3 Pages

Course Code
ANTH 272
Amy Todd

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In Nicole Berry’s book Unsafe Motherhood: Mayan Maternal Mortality and Subjectivity in Post-War Guatemala provides an interesting look at the ways indigenous culture and tradition is undermined through a seemingly helpful and global initiative to reduce maternal mortality. However, Berry identifies how difficult it is for her to write a book about a subject in a country that has been through a long and painful history of colonial oppression and domination followed by years of civil war (134). Berry underscores how the 1996 PeaceAccords continue to undermine indigenous Mayan peoples, specifically pregnant women. Shifting the relationship between the government by their becoming the developers of social and cultural institutions and having indigenous populations become the clients of the policy changes has become a form of social control (136). Berry provides the example of “reducing maternal mortality by the year 2000” as one of the policies signed into the accords that does not translate into helping the lives of everyday Mayan women (135). Although the ideal of reducing maternal mortality is seemingly noble and compassionate, it is hard for those feelings to carry over when unraveling the complexities of a state that benefits from its indigenous citizens reliance on its social and cultural resources. Fredy Pecerelli of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation reiterates Berry’s points in his interview with Democracy Now! for the film Granito: How to Nail a Dictator about the Guatemalan Civil War (Democracy Now!, 2011). Pecerelli and Berry both underscore how everyday violence, extortion, and corruption continue to rule the lives of ordinary citizens, particularly those living in indigenous communities- the same communities targeted for extermination at the height of the conflict in the 1980’s (Berry, 2010, 136; Democracy Now!, 2011). Berry importantly notes that many of the individuals she interviewed throughout Guatemala would “not “participate” in the post-civil war State…violence past and present frequently made the option of seeking obstetric care in a State hospital appear to be a bad idea” (136). Berry goes onto to explain in compassionate and understanding terms how the task of reducing maternal mortality is extremely difficult when coupled with a lack of feeling and being safe. Furthermore, with the government’s legacy of corruption, forcibly missing persons, and violent tactics it is understandably hard for a family to agree to their pregnant family member obtaining obstetric care from a government run hospital (159). Therefore, individuals are hesitant and resistant to participating in a system that denies them control over their bodies (159). Ironic in a somber way is the medical system (and the Safe Motherhood campaign) in Guatemala is based on a western ideology of how biomedical care and technology should be exacted. However, the biomedical model that was so heavily adopted by the Ministry of Health in Guatemala and idealized by the Safe Motherhood campaign does not translate in the violent and corrupt e
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