Settler Colonialism in Latin America

The crises of American states and indigenous struggles is that at their core they are relationships formed and reproduced by colonialism. Settler colonialism is characterized by a logic of dispossession and elimination. The term is rooted on a problematic binary of the expropriation of land as opposed to the expropriation of labor that distinguishes extractive colonialism as popularized by Patrick Wolfe (Speed, 2017). M. Bianet Castellanos points out the struggle of recognizing the settler colonial structures in Latin America because the term did not originally account for the Latin American case but was formulated as a way to differentiate British colonialism in North America from black slavery, and the lack of an appropriate translation of the term in Spanish (Castellanos, 2017; Speed, 2017). Shannon Speed argues that in Latin America colonialism always operated with elements of both extractive and settler colonialism, and furthermore draws on studies that argue that settler colonialism emerges from the formation of the state in Latin America after independence (Speed, 2017). Juan Castro and Manuela Picq use the case study of indigenous land dispossession in Guatemala as a case study to highlight how settler colonial structures have evolved over time in the central American country. “Guatemala’s modern democratic state is anchored in the colonial state and operates under the logic of settler colonial states” (Castro, 2017: 799). Castellanos argues that the myth of mestisaje as a racial ideology to consolidate national identity in Latin America functions in a settler colonial state to eliminate indigenous identities (Castellanos, 2017; Speed, 2017). Pineda addresses the dilemma of perceived irreversibility of settler colonialism that in the words of Patrick Wolfe aims to destroy and replace. The article concludes by offering the reader to reflect on the impact of settler colonialism in Latin America and in indigenous struggles working within state-centered systems.


Castellanos, M. Bianet. “Introduction: settler colonialism in Latin America.” American Quarterly 69.4 (2017): 777-781.

Castro, Juan, and Manuela Lavinas Picq. “Stateness as landgrab: A political history of Maya dispossession in Guatemala.” American Quarterly 69.4 (2017): 791-799.

Pineda, Baron. “Indigenous pan-Americanism: Contesting settler colonialism and the Doctrine of Discovery at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.” American Quarterly69.4 (2017): 823-832.

Speed, Shannon. “Structures of settler capitalism in Abya Yala.” American Quarterly 69.4 (2017): 783-790.