Charles Clark

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Lack of legitimacy of land tenure institutions in the tropical Peten, Guatemala, contributes to the tenure insecurity that encourages rapid colonization, deforestation and forest conversion to agriculture. The author identifies historical periods of delegitimation of land tenure institutions and analyzes social, political and property rights trends which reduced thee effectiveness of property rights in the Peten. Three case studies present the complexities and chaos of land tenure institutions. The first analyzes the unregulated land invasions by small farmers, the second discusses land tenure barriers to protection of indigenous cooperatives, and the third analyzes attempts by the government and non- governmental organizations to restrict settlements within the Maya Biosphere Reserve. In the absence of operative legal land institutions, campesinos create land law by their invasions, presence and practices. Unless campesinos are given a role within policy-making management decisions, there may be no means to restore legitimacy to land tenure in the Peten. The current insecurity encouraged by the Peten's land institutions promotes ecological degradation and encroachment on both indigenous and state forest reserve lands.


Latin American and Iberian Institute

Language (ISO)



The Latin American and Iberian Institute of the University of New Mexico


tropical deforestation, land tenure insecurity, colonization, legal enforcement