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Violence and the State in Postwar Guatemala

Núñez, Daniel (2015) Violence and the State in Postwar Guatemala. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala went through one of the longest and bloodiest civil wars in Latin America. Thousands of people were killed or disappeared during this violent conflict. Today, almost twenty years after the signing of peace agreements, the country remains an extremely violent place. Year after year, its homicide rates surpass the rates in most of the world, the pages of its newspapers are filled with crimes of all sorts, and its state justice system seems to disintegrate in the middle of chaos. Amid widespread impunity and fear of crime, Guatemalans sometimes “take justice into their own hands” and lynch suspected criminals, a phenomenon that scholars refer to as “extralegal violence” or “vigilantism.” According to official reports and statistics, linchamientos (lynchings) occur most frequently in the indigenous communities of the western highlands and in Guatemala City. The eastern region of the country seems to be immune from this type of violence. Drawing from ethnographic research that included more than 200 semi-structured interviews with state and non-state agents, participant observation, analysis of official reports, statistics and newspaper articles, my dissertation deals with crime and violence in contemporary Guatemala. I focus on two towns with contrasting characteristics: Totonicapán, a Maya-K’iche’ municipality in the country’s western highlands where a series of linchamientos (lynchings) have been documented since 1996, and Guastatoya, a Ladino (“non-indigenous”) municipality in the eastern region where no linchamientos have ever been reported but whose homicide rates are among the highest in the country. In contrast to previous studies, I find that people in both Totonicapán and Guastatoya take violent measures against suspected criminals, but that they assign different and conflictive meanings to their practices based on the country’s historical ethnic and political dynamics. I also find that state agents as well as ordinary citizens in both towns are either directly or indirectly involved in these violent acts. Rather than seeing these practices as simple examples of “vigilantism,” I argue that scholars should pay close attention to the ways in which ethnic and state-society relations shape violence and to the different meanings it can have in different places.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Núñez, Danieldan25@pitt.eduDAN25
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMarkoff, Johnjm2@pitt.eduJM2
Committee MemberBlee, Kathleenkblee@pitt.eduKBLEE
Committee MemberPutnam, Laralep12@pitt.eduLEP12
Committee MemberHughes, Melaniehughesm@pitt.eduHUGHESM
Date: 27 September 2015
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 22 June 2015
Approval Date: 27 September 2015
Submission Date: 12 August 2015
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Number of Pages: 221
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Sociology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Guatemala, the State, violence, vigilantism
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2015 23:27
Last Modified: 27 Sep 2020 05:15


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