An asentamiento irregular, known colloquially as an asentamiento (Spanish pronunciation: [asentaˈmjento]) is a shanty town in Latin America, particularly inside and around Guatemala City and Montevideo. Most of them were established in the last 20 years, and are a result of economic inequalities between rural and metropolitan areas in Guatemala and Uruguay. People living there usually came from small towns in remote rural areas, and came to the city looking for a better opportunity. They usually are located in what used to be government land, often places which would not normally be habitable areas (steep canyons, unstable side of hills, etc.) or in areas undesirable for residential development (adjacent to landfills, contaminated waterways, etc).

Guatemala City

In 15 of the 23 districts of Guatemala City, there are precarious settlements. In 1984, there were 103 and by 1991 there were 232. In 2016 there were 297.[1]

In 1984, 800 families made a land invasion and successfully squatted an area called El Mezquital. The settlement eventually swelled to over 25,000 people. It was the first successful occupation since 1976.[2]

Traditionally, some of these places have been "red zones" inside Guatemala City, because of their high crime rate. In some of them, local police will not even go inside, because the local gangs control the areas, and are usually better armed than the police. These places would include El Caracol, El Caracol Annex, Cañaverales, El Rinconcito, Project Italy, Esquipulas, Garden Gate, Mirador del Paraíso, El Parquecito, Camino de Luz and Los Angeles.[3] A famous asentamiento in Guatemala is La Limonada. With a population of around 60,000 it is one of the largest slums in Latin America outside Brazil.[4]


Before 1990, there were land occupations known as cantegriles. The land invasions can be split into accretions (gradual, individual actions) and planned (organised, collective actions).[5] Gradually, cantegril has come to refer to the poorest of shanty towns, whilst groups of houses on squatted land are known more generally as asentamientos irregulares or asentamientos in short.[6]


  1. Fecha de publicación (10 January 2016). "La capital registra 297 asentamientos precarios". El Periodico. Archived from the original on 6 August 2019. Retrieved 6 August 2019. La capital registra 297 asentamientos precarios. Estudio interinstitucional coordinado por la Secretaría de Planificación y Programación de la Presidencia reportó, en 1984, 103 comunidades situadas en barrancos y quebradas de la ciudad. En 1991, el número había aumentado a 232 [...] En 15 zonas de las 23 que integran la ciudad de Guatemala existen asentamientos precarios
  2. Murphy, Edward (2004). "Developing Sustainable Peripheries The Limits of Citizenship in Guatemala City". Latin American Perspectives. 31 (139). doi:10.1177/0094582X04269911.
  3. Fecha de publicación (10 January 2016). "La capital registra 297 asentamientos precarios". El Periodico. Archived from the original on 6 August 2019. Retrieved 6 August 2019. En la zona 18 está localizado el mayor número de asentamientos según la comuna capitalina, con 68. El Caracol, El Caracol Anexo, Cañaverales, El Rinconcito, Proyecto Italia, Esquipulas, Puerta del Jardín, Mirador del Paraíso, El Parquecito, Camino de Luz y Los Ángeles son algunas de estas comunidades, consideradas de alta peligrosidad por la Policía Nacional Civil (PNC).
  4. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2011-09-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. Álvarez-Rivadulla, María José (2011). "The evolution and dynamics of land squatting in Montevideo, Uruguay" (PDF). Paper presented at the International RC21 conference 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2019.
  6. Álvarez-Rivadulla, María José (2018). Squatters and the Politics of Marginality in Uruguay. p. 34. ISBN 978-3319854151.
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