Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 1 | Spring 1985

GUATEMALA: k INSIDE THE j o ■ TRIANGLE & f PHOTOS AND STORY BY ARUN NEVADER (WITH MICHAEL RICHARDS) n July and August of 1984, we visited a number of highland communities in Guatemala's Quiche province. All of them were built by the Guatemalan Army. Heading north from the capital city, we traveled overland 100 miles to the mountainous Ixil Triangle. Here we discovered for ourselves what we had expected. Nearly every dwelling and public building in the Ixil (pronounced ee-sheel) region outside of the main population centers of Nebaj, Chajul, and Coat- zal was burned. What had once been fertile and productive agricultural countryside has now become a wasteland. It is the war zone, where civilization ends and counter-insurgency begins. From 1981 to 1983, the Guatemalan Army adopted scorched-earth and search-and-destroy tactics to effectively eliminate a growing revolutionary movement that began in the Ixcan lowlands of Quiche. Thousands of civilians were systematically killed as the army moved through the region burning houses, crops and livestock. As one senior military commander in the area justifyingly told us, “The guerrillas are to the people as the fish are to the sea. If we cannot catch the fish, we will dry up the sea.” Tens of thousands" fled their homes into the remote mountain woods. Only recently have they begun to come out of hiding. The army has declared some areas “safe” for repopulation. Refugees returning to the area are placed in one of these zones or model villages, where they are re-oriented into a new social framework. We visited Acul, the army’s showcase model village just a few kilometers north of Nebaj. At the military command overlooking the village, we were given an army guide who escorted us through the area. Rows of wood-frame houses lined the new streets. There was an alien order to the grids of mill-finish aluminum roofs, as if this entire scheme had been imported from some foreign boom-town manufacturer. Acul had all the makings of a new society, even if it sat in the middle of an ecological moonscape. The new street signs defined the new order—Avenida Reconstruction or Calle Los Patrulleros. Children were everywhere, the army kept a low profile. There was a roadside tienda, where villagers could buy sodas, batteries, gum, soap—the basics. The army oversees several agencies responsible for bringing water, electricity, roads, health care, experimental agricultural A 4 Clinton St. Quarterly