Claiming the Aguan Valley: Geography and Ambition on the Nineteenth-Century Honduran Periphery

Authors: Craig Revels*, Central Washington University
Topics: Historical Geography, Latin America
Keywords: Honduras, mahogany trade, historical geography
Session Type: Poster
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Lincoln 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Since the banana boom of the early twentieth century, the Aguan Valley has occupied a prominent place in the development narrative of contemporary Honduras. In particular, it emerged in the 1960s as the centerpiece of land reform and resettlement projects designed to take full advantage of the agricultural potential of the valley; these same projects gave birth to the Honduran workers movement and helped launch the Honduran oil palm economy. More recently, it has been the focal point for violent conflicts between local cooperatives, elite landholders, and the state over land rights. But the Aguan was a region shaped by conflict well before commodity agriculture commenced in the early 1900s. This research explores the historical geography of the Aguan Valley in the nineteenth century, when it was an isolated region far from any effective government control but a known source of Honduran big-leaf mahogany. During the peak of the mid-century mahogany boom, this isolation led to numerous disputes over land, access, and legal rights to extract the timber as competing interests sought to manipulate state authority for private gain. This research examines the conflicts between local concerns, commercial interests, and state authority in the 1840s and 1850s that renewed tensions between Honduras and Great Britain over issues of territory, sovereignty, and trade. Conflict in the nineteenth century can be seen as a prologue to more recent events, which reflect the ongoing challenge of more effectively integrating the still-peripheral region into the modern state.

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