The state as settler: Juan Castro, Manuela Lavinas Picq, ‘Stateness as Landgrab: A Political History of Maya Dispossession in Guatemala’, American Quarterly, 69, 4, 2017, pp. 791-799


Excerpt: The history of state formation in the Americas is largely a history of indigenous dispossession. But not all dispossessions function the same. In Guatemala the forms of stealing of indigenous territory varied over time. Spanish colonizers made Maya communities buy their own lands. After independence, the modern liberal state defined indigenous territories as “waste land.” Indigenous municipalities were forcefully assimilated into the nation during the 1944 revolution, while neoliberal governments expropriate Maya communities in the name of development. The landgrab of Maya territories initiated by Spanish colonizers never ceased; it evolved over time, perpetuated in times of war and peace by governments across the political spectrum.

This essay traces the changing forms of indigenous dispossession in Guatemala from colonial times to the present. We show that the stealing of Maya lands is not a historical episode linked to the Spanish invasion but a defining structure of Guatemala’s modern state. Our argument is twofold. First, various logics of colonization are at play. A historical approach illuminates a combination of settler colonial logics that erase indigenous presence and the colonial logic of racialization to control indigenous peoples. Second, the stealing of Maya territories is intrinsic to modern states. We connect colonial archives with contemporary neoliberal policies of extraction to reveal the continuation of colonial logics in Guatemala.

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