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Week 6 Essay

Week 7 Nash

Week 8 Manz

Week 9 Manz

Week 10 Binford

Week 11 Binford

Week 12 Oppenheimer

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Week 13 Oppenheimer

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Week 14 Dow

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Final Paper


Victoria Kline
Anthropology 582: Mesoamerican Cultures
October 20, 2004
Dr. Ramona Perez

Paradise In Ashes Part I

There is a fairly long introduction for this book, which covers the reasons and backing that Beatriz Manz had as she left for her research in Guatemala. She was research assistant to the author of our first textbook, Robert Carmack, and is also a native of Chile, a country that was having its own set of problems in the 1970s when she departed from a university in New York for Guatemala.

Chapter 1 The Highland Home is a description of the highlands that the Mayan Guatemalans called home before the exodus to the rainforest to establish a new life, one of hope for a better future. The problems of diminishing lands, lands that had become depleted by over use, too little land for subsistence, and those with no lands created the need of Mayan peasants to find outside work, which was satisfied by laboring seasonally on the fincas. However, work on the fincas was also difficult physically, living conditions were at best unsanitary and over crowded. The catalyst for this venture was the Catholic Church and the new liberation theology they were teaching. The new liberation theology gave the peasants hope, organized them, taught them about the skills they would need for life in the rainforest as an interdependent group cooperative.

Chapter 2 Settling in the Promised Land: So, with the leadership of Father Luis and following the cooperative plan laid down by him, the Mayans of the Guatemala highlands began creating a township in an area of inhospitable jungle of the Lacandon Rainforest. Groups of men, accompanied by one or two women to cook, endured the eight day trek through the jungle and mountains to begin clearing and building for two months at a time. On return to their highland village another group would take their place. All in the spirit of cooperation, and all work for the common good. In this fashion they were able to ready the space needed for the time when the settlers moved with their families to the rainforest. When the land and town cleared and built enough, the families began to move into the rainforest. After two years, the cooperative settlement was succeeding.

In Chapter 3, the War Finds Paradise, Manz relates some of the long history of events leading up to the destruction of the cooperative settlement at Santa Maria Tzeja. Here I can see why there is some confusion on my part when reading about these events as many things were happening simultaneously in different places. The story unfolded sectors and therefore the timeline seems to fold back on itself. Also, I am thinking that there are similarities in the stories of Chiapas and Guatemala, they share a border, and the Lacandon rainforest is located in both areas. Highland Mayas live in both areas. The guerillas in the Guatemalan rainforest, moving through these isolated cooperatives, seem to start out in a spirit of friendly optimistic cooperatism, but as the war escalates, they become more authoritarian themselves, acting like they are on crack sometimes. Some critics have said that entry into the guerilla army, or aiding the guerillas, became mandatory, at fear of harm or death. Manz does a series of interviews with surviving guerilla soldiers, asking why they joined, were they coerced, what was the situation at the time etc. All of these men and women say they made their own conscious decision based on persuasive talks. Manz then lists the six most often given reasons to join with the guerillas. I keep wondering why the army even cared about these isolated villages up in the mountains. The successes - they should have been left alone. But, the Mayan population was targeted by the Mexican military with murders and “disappearances”. This was one reason the Mayan peasants and colonists sought out the guerilla insurgents. Santa Maria Tzeja was partially razed by the Mexican army, those villagers who were located at the time of the invasion, eliminated. Chapter 3 ends with the story of Edwin Canil, a Mayan boy of six, who was witness to the massacre of his entire family to the military invasion of Santa Maria Tzeja.

Question: Why was the military in the rainforest before the insurgency? Is the military a voluntary organization also, like the police? That still does not give military men the right to abuse people. Sorry, but if they were acting like this they need the backs of their heads slapped – what are they thinking? In contrast, the author makes it seem that there were no atrocities committed by either indigenous (or ladino) settlers, or guerilla troops (with the exception of them getting more authoritarian as they gained power and believed themselves to be on the winning edge). Can this be possible? Men are men after all.

Who is the organization USAID? Is this USA Aid? Actually, it is the US Agency for International Development, and at its website at: http://www.usaid.gov/ its mission is to “provide economic and humanitarian assistance in over 100 countries to provide a better future for all.” I wondered, as there seems to be some negative association with the organization.

Are these guerillas another branch of the Zapatistas (Chiapas)? When Manz was relating the naming of these guerilla groups one of them was named after General Sandino (Sandanistas, Nicaragua?). This one in Guatemala was the “Guerilla Army of the Poor” (EGP).

Description, characters, action, stories and story lines, individuals: good readable, memorable writing. You want the readers awake after all, not snoozing like with Nash.


Manz, Beatriz
2004    Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Terror, and Hope. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

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