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14 September 2007

LAND – GOLD – REFORM: The Territorial Restructuring of Guatemala’s Highlands

by Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D.

Many of the current critiques of the World Bank’s “market-assisted” programs for land reform center
on the contradictions between the Bank’s neo-liberal agrarian discourse and the poor distributive
results of its projects on the ground (Sauer, Schwartzman, Barrios 2003; Dias Martins 2005).

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Taking the Bank to task for the inconsistency between its mission to alleviate rural poverty and the regressive
nature of its land reform programs is important, not only because it can help amplify the voices of the
landless, but because it helps expose the inherent hypocrisies in the Bank’s non-distributive approach
to economic growth and rural development, overall.

However, these critiques do not necessarily shed light on why the Bank continually implements these
failed programs with such insistence. Simply pointing to the “Washington Consensus” does not
provide a specific understanding of the role of market-based land reform within the Bank’s national
development strategies. Without a structural analysis of the Bank’s agenda, it is difficult to
understand the political scope of its land reform programs. Further, it is important to consider the
Bank’s suite of policies and projects in a particular country in order to know what role land reform (or
lack of it) might play in the Bank’s overall strategy. A market-based land reform project may be an
agrarian failure for the peasantry, yet still be quite successful in terms of helping restructure the social
and economic institutions in a country’s hinterlands in favor of agribusiness, tourism, or extractive
industries, for example .


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