The contradictions of “bottom-up” democratic reconstruction in post-armed civil conflict in Guatemala

Guatemala after armed civil conflict
By Karine Vanthuyne

Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Guatemala in the post-civil conflict (1960-1996) era are dedicated to following up on the work of the country’s two “Truth Commissions”; their objective is to contribute to a reconstruction from below of democracy in Guatemala. Both of international and Guatemalan origin, they operate in the capital or in the villages where massacres took place. They work to convince local populations to testify to the atrocities that they endured and to assume the status of victims bearing rights that must be upheld by their government. From the point of view of these NGOs, this process will help these people to achieve two goals. Firstly, asserting their rights as victims will allow them to recover a certain dignity (which according to these NGOs, has never been recognized), and secondly, the reestablishment of a relationship of trust between them and the public authorities will allow them to become fully-fledged Guatemalan citizens. However, these objectives will remain elusive as long as this double identity of victim and citizen, conceived as coherent and natural by NGO workers, poses difficult-to-overcome dilemmas for local people. In this article, I address this problematic by focusing on the concrete interactions between one NGO in particular (the CALDH) and the survivors of the massacre of Tut, who found refuge in the neighboring village of Wa’il.


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