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close this bookThe Self and the Other: Sustainability and Self-Empowerment (WB, 1996, 76 p.)
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View the documentBrazil and Guatemala: The culture of violence and the culture of hope
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Brazil and Guatemala: The culture of violence and the culture of hope

Shelton H. Davis, World Bank

I have an Americanist perspective on the issues raised at this conference. I am not only a North American, but I have also spent many years doing anthropological research in Latin America, especially Brazil and Guatemala.

The distinction or conflict between modernity and tradition may not constitute the parameters of the issues we are discussing. I would argue that the relationship between the "culture of violence" and the "culture of hope" is the issue at stake. This was very clear in the video "The South Slope of Liberty." Historically, the culture of violence has been represented by colonialism and by the various forms of fascism and racism that have occurred throughout the twentieth century. If anything the twentieth century has represented the culture of violence.

But the culture of hope, as seen in the video, embodies the idea of human solidarity as it is expressed politically through democracy, which is very much on the rise. With the rise of democracy and nongovernmental organizations- or associationalism-and the flowering of civic society at the end of the twentieth century, we are entering the twenty-first century with a culture of hope rather than a culture of violence.

With the rise of democracy and nongovernmental organizations- or associationalism- and the flowering of civic society, we are entering the twenty-first century with a culture of hope rather than a culture of violence -Shelton H. Davis

We cannot have the self without the other. The reason the other has become so important has in large part to do with colonialism - Henri Parens

Two experiences I have had in Latin America have made this clear to me. First, I spent a great deal of time in Brazil in the 1970s researching the effects of economic development in the Amazon on the Indian tribes of that country. One of the people I had the honor of meeting in the state of Mato Grosso, and from whom I reamed a great deal, was a Catholic bishop named Dom Pedro Casadaliga. In his book I Believe in Justice and in Hope Casadaliga contrasted the experience of living on the frontier in Brazil, where indigenous people and poor rural peasants were being displaced by violence, with the hope for social justice and change that had emerged among the poor Christian base communities in the country.! He was one of the founders of the theology or philosophy of liberation in Latin America. As a result of their relationship with the Catholic Church the indigenous people and the peasants of Brazil adopted this theology of liberation, using their religious faith, spiritual beliefs, and social values as sources for solidarity and change.

Second, during the early 1980s 1 worked with a number of fellow anthropologists to draw attention to the violence that was being unleashed on the Mayan Indians of Guatemala in a counterinsurgency campaign. In the spring of 19951 returned to Guatemala on a mission for the World Bank and visited Alta Verapaz, where the Kekchi (Kekchispeaking Mayan Indians) live. Kekchi is one of the Mayan languages. In Alta Verapaz there had been extensive violence, and many indigenous Mayan communities had been uprooted. A broad-based social movement has arisen among the Kekchi to rebuild their society. Tens of thousands of the Kekchi people are involved in this movement, which has nothing to do with the national politics of Guatemala or the international politics of Central America. It is a movement of local cultural rebuilding.

The importance of preserving the Kekchi language and the rediscovery of Kekchi spirituality by resuming to the traditions of the ancient people drive this movement. Both of these factors are closely linked to the relationship between the Kekchi people and the earth where they live. It is in these kinds of experiences that the tension between the culture of violence and the culture of hope is expressed.