Whitening spaces: race, nation and infrastructure in Cold War GuatemalaPicture1

Friday 27 November
3 to 5 pm
SS 2125

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 a military-led development organization (Empresa Nacional de Fomento y Desarrollo Económico del Petén or FYDEP) harnessed frontier development to strengthen an ongoing and exclusionary project of race and nation at the beginning of the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996).  Drawing on photos, texts and autobiographical materials produced by FYDEP’s most influential director, I explore FYDEP’s efforts to whiten the Guatemalan national body politic via a series of infrastructure projects including roads, sawmills, cattle ranches, and urban planning projects.  Through these diverse activities, the military government sought to prevent indigenous “immigrants” from coming north, erase existing rural claims to land, prevent the “racial degradation” of settlers, and ultimately generate a population that could modernize and whiten the rest of the country.  While FYDEP’s white supremacist project was unfulfilled in many respects, an attention to its infrastructure-making efforts presents opportunities to question dominant narratives about the role of racialized violence and counter-insurgent development in the Guatemalan civil war.

Kevin Gould is Associate Professor of Geography, Planning and Environment at Concordia University. He is visiting at the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto during Fall 2015.

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