Gender Trouble in Guatemalan Student Movement Memories

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:50 AM
Hampton Room (Omni Shoreham)
Heather A. Vrana, Southern Connecticut State University
In Guatemala, 1968 came more than a decade early when the counter-revolutionary government of Carlos Castillo Armas blocked university and secondary school students’ plans to observe the anniversary of the revolution in mid-June 1956. When the students persisted, Castillo Armas’ government responded ferociously. Confrontations between police and students left scores of students dead or injured. Castillo Armas declared a State of Alarm, then a State of Siege. This marked the definitive end of the government’s conciliatory approach toward the education sector. The protests came at a defining moment in the counter-revolution that altered the position of students in civil society: a new constitution limited the budget earmarked for the public Universidad de San Carlos (USAC) at the same time as it permitted the operation of private universities for the first time in the nation’s history. Conversely, the constitution’s proscription of trade unions meant that secondary school and university students became even more valuable as public figures of dissent. These violent clashes marked the beginning of Guatemalan students’ civil war and very “long Sixties.” As such, they have been remembered with particular attachment. The endurance of this memory has enshrined the figure of the heroic universitario—the young, ladino, middle class, male university student—as the embodiment of the student struggle in popular memory. However this has obscured the importance of other actors, namely secondary school students and women like the young women at Instituto Belén who launched a particularly vigorous campaign against the government. This paper proceeds in three parts: it gives an account of the 1956 protests as they are recounted in popular memory; it highlights the contributions of secondary school students and women who are left out of this popular memory; and it offers some discussion of the consequences of this historical forgetting in the context of historical violence.