Accepted Paper:

Impunity and the lexicon of victim precipitation in "peacetime" Guatemala  


Victoria Sanford (CUNY)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes impunity in contemporary Guatemala through the prism of language. Through the comparison of popular and official narratives, I suggest there is a lexicon of victim precipitation that is a legacy of past state violence in which popular and official narratives are mutually constituted.

Paper long abstract:

Since the signing of the peace accords in 1996 ended 36 years of internal armed conflict ultimately recognized as genocide, the Guatemalan judicial system has been forced to confront and at least partially prosecute some significant human rights cases including the army-ordered assassinations of anthropologist Myrna Mack and Bishop Juan Gerardi. While material authors of each murder have been prosecuted, the intellectual authors remain unnamed and at-large. Add to these incomplete cases, the hundreds of rural massacres from the early 1980s that have now been filed in the courts with forensic evidence as well as recent high profile cases of corruption, organized crime, drug-trafficking and thousands of homicides, the end result is an overwhelmed judicial system still in the process of adapting to new laws and procedures promulgated in the 1990s to move Guatemala away from a vertical system of secretive justice. One might suggest that the culture of terror that produced genocide in Guatemala in the 1980s has become a culture of impunity in "peacetime." Impunity is grounded in a lexicon of victim precipitation and reinforced by the inefficiency of the judicial system that has failed to overcome the formalism of past authoritarian regimes that privileged procedures over the facts of the case. This paper explores contemporary human rights violations through the prism of language. I compare and contrast the narratives of victims, survivors, prosecutors, police, forensic investigators, politicians, and human rights activists with the written representation of their experiences in the popular press, investigative reports and legal proceedings.

Panel W039
Violence expressed