La Patria del Criollo

An Interpretation of Colonial Guatemala

La Patria del Criollo

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 1 map, 1 figure Published: May 2009

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, European Studies > History of Europe, History > World History

This translation of Severo Martínez Peláez’s La Patria del Criollo, first published in Guatemala in 1970, makes a classic, controversial work of Latin American history available to English-language readers. Martínez Peláez was one of Guatemala’s foremost historians and a political activist committed to revolutionary social change. La Patria del Criollo is his scathing assessment of Guatemala’s colonial legacy. Martínez Peláez argues that Guatemala remains a colonial society because the conditions that arose centuries ago when imperial Spain held sway have endured. He maintains that economic circumstances that assure prosperity for a few and deprivation for the majority were altered neither by independence in 1821 nor by liberal reform following 1871. The few in question are an elite group of criollos, people of Spanish descent born in Guatemala; the majority are predominantly Maya Indians, whose impoverishment is shared by many mixed-race Guatemalans.

Martínez Peláez asserts that “the coffee dictatorships were the full and radical realization of criollo notions of the patria.” This patria, or homeland, was one that criollos had wrested from Spaniards in the name of independence and taken control of based on claims of liberal reform. He contends that since labor is needed to make land productive, the exploitation of labor, particularly Indian labor, was a necessary complement to criollo appropriation. His depiction of colonial reality is bleak, and his portrayal of Spanish and criollo behavior toward Indians unrelenting in its emphasis on cruelty and oppression. Martínez Peláez felt that the grim past he documented surfaces each day in an equally grim present, and that confronting the past is a necessary step in any effort to improve Guatemala’s woes. An extensive introduction situates La Patria del Criollo in historical context and relates it to contemporary issues and debates.


“[A] smooth translation and with an excellent critical introduction. . . .” — David McCreery, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[T]his translated edition is a conversation between the editor-translators and Martínez in aims of making Patria concise while staying true to the original. The result is a great read, thanks to Lovell, Lutz, and Neve, that will allow English-speaking readers reflect on how landed elites use economic and institutional instruments to oppress peasantries, as well as the potential for historical analysis to offer more equitable futures.” — Christian Brannstrom, Journal of Latin American Geography

“Taken as a whole, this is an admirable effort on all parts. Martínez Peláez’s work has become the cornerstone of much of the history written about Guatemala in particular and Central American in general. With this edition, new generations of students and scholars can appreciate the impact of the original work.” — John F. Schwaller, Ethnohistory

“The translation is excellent. . . . Most of the summaries and abridgements are judicious. Moreover, a complete translation could not have found an English language publisher and the lengthy footnotes in the Spanish original can be consulted there. The Spanish version is wordy and contains numerous recapitulations and asides. On the whole the translators’ excisions yield a tidier, smoother flow and focus.” — Murdo J. MacLeod, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Translators Susan M. Neve and W. George Lovell have done an excellent job with the translation, rendering the text into natural and enjoyable English. . . . [I]t provides the reader a well-rounded perspective on Martínez Peláez and the reception of the text itself. . . . [T]his translation of his monumental La patria del criollo certainly holds appeal for a non-specialist public interested in learning more about Guatemala, Central America, or Latin America in general.” — Paul Worley, The Latin Americanist

“[P]robably the most influential historical analysis of the colonial Guatemalan experience published in Spanish in the last 40 years, if not necessarily within, then certainly beyond the academic world. Long a staple in Guatemalan classrooms and on graduate reading lists elsewhere, in translation it deserves to gain a second life in English language universities as a provocative introduction for sophisticated undergraduates and other non-specialists to the ‘reality’ alluded to in the title of the Spanish original and, perhaps as much, to the distinctive historiographical moment in which it first emerged. Scholars of Central American history and historiography, meanwhile, will appreciate the editors’ extended and thoughtful introduction. . . .” — Paul Lokken, A Contracorriente

“As the Spanish text became fundamental to Guatemalan historiography, this translation will become a staple of Latin American historiography.” — Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, The Americas

“In Mariátegui, Martínez Peláez found a kindred spirit. Together they form part of a genealogy of Latin American radical though that, across the twentieth century, confronted the so-called ‘Indian problem’ as a central challenge to Latin American nation-states. For this reason, then, as well as for the importance and drama of Guatemalan history across this same century, the English edition of this book is both welcome and long overdue.” — Florencia E. Mallon, American Historical Review

“Severo Martínez Peláez’s La Patria del Criollo is perhaps the single most influential work about colonial Guatemala written by a Guatemalan historian. . . . Its translation and publication in English will prove propitious if it encourages a new generation of scholars to revisit his vigorous assertions.” — Richmond F. Brown, Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“Translators Susan M. Neve and W. George Lovell have done an admirable job bringing the true spirit of Martínez Peláez's theories alive for English readers. In addition to the translated text, editors Lovell and Christopher H. Lutz include a useful introduction providing readers unfamiliar with La Patria or its author an understanding of the man as well as the era in which he lived. Furthermore, the editors do a nice job detailing Martínez Peláez's more controversial arguments and their impact on Guatemalan historiography. . . . Graduate students and faculty alike will find value in this work. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — M. D. Davis, Choice

"English-speaking social science scholars should highly value the English edition of La Patria del Criollo: An Intepretation of Colonial Guatemala, which explains with precision why Latin America still exhibits today the deepest social and economic inequity in the world. Severo Martinez's masterpiece has played a significant role in shaping Guatemalan national and even Latin American regional politics for almost 40 years. It is a profound analysis of the social and political structures that were established during the Spanish colonial period, factors that led to the concentration of power, both economic and poltical, in very few hands." — Raul Molina Mejia, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“This is a top-rate translation, and La Patria del Criollo is a very important book, not just for Guatemalan and Central American historiography but for a broader audience of Latin Americanists. First published in 1970, it was well ahead of its time in its subtle analysis of both social relations and the worldview of colonial elites, the criollos of the title. The book is a rich example of how structuralists such as Severo Martínez Peláez were trying to deal with culture and the contingencies of history.” — Greg Grandin, author of The Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation

“This outstanding translation reminds me why La Patria del Criollo is such a vital book. What stays with me more strongly from this work than from any other source is the massive, relentless, and grinding labor-extracting machine in which Guatemala’s native peoples were caught during the colonial era. To understand the recent civil war and genocide in Guatemala, and also more global struggles, an understanding of the history that Severo Martínez Peláez portrays is necessary.” — Diane M. Nelson, author of Reckoning: The Ends of War in Guatemala


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Severo Martínez Peláez (1925–1998) is recognized as one of Central America’s most distinguished men of letters. The Association of Guatemalan Journalists awarded him the Quetzal de Oro for La Patria del Criollo. Susan M. Neve, a translator specializing in Spanish language and literature, teaches at City University and the University of Westminster in London. W. George Lovell is Professor of Geography at Queen’s University in Canada, and Visiting Lecturer in Latin American History at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Spain. Christopher H. Lutz is cofounder of Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica in Antigua, Guatemala, and of the Maya Educational Foundation in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. He is Managing Director of Plumsock Mesoamerican Studies, also based in Wellfleet.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction xiii

Chronology of Events xlvii

Preamble 1

1. Criollos 7

2. Two Spains (1) 27

3. Two Spains (2) 54

4. Land of Miracles 75

5. Indians 114

6. Race Mixture and the Middle Strata 148

7. Class Dynamics and the Middle Strata 193

8. Life in Indian Towns 225

9. The Colonial Legacy 274

Glossary 301

Bibliography 309

Index 313
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4415-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4397-4
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