||This thesis explores the connections between coffee production and genocide in Guatemala.
This thesis centers its analysis in the 19th and 20th centuries when coffee was Guatemala’s
main cash crop. Coffee became Guatemala’s main export after the Liberal Revolution
of 1871. Prior to 1871, the ruling oligarchy in Guatemala had been of pure European
descent, but the Liberal Revolution of 1871 gave power to the ladinos, people of mixed
Mayan and European descent. With the rise of coffee as an export crop and with the
rise of ladinos to power, indigenous Guatemalans from the western highlands were displaced
from their lands and forced to labor on coffee plantations in the adjacent piedmont.
Ladino elites used racism to justify the displacement and enslavement of the indigenous
population, and these beliefs, along with the resentment created by the continued
exploitation of indigenous land and labor culminated in the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996).
This conflict resulted in the genocide of Maya communities. Historians have traced
the war to the 1954 CIA backed coup that deposed democratically elected president,
Jacobo Arbenz over fears that he was a Communist. This thesis will take a different
approach and argue that the origins of the war can be traced to the introduction of
coffee in the late 19th century. This thesis is important to understanding the mechanisms
of genocide because it argues that dependence on commodities leads to the commodification
of entire groups of people.