Levenson, Deborah T. Adios Nino: The Gangs of Guatemala City and the Politics of Death. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013.
McAllister, Carlotta and Diane M. Nelson, (eds.) War by Other Means: Aftermath in Post-Genocide Guatemala. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013.
Reading about Guatemala's state-sponsored terror can easily assault one's sensibilities. Money, which can make life comfortable, translates as evil when partnered with greed and militarism. The two books under review, Adios Nino: The Gangs of Guatemala City and the Politics of Death and War by Other Means: Aftermath in Post-Genocide Guatemala, bring together the consequences of this unseemly partnership.
Adios Nino examines the Guatemalan maras [youth gangs]. The maras self-configured from horrific civil war, the defeat of a popular revolution, and austere living conditions in Guatemala City. They developed from homeless war orphans to community-oriented, politicized street youth to apolitical gangs living with the concept of nacroliving or murder as a natural death. Nacroliving appears as a consequence of necropolitics, the anti-communist policies of the U.S.-approved Guatemalan military-sponsored scorched earth campaigns unleashed between the 1960s and the 1980s. Adios Nino opens with excerpts of a military rape scene and another of two girls by mara members. In the first five chapters, the book sets the historical stage by revealing the U.S.-supported 1954 coup that ended the socially-oriented reforms of Juan Jose Arevalo and Jacobo Arbenz unleashed by the October Revolution of 1944.
The maras first appeared in 1985 as twentieth century manifestations of psychological trauma, archetypes of violent machismo, bearers of violent identities and practices, and as the antitheses of the privileged classes. As their violence grew, attempts were made to decriminalize mara members through various channels, such as Pentecostalism and immigration. In many instances, there was a lethal price to pay, at home or in exile, for exiting the mara fold. In Chapter 3, the case of Estuardo illustrates the integration of past military violence and an adolescent aggression adopted to ensure survival. Estuardo, who did not witness atrocities, absorbed family memories of witnessed violence. He described massacre scenes taking place before he was born. Estuardo admired the maras' violent stance against the world, perceiving the group as a hiding place where death is used as a problem solver...