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.