Front Page Titles (by Subject) Political Violence in Guatemala - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2
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Political Violence in Guatemala - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Political Violence in Guatemala
“A Guatemalan Nightmare: Levels of Political Violence, 1966–1972.” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 22 (May 1980): 195–225.
The origins of political violence in the Central American state of Guatemala lie in a tradition of repression of rural labor dating back to the Spanish colonial era. Guatemala moved toward mid-twentieth century with a well-entrenched pattern of public and private violence to ensure conformity of workers with the rigid central government controlling the political and economic order.
The period beginning with the over-throw of dictator Jorge Ubico in 1944 brought dramatic changes in that order, leading to the contemporary political violence which now characterizes Guatemalan society. Democratization under the administrations of Juan Jose Arevalo (1944–1950) and Jacobo Arbenz (1950–54) encouraged redistributive policies, bringing campesinos and industrial workers previously unknown economic and political power. The resultant pressures struck hard at the local business and landed elites, at such U.S. interests as United Fruit, at the “containment” orientation of U.S. cold war foreign policy, and at Guatemala's neighboring dictatorships.
By 1954 conservative forces had rallied (with the support of the United States, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador) and the acquiescent army of Guatemala permitted the “liberators” to oust Arbenz. Among the techniques both government and others employed to dismantle the earlier revolution's programs were torture, beatings, imprisonment, and murder of labor leaders.
Guatemalan society had become increasingly split between bitterly opposed segments favoring either progressive reform or conservative reaction. Frightened conservatives began to take matters in their own hands after the liberal Julio Montenegro was elected president in 1966. Right wing “death squads” were formed to terrorize any targets associated with the left or with reform. With the beginning of right wing terror, violence on both sides quickly escalated to horrific proportions.
Booth explores two structural theories in analyzing the causes of such widespread social violence. The first theory suggests that extensive or abrupt social change causes violence. The rapid modification of economic structures—of patterns of exchange, employment relationships, values of goods and services—and the shifting of traditional sources of social control instigate and escalate violent clashes within a society. Thus, the more intense and rapid the social change, the greater the violence.
The second structural theory focuses on the strength of the contending parties as the criteria of violence. Conflict would be most intense when the groups are approximately equal in strength.
Through his extensive research, Booth has concluded that the conflict in Guatemala has been most intense where the two hostile partisan poles have claimed fairly similar strength and electoral support. Unfortunately, lasting peace will probably elude Guatemala, as nearly four progressively more violent decades may have caused irreparable tears in the Guatemalan social fabric.