A fragmented paradise : the politics of development and land use on the Caribbean coast of Honduras




Loperena, Christopher Anthony

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Based on two years of multi-sited ethnographic research, the dissertation investigates Garifuna struggles over racial and cultural identity and land rights against the backdrop of neoliberal tourism development on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Garifuna are descended from Africans and the Carib Indians of St. Vincent; they are a transnational people with roots in Honduras, Nicaragua, Belize, Guatemala and several cities in the United States. The dissertation examines the conditions under which some Garifuna embrace the opportunities offered through state-backed tourism projects and explores why others reject tourism development altogether, choosing instead, to assign greater priority to autonomy and territorial rights. Garifuna who oppose state-sanctioned tourism projects are positioned as adversaries of the state who are incapable of harnessing the power of development and, in turn, barred from traditional channels of participation. In this vein, the development apparatus delivers land rights activists a double bind—Garifuna culture is a commodity necessary for the growth of the national tourism industry, but not a basis for expansive rights. Finally, the dissertation analyzes the ethical debates that animate Garifuna land politics in the struggle to wrest authority from the state and local entrepreneurs over the processes of development. Garifuna cultural traits that tend toward the collectivistic, toward the valorization of ancestral practices, or toward the autonomous development of their communities are defined as culturally “conservative.” I argue Garifuna culture is commodified in accordance with the racial structuration of Honduran society, which has deep effects at the community level, resulting in fragmentation and dispossession. This work sheds light on the everyday politics of autonomy in Triunfo de la Cruz—a Garifuna village situated on the white-sand beaches of Tela Bay—and reveals how notions of communal belonging are defined through processes of political struggle.




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