants—antiguos,nuevos,and refugees—was increasingly intertwined, although the...

  14. chapter 7 Treading between Fear and Hope
    (pp. 224-246)

    It took more than a decade after the worst of the violence, but eventually the Catholic Church, the United Nations, and the president of the United States rendered a verdict about the horrors suffered by villagers in Santa María Tzejá and the rest of Guatemala. The verdict appeared in two forceful reports—cited extensively throughout this book—and an unexpected, historic apology. The Recovery of Historical Memory Project, or Recuperación de la Memoria Histórica (REMHI), issued a scathing study in 1998 entitledGuatemala Nunca Más!(Guatemala Never Again!); the U.N. Commission for Historical Clarification, or Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 247-276)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-294)
  17. Index
    (pp. 295-311)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 312-312)