Books by Victor Perera

Released: Oct. 1, 1993

Shattering examination of Guatemala's bloody civil war, combining oral history, investigative journalism, personal narrative, and ethnography. If we are to believe only half of what the Guatemalan-born Perera (Rites, 1985, etc.) claims, Guatemala's violent history makes its sister-republics' human-rights violations look almost like nothing. This terrible chronicle is divided into three ``chapters of conquest,'' beginning with the Conquistadors. Commissioned by Cortes to bring the people of what was to become Guatemala to peace without war, Captain Pedro de Alvarado instead took actions that made his name ``synonymous with the bloodiest chapter in the Conquest of the Americas.'' But despite encomienda (royal grants giving landowners full title to Indian serfs living on their estates), hundreds of Mayan communities retained ownership of ancestral lands. In the second chapter, set in the late 19th century, self-styled ``Liberal Reformer'' Justo Rufina Barrios, needing to create a labor pool for the country's huge coffee plantations, passed debt-peonage statutes and abolished Maya land titles by the hundreds. Marked by massive counterinsurgency campaigns, the third and perhaps final chapter commenced in the late 1970's. In Ixil, a brutal plantation owner was killed. Retaliating, hundreds of Indians were tortured and murdered. Perera tells us that Guatemala has death squads who specialize in killing and torturing children and that most massacres of Mayas in the highlands are committed by other Mayas whose communal and blood bonds have been warped by army officers who consider contemporary Mayas subhuman. Further polluting the waters, Guatemala is racked by a religious war in which proselytizing evangelical Protestant sects have complicated even more the age-old antagonism between Catholicism and scotumbre (Maya religious practice) by converting about one-third of the highland Mayas as well as two recent presidents. But whoever is president, Perera says, the military seems to have its way. A harrowing study of our hemisphere's own killing fields- -admirably written, painstakingly researched. (Twenty-eight photographs—not seen) Read full book review >