The Earth Scorched

Destruction & Development (1981-1985)

A major component of the counterinsurgency was the effort to depopulate areas that were considered “subversive.” This was done in order to neutralize the “social base of support” of the guerrillas and cut networks of supply. Military units were further instructed to destroy villages, towns, and agricultural fields8, unleashing massive population displacement.

The military then collected the survivors in militarized refugee camps and later resettled them into newly built villages. In these new urban settlements, the state implemented “food for work” programs and organized civilian militias.

Initiated by General Efraín Rios Montt, this so-called developmental phase of the counterinsurgency was consolidated through a nationwide project of “Poles of Development” during the government of General Humberto Mejía Víctores (1983–1986). At various strategic zones of the conflict, the military opened up roads, installed new infrastructures, and built entire towns from scratch.

Together, all these actions amounted to an attempt to radically transform the ways of life of the Ixil people in order to bring their territory under state control.


    Destruction & Development (1981-1985)