Fear as a Way of Life

by Linda Green
Fear as a Way of Life
Linda Green
Cultural Anthropology
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Fear as a Way of Life

Linda Green

Department of Anthropology
Columbia Universiry

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that 'the state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule.

-Walter Benjamin

No power so effectively robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. To make anything terrible, obscurity seems to be necessary.

-William Burke

People want the right to survive, to live without fear. -Doha Petrona

Fear is response to danger, but in Guatemala, rather than being solely a subjective personal experience, it has also penetrated the social memory.' And rather than an acute reaction it is a chronic condition. The effects of fear are pervasive and insidious in Guatemala. Fear destabilizes social relations by driving a wedge of distrust within families, between neighbors, among friends. Fear divides communities through suspicion and apprehension not only of strangers but of each other.2 Fear thrives on ambiguities. Denunciations, gossip, innuendos, and rumors of death lists create a climate of suspicion. No one can be sure who is who. The spectacle of torture and death and of massacres and disappearances in the recent past have become more deeply inscribed in indi- vidual bodies and the collective imagination through a constant sense of threat. In the altiplano fear has become a way of life. Fear, the arbiter of power-in- visible, indeterminate, and silent.

What is the nature of fear and terror that pervades Guatemalan society? How do people understand it and experience it? And what is at stake for people who live in a chronic state of fear? Might survival itself depend on a panoply of responses to a seemingly intractable situation?

In this article, I examine the invisible violence of fear and intimidation through the quotidian experiences of the people of Xe'caj. In doing so, I try to

Culturol Anthropolo~y 9(2):227-256. Copyright O 1994, American Anthropological Association

capture a sense of the insecurity that permeates individual women's lives wracked by worries of physical and emotional survival, of grotesque memories, of ongoing militarization, of chronic fear. The stories I relate below are the in- dividual experiences of the women with whom1 worked; yet they are also social and collective accounts by virtue of their omnipresence (Lira and Castillo 1991 ; Martin-Baro 1990). Although the focus of my work with Mayan women was not explicitly on the topic of violence, an understanding of its usages, its manifes- tations, and its effects is essential to comprehending the context in which the women of Xe'caj are struggling to survive.

Fear became the metanarrative of my research and experiences among the people of Xe'caj. Fear is the reality in which people live, the hidden state of (in- dividual and social) emergency that is factored into the choices women and men make. Although this "state of emergency" in which Guatemalans have been liv- ing for over a decade may be the norm, it is an abnormal state of affairs indeed. Albert Camus wrote that, from an examination of the shifts between the normal and the emergency, between the tragic and the everyday emerges the paradoxes and contradictions that bring into sharp relief how the absurd (in this case, ter- ror) works (1955).

Violence and Anthropology

Given anthropology's empirical bent and the fact that anthropologists are well positioned to speak out on behalf of the "people who provide us with our livelihood" (Taussig 1978: 105), it seems curious that so few have chosen to do so. Jeffrey Sluka has suggested that the practice of sociocultural anthropology with its emphasis on a "cross-cultural and comparative perspective, holistic ap- proach, reliance on participant observation, concentration on local level analy- sis and 'emic' point of view" is particularly well suited to understanding the subjective, experiential, ~rieaningful dimension of social conflict (1 992:20). An- thropologists, however, have traditionally approached the study of conflict, war, and human aggression from a distance, ignoring the harsh realities of peo- ple's lives. Although some of the dominant theoretical paradigms utilized in an- thropological inquiry over the last century-evolutionism, structural function- alism, acculturation studies, and marxism-have examined societal manifestations of violence, the lived experiences of their research subjects have often been muted. When social conflict and warfare have been problematized it has been often in abstract terms, divorced from the historical realities of the co- lonial or capitalist encounter. Throughout the 20th century, most studies by po- litical anthropologists have emphasized taxonomy over process: for example, the classification of simple or indigenous political systems, political leadership, law, domination, and intertribal relations. After World War I, funding from pri- vate sources, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, influenced the research agenda of North American and British anthropologists, which was characterized by studies of order and disorder within a functionalist paradigm (Vincent 1990).

In Mesoamerica, Robert Redfield's 1927 investigation of Tepoztlan is ex- emplary of the ahistorical nature of acculturation studies (Redfield 1930). Red- field stressed harmony and consensus among the Tepoztecos, describing in de- tail their cultural traits and "life ways" without mention of recent historical events (the Mexican Revolution) or political realities (ongoing local turmoil in Tepoztlan during his own fieldwork). There were exceptions, of course. Alex- ander Lesser (1933), MonicaHunter (1936), and HildaKuper (1947), for exam- ple, were producing politically and socially relevant ethnography during the same period. These studies concerned with the impact of colonialization on mar- ginalized people were marginalized, however (Vincent 1990).

With the upsurge of internecine warfare worldwide since World War 11, the number of anthropological studies focusing on the subject of conflict and change increased exponentially. With the advent of the cold war in the 1950s, counterinsurgency warfare became a common response to the dramatic rise in revolutionary movements in many third-world c~untries.~

While repression it- self was not new, what was distinct were new patterns of repression and new or- ganizational forms for its implementation which emerged in close association with United States security programs. Some anthropologists became involved in studies that were a result of a U.S. military presence (for example, the contro- versial Cornell University Studies in Culture and Applied Science), while other anthropologists participated in intelligence activities during the Vietnam War. The emergence of two analytical frameworks within anthropology-neoevolu- tionary theory (Fried 1967; Sahlins and Service 1960; Service 1962) and marx- ism (Gough 1968; Hymes 1969)-mirrored the increasing polarization taking place in the United States in the 1960s. Yet, systematic inquiry on the subject of human rights violations remained elusive. Despite an alarming rise in the most blatant forms of transgressions-repression and state terrorism-the topic has not captured the anthropological imagination (Downing and Kushner 1988). Overwhelming empirical evidence demonstrates that state violence has been standard operating procedure in numerous contemporary societies in which an- thropologists have conducted fieldwork for the past three decade^.^

Paul Doughty, in a stinging commentary of anthropology's claim to author- ity on the subject of Native Americans, has questioned why monographs have not addressed systematically "the most vital issues that deeply affected all Na- tive Americans since European conquest": death, discrimination, displacement, dispossession, racism, rampant disease, hunger, impoverishment, and physical and psychological abuse (1988:43). Nancy Scheper-Hughes is insightful in this regard. She writes in her eloquent ethnography of everyday violence in North- east Brazil that "a critical practice (of social science research) implies not so much a practical as an epistemological struggle" (Scheper-Hughes 1992: 172). Perhaps this is what lies at the heart of anthropology's diverted gaze. What is at stake, it seems, are the struggles between the powerful and the powerless, and what is at issue for anthropologists is with whom to cast their lot.

A number of practitioners today who work in "dangerous field situations" have begun to deconstruct the insidious and pervasive effects and mechanisms of violence and terror, underscoring how it operates on the level of lived expe- rience (Feldman 199 1 ;Lancaster 1992; Nordstrom and Martin 1992; Scheper- Hughes 1992; Peteet 1991; Suarez-Orozco 1990, 1992; Taussig 1987, 1992b). Andrew Turton has pointed out that an examination of power must "include the techniques and modalities of both more physically coercive forms of domina- tion and more ideological and discursive forms and relations between the two, in which fear may be a crucial factor" (1986:39-40). Among anthropologists it is Michael Taussig who has so well captured the complexities and nuances of terror, giving terror sentience (1987). What is consistently compelling about Taussig's work, despite its sometimes recondite tendencies, is his ability to por- tray terror viscerally, in effect to take a moral stance against power played out in its more grotesque forms. In Guatemala recent works by Carmack (1988), Manz (1988), AVANCSO (1992), Falla (1992), and Wilson (1991) have begun to document and analyze the testimonies of individual and collective experi- ences during the most recent reign of terror. Ricardo Falla in his haunting 1992 account of the massacres of the Ixcan, Guatemala, between 1975 and 1982, asks the chilling question of why one ought to write about massacres (and terror). His answer is simple yet provocative: intellectuals can act as intermediaries, to lend their voices on behalf of those who have witnessed and lived through the maca- bre. This is the anthropologist as scribe, faithfully documenting what the people themselves narrate as their own histories, that which they have seen, smelled, touched, felt, interpreted, and thought. Not to do so, as Scheper-Hughes con- tends, is an "act of indifference," a hostile act. Monographs can become "sites of resistance," "acts of solidarity," or a way to "write against terror," and anthro- pology itself employed as an agent of social change (Scheper-Hughes 1992:28).

The Nature of Fear

Writing this article has been problematic. And it has to do with the nature of the topic itself, the difficulty of fixing fear and terror in word^.^ I have chosen to include some of my own experiences of fear during my field research rather than stand apart as an outsider, an observer, for two reasons. First of all, it was and is impossible to stand apart. It soon became apparent that any understanding of the women's lives would include a journey into the state of fear in which ter- ror reigned and that would shape the very nature of my interactions and relation- ships in Xe'caj. Second, it was from these shared experiences that we forged common grounds of understanding and respect.

Fear is elusive as a concept; yet you know it when it has you in its grips. Fear, like pain, is overwhelmingly present to the person experiencing it, but it may be barely perceptible to anyone else and almost defies obje~tification.~ Subjectively, the mundane experience of chronic fear wears down one's sensi- bility to it. The routinization of fear undermines one's confidence in interpreting the world. My own experiences of fear and those of the women I know are much like what Taussig aptly describes as a state of "stringing out the nervous system one way toward hysteria, the other way numbing and apparent acceptance" (1992b: 11).

While thinking and writing about fear and terror, I was inclined to discuss what I was doing with colleagues knowledgeable about la situation in Central America. I would describe to them the eerie calm I felt most days, an unease that lies just below the surface of everyday life. Most of the time it was more a vis- ceral rather than a visual experience, and I tried, with difficulty, to suppress it.

One day I was relating to a friend what it felt like to pretend not be disturbed by the intermittent threats that were commonplace throughout 1989 and 1990 in Xe'caj. Some weeks the market plaza would be surrounded by five or six tanks while painted-faced soldiers with M-16s in hand perched above us, watching. My friend's response made me nervous all over again. He said that he had in- itially been upset by the ubiquitous military presence in Central America. He too, he assured me, had assumed that the local people felt the same. But lately he had been rethinking his position since he had witnessed a number of young women flirting with soldiers, or small groups of local men leaning casually on tanks. Perhaps, we North Americans, he continued, were misrepresenting what was going on, reading our own fears into the meaning it had for Central Ameri- cans. I went home wondering if perhaps I was being "hysterical," stringing out the nervous (social) system. Had I been too caught up in terror's talk?' Gradu- ally I came to realize that terror's power, its matter-of-factness, is exactly about doubting one's own perceptions of reality. The routinization of terror is what fu- els its power. Such routinization allows people to live in a chronic state of fear with a facade of normalcy, while that terror, at the same time, permeates and shreds the social fabric. A sensitive and experienced Guatemalan economist noted that a major problem for social scientists working in Guatemala is that to survive they have to become inured to the violence, training themselves at first not to react, then later not to feel (see) it. They miss the context in which people live, including themselves. Self-censorship becomes second nature-Ben- tham's panopticon internalized.

How does one become socialized to terror? Does it imply conformity or ac- quiescence to the status quo, as my friend suggested? While it is true that, with repetitiveness and familiarity, people learn to accommodate themselves to ter- ror and fear, low-intensity panic remains in the shadow of waking conscious- ness. One cannot live in a constant state of alertness, and so the chaos one feels becomes infused throughout the body. It surfaces frequently in dreams and chronic illness. In the mornings, sometimes my neighbors and friends would speak of their fears during the night, of being unable to sleep, or of being awak- ened by footsteps or voices, of nightmares of recurring death and violence. After six months of living in Xe'caj, I too started having my own nighttime hysteria, dreams of death, disappearances, and torture. Whisperings, innuendos, and ru- mors of death lists circulating would put everyone on edge. One day a friend, Nacho, from Xe'caj came to my house, very anxious. He explained, holding back his tears, that he had heard his name was on the newest death list at the mili- tary encampment. As Scheper-Hughes has noted "the intolerableness of the[se] situation[s] is increased by [their] ambiguity" (1992:233). A month later two soldiers were killed one Sunday afternoon in a surprise guerrilla attack a kilome- ter from my house. That evening several women from the village came to visit; emotionally distraught, they worried that la violencia, which had been stalking them, had at last returned. DoRa Maria noted that violence is like fire; it can flare up suddenly and bum you.

The people in Xe'caj live under constant surveillance. The destacamento (military encampment) looms large, situated on a nearby hillside above town; from there everyone's movements come under close scrutiny. The town is laid out spatially in the colonial quadrangle pattern common throughout the alti- plano. The town square, as well as all of the roads leading to the surrounding countryside, are visible from above. To an untrained eye, the encampment is not obvious from below. The camouflaged buildings fade into the hillside, but once one has looked down from there, it is impossible to forget that those who live be- low do so in afishbowl. Orejas (spies, literally "ears"), military commissioners, and civil patrollers provide the backbone of military s~rutiny.~

These local men are often former soldiers who willingly report to the army the "suspicious" ac- tivities of their neighbor^.^

The impact of the civil patrols (or PACs) at the local level has been pro- found. One of the structural effects of the PACs in Xe'caj has been the subordi- nation of traditional village political authority to the local army commander. When I arrived in Xe'caj, I first went to the mayor to introduce myself. I asked for his permission to work in the township and surrounding villages, but mid- way through my explanation, he cut me off abruptly. If I hoped to work here, he explained impatiently, then what I really needed was the explicit permission of the commandante at the army garrison. The civil patrols guard the entrances and exits to the villages in Xe'caj, he said. Without permission from the army the civil patrols would not allow me to enter the villages. My presence as a stranger and foreigner produced suspicions. "Why do you want to live and work here with us?" "Why do you want to talk to the widows?" "For whom do you work?" the alcalde asked. It was the local army officers who told me it was a free coun- try and that I could do as I pleased, provided I had their permission.

One of the ways terror becomes diffused is through subtle messages. Much as Carol Cohn describes in her unsettling 1987account of the use of language by nuclear scientists to sanitize their involvement in nuclear weaponry, in Guate- mala language and symbols are utilized to normalize a continual army presence. From time to time army troops would arrive in aldeas (villages) obliging the vil- lagers to assemble for a community meeting. The message was more or less the same each time I witnessed these gatherings. The commandante would begin by telling the people that the army is their friend, that the soldiers are here to protect them against subversion, against the communists hiding out in the mountains. At the same time he would admonish them that if they did not cooperate Guate- mala could become like Nicaragua, El Salvador, or Cuba. Subtienente Rodriquez explained to me during one such meeting that the army is fulfilling its role of preserving peace and democracy in Guatemala through military control of the entire country. Ignacio Martin-Baro has characterized social perceptions re- duced to rigid and simplistic schemes such as these as "official lies," in which social knowledge is cast in dichotomous terms, black or white, good or bad, friend or enemy, without the nuances and complexities of lived experience (1989).

Guatemalan soldiers at times arrive in the villages accompanied by U.S. National Guard doctors or dentists who hold clinic hours for a few days. This is part of a larger strategy developed under the Kennedy doctrine of Alliance for Progress, in which civic actions are part of counterinsurgency strategies."' Yet the mixing of the two, "benevolent help" with military actions, does not negate the essential fact that "violence is intrinsic to its [the military's] nature and logic" (Scheper-Hughes 1992:224). Coercion through its subtle expressions of official lies and routinization of fear and terror are apt mechanisms that the mili- tary uses to control citizens, even in the absence of war.

I was with a groups of widows and young orphan girls one afternoon watch- ing a TV soap opera. It was in mid-June, a week or so before Army Day. During one of the commercial breaks, a series of images of Kaibiles appeared on the screen dressed for combat with painted faces, clenching their rifles running through the mountains." Each time a new frame appeared, there was an audible gasp in the room. The last image was of soldiers emerging from behind corn stalks while the narrator said, "The army is ready to do whatever is necessary to defend the country." One young girl turned to me and said, "Si pues, siempre estan lista que se matan la gente" [sic] (they are always ready to kill the people).

The use of camouflage cloth for clothing and small items sold at the market is a subtle, insidious form of daily life's militarization. Wallets, key chains, belts, caps, and toy helicopters made inTaiwan are disconcerting in this context. As these seemingly mundane objects circulate, they normalize the extent to which civilian and military life have commingled in the altiplano. Young men who have returned to villages from military service often wear army boots, T- shirts that denote the military zone in which they had been stationed, and their dog tags. The boots themselves are significant. The women would say they knew who it was that kidnapped or killed their family members, even if dressed in civilian clothes, because the men were wearing army boots. When my neigh- bor's cousin on leave from the army came for a visit, the young boys brought him over to my house so they could show his photo album to me with pride. As the young soldier stood shyly in the background, Juanito and Reginald0 pointed enthusiastically to photographs of their cousin. In one, he was leaning on a tank with his automatic rifle in hand, a bandolier of bullets slung over his shoulder, while in another he was throwing a hand grenade. Yet, these same boys told me, many months after I had moved into my house and we had become friends, that when I first arrived they were afraid I might kill them. And Doha Sofia, Regi- naldo's mother, was shocked to learn that I did not carry a gun.

In El Salvador, Martin-Baro analyzed the subjective internalization of war and militarization among a group of 203 children in an effort to understand to what extent they have assimilated the efficacy of violence in solving personal and social problems (1989). While generalizations cannot be drawn from such a limited study, what Martin-Baro found to be significant was that the majority of the children interviewed stated that the best way to end the war and attain peace was to eliminate the enemy (whether understood as the Salvadoran army or the FMLN [Farabundo Manti National Liberation Front]) through violent means. This tendency to internalize violence is what Martin-Baro has referred to as the "militarization of the mind" (1 990).

The presence of soldiers and ex-soldiers in communities is illustrative of lived contradictions in the altiplano and provides another example of how the routinization of terror functions. The foot soldiers of the army are almost exclu- sively young rural Mayas, many still boys of 14 and 15 years, rounded up on army "sweeps" through rural towns. The "recruiters" arrive in two-ton trucks grabbing all young men in sight, usually on festival or market days when large numbers of people have gathered together in the center of thepueblo. One morn- ing at dawn, I witnessed four such loaded trucks driving out from one of the towns of Xe'caj, soldiers standing in each corner of the truck with rifles pointed outward, the soon-to-be foot soldiers packed in like cattle. Little is known about the training these young soldiers receive, but anecdotal data from some who are willing to talk suggests that the "training" is designed to break down a sense of personal dignity and respect for other human beings. As one young man de- scribed it to me, "Soldiers are trained to kill and nothing more" (see also For- ester 1992). Another said he learned (in the army) to hate everyone, including himself. The soldiers who pass through the villages on recognizance and take up sentry duty in the pueblos are Mayas, while the vast majority of officers are lad- inos, from other regions of the country, and cannot speak the local language. As a second lieutenant explained, army policy directs that the foot soldiers and the commanders of the local garrisons change every three months, to prevent sol- diers from getting to know the people. A small but significant number of men in Xe'caj have been in the army. Many young men return home to their natal vil- lages after they are released from military duty. Yet, their reintegration into the community is often difficult and problematic. As one villager noted, "They [the medboys] leave as Indians, but they don't come back Indian."

During their time of service in the army, some of the soldiers are forced to kill and maim. These young men often go on to become the local military com- missioners, heads of the civil patrol, or paid informers for the army. Many are demoralized, frequently drinking and turning violent. Others marry and settle in their villages to resume their lives as best they can.

I met several women whose sons had been in the military when their hus- bands had been killed by the army. In one disturbing situation, I interviewed a widow who described the particularly gruesome death of her husband at the hands of the army, while behind her on the wall prominently displayed was a photograph of her son in his Kaibil uniform. When I asked about him, she ac- knowledged his occasional presence in the household and said nothing more. I was at first at a loss to explain the situation and her silence; later I came to un- derstand it as part of the rational inconsistencies that are built into the logic of her fractured life. On a purely objective level, it is dangerous to talk about such things with strangers. Perhaps she felt her son's photograph might provide pro- tection in the future. Although I ran into this situation several times, I never felt free to ask more about it. I would give the women the opportunity to say some- thing, but I felt morally unable to pursue this topic. The women would talk freely, although at great pains, about the brutal past but maintained a stoic si- lence about the present. Perhaps the women's inability to talk about the frag- ments of their tragic experiences within the context of larger processes is in it- self a survival strategy. How is it that a mother might be able to imagine that her son (the soldier) would perform the same brutish acts as those used against her and her family? To maintain a fragile integrity, must she block the association in much the same way women speak of the past atrocities as individual acts but remain silent about the ongoing process of repression in which they live? The di- vision of families' loyalties becomes instrumental in perpetuating fear and ter- ror.

In commenting on local violence in San Pedro de la Laguna during the 1980s, Benjamin Paul's analysis is revealing of the relationship between disor- der and control and how local factionalism has been manipulated and exploited in rural communities contributing to a breakdown in social structure (Paul and Demarest 1988). It should be noted that San Pedro was less affected by direct army repression and guerrilla activity in the 1980s than many other towns; yet local death squads terrorized the population for over four years. Paul notes that:

It may be tempting to blame the outbreak of violence in San Pedro on social divisiveness and settling old scores, but the temptation should be resisted. Reli- gious competition and vigorous political infighting were features of San Pedro life for decades before 1980 without producing violence. The same can be said for interpersonal antagonisms. They arose in the past and were settled by means short of murder. What disrupted the peace in San Pedro was not the presence of differences and divisions but the army's recruitment of agents and spies that had the effect of exploiting these cleavages. [Paul and Demarest 1988: 153-1541

The Structure of Fear

The "culture of fear" that pervades Guatemalan society has roots in the trauma of the Spanish invasion five centuries earlier. Fear and oppression have been the dual and constant features of Guatemalan history since the arrival of Pedro Alvarado and his conquistadores in the early 16th century. The words written in the Annals of the Cakchiquels almost five hundred years ago are as meaningful today as then:

Little by little, heavy shadows and black night enveloped

Our fathers and grandfathers

And us also, oh, my sons . . .

All of us were thus.

We were born to die. [Recinos and Goetz 19531

Terror is the taproot of Guatemala's past and stalks its present. When speaking of la violencia of the 1980s, I was struck by how frequently people used the metaphor of conquest to describe it. "Lo mismo cuando se mato a Te- cum Uman" (It is the same as when they killed Tecum Uman), Doaa Marta said, alluding to the K'iche-Mayan hero who died valiantly in battle against the Span- ish, when describing the recent "whirlwind of death." Although references to the Spanish conquest have become more commonplace on the cusp of its quin- centenary, in 1988 and early 1989 rural constructions of local experiences in terms of the invasion were striking, haunting, as if a collective memory had been passed generation to generation. Citing Benjamin, Taussig asserts that "it is where history figures in memory, in an image that flashes forth unexpectedly in a moment of crisis, that contending political forces engage in battle" (1 984:88). In this way history engaged through memory becomes a social force comprised of "the power of social experience, imagery and mood, in constructing and de- constructing political consciousness and the will to act politically" (1984:88).

Franciscan documents from the 16th century describe the disorder result- ing from a local judge's order to bum down towns when Indians refused to com- ply with official decrees. Lovell writes, "Chaos ensued. Roads and trails were strewn with poor Indian women, tied as prisoners, carrying children on their backs, left to fend for themselves" (1992:epilogue, 34). Five hundred years later publications by anthropologists (Carmack 1988; Falla 1983, 1992; Manz 1988) and numerous international human rights groups recount violations of a similar magnitude (America's Watch 1986, 1990; Amnesty International 198 1, 1982, 1987).

Fear has been the motor of oppression in Guatemala. As Brecht noted, "Fear rules not only those who are ruled, but the rulers too" (1976:29-297). The elite, dominant classes are driven by racist fears of "indios" and in more recent decades by the "red menace" of communists to perform the most brutish acts to protect the status quo. There are upper-class ladinos in Guatemala City who deny that the massacres in rural areas ever really happened. In one interview, a ladina journalist noted that

one of the reasons why repression did not cause too big a commotion among Guatemalans in the capital was because it was mainly Indians that were affected. All the suffering that took place was not really suffering because it happened to Indians. The Guatemalan upper class believes that Indians cannot really feel, that an Indian woman will not truly suffer if her husband or children are killed because she is not "the same as us." [Hooks 1991:48]

Although Suirez-Orozco has described the process of denial in Argentina during the years of the "dirty war" as a psychological coping mechanism for the terror (1992), what stands apart in Guatemala is not the denial of the unthinkable, but a dismissiveness of suffering, rooted in racism. For the women and men of Xe'caj, however, fear is a way of life, and injustice the rule.

Like most fledgling anthropologists, I had been nervous about getting my research underway and was well aware, or so I thought, of the "special" circum- stances in which I had chosen to work. By the time I began fieldwork in Guate- mala in 1988, it was permissible to discuss openly and publicly "la situacion" and "la violencia" of the past eight or so years, and the plight of widows and or- phans was becoming a matter of public record.I2 Yet, the fragile "democratic opening," which had been welcomed by the majority of the population in 1985, buoyed by a sense of hope when Vinicio Cerezo took office (the first elected ci- vilian president in 16 years), was in grave danger by 1988. An attempted coup d'etat in the spring of 1988 (followed by another in May 1989) dashed any hopes for significant social reform. The military remained firmly in charge, although backstage. In short, the military recognized the need for international and na- tional legitimacy through a return to civilian rule in order to address its severe economic and political crises.

In retrospect, political analysts now define the May 1988 and May 1989 coup attempts as "successful" in all but yielding the presidential seat. What little power the military had relinquished during the electoral process in 1985 had re- verted back into the hands of the generals. Although, as these coups demon- strated, the army was far from a monolithic institution (Anderson and Simon 1987; Jonas 1991; Mersky 1989),13 what was becoming clearer was that Cerezo's role was to be directed toward an international audience. He had, in ef- fect, yielded power to the military without vacating the presidential palace. Hu- man rights violations in the capital and in rural areas continued unabated.

International human rights organizations documented the continuation of systematic human rights violations (see America's Watch 1990 and Amnesty International 1987). Once again, the U.S.-based Council on Hemispheric Af- fairs named Guatemala as the worst human-rights violator in Latin America for 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992. The massacre of 2 1 campesinosin El Aguacate, San Andres Itzapa, Chimaltenango, in 1988; the political assassinations of Hec- tor Oqueli from El Salvador, Gilda Flores, a prominent Guatemalan attorney, and the political leader Danilo Barillas; the killings and disappearances of uni- versity students and human-rights workers; the 1990 murder of the anthropolo- gist Myrna Mack; systematic torture, threats, and intimidation against countless others throughout the period-all these point to the persistent violence and re- pression used by the state against its citizenry. While the state has denounced the atrocities, it has tried to explain them away as crimes by delinquents. It has vowed to investigate and prosecute fully those responsible, but few have ever been convicted or have served a prison term for human-rights violations-de- spite the fact that frequently there has been substantial evidence indicating the complicity of state security forces. Thus, with a wink and a nod to its citizens, a policy of impunity makes it clear to everyone who retains power and under what conditions. As Martin-Barro noted, "The usefulness of violence is its ef- fectiveness and the crucial point concerning the proliferation of violence in Cen- tral America is its impunity under the law" (1990:344).

Despite a hideous record of documented human-rights abuses, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights decided in 1992 for the fifth consecutive year to downplay Guatemala's record by placing it in the advisory rather than violations category. Yet inside the country, repression continued unchecked. Repression is used selectively: to threaten, intimidate, disappear, or kill one or two labor leaders, students, or campesinos is to paralyze everyone else with fear. Terror is widespread and generalized. If one crosses the arbitrary line, the con- sequences are well known; the problem is that one cannot be sure where the line is nor when one has crossed it until it is too late.

After several months of searching for a field site, I settled upon Xe'caj. Al- though it had been the site of much bloodshed and repression during the early 1980s, la situation was reportedly tranquila (calm) in 1988. The terror and fear that pervaded daily life were not immediately perceptible to me. Military check- points, the army garrison, and civil patrols were clearly visible; yet daily life ap- peared "normal." The guerrilla war, which reached an apex in the early 1980s, had ended at least in theory if not in practice. Although guerrilla troops moved throughout the area, clashes between them and the army were limited. The war had reached a stalemate. While the army claimed victory, the guerrillas refused to admit defeat. The battlefield was quiescent, yet political repression contin- ued. Scorched-earth tactics, massacres, and large population displacements had halted, but they were replaced by selective repression and the militarization of daily life. Army General Alejandro Gramajo's now infamous inversion of Karl Marie von Clausewitz's "politics as a continuation of war" was clearly accurate. The counterinsurgency war had transformed everyday life in the altiplano into apermanent state of repression. Economic conditions in this climate were unsta- ble, and the majority of people found themselves more deeply entrenched in poverty, hunger, and misery (Smith 1990). By the mid- 1980s, violence in Chi- maltenango Department was mostly veiled, and a few development projects be- gan to return cautiously after the elections in 1985. According to Smith 1990, in the 1980s Chimaltenango probably received more development aid per capita than anywhere else in the altiplano; yet rather than alleviating the precarious economic situation in which most people live, conditions continued to worsen. The structure of fear operated on several levels on which military and economic arrangements worked synergistically.

Silence and Secrecy

It was the dual lessons of silence and secrecy that were for me the most en- lightening and disturbing. Silence about the present situation when talking with strangers is a survival strategy that Mayas have long utilized. Their overstated politeness toward ladino society and seeming obliviousness to the jeers and in- sults hurled at them-their servility in the face of overt racism-make it seem as though Mayas have accepted their subservient role in Guatemalan society. Mayan apparent obsequiousness has served as a shield to provide distance and has also been a powerful shaper of Mayan practice. When Elena disclosed to a journalist friend of mine from El Salvador her thoughts about guerrilla incur- sions today, her family castigated her roundly for speaking, warning her that what she said could be twisted and used against her and the family. This is remi- niscent of what Alan Feldman, in writing about Northern Ireland, says about se- crecy as "an assertion of identity and symbolic capital pushed to the margins. Subaltern groups construct their own margins as fragile insulators from the tenter" (1991:ll).

When asked about the present situation, the usual response from most peo- ple was "pues, tranquilaW-but it was a fragile calm. Later as I got to know peo- ple, when something visible would break through the facade of order and the forced propaganda speeches, or in my own town when a soldier was killed and another seriously injured in an ambush, people would whisper fears of a return to la violencia. In fact, the unspoken but implied second part of the "Pues, tran- quila" is "Ahorita, per0 maiiana saber" ("It's calm now, but who knows about tomorrow?"). When I asked a local fellow, who is the head of a small (self-suf- ficient) development project that is organizing locally, if he were bothered by the army, he said he was not. The army comes by every couple of months and searches houses or looks at his records, but he considered this tranquila.

Silence can operate as a survival strategy; yet silencing is a powerful mechanism of control enforced through fear. At times when I was talking with a group of women, our attention would be distracted momentarily by a military plane or helicopter flying close and low. Each of us would lift our heads, watch- ing until it passed our of sight yet withholding comment. Sometimes, if we were inside a house, we might all step out onto the patio to look skyward. Silence. Only once was the silence broken. On that day Doiia Tomasa asked rhetorically, after the helicopters had passed overhead, why my government sent bombs to kill people. At Christmas Eve mass in 1989,25 soliders entered the church sud- denly, soon after the service had begun. They occupied three middle pews on the mens' side, never taking their hands off their rifles, only to leave abruptly after the sermon. Silence. The silences in these cases do not erase individual memo- ries of terror; they create instead more fear and uncertainty by driving the wedge of paranoia between people. Terror's effects are not only psychological and in- dividual, but social and collective as well. Silence imposed through terror has become the idiom of social consensus in the altiplano, as SuBrez-Orozco has noted in the Argentine context (1 990).

The complicity of silence is yet another matter. During the worst of the vio- lence in the early 1980s, when several priests were killed and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lay catechists were murdered, the Catholic Church hierarchy, with the exception of several Guatemalan bishops, remained rigidly silent. Evangeli- cal churches, like the Central American Mission, which lost large numbers of congregants, also remained silent.

Today a number of development projects work in Xe'caj with women and children who have been severely affected by the violence. They do not, how- ever, address the reality in which people live. These projects provide a modicum of economic aid without acknowledging the context of fear and terror that per- vades Xe'caj. When a Vision Mundial (World Vision) administrator explained the project's multi-tiered approach to development, he spoke proudly of the group's emphasis on assisting the "whole" person, materially, emotionally, and spiritually. When I asked him how the project was confronting the emotional trauma of war and repression in which the widows live, he admitted obliquely that they were not. To do so, of course, would put the project workers and the

women in jeopardy. Yet to not address the situation perpetuates the "official lies."

Thus the contradictory nature of development itself becomes unraveled in this situation of violence and silence. Development programs serve the state by providing stopgap measures to deep-seated economic, social, and cultural prob- lems, rather than addressing fundamental structural causes of poverty and re- pression. Development programs also perpetuate the hegemonic discourse of a dominant power structure that does not question the goals of capitalist develop- ment. At the same time, at the local level these same projects provide some in- dividual relief for people struggling to survive economically.

On Breaking the Silence

Despite the fear and terror engendered by relentless human-rights viola- tions and deeply entrenched impunity, hope exists. Since the appointment in 1983 of Archbishop Prospero Penados del Barrio, the Guatemalan Catholic Church has become increasingly outspoken in its advocacy for peace and social justice. The Guatemalan Bishops' Conference, for example, has issued a num- ber of pastoral letters, beginning with the 1988 Cry for Land, that have become important sources of social criticism in the country. In 1990 the Archdiocese of Guatemala opened a human rights office to provide legal assistance to victims of human rights abuses and to report violations to national and international in- stitutions.

One of the collective responses to the silence imposed through terror began in 1984, when two dozen people, mostly women, formed the human rights or- ganization called GAM (Grupo de Apoyo Muruo). Its members are relatives of some of the estimated 42 thousand people who "disappeared" in Guatemala over the past three decades. Modeling themselves after the Mothers of Plazade Mayo in Argentina, a small group of courageous women and men decided to break the silence. They went to government offices to demand that the authorities inves- tigate the crimes against their families. They also turned their bodies into "weapons" to speak out against the violence. As they marched in silence every Friday in front of the national palace with placards bearing the photos of those who had disappeared, they ruptured the official silence, bearing testimony with their own bodies about those who have vanished.

In 1990, Roberto Lemus, a judge in the district court of Santa Cruz del Quiche, began accepting petitions from local people to exhume sites in the vil- lages in which people claimed there were clandestine graves. Family members said they knew where their loved ones had been buried after being killed by se- curity forces. While otherjudges in the area had previously allowed the exhuma- tions, this was the first time that a scientific team had been assembled, in this case under the auspices of the eminent forensic anthropologist, Clyde Snow. The intent of the exhumations was to gather evidence to corroborate verbal tes- timonies of survivors in order to arrest those responsible. Because of repeated death threats Judge Lemus was forced into political exile in July 1991. Snow has assembled another team, sponsored by the American Association for the Ad-

vancement of Science, that continues the work in Guatemala at the behest of human rights groups. There are estimated to be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such sites throughout the altiplano. The clandestine cemeteries and mass graves are the secreto a voces, or what Taussig has referred to in another con- text as the "public secrets" (1992~)-what everyone knows about but does not dare to speak of publicly.

In Xe'caj, people would point out such sites to me. On several occasions when I was walking with them in the mountains, women took me to the places where they knew their husbands were buried and said, "Mira, el esta alli" ("Look, he is over there"). Others claimed that there are at least three mass graves in Xe'caj itself. The act of unearthing the bones of family mem- bers allows individuals to acknowledge and reconcile the past openly, to ac- knowledge at last the culpability for the death of their loves and to lay them to rest. Such unearthing is, at the same time, a most powerful statement against impunity because it reveals the magnitude of the political repression that has taken place. These were not solely individual acts with individual consequences, but are public crimes that have deeply penetrated the social body and contest the legitimacy of the body politic.

Thus, as has been the case in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and El Salva- dor (Weschler 1990), it is the dual issues of impunity and accountability that stand between peace and social justice in Guatemala. As such, amnesty be- comes both a political and an ethical problem, with not only individual but also social dimensions. The Guatemalan human-rights ombudsman (and as of June 1993, president) has suggested that "to forgive and forget" is the only way democracy will be achieved in Guatemala. Ramiro de Leon Carpio, in a newspaper interview in 1991, said, "The ideal would be that we uncover the truth, to make it public and to punish those responsible, but I believe that is impossible, . . . we have to be realistic" (La Hora 1991). Certainly the idea of political expediency has a measure of validity to it. The problem, how- ever, turns on "whether that pardon and renunciation are going to be estab- lished on a foundation of truth and justice or on lies and continued injustice" (Martin-Baro 1990:7). Hannah Arendt has argued against forgiveness with- out accountability, because it undermines the formation of democracy by ob- viating any hope of justice and makes its pursuit pointless (1973). Secondly, while recognizing that forgiveness is an essential element for freedom, Arendt contends that "the alternative to forgiveness, but by no means its op- posite, [which she argues, rather, is vengeance] is punishment, and both have in common that they attempt to put an end to something that without interfer- ence could go on endlessly" (Arendt 1958:241). The military's self-imposed amnesty, which has become vogue throughout Latin America in recent years, forecloses the very possibility of forgiveness. Without a settling of accounts democratic rule will remain elusive in Guatemala, as has been the case else- where in Latin America. Social reparation is a necessary requisite to healing the body politic in Latin America.

Living in a State of Fear

During the first weeks we lived in Xe'caj, Elena (my capable field assis- tant) and I drove to several villages in the region talking with women, widows, in small groups, asking them if they might be willing to meet with us weekly over the next year or so. At first many people thought we might be representing a development project and therefore distributing material aid. When this proved not to be the case, some women lost interest while others agreed to participate. During the second week we drove out to Ri Bey, a small village that sits in a wide U-shaped valley several thousand meters lower in altitude than Xe'caj and most of the surrounding hamlets. The one-lane dirt road is a series of switch- backs that cut across several ridges, before beginning the long, slow descent into the valley. Fortunately for me, there was little traffic on these back roads. Bus service had been suspended during the height of the violence in the early 1980s and in the early 1990s is virtually nonexistent, although a few buses do provide transport to villagers on market day. The biggest obstacle to driving is meeting, head-on, logging trucks carrying rounds of oak and cedar for export. With their heavy loads, it is impossible for them to maneuver, and so I would invariably have to back up- or downhill until I found a turnout wide enough for the truck to pass. Yet, the most frightening experience was rounding a curve and suddenly encountering a military patrol.

On this day in February 1989 it was foggy and misty, and a cold wind was blowing. Although the air temperature was in the 50s (degrees Fahrenheit), the chill penetrated to the bone-"el express0 de Alaska," Elena laughed. Heading north we caught glimpses of the dark ridges of the Sierra de Cuchumatanes brooding in the distance. The scenery was breathtaking; every conceivable hue of green was present: pine, cedar, ash, oak, the wide lush leaves of banana trees, and bromeliades, mingled with the brilliant purple bougainvillea in bloom, and the ivory calla lilies lining the roadway. The milpas lay fallow after the harvest in late January, only the dried stalks were left half-standing leaning this way and that. On each side of the road houses were perched on the slopes surrounded by the milpas. In the altiplano several houses made from a mix of cane or corn stalks, adobe, and wood are usually clustered together. The red tile roofs seen further west have all but disappeared from Xe'caj. Most people now use tin roofs (lamina),even though they retain more heat in the hot dry season and more cold when it is damp and raining. Chimaltenango Department was one of the hardest hit by the 1976 earthquake in which more than 75 thousand people died and one million were left homeless. Many people were crushed under the weight of the tiles, as roofs caved in upon them. Today, half-burned houses stand as tes- timony to the scorched-earth campaign, while civil patrollers take up their posts nearby with rifles in hand. Although we frequently saw a number of people on foot, most women and children ran to hide when they saw us coming. Months passed before women and children walking on the road would accept a ride with me. And even then, many did so reluctantly, and most would ask Elena in Kaqchikel if it were true that I wanted to steal their children and whether gringos ate children.I4

On this particular day Elena and I drove as far as we could and then left my pickup at the top of the hill at the point at which the road became impassable. We walked the last four miles down to the village. Along the way we met local men repairing the large ruts in the road, where soil had washed away with heavy Sep- tember rains. Soil in this area is sandy and unstable. Most of the trees on the ridge above the road have been clear-cut and the erosion is quite pronounced. The men were putting in culverts and filling in the deep crevasses that dissect the road; their only tools are shovels and pickaxes. The men are paid U.S.$l .50 per day. This is desirable work, however, because it is one of the few opportunities to earn cash close to home rather than going to the coastal plantations.

As we descended into lower elevations, Elena and I mused over the fact that there are only seven widows in Ri Bey, a village of 300 people. In the several other villages where we had visited women, there were 30 to 40 widows or about 15 to 20 percent of the current population. Perhaps there had not been much vio- lence in Ri Bey, I suggested. It was one of the notable features of the military campaign known as "scorched-earth" that neighboring villages fared quite dif- ferently-one was destroyed and another left untouched, depending on the army's perceived understanding of guerrilla support. The military's campaign of terror in the altiplano had happened in two phases. Army strategy began with selective repression against community leaders not only to gamer information but also to spread fear. The second phase of the counterinsurgency plan con- sisted of cutting off rural areas from the city. This began with "sweeping opera- tions" that fanned out from the city first westward to Chimaltenango Depart- ment, then southward to Quiche, and later further northward and westward. The massacres and brutality seemed to have an internal logic despite the disorder and panic that they provoked. While some villages were left unscathed, others were completely razed. For example, according to an eyewitness of the massacre in the aldea of Los Angelas, Ixcan, on March 23, 1982, the soldiers had a list of pueblos and aldeas that were to be targeted (Falla 1992). Moreover, in numerous testimonies of survivors, the army more often than not launched its "reprisals" against the guerrillas by brutally killing the population at large.

Elena and I found Petrona, Tomasa, and a third woman, sitting in front of the school at which we had agreed to meet. We greeted the women and sat down in the sun that was just breaking through the clouds. They had brought several bottles of Pepsi for us to share. I asked Dofia Petrona, a small, thin woman with an intelligent face, why there are so few widows in Ri Bey, holding my breath waiting for the hoped-for answer-that the violence there had been much less. She replied that it was because so many people were killed, not just men but whole families, old people, children, women. The village was deserted for sev- eral years, people fled to the mountains, the pueblo or the city. Many people never retumed-dead or displaced, no one knows for sure.

This was the third village we had visited, and each time it was the same. The women, without prompting, one by one took turns recounting their stories of horror. They would tell the events surrounding the deaths or disappearances of their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers in vivid detail as if it had happened last week or last month rather than six or eight years ago. And the women- Petrona, Tomasa, Ana, Isabel, Juana, Martina, and Marta-continued to tell me their stories over and over during the time I lived among them. But why? At first as a stranger, and then later as a friend, why were these women repeatedly re- counting their Kafka-esque tales to me? What was in the telling? What was the relationship between silence and testimony? As Suirez-Orozco has noted, "tes- timony [is] a ritual of both healing and a condemnation of injustice-the concept of testimony contains both connotations of something subjective and pri- vate and something objective, judicial and political" (1992:367). The public spaces that we were compelled to use to thwart surveillance were transformed into a liminal space that was both private and public in the recounting.

In each of the villages in which I met with women, it was always the same in the beginning. We would meet in groups of three or four in front of the village health post, the school, or the church, always in a public space. It was three months or more before anyone invited me into their home or spoke with me pri- vately and individually. Above all else, they had not wanted the gringa to be seen coming to their house. Under the scrutiny of surveillance, the women were afraid of what others in the village might say about them and me. And when I began to visit people's homes, rumors did spread about Elena and me. The rumors themselves seemed innocuous to me, that I was helping the widows or that I was writing a book about women, yet with potentially dangerous repercussions.

During one particularly tense period, my visits caused an uproar. One day when I arrived to visit with Maria and Marta, I found them both very anxious and agitated. When I asked what was going on, they said that the military commis- sioner was looking for me, that people were saying I was helping the widows and talking against others in the community. "There are deep divisions within the community; people don't trust one another," explained Marta. "Families are divided, and not everyone thinks alike," Maria added.

When I said that I would go look for Don Martin, the military commis- sioner, they became very upset. "He said that he would take you to the garrison. Please don't go, Linda. We know people who went into the garrison and were never seen again." "But I have done nothing wrong," I said. "I must talk with them, find out what is wrong." I worried that my presence might reflect nega- tively on the women. So I went, Elena insisting on accompanying me, dismiss- ing my concerns for her well-being by saying, "Si nos matan es el problema de ellos" (If they kill us, it will be their problem). Fortunately for us, the commis- sioner was not home; so I left a message with his wife.

The next day I decided to go to the destacamento alone. The trek to the gar- rison was a grueling walk uphill, or so it seemed. The last one hundred yards were the most demanding emotionally. Rounding the bend, I saw several sol- diers sitting in a small guardhouse with a machine gun perched on the three-foot stanchion, pointed downward and directly at me. The plight of Joseph K in Franz Kafka's Trial (1937[1925]) flashed through my mind, the character ac- cused of a crime for which he must defend himself but about which he could get no information. "I didn't do anything wrong; I must not look guilty," I told my- self over and over. I needed to calm myself, as my stomach churned, my nerves frayed. I arrived breathless and terrified. Ultimately, I knew I was guilty because I was against the system of violence and terror that surrounded me. I asked to speak to the commandante, who received me outside the gates. This struck me as unusual and increased my agitation, since I had been to the garrison several times before to greet each new commandante and to renew my permission pa- pers to continue my work. On other occasions I had been invited into the com- pound. The commandante said he knew nothing about why I was being harassed by the military commissioner and the civil patrol in Be'cal, and he assured me that I could continue with my work and that he personally would look into the situation. A few days later the commandante and several soldiers arrived in the aldea, called a community-wide meeting and instructed everyone to cooperate with the "gringa" who was doing a study.

Later when the matter had been settled, some of the women explained their concerns to me. They told me stories of how widows from outlying aldeas, who had fled to the relative safety of Xe'caj after their husbands had been killed or kidnapped, had been forced to bring food and firewood for the soldiers at the garrison, and then had been raped and humiliated at gunpoint. One brave woman, the story goes, with a baby on her back, went to the garrison demanding to see her husband. The soldiers claimed he was not there, but she knew they were lying because his dog was standing outside the gates, and she insisted the dog never left his side. Either they still had him or had already killed him. She demanded to know and told them to go ahead and kill her and the baby because she had nothing more to lose. Today she is a widow.

It was the hour before dawn on a March day in 1981. Doiia Petrona had arisen early to warm tortillas for her husband's breakfast before he left to work in the milpa. He was going to burn and clean it in preparation for planting soon after the first rains in early May. He had been gone only an hour when neighbors came running to tell her that her husband had been shot and he was lying in the road. When Petrona reached him, he was already dead. With the help of neigh- bors she took the body home to prepare for burial. Petrona considers herself lucky because she says that at least she was able to bury him herself, unlike so many women whose husbands were disappeared. These are among what Robert Hertz called the "unquiet dead," referring to those who have died a violent or "unnatural" death (1960). Hertz argued that funeral rituals are a way of strength- ening the social bond. Without a proper burial these souls linger in the liminal space between earth and afterlife, condemned in time between death and the fi- nal obsequies. And yet these wandering "unquiet souls," according to Taussig (1984), may act as intermediaries between nature and the living, buffeting as well as enhancing memories through imagery of a violent history.

The young woman sitting next to Petrona is her daughter, Ana, who is also a widow. Ana took Petrona's nod as a sign to begin. In a quiet voice she said that she was 17 when her husband was killed on the patio of her house while her two children, Petrona, and her sister stood by helpless and in horror. It was August 1981, five months after her father had been killed. Soldiers came before dawn, pulled her husband out of bed, dragged him outside, punched and kicked him un- til he was unconscious, and then hacked him to death with machetes.

Tomasa was just beginning to recall the night her husband was kidnapped, when a man carrying a load of wood with a thump line stopped on the path about 50 feet away to ask who I was and why I was in the aldea. Don Pedro is the mili- tary commissioner in the community. I introduced myself and showed him my permission papers from the commandante of the local garrison. After looking at my papers, Pedro told me I was free to visit the community but advised me to in- troduce myself to the head of the civil patrol. Tomasa anxiously resumed her story. Her husband was disappeared by soldiers one night in early 1982. She said that several days later she went to the municipio to register his death, and the authorities told her that if he was disappeared he was not considered dead. She did find his mutilated body some weeks later, but she did not return to register his death until several years later. She was told that she now owed a fine of 100 quetzales because of the lateness of her report. Tomasa planned to leave in a few weeks to pick coffee on a piedmont plantation to earn the money because she wants legal title to her small parcel of land and the house.

The Embodiment of Violence

The women have never recovered from their experiences of fear and repres- sion; they continue to live in a chronic state of emotional, physical, and social trauma. As Suirez-Orozco found among Central American refugees living in Los Angeles, people carry their psychological horror with them even into situ- ations of relative safety (1 990). Their nightmares stalk them. The women of Xe'caj carry their pains, their sufferings, and their testimonies in their bodies.

Doiia Martina cried bitterly the day her young grandson died of respiratory infection, and another lay gravely ill. She said that she tries to forget the past, but when someone dies, the pain in her heart returns and her nerves come on strong. She fled Be'cal in 1981 with her husband because of death threats. He was hunted down and was disappeared in Guatemala City several months later. She returned home to the village to pick up the pieces of her life as best she could. Today she and her four youngest children share a home with her (older) son and daughter-in-law. Somatic messages such as those borne by these women offer insights into individual distress as a result of misery and war and suggest that there might be other interpretations that do not deny the individual body's (dis)ease but at the same time demonstrate the relational qualities of the body to "emotional, social and political sources of illness and healing" (Scheper- Hughes and Lock 1987). In the case of Guatemala, I want to suggest another reading of the widow's somatization of distress and suffering, that is, that some of the discrete illnesses from which the women suffer may also be a moral re- sponse, an emotional survival strategy, to the political repression they have ex- perienced and in which they continue to live. And this response is felt both in- dividually and collectively. Certainly the ways in which the widows of Xe'caj experience their personal emotions of suffering may be construed as idiosyn- cratic and discrete. That these bodily expressions are also cultural renderings of

collective social and political trauma, however, is a fact not lost on the women themselves. The invisible violence of fear and terror becomes visible in the suf- ferings and sicknesses of the body, mind, and spirit of the widows of Xe'caj. Their silenced voices speak poignantly through their bodies of their sadness, loneliness, and desolation, of chronic poverty and doubt. The women suffer from headaches, gastritis, ulcers, weakness, diarrhea, irritability, inability to sleep, weak blood-disorders usually clustered under the syndrome of posttrau- matic distress-and of "folk" illnesses such as nervios (nerves), susto (fright), and penas (pain, sorrow, grief). Simply to categorize their sufferings, however, as either manifestations of clinical syndromes or culture-bound constructions of reality is to dehistoricize and dehumanize the lived experiences of the women.

Doiia Isabel has had a constant headache since the day they disappeared her husband seven years ago. It never leaves her, she says. Doiia Juana has a chronic pain in her heart because of her sadness; she cannot forget witnessing the brutal killing of her husband and son. Doiia Martina cannot eat because of her nervios. She worries how she will feed her children, how she will earn money to buy what she needs at the market. Don Jose, a village health promoter, describes in vivid detail the many children who were born during the violence who now have multiple health problems and deficiencies due to susto, fear, and malnutrition that their mothers suffered.

What was noteworthy in these instances was that the women of Xe'caj pin- pointed the onset of their physical problems to the events surrounding the death or disappearance of their husbands, sons, or fathers and commmented on the chronicity of their physical, social, and economic problems. Being "sick" in these cases is inherently dangerous, but the danger is quite different from that described by Talcott Parsons in his seminal article on the social consequences of the "sick role" (1972). In this situation, illness related to political violence is a refusal to break ties with the person who was killed or disappeared through the maintenance of illness. The bereavement process has yet to be completed. It is a moral refusal to get well. The women's illnesses become actual physical rep- resentations of the widespread violence against the Mayan civilian population for which there has yet to be a resolution. The body stands as political testimony, as a collective protest strategy. While somatization as a political idiom may be a dangerous game to play, as Scheper-Hughes has noted in the Brazilian context (1992), it also opens possibilities. The women have come to represent the horror they have witnessed through their bodies, and as such, pain and suffering ex- pressed through illness become a powerful communicative force. Their voices may be silenced by fear and terror, but the body itself has become the site of so- cial and political memory.

While I am not suggesting that this constitutes a wholly conscious act on the part of all women, there does seem to be a level of awareness in which the women attribute political causality to particular illnesses. And the widespread nature of these complaints forges a commonality and sense of sharing among the women.

A reexamination of susto is useful here. Susto is a malady, common throughout Mesoamerica, with undifferentiated symptomatology and which ap- pears to have pre-Columbian antecedents. Susto is understood by its victims to be the loss of the essential life force due to fright. Often-reported symptoms in- clude depression, weakness, loss of appetite, restlessness, lack of interest in work duties and personal hygiene, disturbing dreams, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. If left untreated, the victim literally (though often slowly) wastes away.

The literature in medical anthropology is replete with interpretations of ill- ness and sickness in terms of cognitive and symbolic models of meaning. Folk illnesses such as susto, nervios, and ma1 de ojo have commonly been understood as physiological expressions of individual's maladaptation to societal expecta- tions. The nature of the etiology of susto in Western tenns has left medical an- thropologists baffled, although various explanations have been posited, ranging from mental illness (Pages Larraya 1967), to social behavior as a result of stress (Mason 1973; O'Nell and Selby 1968), cultural transgression, inability or un- willingness to fulfill role expectations (Rube1 1964), or assuming the sick role as a form of protest (Uzzell 1974), to purely biological phenomena such as hy- poglycemia (Bolton 1981) and malnutrition (Burleigh 1986).

Recently Rubel, O'Nell, and Collado-Ardon have suggested a middle ground to understand susto as an interaction between social and biological fac- tors (1991). While these studies are important steps in discerning the complexi- ties of susto, I want to suggest an alternative reading. I argue for an interpreta- tion of susto that is situational, an embodied understanding of complex social and political relations4ne that links the lived experiences of the physical body with the social, cultural, and body politic (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1987).

In some cases in Xe'caj, the susto from which the women and children suf- fer is directly related to the terror and fear that they have experienced as a result of political violence. Might susto in these cases be seen not solely as a social (and passive) resistance to what has transpired, but as social memory embodied? And at the same time might we take them at their word, that they are asustado (frightened) and that el espiritu sefie (the spiritlsoul has left the body)? I suggest that this is an accurate, literal description of what has happened to them.

DoAa Marcela's young son Juanito was asustado when he was returning home on a mountain path one evening and ran into a platoon of soliders. Juanito's father had been killed several years earlier by the army. Now Juanito eats very little, his small edematous body is so lethargic that he hardly moves outside the house. Don Lucas's daughter Marta was only eight when the army came to her village. During the past nine years Marta, who is distant and with- drawn, has grown very little. Marta is thin and pale with a distant gaze. She suf- fers from susto, and when strangers come to the house, she experiences ataques during which she appears dead and is unable to speak. When Marta does speak, which is infrequent, Don Lucas describes it as "speaking to everyone and no one." He says that she saw terrible things during the violence, that she was wit- ness to many brutal killings in the village. Don Lucas knows that Marta's spirit has left her body due to fright, but he has been unable to help her. These frail, wasting bodies are themselves testimony to what has happened to the Mayan people. Susto, as a result of political violence, not only is an individual tragedy but serves as a powerful social and political record of the transgressions against Mayan people.

Like the pena in Doha Martina's heart which is both bodily and emotion- ally felt, the sicknesses that the women of Xe'caj are experiencing are more than metaphors of their suffering; they are expressions of the rupture of the intricate and immediate connections between the body, mind, and spirit and are expressed in social relations between the individual, social, and body politic. The pain and sadness that Martina experiences in her heart is a direct link to the death of her husband and to have pain no longer is to forget his death. And Martina says that she cannot forget because there has not been justice. The heart is the center of the vital forces of the spirit for Mayan people, and as such it is the cen- ter of their awareness and consciousness, as it was once believed in Aristotelian philosophy until Western science "proved" the direct connection between the brain and consiousness. The alliances between Martina and her husband that helped to sustain her have been broken, as have been the social bonds of trust and stability in her community. While I am not arguing that the ongoing chronic pains that the women experience are in themselves a form of social resistance, they do serve to connect the women to each other in their hardships and as such become a mechanism for social commentary and political consciousness.

The women speak of their sufferings and illnesses in terms of the violence and oppression that they suffer as Mayas. "I have these nervios because I am poor," Doha Martina explains. "I have this headache because they killed my husband and now I am alone, and it will not go away because I am afraid," Doha Isabel says. Western medicine can in some instances alleviate their symptoms, but it cannot heal their problems. The medicinal plants the women gather in the mountains do relieve some of their pains, but they say things must change before they can be well. As they share their suffering, the women's understanding of their predicaments takes on a more social dialogue that offers hope for the fu- ture.


Acknowledgments. I would like to thank Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Roger Lancaster, Margarita Melville, Marcie Mersky, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, Sebastian Quinac, and Carolyn Nordstrom for comments on earlier versions of this article. The field research on which this article is based was funded by the Institute for International Education Fulbright Scholars Program.

  1. Connerton has defined social memory as "images of the past that commonly legitimate a present social order" (1 989:12). In Guatemala fear inculcated into the social memory has engendered a forced acquiescence on the part of many Mayas to the status quo. At the same time a distinctly Mayan (counter-) social memory exists. Indigenous dances (especially the dance of the conquista), oral narratives, the relationship with the antepasados maintained through the planting of corn, the weaving of cloth, and religious ceremonies are all examples of Mayan social memory.

  2. Fear of strangers is not a new phenomenon in Guatemala. Maude Oakes, in her study of Todos Santos, reported that in the late 1940s local people were reticent to talk with the few strangers who came to the community and that she too was treated with suspicion at the beginning of her fieldwork (195 1 ). With some, Oakes never developed a rapport of trust, a common experience for most fieldworkers. Since the last wave of violence, however, community loyalties have been divided and a level of distrust previously unknown has permeated social life. A climate of suspiciousness prevails in many villages. Olivia Carrescia's two ethnographic films made a decade apart (before and after the violence) in Todos Santos document some of the profound changes wrought by systematic state terror (1 982, 1989).

  3. Counterinsurgency, or "dirty wars," are campaigns of "state-sponsored terror and repression deliberately carried out against suspected civilian populations" (Nord- strom and Martin 1992:261) who have been the base of support for guerrilla struggles. In Guatemala, for example, this far-reaching strategy includes not only the defeat of the armed insurgency and the destruction of its civilian support, but also a program of pacification of the civilian population (Wickham-Crowley 1990). Horror, fear, and spectacle, along with murder and brutality, are some of the weapons of control used against the population. Specifically, in Guatemala these take the form of disappearances, large population displacements, massacres, local civil militias, and model villages that severely restrict population movement (Barry 1986; Jordahl 1987).

  4. A partial list of countries in which state terror has proliferated since the 1960s would include Indonesia, Chile, Guatemala, Kampuchea, East Timor, Uganda, Argen- tina, the Central African Republic, South Africa, El Salvador, the Philippines, Haiti, Burundi, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Brazil, and Uruguay.

  5. Michael Taussig's powerful treatise on the nervous system draws the analogy between the anatomical nervous system and the chaos and panic engendered by tenuous social systems (1992a). He notes that, across the fibers of this fragile network, terror passes at times almost unnoticed, and at others is fetishized as a thing unto itself. In this essay Taussig is preoccupied with the "mode of presentationflof terror in social analysis. He concludes that

this puts writing on a completely different plane than hitherto conceived. It calls for an understanding of the representation as contiguous with that being represented and not as suspended about or distant from the represented, . . .that knowing is giving oneself over to a phenomenon rather than thinking about it from above. [Taussig 1992a: 101

  1. See Scarry's 1985 discussion on the inexpressibility of physical pain. While Scarry contends that it is only physical pain that can be characterized with no "referential content, it is not of or for anything" (1985:5), I would argue differently. The power of terror of the sort that is endemic in Guatemala and in much of Latin America lies precisely in its subjectification and silence.

  2. Taussig notes that terror's talk is about "ordered disorder," a discourse that turns the "expected" relationship between the normal and the abnormal, the exception and the rule on its head, while it absorbs and conceals the violence and chaos of everyday life through a veneer of seeming stability (1992a).

  3. Military commissioners are local men, many of whom have been in the army and in the villages they serve as local recruiters and spies for the army (Adams 1970). The program was instituted nationwide in the 1960s and was one of the initial steps in the militarization of rural areas. The civil patrol system was created in 1982 and constituted a rural militia of over one million men by 1985, over half the highland male population over 15 years of age. The PACs, as they are known, function to augment

military strength and intelligence in areas of conflict, and more importantly to provide vigilance and control over the local population. Although the Guatemalan constitution states explicitly that the PACs are voluntary, failure to participate or opposition to their formation marks one as a subversive in conflictive zones in the altiplano (America's Watch 1986; Stoll 1992).

  1. The presence of civil patrols in communities has turned petty feuding into a conduit for vigilante justice of which Paul and Demarest (1988) and Montejo (1987) are exemplary descriptions. As Aguayo has pointed out, in Guatemala counterinsur- gency does not stop at the killing of real or imagined enemies, but it "obliges the peasant to violate the human rights of the other peasant . . . it seeks not only victims but accomplices" (1 983:2).

  2. When the insurgents first appeared in the eastern part of Guatemala in the 1960s as a result of an unsuccessful military rebellion, a repressive state apparatus was already in place. Between 1966 and 1968 an estimated six to eight thousand peasants were killed in a government campaign against five hundred insurgents. Subsequently, in an attempt to improve the relationship between the military and the rural population

~ ~

and to eliminate local support for the insurgency, a program of militaryicivil action was introduced into rural areas under the guidance of U.S. advisors. Many of these devel- opment projects in road building, health, and education were financed by US AID (United States Agency for International Development) and were located in areas in which social inequalities were particularly acute and support for the popular forces the strongest. In 1982 the Guatemalan army created a civic affairs department (S-5) to promote development. In a 1987 interview Colonel Mario Enrique Morales, then head of the department, stated, "We now understand that we can gain more with civic action than with war. This represents a very profound change in the military mentality, in the Guatemalan Army; and in this we are being original, we are not copying models. ..we have done all of this by ourselves, without foreign advice" (AVANCSO 1988:53).

1 1. Kaibiles are the elite special forces troops of the Guatemalan army, trained in counterinsurgency tactics. An excerpt from an address by General Juan Jose Marroquin to a graduating class of Kaibiles on December 6, 1989, is revealing: "Kaibil officers are trained to forget all humanitarian principles and to become war machines, capable of enduring whatever sacrifices, because from now on, they will be called Masters of War and Messengers of Death" (La Hora 1989).

12. CONAVIGUA (the National Coordinating Committee of Guatemalan Wid- ows), an organization of rural Mayan widows, began its work publicly in September 1988. The stated goal of the organization is "for dignity and unity of women." The women demand an end to the poverty and repression that mark their lives; they want the right of an education for their children, economic assistance, the end of forced recruitment of their sons into the army, the suspension of obligatory civil patrols, respect for human rights, a voice in the national dialogue, and the right to exhume the clandestine graves of their relatives.

PAVYH (The Assistance Program for Widows and Orphans Victims of the Vio- lence) is a special project mandated by the Guatemalan Congress in 1987 with an appropriation of 10 million quetzales (approximately U.S.$3.5 million at 1987 exchange rates), administered through the Ministry of Special Affairs. A pilot program was started in 1988 in Chimaltenango Department; by 1989 the first phase of the project had been completed in all 14 departments to be covered under the program. The program consisted of three phrases, the first a census, the second a food distribution program, and the third the initiation of small-scale village projects.

  1. Mersky identified the two major camps within the ruling coalition as the "traditionalists" and the "modernists" (1989). Jonas identitifed the "ruling coalition" as the army, the civilian bourgeoisie, and political parties (1991). The power configuration of this coalition is fragile and often unstable, as the events of the May 1993 coup revealed.

  2. Rumors of foreigners and strangers eating children are not limited to the women of Xe'caj or other areas of Guatemala. Scheper-Hughes found similar concerns among the people of northeastern Brazil; she also notes the prevalence of Pishtaco myths among Andean Indians who believed that Indian fat, and in particular Indian children's fat, was used to grease the machinery of the sugar mills (1992:236-237). In the 1980s a biological anthropologist working among Andean people found his research stymied because of rumors that the measurement of fat folds was actually a selecting proceess designed to choose "the fattest for their nefarious purposes" (Scheper-Hughes 1992:236-237).

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