Guatemala in the 1980s: A Genocide Turned into Ethnocide? by Anika Oettler-German Institute of Global and Area - HTML preview

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Guatemala in the 1980s:

A Genocide Turned into Ethnocide?


While the Guatemalan Truth Commission came to the conclusion that agents of the state had committed acts of genocide in the early 1980s, fundamental questions remain. Should we indeed speak of the massacres committed between 1981 and 1983 in Guatemala as "genocide”, or would "ethnocide” be the more appropriate term? In addressing these questions, this paper focuses on the intentions of the perpetrators. Why did the Guatemalan military chose mass murder as the means to "solve the problem of subversion”? In Guatemala, the discourses of communist threat, racism and Pentecostal millenarism merged into the intent to destroy the Mayan population. This paper demonstrates that the initial policy of physical annihilation (genocidal option) was transformed into a policy of restructuring the socio-cultural patterns of the Guatemalan highlands (ethnocidal option).

Key words: genocide studies, Guatemala, human rights violations, massacres

This Paper was prepared for the workshop "Opting for Genocide: To What End?” in Hamburg (organized by Hamburg Institute for Social Research), March 23-25, 2006.

Anika Oettler

is researcher at GIGA Institute for Ibero-American Studies in Hamburg. Her doctoral thesis sought to provide an analytical survey of the origins, work and effects of the Guatemalan Truth Commission and its ecclesiastical equivalent, the Catholic Project for the Recovery of Historical Memory. Her current research project concerns the Central American talk of crime.

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