Supported by three and a half years of fieldwork since 1985, Nelson addresses these questions—along with the jokes, ambivalences, and structures of desire that surround them—in both concrete and theoretical terms. She explores the relations among Mayan cultural rights activists, ladino (nonindigenous) Guatemalans, the state as a site of struggle, and transnational forces including Nobel Peace Prizes, UN Conventions, neo-liberal economics, global TV, and gringo anthropologists. Along with indigenous claims and their effect on current attempts at reconstituting civilian authority after decades of military rule, Nelson investigates the notion of Quincentennial Guatemala, which has given focus to the overarching question of Mayan—and Guatemalan—identity. Her work draws from political economy, cultural studies, and psychoanalysis, and has special relevance to ongoing discussions of power, hegemony, and the production of subject positions, as well as gender issues and histories of violence as they relate to postcolonial nation-state formation.
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.
Contributors consider a wide range of issues confronting present-day Guatemala: returning refugees, land reform, gang violence, neoliberal economic restructuring, indigenous and women's rights, complex race relations, the politics of memory, and the challenges of sustaining hope. From a sweeping account of Guatemalan elites' centuries-long use of violence to suppress dissent to studies of intimate experiences of complicity and contestation in richly drawn localities, War by Other Means provides a nuanced reckoning of the injustices that made genocide possible and the ongoing attempts to overcome them.
Contributors. Santiago Bastos, Jennifer Burrell, Manuela Camus, Matilde González-Izás, Jorge Ramón González Ponciano, Greg Grandin, Paul Kobrak, Deborah T. Levenson, Carlota McAllister, Diane M. Nelson, Elizabeth Oglesby, Luis Solano, Irmalicia Velásquez Nimatuj, Paula Worby