The Ends of War in Guatemala


Book Pages: 448 Illustrations: 32 illustrations Published: March 2009

Author: Diane M. Nelson

Activism, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Central America

Following the 1996 treaty ending decades of civil war, how are Guatemalans reckoning with genocide, especially since almost everyone contributed in some way to the violence? Meaning “to count, figure up” and “to settle rewards and punishments,” reckoning promises accounting and accountability. Yet as Diane M. Nelson shows, the means by which the war was waged, especially as they related to race and gender, unsettled the very premises of knowing and being. Symptomatic are the stories of duplicity pervasive in postwar Guatemala, as the left, the Mayan people, and the state were each said to have “two faces.” Drawing on more than twenty years of research in Guatemala, Nelson explores how postwar struggles to reckon with traumatic experience illuminate the assumptions of identity more generally.

Nelson brings together stories of human rights activism, Mayan identity struggles, coerced participation in massacres, and popular entertainment—including traditional dances, horror films, and carnivals—with analyses of mass-grave exhumations, official apologies, and reparations. She discusses the stereotype of the Two-Faced Indian as colonial discourse revivified by anti-guerrilla counterinsurgency and by the claims of duplicity leveled against the Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchú, and she explores how duplicity may in turn function as a survival strategy for some. Nelson examines suspicions that state power is also two-faced, from the left’s fears of a clandestine para-state behind the democratic façade, to the right’s conviction that NGOs threaten Guatemalan sovereignty. Her comparison of antimalaria and antisubversive campaigns suggests biopolitical ways that the state is two-faced, simultaneously giving and taking life. Reckoning is a view from the ground up of how Guatemalans are finding creative ways forward, turning ledger books, technoscience, and even gory horror movies into tools for making sense of violence, loss, and the future.


“. . . [T]his is both an interesting reflection on the dilemmas of contemporary society and our place in it and an essential exploration of the endless
complications of Guatemala.” — Jim Handy, Hispanic American Historical Review

Reckoning . . . is hauntingly beautiful, raising provocative questions, analytic complexities, and fascinating interconnections. It convincingly captures what it means to question assumptions, to challenge what we know, as it shows us some of the myriad ways that Guatemalans make sense of violence, loss, and the future.” — Jennifer Burrell, PoLAR

“. . . Nelson has given us a challenging, rich, creative text, remarkable for the ends, and beginnings, that it generates.” — Emily Yates-Doerr, e-misférica

“[A] lively, compassionate, provocative exploration of experience in postwar Guatemala. Reckoning makes an important contribution to understanding
contemporary Guatemala and provides deep insights into the human political/social psychological condition.” — Norman B. Schwartz, Current Anthropology

“[A] unique, powerful vision of Guatemala today. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — C. Hendrickson, Choice

“[Nelson’s] elaborate account provides detailed information on important persons, events, and diverse social units, including Maya communities, NGOs, political parties and organizations, the Guatemalan state, the United States and other foreign powers. Her account of salient events that occured during this period reveal her profound and detailed knowledge of recent history in Guatemala, and this alone makes the book invaluable for anyone interested in recent developments in that effervescent country.” — Robert M. Carmack, The Americas

“The struggle to understand violence is a consuming task for many around the globe. Diane M. Nelson articulates stunning insights into the problem of understanding the violence in Guatemala and, by extension, our whole world of war and structural harm.” — Catherine A. Lutz, editor of The Bases of Empire: The Global Struggle against U.S. Military Posts


Availability: In stock
Price: $30.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Diane M. Nelson is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University. She is the author of A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincentennial Guatemala.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Pref/face. Little Did I Know xiii

AcKNOWLEDGEmeants xxxiii

Chapter One. Under the Sign of the Virgen de Transito 1

Intertext One. Those who Are Transformed 31

Chapter Two. The Postwar Milieu: Means, Ends, and Identi-ties 39

Intertext Two. Co-memoration and Co-laboration: Screening and Screaming 73

Chapter Three. Horror's Special Effects 86

Intertext Three. Confidence Games 115

Chapter Four. Indian Giver or Nobel Savage?: Rigoberta Menchu Tum's Stoll/en Past 126

Intertext Four. Welcome to Bamboozled! A Modern-Day Minstrel Show 156

Chapter Five. Anthropologist Discovers Legendary Two-Faced Indian 165

Intertext Five. Look Out! Step Right Up! Paranoia and Other Entertainmeants 197

Chapter Six. Hidden Powers, Duplicitous State/s 208

Intertext Six. Counterscience in Colonial Laboratories 242

Chapter Seven. Life during Wartime 252

Intertext Seven. How Do You Get Someone to Give You Her Purse? 280

Chapter Eight. Accounting for the Postwar, Balancing the Book/s 290

Chapter Nine. The Ends 322

Notes 327

Works Cited 361

Index 387
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4324-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4341-7
Publicity material