Turning Indians into non-Indians David McCreery’s masterful account of life in rural Guatemala demonstrates an historical record replete with discussions pertaining to the country’s Indians, how they should be treated and how they were expected to behave. Non-Indian decision-makers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for instance, agreed that Indians should be worked hard, not only to civilise them, but to ensure the prosperity of planters and elites. Enlightenment liberals preferred public instruction and integration in order to overcome what they considered the Indians’ backwardness, an obstacle to progress and development. To this effect the pages of the Diario de Centro América carried the debates between those who wished to improve Indians through education and those who believed that only forced labour could do them any good. Either way, the Indians were not consulted. If they had been, they probably would have flatly rejected the North American solution suggested by some, consisting in either their physical extermination or their “whitening” through European immigration.8 Many among Guatemala’s elite believed that turning Indians into non-Indians was a worthwhile endeavour, and ladinisation was the term used to describe the process. The idea was to have Indians become ladino by adopting the most outward signs of European culture, such as speaking Spanish, wearing Western clothing or owning private property.9 For many throughout the twentieth century, 24 to 30 months of obligatory military service was considered the best way to transform Indians in this way, to give them, in one officer’s words, “a new personality”. Indian conscription, wrote the colonel, “was only the beginning of an often painful physical metamorphosis given the violent change from one way of life to another”. The objective of this transformation ultimately was to have discharged conscripts continue the process of ladinisation in their villages, thereby changing their communities’ social and cultural configuration.10 One general likened the process to “what a blacksmith does to make horseshoes. So we must forge el pueblo,” he believed.11 Another general, who became president in 1983, explained to reporters that “we must do away with the words ‘indigenous’ and ‘Indian’. Our mission requires the integration of all Guatemalans.”12 Turning Indians into ladinos was a long, difficult process, of course, and some officers doubted that change in the Indians’ exterior appearance could reflect actual change in their way of thinking. In the early 1980s the Ixil Indians

of Quiché department, for example, were considered especially reluctant to cooperate with ladino authorities and the military knew this because the Ixil were the subject of study and debate. While some ladino officers considered ways of “rescuing the Ixil mentality”, others would have preferred to see the Ixil population simply “disappear as a cultural subgroup, estranged to the National way of being”.13 Regardless of the options at hand, officers generally tended to suspect the Indians’ loyalty and usually preferred working with troops recruited in the eastern, non-indigenous areas of the republic.14 In terms of elite mentality, research conducted in the late 1970s by Marta Casaús Arzú demonstrates a marked historical continuity in the way that Guatemala’s colonial elite families and their descendants thought of Indians. Three quarters of respondents among the country’s most influential families considered themselves white, some of them supporting their claim with a written colonial heirloom attesting to their purity of blood (pureza de sangre). Interestingly, participants in the study with the highest levels of formal education expressed the greatest racial intolerance. Many recommended Indians abandon their way of life and adopt Western lifestyles, others recommended strict segregation, while still others believed Indians could be improved racially through cross-breeding and artificial insemination. Ethnic cleansing was also considered an option, 5 to 10 per cent of respondents approving of such extreme solutions as the extermination of the Indians altogether.15