Gift of the Devil: A History of Guatemala


319 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-919946-42-9






Reviewed by Ross Willmot

Ross Willmot is Executive Director of the Ontario Association for
Continuing Education.


The title of this useful reference, drawn from a Mayan account, refers to the conquest of this strategic country by the Spaniards beginning in the 1520s. Since then, this former Central American coordinator for Amnesty International, Canada, says the cruel colonial repression of Mayan descendants and their revolts down the years is also the key to understanding nearby Nicaragua and El Salvador, which are more in the news.

A frequent visitor to Guatemala while completing his Ph.D. in its history, Jim Handy, now a lecturer at the University of Toronto, has collected much evidence to show that today’s Guatemala is “a logical expression of the country’s history” which “has created a deeply polarized, essentially unjust and violent society.”

The author, as he says, details “the bitter injustice of the colonial conquest; followed by protracted years of dispossession and racial and class oppression in the name of capitalist expansion controlled by an elite based both at home and abroad; and finally buttressed by the self-protecting tyranny of military interests and U.S. Imperialism.”

“There can be no workable democracy,” Handy concludes, “until the coercive power of the local landowning elite, supported by the military, is destroyed through a substantial, broadly encompassing agrarian reform. Throughout three and a half centuries, land ownership has been the central question in Guatemalan history around which all else has revolved.”


Handy, Jim, “Gift of the Devil: A History of Guatemala,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,