For Grandia, an anthropologist, in her moving book


For the Q’eqchi’ Maya Lowlanders, commons
are deeply rooted in the construction of their identity and culture. Commons,
for the Q’eqchi’, go beyond the material representation of shared village land.

They reveal the relationship between one member of their community with the
others, playing an integral part to the formation of their society. In the wake
of the escalating global pressures of neoliberal privatization and
commodification, resulting in dispossession and enclosure, commons are
re-entering the spotlight as locations of interest and resistance for
academics, anthropologists and indigenous communities alike. Forms of enclosure
today, as in the 18th and 19th century, are often marked
with violent predations of capitalist accumulation, based on Western ideologies
and discourses (Vasudevan et al, 2007). Liza Grandia, an anthropologist, in her
moving book “Enclosed”, brings to light the struggles the Q’eqchi’ people have
faced in the wake of these events, narrating the forms of dispossession they
have faced since the Spanish colonization of Guatemala. Her book outlines how
enclosure and privatization have manifested over the years through physical,
legal and political processes which legitimize enclosure through further
cultural, social and disciplinary processes.


This essay will focus on the contemporary
forms of enclosure and dispossession, highlighting how the methods and facets associated
with historical colonial practice are replicated today. With particular focus
on the effects and consequences that the various forms of capitalism have brought
to Guatemala. This essay will explore the scars left by land reforms, primitive
accumulation and practices of enclosure and ‘economic development’ on indigenous
communities through the lens of the Q’eqchi’ Maya (Grandia, 2012).


Grandia has worked and lived among the
Q’eqchi peoples, or ‘Aj Ral Choch’ (sons and daughters of the earth), since
1993. Her deep understanding and knowledge of the Q’eqchi’ history and societal
structure allow for a powerful insight into the repeated dispossession and
enclosure they have faced since the 16th centaury Spanish conquest
to the modern day (Grandia, 2012). The timeline she constructs through her
in-depth analysis provides a chilling narrative of repeated colonial practices,
demonstrating how ideological colonial “debris” still plagues indigenous peoples
today (Adams, 2003, p19). Grandia challenges Harvey’s belief, that contemporary
globalization has created new forms of dispossession, and the view that
practices such as primitive accumulation were a “pre-capitalist phenomenon”
(Harvey 2003; Hartsock, 2006, p177). Rather, her work shows that such practices
of dispossession and enclosure are neither new nor old but are the inherent to capitalism
across all forms and time-scales. As such, indigenous peoples, such as the Q’eqchi’
have suffered recycled injustices when capitalism collides with their culture
and livelihood (Grandia, 2007, 2012). Historical
colonial practices, based on cultural discourses of modernity and rationality,
are now being echoed through neo-liberalism producing the same outcome of
regulated political subjectivities and forcing their enclosure (Vasudevan et al,
2007, 2008; Quijano, 2007).


Grandia draws a parallel between Marx’s
narratives of English enclosures with that of the Q’eqchi’ Maya and documents
the various forms of enclosure that have occurred, starting with the Spanish
friars in the 16th century, then under nationalist liberalism in the
19th century (through the invitation of German coffee planters). She
narrates the enclosure that neoliberalism has brought the the Q’eqchi’ through
the ‘market-assisted’ land reform project introduced by the World Bank, making
the Aj Ral Choch vulnerable to land grabs by cattle ranchers and transnational
agro-fuel companies. Lastly, she gives insight to potential further enclosure
of the Q’eqchi under the proposed Puebla to Panama Plan (PPP), in which the
Q’eqchi’ lands will be incorporated into a corporate capitalistic plan under
the banner of ‘economic development’. While the businesses or elites may change
name or form, the Marxist narrative of enclosure, in which labour is controlled
and property appropriated, remains the same. Therefore, a strong argument that dispossessions
and primitive accumulation of commons is inextricably linked to capitalism
across temporal scales (Grandia, 2012, Boal, 2001). As such, Grandia’s attention
to the repeated dispossessions of the Q’eqchi Maya can be applied on a broader
scope to examine other forms of contemporary enclosure of public commons
through capitalist avenues. Her work brings to the fore the oppression and
practices used to dispossess not only one group of indigenous peoples but to
many within the same region, and potentially, the globe. Her book, and other
analysis’ like it, bring indigenous people, academics and activists a better understanding
of the challenges indigenous people face, therefore giving them a firmer
foundation for resistance.


A major effect of colonialism, corporate
globalization and the rise of transnational institutions throughout the world, is
the European whitewashing of other forms of knowledge and understanding. The
spread, often through violence, of European Enlightenment has constrained much
of the world to European universality (Fitzptrick 1992). The discourses created
by colonial and capitalistic powers, justified by ‘rationality’ and ‘modernity’,
have always been upheld and enforced by the law (Blomley, 2003). The
implementation of law, allows the controlling power a legitimate justification
for their actions. However, these laws often collide forcefully with the
previous inhabitant’s beliefs. Potentially one of the strongest forces
threating indigenous understanding and management of commons and nature is the formation
of property rights, resulting in (neo)liberal land reforms. The spatial energy of
capitalism, when coupled with property rights, endeavours to deterritorialize
people by detaching them from previous relationships with land in accordance
with the requirements of capital (Marx,1867;
Mitchel, 1997). As such, indigenous people find themselves removed or separated
from their commons through the implementation of property rights under capitalistic
forces. To facilitate property rights an imagined emptying of land and commons
is necessary, to develop a void space in which property rights can be
established (Sack 1986). A powerful precursor to the formation of property rights
and land reforms is the survey. Surveys have the potential to erase indigenous
understanding of their relation to a place into an object to be measured,
mapped and distributed by the new economic and spatial order (Mitchel, 1997).

Throughout temporal scales, surveys have been used as a tool for the formation
of disciplinary power, redefining space after dispossession (Harris,1993).


 “Enclosed” brings to light the damage,
dispossession and enclosure that the Q’eqchi’ Maya people have faced due to the
construct of private property that has been forced upon them through surveys. Perhaps the most damaging of which is
the Guatemalan governments decision to incorporate the World Banks proposal of
a “market-assisted agrarian reform” in 1998. The core belief behind the
proposal was that without official property rights, indigenous communities
would be unable to create capital within a capitalist system, erasing the
cultural value with the land held by indigenous communities. However, as with
the erection of property rights within the colonial era and the creation of
property rights in England in the 16th century, the process has
merely reinforced the power of elites and separated the Q’eqchi’ from their
land at a faster rate. Using legal or illegal violent means, cattle ranchers,
narco-traffickers and now agro-fuel corporations are tricking, buying and
forcing Q’eqchi’ landowners off their small parcels of land (Grandia 2007, 2012.

Through the World Banks project, the agrarian reconcentration is now legally
legitimate. Worryingly, Tauli-Corpuz and Tamang (2007) have estimated that worldwide,
the net forest loss from agro-fuel plantations is upwards of 20,000 hectares a
day, which is 7.3m hectares a year. The rapid expansion of African Palm
plantations in Guatamala, has seriously threatened food and water security,
redirecting or destroying common resources into inedible biofuels. With decreasing
resources and land to live on, the Q’eqchi’ way of life is quickly becoming unsustainable
(Aj Ral Ch’och). Whilst Grandia emphasis’ the enclosure this leads to for the
Q’eqchi’ between biological corridors and plantations, her examination shows
the catastrophic result of forcibly incorporating indigenous communities into
alien concepts such as property rights. The World Bank agrarian land reform
survey has merely opened up further possibilities for dispossession and
enclosure through the neoliberal absurdity that ‘the
problems of privatization can be solved with more privatization’ (Grandia 2012).


land reforms, through the implementation property rights, are one of the tools
of primitive accumulation. Primitive accumulation, or
in the German ‘ursprünglich’, meaning “original accumulation is a process that
creates the distinction between possessors and non-possessors. Contradicting
the work of Adam Smith, who argued capital is accumulated from ‘hard-work’,
Marx in chapters 25-33 of Capital vol1 explains that money gets formulated into
capital through the creation of a willing wage force. Primitive accumulation,
therefore, is how the creation of this willing wage force comes into being.

Marx quite strongly states that this accumulation comes from varying forms of
force and violence (Marx 1867). Put roundly, Harvey describes primitive
accumulations as that which “entails taking land … enclosing it (could be through property laws, renaming it, legal
structures) … expelling a resident population to create a landless
proletariat, and then releasing the land into the privatized mainstream of
capital accumulation” (Harvey 2005: 145-6). The crux of primitive accumulation
is separating a labourer from his means of production, forcing him into wage
labour. Without a means of production, the labourer has no means to accumulate
surplus value and creating a reliance on a wage (Marx 1867). Through the transformation of the social means of subsistence
into capital and the evolution of immediate producers into wage-labourers, elites
have repeatedly used primitive accumulation, within capitalist structures, for
their personal gain at the expense of the labourers. There is academic
debate as to whether primitive accumulation is a concept that can only be
applied to the Marxist context of 16th century English village
commons or as a process that is ongoing (Read, 2000; Luxembourg 2003; Perelman
1983,2000). Those that believe it to be an attribute of capitalisms distant
past, believe that primitive accumulation arose under specific circumstances of
time, the ideological role of “improvement” (which will
be examined later), and under the foundations of English feudalism that
led to the enclosures of commons and the reduction of subsistence producers
into wage labourers (Read 2000; Grandia 2006). But when
indigenous societies from the colonial-era to the present day, are dispossessed
from their land and means of production and subjugated by property rights and
laws, what choice do they have than to abandon their social and cultural
beliefs and enter the capitalist market society in the name of survival?


Grandia highlights that Marx’s narrative of
primitive accumulation within the English enclosures context is the “classic
form” of primitive accumulation (Grandia 2007, p4). She notes the similarities
between the Q’eqchi’ farmers and the English peasants, as people who enjoy
community, leisure and subsistence living. Whilst noting these similarities,
she questions how, like the English peasants, many Q’eqchi’ have ended up
working for wage labour for capitalists without the force of primitive
accumulation. The process is a necessary requirement for any expansion of
capitalism into new spaces, a function to strip any previous pre-capitalist
market (Grandia 2007). The form of capitalism may change, through time and
space, but the result and the necessary use of force to achieve said result
remain constant (Weber 1978). The “series of forcible methods” that Marx speaks
of within primitive accumulation, including trickery and violence, are still present
today. Cattle ranchers, narco-traffickers and agro-fuel companies threaten the
Q’eqchi’, set fire to their land, trick them into selling land for worthless
items, and even go as far as to pay for tips about tragedies, such as illness, to
target the most vulnerable. Once removed from the land the Q’eqchi’ often have
to work for the new business in order to have land to live on or to acquire the
money needed to support their families (Grandia 2012). Those that refuse, or
can not find work, face malnutrition and absolute poverty (Aj Ral Ch’och). Primitive
accumulation has been, and will continue to be, capitalism’s method of choice
in cementing its place in new markets and places. “Enclosed” brings into
reality the continual motion of dispossession of indigenous people under capitalistic


The Q’eqchi Maya have found themselves
struggling against a plethora of enclosure methods. Some business, including
the cattle ranchers, want a synchronic movement of enclosure, bringing the land
under the orbit of capitalism and using the Q’eqchi as labourers. Whilst
others, such as the agro-fuel businesses have little need for Q’eqchi’ labour,
and seek to physically enclose the Q’eqchi off their land with fences and
enforcing property rights, legitimized by laws few Q’eqchi acknowledge (Grandia
2007, 2012). The introduction of physical techniques of enclosure, including
maps, surveys, roads and boundary lines has blocked Q’eqchi’ migration
threatening their access to necessary resources and farming land (Harris 2004).

With the once-unquestioned common rights to timber and soil removed, enclosure
becomes a binary of inclusion or exclusion within the dominant market
(Vesudevan et al 2007).


Enclosure can also come in the form of
diachronic movements, making the newly dispossessed more reliant on markets. As
the Q’eqchi’ are introduced into the capitalist market and have greater contact
with the rest of Guatemala and the world, their reliance and interest on
consumerist products has grown, increasing their reliance on the market and driving
them into debt (Grandia 2007, 2012). Through the separation of their means of
production and increased reliance on non-subsistence food and products, many Q’eqchi’
have been forced into abandoning cultural beliefs and communities in order to survive.

Ironically, the land reforms and turning the Q’eqchi’s land into pastures and
plantations denotes from the colonial discourse of ‘improvement’, turning
‘terra nullius’ (empty land) into land that can accumulate capital. As Wood notes,
“We might like to think about the implications of a culture in which the word
for ‘making better’ is rooted in the world for
monetary profit”, where economic improvement trumps socio-cultural values and
human welfare (Wood 1991, p81).


Indigenous people, like the Q’eqchi’ who
face such enclosure but maintain their ancestral livelihoods, get squeezed onto
frontiers. These deeply-political areas of “awkward engagement” and “cultural
friction” often result in further violence (Tsing, 2005, xi; Harvey, 2003;
Retort, 2005). The combination of a society trying to live in-between
feudalistic cattle ranching, transitional agro-businesses, superhighways and
biologically protected corridors often results in conflict. The compression of
so many different drivers, caught up in different beliefs and motivations make
frontiers a prime location in examining the global capitalism and accumulation.

Frontiers are important ‘test-sites’ for the varying forms of capitalism. Ideas,
accumulation and practices that are intended throughout a country are often
first sampled in frontiers, in an attempt to normalize them before introducing
them else where. (Foweraker 1981; Retort, 2005, Grandia 2007, 2012). The Q’eqchi’,
and other indigenous communities that are forced into frontiers, are often
trapped in these violent spaces. Not only do they face the struggles of
frontiers but often the next generations do too. In communities with high
fertility rates, “The peasantry is effectively divorced from the means of
production through time” (Foweraker 1981, p175). As such, it is important that
those unwillingly trapped in frontiers find a way out.


The dispossessed Aj Ral Ch’och who have
been pushed into these frontiers and stripped of their ancestral common resources
are adamant to fight against enduring poverty and hunger, through forming
communal resistance institutions. Whilst Granida focuses more on the problems
the Q’eqchi face and to a lesser degree their resistance movements, many Q’eqchi’
communities are pushing back against the barrage of injustices they face. A
wave of community driven regulation in the sale or leasing of land to cattle ranchers,
intermediaries and corporate agents is taking hold. Communities gather together,
and denounce the Land Reform’s ‘individual land ownership’ to share their lands
in a traditional Q’eqchi’ fashion. With the backing of whole communities and strengthened
community institutions, individuals are harder to target, threaten or trick.

Those that do sell ‘voluntarily’, breaching the communal agreement, are
expelled from the community (Alonso-Fradejas 2013). On a wider scale,
indigenous people across Guatemala are increasing “campesino a campesion”
(farmer to farmer) networks. These networks include knowledge sharing and indigenous
farmer’s markets. These markets, void of intermediaries, drive to improve food sovereignty
and diversification of crops. As such, they not only strengthen the Q’eqchi’
farming economy but also break down economic and commercial barriers (Aj Ral Ch’och).

Q’eqchi’ people, human rights organizations and more campaign
regularly to the Guatemalan government in an effort for the recognition of Q’eqchi
rights (Alonso-Fradejas 2013).


Tragically, whilst these movements are
necessary and admirable, the Guatemalan government are still largely favouring
the elites and transnational corporations. Founded in liberal ideology, starting
with the German coffee plantations, the Guatemalan government still see ‘development’
in purely economic terms. Entrenched in the colonial discourse of ‘improvement’
being gaining capital from the land, the African Palm and sugarcane plantations
are growing at an alarming rate (Aj Ral Ch’och; Grandia 2007, 2012). Foreign
direct investment has grown from $2 billion in the 1990s to $4.5 billion by
2005 (World Bank 2006). Obsessed with attracting more foreign investment to
create wealth, the Guatemalan government are keen to create an accessible investment
climate. As such, they are keen to enforce property rights and land titling programmes,
such as that of the World Bank, to maintain legal and property structures in a
fashion that is ‘legible’ to investors (Grandia, 2012; Scott 1998). With such
an attitude, growth of the planation’s will continue to grow, resulting in an
economic drain from Guatemala into the bank accounts of the foreign corporations
that own them. More pressingly, the mono-crop culture will create further food
and water insecurity for the Q’eqchi’ and other indigenous communities who have
already been victim to primitive accumulation, dispossession and enclosure.


Looking forward, the approach of the Guatemalan
government and other Latin American governments to see GDP as the main
indicator of ‘development’, implies the vicious cycle of indigenous oppression is
unlikely to break. On the contrary, neo-liberal programmes on even vaster
scales are on the horizon, under the banner of ‘economic integration’. The
Puebla to Panama Plan (PPP) is an Inter-American Development Bank concept,
linking 9000km of dry canals across Latin America, connecting the Atlantic to
the Pacific. The justification for which is bringing the region up to $3
billion increase in annual trade and bring ‘economically productive’
infrastructure to under-developed areas. However, in reality, as Grandia playfully
puts it, PPP stands for “Profits and Primitive Accumulation in the name of
Progress” (Grandia 2012, p174). Despite, corporate attempts to ‘green-wash’ and
‘people-wash’ the project, indigenous communities and activists have shown that
the transport networks will be used for further common resource extraction and
provide few employment opportunities. Not only will planned infrastructure,
including superhighways and pipelines cut through remaining indigenous lands,
but infrastructure already built, such as Sierra de las Minas dam, have already
displaced Q’eqchi’ villages (Grandia, 2012). Illich (1983) argues that state authorities
often enclose public space for ‘beneficial’ infrastructure projects, so they
can lay down property rights and bring them under governmental control. With
little ‘trickle-down’ benefits for indigenous communities from such
infrastructure, and the lessons learnt from history, it is clear why there is scepticism
and resistance to the project.