Que Pensamos Las Ex-combatientes?
Memorias rebeldes opens with the telling question “iQue pensamos las ex-combatientes?” (What do we ex-combatants think?), followed by a preamble signed by the ADIQ-Kumool Women Ex-Combatants Collective.8 In it they state that they are all Maya women, primarily Ixils, though a few are K’iche’, and that, during the war, they were all militants of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP, for its acronym in Spanish) in the “Ho Chi Minh” Front that covered the entire Quiche area. None of them, however, was included in the official list of demobilized combatants that the URNG presented to the UN and the Guatemalan government in 1996. When the Peace Treaty was signed on December 28 of that year, they were all scattered in the jungle, distrustful, wary, and afraid, and they were thus left out of the official peace process. It should be noted that they were de facto abandoned by the EGP, the organization in which they militated, and for which they had sacrificed everything. When they returned to their hometown, about 600 of them agreed to meet in Nueva Esperanza, Nebaj, and they founded the Kumool association in 1999.9
Trying to make ends meet and help their families survive, the Kumool women attended a meeting of the Red de Mujeres (Women’s Network) in Uspantan in May 2006.10 There they came in contact with Pelaez, who was then working for the Association for the Advancement of the Social Sciences (AVANCSO, for its Spanish acronym).11 The ex-combatants complained at this meeting about their situation. Pelaez perceived intuitively the epistemological decolonizing attitude rooted in the catharsis of their anger.12 From a purely alternative ethical stance devoid of any theorization,13 these seemingly plain indigenous women understood that the former combatants were divided into two realms: “this side of the line,” where the upper echelon of the URNG stood in cahoots with the Guatemalan government and the Army’s High Command, all of them Ladino men perceived to be living in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Guatemala City, and “the other side of the line,” where they had been dumped, invisible to the Ladino Westernized world. In order to make the Peace Treaty benefit the Ladino elite who fought on both sides of the war, on the traditional modern ideological grid of right and left, the indigenous majority had to be invisibilized, exemplifying Arif Dirlik’s claims that “nationalism of the ethnoculturalist kind has always presented a predicament of easy slippage to racism” (1368). In this case, Mayas end up essentialized as premodern, inferior beings lacking reasoning. We cannot lose sight of the power dynamics of this labeling, nor of the coherence it lends to racial thinking across Guatemala. Within this context, the Kumool women struggled to reclaim the dignity of their culture and their struggle; they did not want to be sacrificed at the end of a set of operations, defined by Ladino men living in the city, to which they had no access, but, rather, they wanted the right to envision their own future.
The dismissive attitude Pelaez perceived led her to bring together journalists and activists to help them record their experience. In June 2006, Pelaez, Rosalinda Hernandez, and Andrea Carrillo, journalists from laCuerda, a feminist weekly, Ana Lopez, another colleague from AVANCSO, and Jacqueline Torres from the communications team of the Agrarian Platform14 met with 33 Kumool women between 35 and 45 years of age in Nebaj .15 By the second meeting, in July of the same year, the Kumool women, offered by their visitors the opportunity of recording their story in a series of journalistic articles, a series of pamphlets, or a book, chose to have a book written about their trajectory, one that would finally recognize their struggle in the mountains and preserve their experiences for posterity.16 They themselves stated that they wanted to do this so that “the youth of the country can come to know it, and they can form for themselves an idea of how things happened” (Memorias 9).17 In other words, these women wanted to exist in a relevant and comprehensible way of being. They were implicitly demanding a theory that would more or less enable constructive action on behalf of subalternized peoples, empowering their knowledge to contest the dominant discourse of the postwar elite, and making a decolonial turn in the process.
The women in this meeting spoke of txitzi’n, an Ixil word that means “deep pain.” However, the idea articulates not only physical suffering but also “a wounded soul,” conceptualizing an image in which a part of the subject is dead. It is a topic at the epistemic borders of modernity, a different paradigm for conveying the unnam- able condition of surviving genocide (Memorias 14), one that anchors a discourse articulating a new relation between violence, survival, ethics, and politics. Feeling txitzi’n did not preclude agency. On the contrary, it was a prerequisite for meaningful agency, one that contextualized their struggle and constituted the women as comprehensible subjects. The need to talk about profound pain, never previously articulated discursively by any of them, nor by most Maya women under Western eyes, was followed by a different emotion tied to agency, the joy of being together again, the memories of their deeds and achievements, of their courage, and of their capacity for decision making and executing. By naming the past, they were able to talk about the future because it made them fully conscious of their identities as ex-combatants, and as women who could continue their political struggle as fully conscious indigenous subjects and as organized women who refused to self-racialize. As they themselves stated, they lost their fear in the mountain, so that whenever they were in a social gathering in a village they recognized females who were excombatants because they were always the ones who did not stand quietly and meekly behind their husbands, but who spoke out with assurance and without fear: “What the heart says we speak out; there is no fear, there is no trembling, we feel our heart is alive; it’s strong because it’s not fearful. I lost my fear because I rose with the rebels in the mountains, where everyone talked, where we were not mute, and here it’s the same; I talk with everyone” (Memorias 16).