Destruyendo la Semilla: Children and Adolescents as Internal Enemies of the Guatemalan State

Event Sponsor
Center for Latin American Studies

This talk analyzes the diverse methods of criminalization that the National Police and the Guatemalan army exerted over minors in Guatemala during the country’s civil war (1960-1996). Based on police located in the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN) accidentally discovered in 2005 and in declassified documents, the paper explores the intersection between the struggle of combating everyday criminality and the criminalization of activities carried out by children and youth. The work aims to explore how the Guatemalan state, through its security forces, molded the category of "internal enemy" to include more than adults or political ideological opponents. The construction of criminal subjects in the context of the Cold War in Guatemala left an approximate 5,000 children disappeared. Many more were forced into exile and murdered. Understanding the counterinsurgency processes put forth by military bureaucracies, which allowed for the dehumanization of vulnerable sectors such as minors, is key to understanding present-day violence and criminalization against children and youth. The presentation concludes in the decade of the 1990s when the National Police carried out a series of social cleansing campaigns against homeless children in Guatemala City, a process that served as a precursor to the current ongoing criminalization of minors whom government authorities portray as gang members or criminals deserving of violence.  

María de los Ángeles Aguilar is a Guatemalan Maya-K´iche´ historian. She is a Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer at the Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies (CLAIS) at Yale University. Her work focuses on policing and criminalization in Guatemala during the country’s civil war (1960-1996). Her dissertation examined the relationship between the Guatemalan National Police and the citizens it was expected to serve and protect, to learn how that day-to-day element of community protection led the police to create its own criminal subject and its own notion of the internal enemy beyond the political subversive. Her work also provides an ethnographic overview of how the social, economic, and cultural condition of the country affected police ranks. In Guatemala she has worked on collaborative researchprojects centered on historical memory, collecting testimony from indigenous communities and genocide survivors.  Dr. Aguilar has a weekly opinion column in Guatemala’s newspaper elPeriodico, where she writes about the country’s current social and political issues and denounces repressive policies that affect the Maya population.