Property and Indigenous State Formation in the Honduran Moskitia

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Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples throughout Latin America have mobilized to demand the state recognition of their collective land rights in an effort to maintain control over the lands and territories that they have traditionally occupied. While communities have been able to secure property titles to millions of hectares in lowland tropical areas, this titling has occurred in the context of a neoliberal turn to state-making and rising global interests in the lands and natural resources held in these territories. The ability of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to maintain social reproduction and exercise their self-determination on these titled territories is uncertain. This dissertation investigates how the Miskitu people in Honduras negotiated their new status as property owners with the state, development agencies, and each other. The Honduran state awarded property titles to twelve Miskitu territorial councils over an area covering about 12 percent of the national territory. The central claim of this dissertation is that the Miskitu leadership conceived the titles not merely as property rights but as the basis for exercising broader jurisdictional authority over the land, resources, and population of Moskitia. This re-conceptualization of Miskitu property rights challenges the view held by the Honduran state and other actors. I propose the concept of Indigenous state formation to describe the political structuration that emerges from mobilizing the imaginary of indigeneity to make claims on territory as a state-like jurisdiction. I argue that in the Honduran Moskitia these efforts to claim jurisdictional competencies have created a political structuration that I call the inter-communal property regime. The dissertation follows this process of Indigenous state formation from the independence of the Honduran Republic in 1838 to the contemporary period after the awarding of the property titles. By engaging theoretical insights on Indigenous sovereignty and state formation from across the Americas, this work advances knowledge on the effects of recognizing collective land rights in the context of settler colonialism and agrarian change.

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430 pages


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autonomy; collective land rights; Honduras; indigeneity; Indigenous sovereignty; state formation


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Union Local


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Wolford, Wendy W.

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Craib, Raymond B.
Nadasdy, Paul
McSweeney, Kendra

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Development Sociology

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Ph. D., Development Sociology

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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