Studies in National and International Development


National and International Development

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Whitening spaces: military-led colonization of northern Guatemala during the Cold War

Kevin Gould

Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University


1pm-2:30pm, Mackintosh-Corry Hall, Room D214

Abstract:  During the 1960s, and in line with U.S. counterinsurgency programs, the Guatemalan army collaborated with the U.S. military to open an agricultural frontier in northern Guatemala.  This paper explores how Guatemalan military leaders working for a regional development organization (Empresa Nacional de Fomento y Desarrollo Económico del Petén or FYDEP) also harnessed frontier development to strengthen an exclusionary national project with roots in indigenismo and eugenics.  Drawing on photos, texts and autobiographical materials produced by FYDEP’s most influential director, I argue that FYDEP sought to whiten the national body politic through policies and practices that targeting the department (province), the village and the body.  FYDEP's policies sought to (1) exclude what they imagined to be indigenous "immigrants" and their "inferior genetic stock" from northern Guatemala, (2) reorganize urban settlements to prevent the “racial degradation" of settlers, and (3) promote cultural programs designed to further whiten the habits of colonists.  Ultimately, Q’eqchi’ and other Mayan peoples settled in northern Guatemala in great numbers and FYDEP’s white supremacist program became fragmented.  Nevertheless, tracing the work of race and space in early Cold War military-led development reveals understudied conditions of possibility for subsequent state-sponsored and racialized violence including the genocide of the 1980s and the region's ongoing, and often violent, conservation and development programs.

About the Speaker: Dr. Kevin Gould’s research explores the politics and practices of environmental and economic policy-making in the Americas.  He is particularly interested in policies authorized by technical knowledge, and his current research examines how military experts framed development projects during the Cold War in ways that favored elites and reified exclusionary visions of race, nation, and nature.  Building on new economic geography and political ecology literature, Dr. Gould’s work investigates the politics of market-assisted land reform, post-disaster reconstruction, and Cold War infrastructure development.  Through his research, he seeks to challenge the often violent transnational processes and epistemologies that connect Canada, the United States and Guatemala.  Before arriving at Concordia University, Dr. Gould received his Ph.D. in Human Geography from the University of British Columbia (2009) and spent one year as a research fellow at Dartmouth College.