Gendering counterinsurgent infrastructure in cold war Guatemala

Authors: Kevin Gould*, Concordia University
Topics: Development, Gender, Latin America
Keywords: infrastructure, gender, counterinsurgency, Guatemala, cold war
Session Type: Paper
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This study contribute to an emerging critical literature on Latin American infrastructure. Drawing from archival research on 1960s cold war Guatemala, this paper helps to fill a gap in this literature by exploring the articulations of infrastructure making with counterinsurgency. Specifically, the paper examines how gender-- intersecting with race and other forms of difference-- influenced the ways that military-development experts built infrastructure. My focus is a so-called frontier colonization project designed to create roads, schools, hospitals and other forms of infrastructure in a heavily forested part of northern Guatemala. The military hoped that the project would draw peasants to invest in agriculture and land instead of joining insurgent organizations. Cultural logics of gender influenced this project in three main ways. First, military experts used metaphors of the body to imagine their efforts to transform rural territory and land with new infrastructure. Second, the anxieties of these experts that settler populations would be “degraded” biologically and culturally by the tropical conditions were based on entangled ideologies of gender, race, and nation. These anxieties were embodied in their efforts to build “sanitary and scientific” forms of infrastructure to protect populations from degradation as well as monuments, parades and beauty pageants to promote particular forms of womanhood. Finally, ladino masculinity and sociality were integral to maintaining the military networks through which practices and knowledges of counterinsurgent infrastructure were made and transmitted. In sum, this study shows that in multiple ways gender influenced the making of counterinsurgent infrastructure in cold war Guatemala.

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