Review Corner: Article Review I

17 Sep

Title: Race and National Resources Conflicts in Honduras the Miskito and Garifuna Struggle for Lusa Pulan by Sharlene Mollett (pg 76-101)

Book: The Latin American Research Review (LARR): Vol. 41 No. 1 2006. By The University of Texas Press.

Reviewed by Simon S. Sundaraj-Keun


            Sharlene Mollett main thesis in the Race and National Resources Conflicts in Honduras the Miskito and Garifuna Struggle for Lusa Pulan article is to examine relationship between racial and economical struggles. Sharlene Mollett a professor in the University of Toronto uses the land conflict of Lusa Pulan between the Miskito Indians and Garifuna Afro-indigenous groups as an analysis point. The article also analyzes the involvement of the state from a historical and cultural perspective that continues to fuel the Miskito and Garifuna land contest.

            To understand the current dispute between the Miskito and Garifuna is to understand the history of these people. Mollett investigates the origin of the Miskito and Garifuna by looking into Honduras Colonial history. The Miskito Indians is a mixed race between native Indians and Spaniards that lived along Northern coast of Honduras during the Colonial Era. The Garifuna were decedents of African slaves that fled from the Spanish Colonies in the Caribbean and settled along the Northern Coast of Honduras. The two groups lived in peace and shared the natural resources within their region for couple of centuries.

            However the peaceful coexistence between the Miskito and Garifuna was not as harmonious at first one thought. The two came to head in 1958 in the village of Plaplaya when the Garifuna challenge the longstanding Miskito dominance in the region. The Garifuna planed farming was interrupted by the unorganized livestock of the Miskito. The Miskito let their livestock roamed free and in turn ravage Garifuna agricultural lands. The Garifuna retaliated by killing Miskito’s cattle. The Miskito demanded compensation but the Garifuna did not comply and so the two group begun a series of legal action in order to gain the land or expand each other territories through the Honduran judiciary system.

            This chain of events led to the increase of tensions between the two not only on an economic level but also on an ethnographical and historical level. Race, history, and economy are intertwined in this conflict between Miskito and Garifuna. Mollett illustrates that the Miskito viewed themselves as superior, fair-skinned, legitimated natives, and rightful owners of the Lusa Pulan region. The Miskito viewed the Garifuna as the ‘Black bodies’, violent, and evil force that came to steal their land. The Garifuna are not factually based since their claims were based on oral history. On the other side of the coin the Garifuna viewed themselves as entrepreneurs, conservators, and indigenous residents of the region. The Garifuna viewed the Miskito as lazy, careless, not true Indians but of a mixed heritage, and parasite of nature. Mollett points out that the Honduran state viewed the two as excess baggage to the rich resource region and try to appease the two by parceling reserves for the two but in turn promoted migration of poor Honduran city folks or Ladinos into the volatile region.

            Mollett’s article elaborates on the key factor for conflict is the state regulations that restricts both parties to customary access and provoke land insecurities through the implementation of a policy that favors Ladinos incursion into the Reserve. The Garifuna would used their indigenous status to secure vast territory as Reserve but the Miskito would fight Garifuna so-called indigenous right in Honduran court backed with historical and cultural evidence. The Honduran government like most Central and Latin American nations regard natives and blacks as savages uses this racial terminology to in order to galvanize Ladinos population to migrate into the Reserve.

            The problem is the Honduran government radicalize by different values constructed a cultural phonotypical and biological characteristics label which are viewed as class and gender oppression. This is a political ecology struggles over resources are struggles over meaning and representation which is unequal in the power of distribution between the state, Garifuna, and Miskito. The existence of state neutrality is false when it comes to resolving a potential economical issue that would be beneficial in the hands of the state. The state uses racial stereotyping of Garifuna and Miskito in order to define its role in resolving the ongoing conflict. Mollett points out that the failure of the Honduran state in solving the Lusa Pulan is due to the existing of powerful racial bias on the two competing groups.

            The Miskito and Garifuna have a different view on the Lusa Pulan issue besides their racial overtones and unlike the Honduran government who are eager for profit. The two so call native groups did live peacefully and shared their resources with each other. The livelihood of the contested region is view as ancestral ground by the Miskito and God’s land by the Garifuna. The Miskito let their livestock roam the land free like the nature but the Garifuna practice controlled farming in order to preserved the land and prevent crop damage. Miskito who practice free farming have to farm far in order to obtain fertile grazing land for their cattle. The Garifuna farm close to home since they practice controlled farming. The growing tension caused the state to territorialize and naturalize Lula Pulan into a World Heritage Site.

            This move does not aid the two groups because it is an important resource to the state. The Reserve is divided into core zones, cultural buffer zones, and nucleus zones each which the state forbid ownership by the two groups but allocated land to Ladinos. The land is still contested by the two groups and the added dimension by Ladinos due to reasons like commercialization, productivity, and population boom. The needs for land to aid growth and sustain a growing population still contribute to the ongoing conflict. Mollett states who could blame for this problem since the racial hierarchies exist during the Colonial Era. The Indians and Africans were regarded as noble savages, rigid minded, violent, and lazy that in turn contributed to white superiority and rigid social equality in Post-Colonial Era.

            Mollett argues that the struggles between the two groups escalated because of the racial personification of the problem by the state and their own personal biases. The glorification of fair-skinned individuals in the Honduran society is view as successful only led to the demonizing, stereotyping, and legal maneuvering of the Indians and Africans conflict. The power of perception without the sense of national pride on continues to contribute to internal strives between these two groups. The notion of multicultural groups existing peacefully in the nation of Honduras are to be replaced by a singular dominant race within it borders while disfranchising the other part of the Honduran population. The Miskito and Garifuna struggles for life when the Ladinos dimension was added into the equation.

            The author did an excellent job in using a case study to illustrate a point on the subject of race and natural resource conflicts that are occurring in Latin America. Mollett’s case study of the Miskito and Garifuna land contest which started out as a two way tug of war in turn became a three way battle royal when the Ladinos backed by the Honduran state begun to settle on the distributed Reserve. The other important point was the emphasis on history and culture that fuel the ongoing conflict in Lusa Pulan. The significant of this issue points to the ability of the state to enforce law and order in the region without placing personal gains into the equation. The Honduran government is the one to blame for letting the Miskito and Garifuna land contest to go unresolved for decades.

            Personally, I agree with Mollett that the source of conflict can be avoided if the state takes a neutral stance. There is no flexibility in the Honduran government who was trying to promote their own agenda in order to be the dominant race group in the Lusa Pulan region by pushing the Miskito and Garifuna aside. In the long run the conflict between the two native groups plus the incursion of the Ladinos would turn into a violent conflict. In order to prevent it from spiraling from out of hand the Honduran government should resolve the land contest between the two groups and relocate the Ladinos that settle in the region. The importance of a stable region would guarantee economic success and would end poverty in the region but failure to stabilize the region would into ravage the region which trying to recover from the Sandinista conflict of the 1980s.  Racial unity and planned extraction of natural resources along with stable politics are key components in stabilizing and developing a state like Honduras economically.


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