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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Of Maras and Mortal Doubt: Violence, Order, and Uncertainty in Guatemala City

  • Author(s): Fontes, Anthony Wayne IV
  • Advisor(s): Kosek, Jake G
  • et al.

Everyday brutality in Guatemala City shocks and numbs a society that has suffered generations of war and bloodshed. Much of this violence is blamed on maras, gangs bearing transnational signs and symbols, that operate in prisons and poor urban communities. I will explore how the maras' evolution in post-war Guatemala has made them what they are today: victim-perpetrators of massive and horrifying violence, useful targets of societal rage, pivotal figures in a politics of death reigning over post-war society. However, while maras and mareros play starring roles in this account of extreme peacetime violence, they are not the problem. They are a hyper-visible expression of a problem no one can name, a deafening scream, a smokescreen obscuring innumerable and diffuse sources of everyday brutality.

The maras will be my entry-point into a world defined by mortal doubt, and my guides as I navigate the rumors, fantasies, fears, and trauma swirling about criminal violence in post-war Guatemala City. The specter of violence has become so utterly entwined with the making of lived and symbolic landscapes that it cannot be extricated from the very fibers of everyday life. I will illuminate the myriad of spaces violence infiltrates and reorders to expose the existential uncertainty haunting efforts to confront, contain, and overcome violence. In the process, I provide an alternative, intimate understanding of the violence and suffering for which maras speak, or are made to speak, and the ways this violence and suffering affects individual consciousness and communal life, orders urban space, and circulates in public discourse. The veins of uncertainty fracturing this account are meant to rupture the pretense of knowing, and so break through into the treacherous and largely unmapped territory that is life lived in the shadow of constant violence.

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