36 years of Civil War
It would be impossible to analyze the current indigenous movement in Guatemala without first considering the armed conflict that ravaged the country for over thirty years starting in the sixties. As is the case with any war or conflict, it is impossible to pinpoint a single cause for the Guatemalan Civil War, as there were decades if not centuries of build up and tension; many different issues came together and eventually lead to what can be considered an almost inevitable outbreak of violence and confrontation. The historical reality is that Guatemala has been a country with a reduced political, intellectual, religious and military elite who have ruled the country. It was this latter, the military elite, who kept a monopoly on political power in Guatemala for the majority of the its history, governing for a little over a hundred years since the Guatemalan independence in 1821. The authoritarian governments’ repressive attitude towards social organizations and political objectors tended to display itself violent ways. This in turn, would stimulate the surging of guerrilla groups, which would then be repressed by the government with even more force (Stavenhagen 2002). The atmosphere that arose from such an oppressive and monopolized power scheme was one of intolerance and exclusion, characterized by a lack of both accountability, legal order and respect for the law; e.g. in a span of thirty years, from 1954 to 1982, there were three coups with three respective changes of the constitution (Cayzac 2001).
In addition to the unpredictable and authoritarian quality of these governments, the twentieth century also saw an attempt at liberal “modernization” which tended to aggravate the problems of discrimination and poverty already present. This endeavor is described by many as “un proyecto político y cultural homogenizador,” which promoted assimilation by discouraging communal life and confiscating communal lands, and by encouraging monolingual education (in spanish) and liberal economic policies that stressed the importance of developing a market economy (Smilox 2005; Stavenhagen 2002). The effects that years of governmental policies of non-recognition has had profound effects not only on the ways in which indigenous peoples have come to be perceived, but also in the way they have come to perceive themselves. In his ethnography, Charles R. Hale recounts how, for many indigenous people improving their condition entails being Más Que un Indio (2006), suggesting that indigenous ancestry can often become a source of shame. The impact on indigenous identity resulting from such a history will be developed later in the paper. Moreover, many of these “modernization” plans became policies of exclusion, the most notable being the “asymmetric distribution of land and the unequal access to the territorial property ” (Cayzac 2001: 39, translation. See also Álvarez 2003; Casallas and Padilla 2004; Stavenhagen 2002), which led to the systematic impoverishment of not only indigenous populations, but of the small ladino rural populations as well resulting in over fifty percent of the population living below the poverty line. Some scholars suggest that this economic factor played one of the most significant roles in leading to the uprisings agains the government that began the Civil War (Cayzac 2001; Stavenhagen 2002).
The conflict itself was bloody and intense. With the removal of populist and pro-agrarian reform president Jacobo Arbenz by the CIA in 1954, the country entered a violent civil war that would last thirty-six years. The confrontation, although technically between the leftist guerrillas and the US-backed military, came to affect the entire country. It was not uncommon for civillians to be coerced by the military into Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil (PAC), forcing them to turn against their neighbors and comply with any demands the military placed on them. Combined with the tremendous amount of people murdered, “disappeared,” exiled and tortured, the entire country plunged into a state of fear, terror and violence (Casallas and Padilla 2004). The Comisión de Esclarecimiento Histórico (CEH) estimates the death toll to be larger than 200,000 victims, with over eighty percent of the victims being indigenous and well over eighty percent of the violence committed by the armed forces. The accords for a “Paz firme y duradera” were finally signed in December of 1996 by members of government and the guerrilla group, the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG).
 A homogenizing political and cultural project (Smilox 2005)
 “La marginación de importantes sectores de la población empieza por una repartición asimétrica de la tierra y el desigual accesso a la propiedad territorial.”
 Civil Patrols of Auto-defense, a government created and enforced practice of enlisting civilians into militant groups to serve in their cause.
 The Commission for Historical Clarification, whose goal is to “elucidate on the violations of human rights and the facts of historical violence that have caused Suffering among Guatemalan Population” http://www.guatemalaun.org/bin/documents/Acuerdo%20Comisi%C3%B3n%20Esclarecimiento%20Hist%C3%B3rico.pdf
 This number becomes even more remarkable when we consider that the large majority of the guerrilla group’s leaders, organizers, etc. were not in fact indigenous, but ladinos who adhered to Marxist ideologies. Thus, the massive death toll becomes an issue of genocide and not merely one of war crimes.
 A firm and lasting peace.