Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Marc Edelman

Subject Categories

Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Studies


Agrarian reform; Honduras; labor capture; Oral history; Primitive accumulation; State formation


On December 9, 2009, the Unified Peasant Movement of the Aguán (Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán; MUCA) occupied over 20,000 hectares of oil palm covered lands in the Aguán region in the Honduran northern coast. This was the latest, and probably most dramatic, chapter in the region's tumultuous recent history. This dissertation explores this history and the process of creation of the Aguán region from the perspective of a set of impoverished peasant families that migrated from different parts of Honduras towards the Aguán from the 1970s onwards, in search of a better present and future.

It asks about the processes by which the region went from supposed "empty" space in the 1960s, to centerpiece of the Honduran agrarian reform in the 1970s and 1980s and the principal location of the country's palm oil industry in the 2000s and site of one of the most intense agrarian conflicts in Latin America at the same time. I argue that by analyzing at the particular history of the palm oil industry in the region, we are able to look at the ways in which agrarian structure and political power come together.

Four are the main threads that hold together this argument: 1. The perspective of passive revolution to approach the process of state formation in postcolonial Central America; 2. The tension between labor capture and flight as a way of approaching the topic of agrarian reform, in the midst of different processes of dispossession and struggle; 3. The consolidation on the ground of the global palm oil assemblage and the move to the center of the region's life of oil palm monoculture and; 4. The process of creation of historical narratives in the Aguán, as the tension between individual and collective memories.

For each one of these threads, I combine my own ethnographic observations based on eleven months of fieldwork, with different secondary sources and the broader set of theoretical and scholarly work that deals with the topics of primitive accumulation and dispossession, state formation, political ecology and oral history.



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