Securing the City
An Introduction
Kedron Thomas,
Kevin Lewis O’Neill, and
Thomas Offit
Neoliberalism, a term commonly used to describe the set of economic re-
forms that impels structural adjustment, is a practice. It is a kind of tool kit,
a set of institutions, logics, and rationalities that are used by people—some-
times sitting in government offices, sometimes vending crafts in crowded
streets—to understand inequalities and to respond to them. In the spirit of
Sherry Ortner (1984) and Eric Wolf (1980), who wrote of a different phase of
global capitalism, the essays collected here ask what neoliberalism looks like
on the ground and how it is practiced. How have Guatemalans come to inhabit
lives and spaces that are in large measure engineered according to neoliberal
logics? What do ordinary people make of these changing times, and what les-
sons are to be learned from their experiences? More specifically, what does
neoliberalism look like in Guatemala?
Guatemala’s neoliberal moment is strikingly evident in practices and poli-
tics of security. Even after the close of Central America’s longest and bloodi-
est civil war, which reached genocidal proportions in the late 1970s and early
1980s, Guatemala remains a violent country, though the political and cultural
coordinates of this violence have changed significantly (Nelson 2009). Guate-
mala has one of the highest homicide rates in all of the Americas averaging
about 17 murders per day, with much of the violent crime concentrated in the
capital city. The country also has one of the lowest rates of incarceration at
28 prisoners per 100,000 people (Canadian Red Cross 2006; Ungar 2003). The
average criminal trial lasts more than four years with less than 2 percent of
crimes resulting in a conviction (Wilson 2009). “It’s sad to say, but Guatemala
is a good place to commit murder,” one international observer remarked, “be-
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