Land of Trees

The western hemisphere’s bloodiest armed conflict in the twentieth century officially left 250,000 civilian victims, most either indigenous Mayans massacred in rural Guatemala or urban progressives forcibly disappeared by state forces. Post-war processes after the 1996 Peace Accords have neither dealt with the factors that sparked the conflict nor coped with the harrowing legacy of violence after a 36-year brutal war.

Land tenure has undoubtedly been the principal motive for conflict in most of Latin America since colonial times and remains the case in Guatemala. Indigenous Mayan communities, who make up roughly 60 percent of the country’s population, have maintained a cultural and territorial resistance over generations that not only led to the war but continues to violently clash with the small yet powerful political and economic sectors that have used the Army and Police to forcefully implement their plantation ideology of economic domination.

Post-war Guatemala is anything but the peaceful back-to-business façade painted by official sources. Unrelenting foreign and domestic interests in extractive projects, particularly metal mining, hydroelectric power and single-crop agriculture, are dangerously polarizing a fragile society struggling to deal with its recent past.

For over a decade, my work in Guatemala has focused on visually unraveling not only the causes for the genocide, but primarily understanding and documenting the tragic consequences: rampant corruption, social violence, impunity, rising land tenure conflicts, and the unprecedented migration exodus Northward.

When Spanish conquistadores invaded what today is central Mexico in the sixteenth century, they coerced local Mexica leaders into leading them to a land rich in gold and natural resources. The Mexica, in their Nahuatl language, directed them south towards Quauhtlemallan, the place of many trees.

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