Emily Lisenby Professor Kennemore Latin American Studies November 7, 2011 The roots of the Guatemalan civil war
dates back to nearly five hundred years of violence and racism, the movie “When the Mountains Tremble” is an effective narrative that shows the relationship between the United States and Guatemala and gives the people of Guatemala the chance to tell their side of what is happening in the war. This movie mostly focuses on the struggles and the fight for freedom from the perspective of the left-wing, or guerillas. This movie relates to Pam Yates interview by Betsy Sussler because she was the one of the directors of the movie. This gives the movie a more biased edge since it focuses on her opinions. “We focused on the Indians in Guatemala because the Indians are still the majority of the Guatemalan population.” This is important because the Indians were considered the lowest on the totem pole but the event of Jacobo Arbenz being overthrown led to the first time the Indians and Ladinos, non-Indians came together. According to Yates, Arbenz was overthrown because at his time in office this was the first democratically elected governments in Central America and United Fruits seemed to help this part of the world become more developed, which the United States obviously did not what to happen. So I feel that Yates put this at the beginning of her movie and made it of such importance was to show how the struggles and brutality we see throughout the rest of the film had all got started and also to show how this part of history influenced a semi positive outcome of the Indians and Ladinos coming together to fight back for the little freedom that had been taken away from them after Arbenz. “One of the reasons why the Indians and Ladinos formed an alliance is that both groups have borne the same repression and the same suffering.” In the interview Yates says the Indians and Ladinos are both fighting for democracy but their priorities may be different in how they want to
structure the economy. The fight for democracy and freedom from the military government was very prominent in the movie and was mostly what the movie was about so I feel that this part of the interview and the movie relate a lot to each other. Civilians had many different parts in the war according to Pam. But being a guerilla seemed to be one of the highest honors you could have as a nonmilitary supporter because everyone seemed to look up to them and listen to what they said and in the movie this proves to be true because in many parts of it you see leaders talking to big groups of people and bringing everyone together and people actually want to be there listening to them it isn’t forced, unlike some civilians who are forced to take part in helping the army involuntarily, sometimes having to kill their own people. In “ When the Mountains Tremble” there is a part that shows how religion has had an impact on the war and it is not in favor of the military. Priests used their position to set up some social base for the guerillas. In the movie and the interview we are told how nuns and priests were teaching the uneducated how to read and write, and also was educating them on what was happening economically and politically which was working against the army because they do not have much of an advantage when civilians start to get more educated and then more involved in the war. David Stoll’s story “Rigberta Menchu and the story of all poor Guatemalans” can also relate and not relate to the film. His story is all about Rigoberta Menchu who was the narrator of the movie who’s brothers and fathers both died horrible deaths at the hands of the Guatemalan government. In his book he questions whether Menchu is being one hundred percent honest in her testimony on what had really happened to her and other Indians in Guatemala. In fact he spends time in Guatemala interviewing other Guatemalans and undertook other research that concentrated on finding errors, exaggeration, and bias in the testimony by Menchu. For example in the book there is a part where he is talking to a Guatemalan and asks him if the army had burned prisoners alive in the town plaza, questioning that part of Menchu’s testimony. “Not here” is what that guy and seven other townsmen proceeded to tell Stoll. This part of his story is what contradicts the movie because in “When the mountains Tremble” we saw
that it was more bias and did focus more on Menchu’s testimony and was basically taking her side in the conflict. Stoll claims that her testimony was so popular and accepted at the time it was published because it seemed that everyone could somehow relate to it and everyone sympathized with it. In the book Stoll states, “They regarded it as an authoritative text on the social roots of political violence, indigenous attitudes toward colonialism, and debates about ethnicity, class, and identity. That it took place in Guatemala was no coincidence, because this is a country that has long attracted foreigners out of proportion to its size.” This can relate to the movie because it was filmed to show the horrible things that have happened in Guatemala and obviously makes you want to sympathize and lean more towards the side of the Indians, Which is the social group that Stoll claimed the testimony represented. Menchu told her story focused on the struggles and hardships of the guerillas and Indians because she was an Indian and the guerillas were who she supported and wanted to represent for her people. This is the same bias as in the movie. Some other contradictions raised by Stoll’s finding in his research were the difference in who the peasants thought was the enemy. “Unlike I, Rigoberta Menchú, which describes the guerrillas as liberation fighters, my Ixil sources tended to lump soldiers and guerrillas together as threats to their lives. Instead of being popular heroes, the guerrillas were, like soldiers, people with guns who brought suffering in their wake.” This completely contradicts “When the mountains tremble” because it was all about how the guerillas were leaders and had many followers who agreed with what they were doing. “The peasants of I, Rigoberta Menchú have been pushed to the wall by plantation owners and soldiers hunting down dissidents. Her village has little choice but to organize for selfdefense and look to the guerrillas for help. The insurgency therefore springs from the most basic need of peasants, for their land. This is the socioeconomic explanation for insurgency, the immiseration or oppression thesis, which is how guerrilla organizations and their supporters customarily justify the cost of armed struggle.” In this Stoll is saying that he does not believe that the guerillas were people that
peasant communities wanted to follow but in the end had no other choice if they want to confront the system and the guerillas are the only ones who are providing the leadership to do so. Overall I considered “When the Mountains Tremble” and Pam Yates argument more effective because of the fact that there was evidence included because of the film. I think that if the movie had more of a perspective on thoughts of Guatemalans that are in Stolls argument I could maybe also agree more with that fact that maybe Menchu was exaggerating.