Politics of Land Grab-Driven Agrarian and Labor Regimes Change in Guatemala

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: 301
Oral Presentation
Alberto ALONSO-FRADEJAS , International Institute Social Studies , The Hague, Netherlands

Changing land resources access and control relations due to sugarcane and oil palm agribusinesses-led land grabbing since the mid-2000s is a major catalyzer of political contention in the Maya-Q´eqchi´ populated Guatemalan northern lowlands. Arguably, such contention does not have to do so much with a Polanyian (1968) counter-movement against land and labor commoditization as with a contestation of the ways in which such commoditization is happening. The combination of Market-Led Agrarian Reform and freehold land titling on facilitating access to local land resources to “outsiders” with the international politico-economic scenario of multiple crises which sees land resources as global commodities has allowed for extractivist accumulation interests to mushroom. Elaborating on research since 2006 this paper argues how Maya-Q´eqchi´ lowlanders´ unrest is rooted in historical agrarian grievances and in those emerging from the ´terms of incorporation´ (Du Toit 2004:1003) to the emergent, hyper-commoditized ´labor regime´ (Bernstein 1988) into which many feel have been adversely incorporated through flexible labor arrangements either as plantation workers or as contract farmers. Such grievances are amplified by narrowing or breaking inter-class reciprocity mechanisms (Thompson 1971, Scott 1976) which if anything allowed for the continuous (re)negotiation of minimum survival standards between dominate and subordinate classes. Unrest is turning into practices of resistance framed as “defense of territory” and articulated through a repertoire including ´everyday´ and more militant forms of contention. Dominant state and social actors frame their governable space-making efforts as “developmental” and “responsible”, employing a repertoire based on “divide and win” and “rule of law” strategies articulated through discursive, regulatory and violent mechanisms. Indeed, land grab-driven agrarian change has triggered a new ´cycle of contention´ (Tarrow 1998), its outcomes being not a story foretold but the becoming of multiple politics between, across and within state and social actors in contention at different scales and places.