Sergio Guillermo Palencia Frener
Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationNew York, Graduate Center, City U. of
Grant numberGr. 10234
Approve DateOctober 7, 2021
Project TitlePalencia Frener, Sergio (New York, Graduate Center, City U. of) "Maya Revolutionaries, Communal Mobilization, and Guerrilla Warfare in Guatemala, 1952-1981"
In 1979-81, Guatemala experienced one of the biggest indigenous rebellions during Latin America’s Cold War. Planters and the military feared a revolution similar to Nicaragua’s, with massive involvement of the population that had been most exploited since colonial-times, indigenous Maya. Despite its importance, the breadth of indigenous participation during the war remains little known. Focusing on three villages in the Maya highlands of Quiché and Chimaltenango, this project analyzes Maya agency and political subjectivities during the Agrarian Reform of 1952-54, the peasant unions of 1966-77, and the guerrilla warfare of 1978-1981. Through archival and ethnographic research, the project explores plantation labor, rural mobilization, and interethnic relationships in two Ixil and Kaqchikel villages of Cotzal and Comalapa, with workshops in a former insurgent community in Chimaltenango. These territories were crucial in the formation of Guatemala’s largest insurgency and peasant organization: the Guerrilla Army of the Poor and the Peasant Unity Committee. Through life stories, oral histories, focus groups, and collective tours, this project ultimately seeks to expand and rethink Maya agency beyond scholarly framings of indigenous people caught in a revolution coming from the outside. The project reinterprets the Guatemalan war from the standpoint of Maya political subjectivities.