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A Beauty That Hurts

A Beauty That Hurts

Copyright Date: 2010
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  • Book Info
    A Beauty That Hurts
    Book Description:

    Though a 1996 peace accord brought a formal end to a conflict that had lasted for thirty-six years, Guatemala's violent past continues to scar its troubled present and seems destined to haunt its uncertain future. George Lovell brings to this revised and expanded edition ofA Beauty That Hurtsdecades of fieldwork throughout Guatemala, as well as archival research. He locates the roots of conflict in geographies of inequality that arose during colonial times and were exacerbated by the drive to develop Guatemala's resources in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The lines of confrontation were entrenched after a decade of socioeconomic reform between 1944 and 1954 saw modernizing initiatives undone by a military coup backed by U.S. interests and the CIA. A United Nations Truth Commission has established that civil war in Guatemala claimed the lives of more that 200,000 people, the vast majority of them indigenous Mayas.

    Lovell weaves documentation about what happened to Mayas in particular during the war years with accounts of their difficult personal situations. Meanwhile, an intransigent elite and a powerful military continue to benefit from the inequalities that triggered armed insurrection in the first place. Weak and corrupt civilian governments fail to impose the rule of law, thus ensuring that Guatemala remains an embattled country where postwar violence and drug-related crime undermine any semblance of orderly, peaceful life.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79293-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)

      (pp. 3-16)

      Genaro Castañeda was only four years old when, in 1974, I first saw the Cuchumatanes Mountains that are home to him and another quarter-million Q’anjob’al Mayas. The life that awaited him in Canada was a long way off, and Spanish still as foreign a tongue as the English he now speaks fluently. His father, murdered at thirty-six, had only two more years to live.

      We first became acquainted in 1987. Genaro was working as a busboy at a Kingston restaurant, looking after tables in the summer patio. Someone at the restaurant had mentioned my name and told him about my...

      (pp. 17-25)

      I heard Rigoberta Menchú speak for the first time in Toronto on February 6, 1988. That very dayThe Globe and Mailran a travel feature with the headline “Guatemala in Style for a Mere $5 a Day.” Whether she or the organizers of the human rights conference she came to address noticed the coincidence, I don’t know. I suspect, however, that the image of Guatemala it projected would not have been to their liking.

      It is unclear from the piece whether the writer, Margaret Piton, had actually visited Guatemala: she provides the prospective tourist with a long list of...

      (pp. 26-31)

      Jacaltenango is a remote, unkempt-looking town at the western edge of the Cuchumatanes Mountains close to the Guatemalan border with Mexico. It is known to the scholarly world as a stop on the route taken in 1925 by Frans Blom and Oliver La Farge, who afterward produced a two-volume record,Tribes and Temples(1926, 1927), about their reconnaissance. La Farge returned to Jacaltenango two years later with fellow researcher Douglas Byers, with whom he pennedThe Year Bearer’s People(1931), another classic contribution in the field of Mesoamerican anthropology.

      Both works, especially the latter, document an intriguing array of Maya...

      (pp. 32-38)

      We arrived in Santa Cruz del Quiché shortly before noon, drove slowly around the main square, then waited as instructed in front of the church. I spotted Tina before Lorenzo did. She made her way unhurriedly across the plaza, looking relaxed and composed. I found it remarkable to think that she had given birth to a baby girl only days before. Everything with Tina was the opposite of drama. She specialized in being matter of fact, which made her a reliable stringer.

      I heard her call out our names as she approached the jeep. We nodded. “You’re early,” Tina said....

      (pp. 39-41)

      Imagine the naked body of a young woman. Her head is turned to one side, eyes closed, lips apart, mouth half-open. She is dead. A soiled cloth has been laid across her genitals. Her arms, in repose, are arranged across her chest, but they have no hands. These have been cut off, one placed beneath her right arm, another on top of her stomach. The left side of her face shows she was pretty, but the right side has been mutilated. Three deep gashes on her right arm stand out amidst myriad other lacerations. She must have departed life, had...

      (pp. 42-46)

      Just as the photographs of Jean-Marie Simon cut to the heart of Guatemala’s dark reality, so too do three features by documentary filmmaker Mary Ellen Davis. Her Maya trilogy spans a decade of faltering transition from war to peace. InThe Devil’s Dream(1992),Tierra Madre(1996), andHaunted Land(2002), Davis contemplates a deeply troubled past and tries to imagine how Guatemala might one day be anything other than its tortured, unresolved self.

      A staunch believer in narrative, Davis informs the viewer by the trust she places in having her protagonists tell stories. She seldom resorts to off-screen voiceovers,...


      (pp. 49-49)

      Joselino arrives with the newspapers every morning shortly after seven. He prefers to ring the doorbell rather than summon attention with the brass knocker cast in the shape of a hand. When I open the door, I usually find him flicking through the pages, stealing a glance at the headlines between call and answer. His bicycle is propped against the curb on the side where the foot pedal is missing, an entire day’s delivery stacked in the wooden box fitted above his rear wheel. After work Joselino rides a flashy motorbike, as impressive to behold in the streets of Antigua...

    • EIGHT INTO THE FIRE (1981)
      (pp. 50-56)

      The man sitting next to me in the sauna is a doctor from Guatemala City. He has come out to Jocotenango in the hope that he can cleanse himself of more than just the capital’s filth. The story he tells me concerns one of his colleagues, Raúl Matamoros, also a doctor, an odontologist trained in Spain who afterward returned to practise his specialty in Guatemala. They had grown up together, gone through medical school together, worked at the same hospital together, and were the best of friends.

      “I said good-bye to him on Thursday around noon. Next morning, when he...

    • NINE PEACE OF THE DEAD (1982–1983)
      (pp. 57-65)

      I missed the visit of Pope John Paul II by only a few days. He was in Guatemala on March 7, 1983, during one of his whirlwind pastoral engagements. Part of his address to an assembly of indigenous Mayas was delivered in K’iche’. “The Church is aware of the discrimination you suffer and the injustices you must put up with,” the Pope told his audience. “It raises its voice in condemnation when your dignity as human beings and children of God is violated.”

      Pope John Paul’s words were spoken exactly one year after General Angel Aníbal Guevara was declared to...

      (pp. 66-70)

      My two weeks passed quickly. Visiting Guatemala for such a short time is by no means ideal, but at least it affords me some opportunity to take stockin situ. Ríos Montt is gone, ousted in August 1983 by a coup that saw General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores assume the presidency. But the violence continues. To the twenty-seven thousand killings under the Lucas García regime, and an estimated ten thousand under Ríos Montt, must now be added thousands more under Mejía Víctores.

      An editorial in the February 23 issue ofEl Gráficohas this to say:

      There is fear among...

    • ELEVEN CIVILIAN RULE (1985–1986)
      (pp. 71-74)

      I arrived in Guatemala well ahead of the date set for the runoff election, December 8, 1985. Victory at the polls that day belonged to Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, who won comfortably with 68 percent of the popular vote. There was a fiesta feel to election day, at least in Antigua. People swarmed the central plaza even more than they do normally. Bands played. Rockets soared. Firecrackers snapped. The returning officers I spoke with were cordial and relaxed, answering questions and even posing for photographs. When it was announced the next day that Cerezo had won, people expressed hope that the...

      (pp. 75-79)

      A number of people told me they had heard the bombs being dropped. I didn’t know whether to believe them or not. “Notthatclose to Antigua,” I remember thinking. I remained skeptical until I read about it afterward, the accounts confirmed by official military sources.

      On Sunday, February 25, 1990—the day the Sandinistas lost the Nicaraguan election—four fighters belonging to the Quetzal Squadron of the Guatemalan Air Force bombed hilly locations in the Guatemalan township of Magdalena Milpas Altas, where the Organization of People in Arms had earlier engaged an army patrol in combat. The bombing did...

      (pp. 80-89)

      I make my way to my favorite table, in the corner of the patio where the light is good, and start to read. The waitress brings me coffee. She hovers, nods at the papers, and asks, “Don’t you ever get tired of all that news?”

      It is the summer of 1990, the time of year they call winter in Guatemala on account of the rains. I am here for several months, working with a translator on turning the English text of a book of mine into a Spanish-language edition. It is a slow, tedious process; sometimes progress is made not...

      (pp. 90-93)

      At Chimaltenango, fifty-five kilometers west of Guatemala City, the Pan-American Highway becomes a desolate strip of bars, nightclubs, gambling joints, and brothels. Branching off the highway, the road to Antigua is lined on both sides by towering stands of eucalyptus. Night is falling as we approach the army base on the outskirts of town. The speed bumps in front of it slow us down to a crawl. A soldier stares at the pickup as it passes the garrison entrance. I glance behind where he stands to a building beside the parade ground. The light is dim, but I can sill...

      (pp. 94-97)

      The tense days between May 25 and June 5, 1993, saw Ramiro de León Carpio, the country’s human rights ombudsman, replace Jorge Serrano Elías as the president of Guatemala. I was working in Spain at the time, but I managed to follow events hour by hour by tuning in to that most dedicated of correspondents, the bbc World Service. The Spanish dailyEl Paísalso kept me informed. An attempt on Serrano’s part to seize dictatorial powers appeared at first to have military approval, but senior members of the armed forces distanced themselves from Serrano’s maneuvers and his “constitutional coup”...

      (pp. 98-103)

      The caption on the calendar at a friend’s house catches my eye: “1995—The Year of Peace.” It is only my first week back in Guatemala, but nothing I have heard or read warrants such an assertion. In Guatemala, declaring peace does not mean the end of war.

      A special “Peace Supplement” in the April 30 issue ofPrensa Libreshares the calendar’s optimism. “When the guns fall silent and peace breaks out,”Prensa Librestates, “Guatemalans will say goodbye to thirty-four years of armed conflict. The task, then, will be to look to the future, determined to avoid a...

      (pp. 104-104)

      I miss my morning chats with Joselino very much. Even on days when the news he delivers is particularly grim, he has something to say about soccer, the rains, his girlfriends, Antigua gossip, or world affairs that cheers me up. I miss his quirky human touch. The anonymous manner by whichThe Globe and Mailarrives on my front porch in Canada does not compare. When I make my way through its pages the trace of Guatemala is as faint as the trace of Canada is there.

      Guatemala, I have learned to accept, unfolds in a trajectory of its own...


      (pp. 107-119)

      Unlike native peoples elsewhere in the Americas, whose memory belongs to history, whose trace on the earth is faint, the Maya of Guatemala are very much a living culture. They sustain a presence no visitor to the country can fail to notice, can avoid being struck by. I recall how unusual I felt the first time I realized that I was the odd one out, a foreigner travelling alone in a busload of Mayas north of Huehuetenango.

      Even modern government censuses, which enumerate fewer indigenous inhabitants than there actually are, record sizeable native populations: 1 million in 1893, 1.6 million...

      (pp. 120-131)

      It’s ironic to think that we often know more about the history of Guatemala under Spanish rule than we do about postcolonial times, especially the nineteenth century. Bit by bit, however, a more grounded appreciation of the events and circumstances of nineteenth-century life is emerging. Much of the credit for this belongs to the historian Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr. His research, while focussing primarily on the political career of Rafael Carrera, in effect sketches the lineaments of culture and society during the first half-century of Guatemala’s existence as an independent republic. The years between 1821 and 1871 have also attracted...

      (pp. 132-137)

      The struggle for justice in Guatemala is inseparable from the struggle for land rights on the part of its impoverished majority, Ladinos as well as Mayas. No chapter in the country’s history revolves so pivotally around the land question as the presidency of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in the early 1950s. To understand the importance of the Arbenz period, however, it is necessary to go back a few years, to 1944, when a ten-year period of change began.

      In June of that year public unrest and a revolt by junior officers in the armed forces led to the overthrow of General...

      (pp. 138-143)

      Leonardo Buch Chiroy doesn’t quitelooklike the indigenous Maya he truly is, at least compared to the exotic images that greet passengers who arrive at Aurora Airport in Guatemala City. It’s his clothes that do it, especially the T-shirt, which hangs loosely over a pair of jeans and gives his outward appearance a distinct, otherworldly dimension. The words on the T-shirt are familiar but a bit disorienting: BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY, they declare. How many Maya Trekkies are there in Guatemala? Beats me, but I spotted and spoke with at least one.

      Leonardo is a teenager from San Jorge...

      (pp. 144-148)

      The backcountry north of Kingston, Ontario, is home to a mix of people who seem to have little in common save for where they happen to live. I know, or know of, lots of backcountry residents: secretaries and factory workers, sheep farmers and beekeepers, carpenters and stonemasons, prison guards and school teachers, potters and painters, weavers and writers, antique dealers and second-hand book buffs, radio producers and freelance editors, draft dodgers and retired generals, hippies from the sixties who went back to the land, and their New-Age, twenty-first-century equivalents. I figured there also had to be natives in the backcountry,...

    (pp. 149-180)

    Genaro Castañeda, who fled his war-torn country as a teenager, has lived most of his life away from Guatemala. For seventeen years the province he calls home has been British Columbia, not his native Huehuetenango. Genaro has a steady job as the headwaiter at a private yacht club in Vancouver. Though I visited his birthplace, Yulá, many times in the years following his flight, Genaro never returned until word reached him of his mother’s death. By then those he had left behind belonged to an entirely different world from the one he had shaped for himself in Canada. He kept...

    (pp. None)
    (pp. 181-201)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 202-206)