Guatemala’s Cold War Diaspora, 1954-1996


This summer, I conducted exploratory research in Antigua's Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamérica (CIRMA) to determine the viability of a dissertation dealing with the political exile during the Cold War in Guatemala (1954-1996). The previous year, I had visited the National Police archives in Guatemala City for a different project relating to Guatemalan history. I reviewed several archival collections, including the personal papers of Juan José Arévalo, president of Guatemala from 1945-51, personal papers of the Marxist guerrillas Mario Payeras and Yolanda Colom, a collection of documents published by the Iglesia Guatemalteca en el Exilio, and a collection of news clippings originally put together by the staff of the UN High Commission on Refugees office in Guatemala City in the 1990s. I determined that the materials are in fact available for the dissertation project in mind and I developed a set of hypotheses that have informed my grant proposals for dissertation research. My research was facilitated greatly by my establishing contact with the archive's staff a month prior to my arrival so that they were able to point me in the direction of particular collections, and so that I did not have to waste very much time in the archive determining what I needed to read. I would advise future Tinker grant recipients conducting archival research to reach out to archives in advance, not only for that purpose but to determine specific policies that can affect your progress, especially considering the cost of photocopies and photographs. CIRMA charges fairly high prices to researchers both for photocopies and for photos taken by the researchers, using their own equipment. That meant that most of the research has to be conducted on-site, rather than consisting primarily of taking pictures, organizing them, and reading them at your leisure at a later time. Combined with research using American sources, I walked away with a set of research questions that will inform the dissertation going forward: How did exiles impact inter-American diplomacy, and how did officials in Mexico, the US, and Guatemala attempt to manage threats to their policy goals and international partnerships? What strategies did exiles pursue at different times in order to secure repatriation, and oppose the Guatemalan military government, and how did these strategies change as the demographics of refugees changed considerably from the 1950s through the 1990s? Which strategies were most and least successful and why? How did Mexican officials' asylum policies affect Guatemala's international standing and US policy to bolster the Guatemalan regime? Why did they decide to undermine both Guatemala and the United States during two decisive periods (1950s and 1980s) of Guatemalan history by accepting refugees? How did immigration and asylum policies in the United States shape Guatemalan history and US-Guatemalan relations as the Cold War came to a close?

Miles Culpepper
Publication date: 
August 18, 2017
Publication type: 
Student Research