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Nothing to See Hear

Peter Benson
Anthropological Quarterly
Vol. 77, No. 3 (Summer, 2004), pp. 435-467
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3318229
Page Count: 33
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Nothing to See Hear
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Abstract

In this paper, I recount narratives of two violent events, and of enduring feelings of blame, guilt, and complicity in Tecpán, Guatemala, a mostly Maya town in the highlands. Many locals had followed all the coverage of September 11. Just months later, this city that always sleeps witnessed its own arresting moment, the "tragedy of June 10 (2002)," an anti-tax demonstration that began peacefully but became violent when, it is said, local gang members tried to assassinate the mayor. In this emerging democratic public sphere, being seen or heard can be politically empowering and potentially dangerous. Social experiences of the protests had to conform to "post-war" idioms that increasingly privilege ideals of compromise, equality, and harmony. But, casting those ideals against televised experiences of 9/11, locals produced ways of seeing and hearing violence-and conceptualizing blame-that differ from both the discourses of retaliation and innocence that overwhelm the U.S. and the flattening idiom of democratic compromise that dominated so-called "reconciliation meetings" with the mayor. The protests speak to a number of contradictions involved in processes of economic and political decentralization in Guatemala. Silently embedded in local claims that "there is nothing to see here" is a history of violence, ongoing forms of social suffering, and the hard feelings that continue to link this sleepy little town to "decentralized" agencies. That Guatemala is not yet decentralized enough emerges finally as the dream of one local daykeeper, who already saw the tragedy of June 10 in his sleep months prior, who didn't warn his friends since they would not have believed him, and who still feels guilty.

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