The ugly poetics of violence in post-accord Guatemala

Type Conference Paper - Forum for Development Studies
Title The ugly poetics of violence in post-accord Guatemala
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2009
With the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 Guatemala’s credentials of democraticgovernance were re-established, but as media reports and the international communityhave observed the killing and crimes of the civil war have continued. With thought ofthe apparent contradictions of continued violence in a time of peace, this article aimsto characterise and identify the causes of this violence. The article proposes that whilstcarrying some validity, current academic, media and political explanations largely failto capture the extent and significance of the violence in Guatemala because of theirgeneral tendency to disarticulate certain forms of violence from each other and theirfailure to collectively place these acts of violence in a wider socio-political context thatstretches beyond Guatemala and between historical periods of peace and war. In under-lining the importance of an interpretative approach to violence strong identification ismade in this article with anthropological ideas of a ‘poetics of violence’. It is arguedthat study of the ‘poetics’ of violence – that is, its generative character – unravels exist-ing statistics and highlights that its origins and solutions are to be found beyond thelargely static limitations of dominant combative policies. Ultimately, explanations for the persisting violence in Guatemala do not lie with the presence of gangs and organ-ised crime, or a pathological ‘culture of violence’ marked by war and by poverty, but inits support and sanction by the continued systemic violence of elites and contradictions of international intervention.

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