Militarization of daily life : negotiation of power in 1980s rural Guatemala
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“We did it out of fear. We cooperated because whoever didn’t cooperate would be punished. And besides that, they dug a huge ditch, there on the side of the road. We were afraid and had to do it, because where else [could we go]? And we were in their grasp, in their hands.” This quote describes the Guatemalan army forcing civilians to commit acts of violence against their neighbors. Such a practice exemplified the internal armed conflict that took place in the Guatemalan countryside during the 1980s. As a strategic response to combat against what they termed as Marxist rebel armies, the military under General Fernando Romeo Luca García in 1981 began a system of forcible recruitment of the mostly Maya male population into rural militias. Commonly referred to as civilian defense patrols or PACs (patrullas de autodefensa civil) these local paramilitary groups represented a larger process of militarization that heavily influenced local social contexts. This paper explores the dynamic local social context of the civil patrols, and militarization in Guatemala more generally from the perspective of those who underwent it. First, it reviews the historiography on the PAC in the Guatemalan countryside during its peak years of activity in the 1980s. It then offers an analysis of witness testimonies from the 1980s that speak to the forced recruitment of militias, and martial law in rural communities. In doing so, it seeks to explain how rural society negotiated the meanings, value system, and power, under a military state. The goal of the historiographical review and research is to offer a new direction in analysis that places the experiences of civilians at the forefront to highlight how they ultimately mediated and negotiated the control mechanisms of the military occupation.