Skip to main content

Explaining State Violence in the Guatemalan Civil War: Rebel Threat and Counterinsurgency

  • Yuichi Kubota (a1)

Literature on the Guatemalan Civil War has debated whether or not state violence was triggered by rebel activities. Did the government respond to each insurrection caused by the rebels, or did it blindly target regions where antigovernment antipathy and movements had historically prevailed? Because state violence was extensive during the civil war period, the dynamism of the war could have been the reason for its occurrence. Relying on the threat-response model of state violence, this article argues that human rights violations occurred when the government perceived a rebel threat that would have seriously degraded its capability in future counterinsurgencies. The article employs propensity score matching to address the problem of confounding in empirical analysis, and reveals that rebel attacks, particularly those targeting security apparatus and resulting in human injury, increased the likelihood of state violence in the Guatemalan Civil War.

Hide All
Abrahms, Max. 2012. The Political Effectiveness of Terrorism Revisited. Comparative Political Studies 45, 3: 366–93.
Arias, Arturo. 1990. Changing Indian Identity: Guatemala's Violent Transition to Modernity. In Guatemalan Indians and the State, 1540 to 1988, ed. Smith, Carol. Austin: University of Texas Press. 230–57.
Balcells, Laia. 2010. Rivalry and Revenge: Violence Against Civilians in Conventional Civil Wars. International Studies Quarterly 54, 2: 291–313.
Ball, Patrick. 1999. AAAS/CIIDH Database of Human Rights Violations in Guatemala (ATV20.1). Accessed October 16, 2012.
Ball, Patrick. 2001. Making the Case: The Role of Statistics in Human Rights Reporting. Statistical Journal of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe 18, 2–3: 163–74.
Ball, Patrick. 2013. Why Raw Data Doesn't Support Analysis of Violence. Human Rights Data Analysis Group, June 14. Accessed March 1, 2016.
Ball, Patrick, Kobrak, Paul, and Spirer, Herbert. 1999. State Violence in Guatemala, 1960–1996: A Quantitative Reflection. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Human Rights Program.
Bamberger, Joan. 1999. David Stoll's “Litany of Complaints” About Rigoberta Menchú. Human Rights Review 1, 1: 85–91.
Buhaug, Halvard, Gates, Scott, and Lujala, Päivi. 2009. Geography, Rebel Capability, and the Duration of Civil Conflict. Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, 4: 544–69.
Caliendo, Marco, and Kopeing, Sabine. 2008. Some Practical Guidance for the Implementation of Propensity Score Matching. Journal of Economic Surveys 22, 1: 31–72.
Carey, Sabine C. 2006. The Dynamic Relationship Between Protest and Repression. Political Research Quarterly 59, 1: 1–11.
Carey, Sabine C. 2010. The Use of Repression as a Response to Domestic Dissent. Political Studies 58, 1: 167–86.
Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico. 1999. Guatemala: memoria del silencio, vol. 3. Guatemala City.
Davenport, Christian. 1995. Multi-Dimensional Threat Perception and State Repression: An Inquiry into Why States Apply Negative Sanctions. American Journal of Political Science 39, 3: 683–713.
Davenport, Christian. 2007a. State Repression and Political Order. Annual Review of Political Science 10: 123.
Davenport, Christian. 2007b. State Repression and the Tyrannical Peace. Journal of Peace Research 44, 4: 485–504.
Findley, Michael G., and Young, Joseph K.. 2007. Fighting Fire with Fire? How (Not) to Neutralize an Insurgency. Civil Wars 9, 4: 378–401.
Findley, Michael G., and Young, Joseph K.. 2012. Terrorism and Civil War: A Spatial and Temporal Approach to a Conceptual Problem. Perspectives on Politics 10, 2: 285–305.
Findley, Michael G., and Young, Joseph K.. 2015. Terrorism, Spoiling, and the Resolution of Civil Wars. Journal of Politics 77, 4: 1115–28.
Fjelde, Hanne, and Hultman, Lisa. 2014. Weakening the Enemy: A Disaggregated Study of Violence Against Civilians in Africa. Journal of Conflict Resolution 58, 7: 1230–57.
Fortna, Virginia P. 2015. Do Terrorists Win? Rebels’ Use of Terrorism and Civil War Outcomes. International Organization 69, 3: 519–56.
Garrard-Burnett, Virginia. 2010. Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala Under General Efraín Ríos Montt, 1982–1983. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Grandin, Greg. 2011. Who is Rigoberta Menchú? London: Verso.
Hanlon, Catherine Nolin, and Shankar, Finola. 2000. Gendered Spaces of Terror and Assault: The Testimonio of REMHI and the Commission for Historical Clarification in Guatemala. Gender, Place and Culture 7, 3: 265–86.
Hauge, Wenche, and Thoresen, Beate. 2007. El destino de los ex-combatientes en Guatemala: ¿obstaculizadores o agentes de cambio? Guatemala City: North-South Institute.
Herreros, Francisco, and Criado, Henar. 2009. Pre-emptive or Arbitrary: Two Forms of Lethal Violence in a Civil War. Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, 3: 419–45.
Human Rights Data Analysis Group. 2000. Guatemala CIIDH Data. Accessed August 31, 2016.
Humphreys, Macartan, and Weinstein, Jeremy M.. 2006. Handling and Manhandling Civilians in Civil Wars. American Political Science Review 100, 3: 429–47.
Jonas, Susanne. 2000. Of Centaurs and Doves: Guatemala's Peace Process. Boulder: Westview Press.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 1999. Wanton and Senseless? The Logic of Massacres in Algeria. Rationality and Society 11, 3: 243–85.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2006. The Logic of Violence in Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kalyvas, Stathis N., and Kocher, Matthew A.. 2007. How “Free” is Free Riding in Civil Wars? Violence, Insurgency, and the Collective Action Problem. World Politics 59, 2: 177–216.
Kalyvas, Stathis N., and Kocher, Matthew A.. 2009. The Dynamics of Violence in Vietnam: An Analysis of the Hamlet Evaluation System (HES). Journal of Peace Research 46, 3: 335–55.
Kalyvas, Stathis N., and Sambanis, Nicholas. 2005. Bosnia's Civil War: Origins and Violence Dynamics. In Understanding Civil War: Evidence and Analysis. Vol. 2, Europe, Central Asia and Other Regions, ed. Collier, Paul and Sambanis, . Washington, DC: World Bank. 191229.
Landau, Saul. 1994. The Guerrilla Wars of Central America: Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Le Bot, Yvon. 1996. La guerra en tierras mayas: comunidad, violencia y modernidad en Guatemala (1970–1992). Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
Leiby, Michele L. 2009. Wartime Sexual Violence in Guatemala and Peru. International Studies Quarterly 53, 2: 445–68.
Leites, Nathan, and Wolf, Charles Jr. 1970. Rebellion and Authority: An Analytic Essay on Insurgent Conflicts. Santa Monica: RAND.
Lichbach, Mark I. 1995. The Rebel's Dilemma. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Lovell, W. George. 1988. Surviving Conquest: The Maya of Guatemala in Historical Perspective. Latin American Research Review 23, 2: 25–57.
Lyall, Jason. 2009. Does Indiscriminate Repression Incite Insurgent Attacks? Evidence from Chechnya. Journal of Conflict Resolution 53, 3: 331–62.
Lyall, Jason. 2010. Are Co-Ethnics More Effective Counter-Insurgents? Evidence from the Second Chechen War. American Political Science Review 104, 1: 1–20.
Manz, Beatriz. 1988. Refugees of a Hidden War: The Aftermath of Counterinsurgency in Guatemala. Albany: State University of New York Press.
May, Rachel A. 2001. Terror in the Countryside: Campesino Responses to Political Violence in Guatemala, 1954–1985. Athens: Ohio University Center for International Studies.
McCreery, David. 1994. Rural Guatemala, 1760–1940. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
McFate, Montgomery, and Jackson, Andrea. 2006. The Object Beyond War: Counterinsurgency and the Four Tools of Political Competition. Military Review 86, 1: 13–26.
Migdal, Joel S. 1974. Peasants, Politics, and Revolution: Pressures Toward Political and Social Change in the Third World. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Moore, Will H. 2000. The Repression of Dissent: A Substitution Model of Government Coercion. Journal of Conflict Resolution 44, 1: 107–27.
Poe, Steven C., Neal Tate, C., Keith, Linda Camp, and Lanier, Drew. 2000. Domestic Threats: The Abuse of Personal Integrity. In Paths to State Repression: Human Rights Violations and Contentious Politics, ed. Davenport, Christian. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. 2770.
Rosenbaum, Paul R., and Rubin, Donald B.. 1983. The Central Role of the Propensity Score in Observational Studies for Causal Effects. Biometrika 70, 1: 41–55.
Rustad, Siri, Aas, Camilla, Buhaug, Halvard, Falch, Åshild, and Gates, Scott. 2011. All Conflict Is Local: Modeling Sub-National Variation in Civil Conflict Risk. Conflict Management and Peace Science 28, 1: 15–40.
Sánchez-Cuenca, Ignacio, and de la Calle, Luis. 2009. Domestic Terrorism: The Hidden Side of Political Violence. Annual Review of Political Science 12: 3149.
Sanford, Victoria. 2003. Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Schneider, Gerald, Bussmann, Margit, and Ruhe, Constantin. 2012. The Dynamics of Mass Killings: Testing Time-Series Models of One-Sided Violence in the Bosnian Civil War. International Interactions 38, 4: 443–61.
Smith, Carol A., ed. 1990. Guatemalan Indians and the State, 1540 to 1988. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Stanley, William. 1996. The Protection Racket State: Elite Politics, Military Exertion, and Civil War in El Salvador. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
START (National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism). 2012. Global Terrorism Database. Accessed August 26, 2013.
Stoll, David. 1993. Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala. New York: Columbia University Press.
Stoll, David. 1999. Rigoberta Menchú and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans. Boulder: Westview Press.
Stromquist, Nelly P. 2000. On Truth, Voice, and Qualitative Research. Qualitative Studies in Education 13, 2: 139–52.
Sullivan, Christopher Michael. 2012. Blood in the Village: A Local-Level Investigation of State Massacres. Conflict Management and Peace Science 29, 4: 373–96.
Thomas, Jakana. 2014. Rewarding Bad Behavior: How Governments Respond to Terrorism in Civil War. American Journal of Political Science 58, 4: 804–18.
Toft, Monica D., and Zhukov, Yuri M.. 2012. Denial and Punishment in the North Caucasus: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Coercive Counter-insurgency. Journal of Peace Research 49, 6: 785–800.
Toft, Monica D., and Zhukov, Yuri M.. 2015. Islamists and Nationalists: Rebel Motivation and Counterinsurgency in Russia's North Caucasus. American Political Science Review 109, 2: 222–38.
Valentino, Benjamin A., Huth, Paul, and Balch-Lindsay, Dylan. 2004. Draining the Sea: Mass Killing and Guerilla Warfare. International Organization 58, 2: 375–407.
Wickham-Crowley, Timothy. 1990. Terror and Guerrilla Warfare in Latin America, 1956–1970. Comparative Studies in Society and History 32, 2: 201–37.
Winship, Christopher., and Morgan, Stephen L.. 1999. The Estimation of Causal Effects from Observational Data. Annual Review of Sociology 25: 659707.
Wood, Reed M., 2010. Rebel Capacity and Strategic Violence Against Civilians. Journal of Peace Research 47, 5: 601–14.
Zur, Judith N. 1998. Violent Memories: Mayan War Widows in Guatemala. Boulder: Westview Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Latin American Politics and Society
  • ISSN: 1531-426X
  • EISSN: 1548-2456
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-politics-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 25 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 204 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 2nd January 2018 - 16th July 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.