Ladinos with Ladinos, Indians with Indians: Land, Labor, and Regional Ethnic Conflict in the Making of Guatemala

Ladinos with Ladinos, Indians with Indians: Land, Labor, and Regional Ethnic Conflict in the Making of Guatemala

Ladinos with Ladinos, Indians with Indians: Land, Labor, and Regional Ethnic Conflict in the Making of Guatemala

Ladinos with Ladinos, Indians with Indians: Land, Labor, and Regional Ethnic Conflict in the Making of Guatemala

Synopsis

In the late 1830s an uprising of mestizos and Maya destroyed Guatemala's Liberal government for imposing reforms aimed at expanding the state, assimilating indigenous peoples, and encouraging commercial agriculture. Liberal partisans were unable to retake the state until 1871, but after they did they successfully implemented their earlier reform agenda. In contrast to the late 1830s, they met only sporadic resistance. Reeves confronts this paradox of Guatemala's nineteenth century by focusing on the rural folk of the western highlands. He links the area of study to the national level in an explicitly comparative enterprise, unlike most investigations of Mesoamerican communities. He finds that changes in land, labor, and ethnic politics from the 1840s to the 1870s left popular sectors unwilling or unable to mount a repeat of the earlier anti-Liberal mobilization. Because of these changes, the Liberals of the 1870s and beyond consolidated their hold on power more successfully than their counterparts of the 1830s. Ultimately, Reeves shows that community politics and regional ethnic tensions were the crucible of nation-state formation in nineteenth-century Guatemala.

Excerpt

On the afternoon of march 8, 1837, several thousand Mayan residents from the Mam towns of Quezaltenango gathered in San Juan Ostuncalco to demonstrate their opposition to newly appointed circuit judge Félix Morales. Initially the protesters amassed in front of the interim circuit courthouse, where they confronted Morales with their grievances. When the apprehensive judge attempted to excuse himself from the increasingly heated discussion, however, he was pursued into the nearby quarters of two appellate-level court officers—Justice Luís Cárdenas and Fiscal Manuel Rivera—who were visiting from Quezaltenango. There, despite the intervention of Ostuncalco’s parish priest, the encircling crowd began to taunt and jab all three of the beleaguered judicial officials. Rivera and Cárdenas endeavored to flee the house on horseback, but in the process the latter was knocked from the saddle. As Rivera raced from the scene, Cárdenas fell to the ground, the force of the descent sending him into unconsciousness. Only the efforts of the parish priest kept the justice from further harm.

Judge Morales, meanwhile, barricaded himself inside Cárdenas’ bedroom, where he remained until his pursuers broke through the door and dragged him to the town jail. the rebels freed the existing prisoners, and then shackled the judge. Not content to leave matters there, however, they returned “to inflict additional torture…,” or at least that was how Morales saw it. According to the judge, “they removed the shackles and placed me in stocks, where I found myself sentenced to death each time that [my captors] felt compelled to make such a pronouncement, which occurred every minute over the course of the entire night….” Before the fatal sentence could be imposed, however, Morales was rescued by a force of about forty ladinos from San Marcos, who entered Ostuncalco early the following day. After . . .

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