Violence in peace : forms and causes of postwar violence in Guatemala

Zinecker, Heidrun

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URL http://edoc.vifapol.de/opus/volltexte/2008/254/
Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: HSFK-Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
Schriftenreihe: PRIF reports
Bandnummer: 76
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2006
Publikationsdatum: 23.01.2008
SWD-Schlagwörter: Guatemala / Bürgerkrieg
DDC-Sachgruppe: Politik
BK - Basisklassifikation: 89.58 (Politische Gewalt), 89.76 (Friedensforschung, Konfliktforschung)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.6 Politik und Friedensforschung

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

On 29 December, 1996 the conflict in Guatemala between the URNG, a leftist guerrilla organization, and the authoritarian state came to an end. With the implementation of the peace agreements and the completion of peace-building, Guatemala has without doubt taken an important step on the road to democracy. However, the country’s regime does not guarantee a civilized life for its citizens. Even by Latin American standards, it permits an extremely high level of violence. This can be characterized as violence in peace. Although the rates of homicide conditioned by this violence are higher than those that prevailed during the civil war, there is no danger of a return to war. During the war political violence was the main cause of death, and violent crime has now taken its place. This report analyses three forms of postwar violence which are especially typical of Guatemala: political violence, the maras, and lynch law. It then goes on to examine their causes. In the course of this examination, a number of elements which are generally supposed to be causes of violence are excluded as causal factors: the perpetuation of a culture of violence or/and war-violence racism and ethnic exclusion, poverty, and inequality in the sense of a general distribution of income as measured by the Gini coefficient. In the next step, an alternative model of explanation is presented. This distinguishes between enabling structures which make violence possible and structures that might prevent it (with particular reference to the absence of preventive structures). The report identifies regime hybridity and a rent economy as structures that make violence possible, and investigates these structures in order to identify the concrete configurations which are immanent to the structures and cause violence. In the case of the rent economy, the specific structures identified are the especially pronounced bipolarity between the oligarchy and the lowest quintile of the population, new rents as outlets for oligarchical structures and catalysts of violence, low rates of investment, and a low level of empowerment of work. However, none of these structures is, on its own, a cause of the high intensity of violence; they form a complex system. The absence in Guatemala of a structure that could prevent violence can be identified in the poor performance of the security sector, i.e. the police and judiciary, and in the lack of democratic commitment on the part of civil society in this sector. This low level of performance is, in addition to political exclusion and the absence of the rule of law, a characteristic feature of regime hybridity. Although this report is a case study, it has an intrinsically comparative character. This is because the other Central American countries (El Salvador and Honduras with a higher, and Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a lower intensity of violence) form the matrix which renders visible the specificity of Guatemala. Nicaragua is of particular significance for this implicit comparison, because it is the only country in Central America that has experienced a civil war in the recent past but seen a low level of violence since the end of that war. The conclusion of the report identifies two ways in which violence, or the intensity of violence, can be limited in the long term. In the Costa Rican model, a low intensity of violence has been achieved directly, via a long historical path in which “Democracy = Performance + Democratic Content” is combined with “Social Market = Empowerment II of Labour + Production of Investment Goods”. In the Nicaraguan model, a low intensity of violence has been achieved indirectly but over a shorter period of time; here, there can be no doubt about the absence of democracy, and therefore the existence of regime hybridity, or the absence of a social market economy, and therefore the existence of a rent economy. The main finding of the report follows from the Nicaraguan model: the level of violence can be reduced even though ethnically based exclusion, poverty, and inequality (as measured by the Gini coefficient) are present, and even though a rent economy and regime hybridity are present as well. If violence is to be successfully reduced, it is necessary for the police and judiciary to be supported conceptually and practically in their efforts to prevent violence and to rehabilitate violent offenders, and to bring about improvements in criminal investigation practices, the support provided to victims, and consistent criminal justice policies. Development aid can help in all these areas. Simultaneously, measures must be taken to bring about the empowerment of civil society – which, however, should not mean the empowerment of vigilantism. In addition, the situation of the lowest quintile of the population should be improved in such a way that there is at least a prospect of relative socioeconomic egalitarianism. This can be done if smaller enterprises are strengthened so that they can serve as a counterweight to the ruling oligarchy, in the context of an improvement in the rate of investment in the production of investment goods. In this way it would be possible to reduce both the official level of unemployment and the concealed unemployment that exists in the informal sector, leading to the empowerment of work. These autochthonous policies are necessary for Guatemala, and they should be combined with the exertion of international political pressure on the USA’s problematic policies on immigration, integration, and deportation. This should include the provision of support to Guatemala (as well as El Salvador and Honduras) for the integration of young people deported from the USA. This report presents the first systematic analysis of postwar violence in Guatemala. It is based on approximately 50 interviews with Guatemalan academics, politicians, police and judicial officers, Maya priests, and NGO activists, and also with violent offenders, all of whom were interviewed during a month-long period of field research in Guatemala in March 2006.


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