Greening the Counterinsurgency: The Deceptive Effects of Guatemala's Rural Development Plan of 1970


  • Nicholas Copeland

    1. visiting assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, Virginia Tech, 560 McBryde Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA (e-mail: He writes about how counterinsurgency warfare and neoliberal governance shape Maya experiences of democracy in post-accords Guatemala. He also writes about Wal-Mart.
    Search for more papers by this author

I owe a debt of thanks to two anonymous reviewers from Development and Change for insightful criticisms and suggestions. I am also grateful to Ronald Greene's seminar on Cultural Policy Studies for inspiration, to Virginia Garrard-Burnett and Charles Hale for their comments on an earlier version, and to Ted Swedenburg for encouragement. The H.F. Guggenheim Foundation provided generous support for this research.


This article examines the role of USAID's 1970 Rural Development Plan (RDP) for Guatemala in normalizing US military support for the Guatemalan government despite concerns about excessive state violence in the late 1960s. I argue that the RDP presented a depoliticized vision of Guatemala's agrarian problem and generated optimism that this problem could be resolved through market mechanisms and within the existing social order. Rather than promoting prosperity and stability, the RDP framed state terror as a temporary exception, and helped set the stage for genocide in the 1980s. This highlights complicities between discourses of development and political violence.