Problematizing illicit economies and territorial governance on the Caribbean Coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua

Authors: Laura Sauls*, Clark University, Laura Blume, Boston University
Topics: Latin America, Indigenous Peoples, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Central America, Narco-economies, territory, governance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the nearly two decades since the Awas Tingni case brought international legal pressure to claims for titling and the recognition of land rights, the Governments of both Nicaragua and Honduras have granted Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities in their Atlantic coastal zones rights to territory. Since the 1990s, this region has seen a strong increase in levels of narco-activity, as its remoteness and the overall absence of the state have enabled maritime, air, and land transport for the international narcotics trade. The narco-economy has had clear impacts on trends in violence, land concentration, and deforestation, but less clear is how the presence of illicit activity in this region is interacting with nascent forms of territorial institutionality. How international and state responses to this illicit economic activity affect communities in the path of narco-transport routes further complicates governance relations around land, territory, and economic development. The interconnections amongst narco-trafficker networks, the international and national efforts to respond to the illicit trade, and Indigenous and Afro-Caribbean territorial groups across borders challenge the scalar and spatial dimensions of “local” governance in this region. Further, the shape of resource use and development pathways derive from these complex, multi-scalar relations. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork in Nicaragua and Honduras with Indigenous territorial leaders and with participants in the narco-economy, this paper provides theoretical and empirical insight into the ways in which illicit activity influences on-the-ground, networked forms of territorial governance.

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