Samuel Cumes Pop

By Joseph Johnston

During the time of violence in Guatemala, death squads operated in different ways in different Maya communities. How the death squads operated in San Pedro is documented in an article by Benjamin Paul and William Demarest in the History section. It was run by corrupt local army and police officials who used their power to extort payments and settle grudges with other Pedranos.  Vicente, the older brother of artist Samuel Cumes Pop, was in Guatemala City, when he heard from his family that he was on the list and should not return. Samuel also had to flee San Pedro. Both brothers stayed away until the perpetrators were captured and sentenced.

When he returned Samuel became a grade school teacher, both in San Pedro and San Juan. In 1992, with the return of tourists to Lake Atitlan after the end of the time of violence, Samuel and Vicente started the first Spanish School in San Pedro, Casa Rosario. In around 2000, Samuel started painting. He was not interested in painting the themes or duplicating the style of the other artists of San Pedro. He was more interested in expressing his own ideas. His themes are often political, and if he lived in the United States he probably could get a job as a political cartoonist. He is interest both in the ecology of the planet, and with criticism of the governments and policies of both Guatemala and the United States.

Samuel Cumes Pop relaxes after a day teaching school. He is in the building which once was the Spanish school he and his brother Vicente started. The school moved to a lakeside garden where students can enjoy nature while studying.

Samuel always appears to be a well-adjusted happy person. He is always joking and laughing.  Vicente believes that Samuel releases the hidden trauma of the epoch of violence through his paintings It is well known that the United States trained the Guatemala Military which committed the atrocities that left nearly 200,000 Maya dead in Guatemala during the time of violence, and Samuel does not back away from holding the US to task for their policies. Unlike many Maya Samuel keeps abreast of international events.  Samuel has long admired the work of Salvador Dali, and the influence shows in Samuel’s paintings. He started off painting in oil like the other Tz’utuhil artists, but soon found that water color and pastel were more suited to his style.