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Road Mapping: Megaprojects and Land Grabs in the Northern Guatemalan Lowlands


  • Liza Grandia

  • Graduate fellowships from the National Science Foundation and UC-Berkeley, Clark University faculty funds, and in-kind assistance from the ProPetén Foundation supported the research on which this paper is based. Thanks to Norman B. Schwartz, editors Ian Scoones and Wendy Wolford, and an anonymous reviewer for insightful comments on earlier drafts. Although I recently led an independent socio-economic evaluation of the LAP I for the World Bank and the report (Grünberg et al., 2012) was in press simultaneously with this paper, none of its data were utilized here except that our findings on land sales were consonant with other studies. Suffice it to disclaim that the views presented in this article in no way represent those of the World Bank.


From IIRSA (Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America) to the PPP (Puebla to Panama Plan, later renamed the Mesoamerica Project), development banks are sponsoring a renewed wave of mega-infrastructure projects across the Americas to support corporate trade and commerce. Concurrent with these are donor-led efforts to modernize land administration systems, including a US$ 31 million World Bank loan (1998–2007) to survey and legalize settler claims in the northern Guatemalan department of Petén. Contrary to project planners’ stated goals of sustainable development, infrastructure projects have coincided with widespread land grabbing (up to 46 per cent of smallholder lands) by cattle ranchers, African palm plantations, narco traffickers, and other imbricated elites. Documenting the crossings and conjunctures of the PPP with market-led agrarian reform, this ethnographic study suggests that the Guatemalan military may be a shadow beneficiary of new power assemblages emerging from the narco/cattle/agro-industrial land concentration occurring in Petén.