I can only expect destruction for my family because I am provoking it with my own hands. . . . This is what happens when the peasant doesn't receive help from the government and the banks. . . . He looks for the obvious way out which is to farm the mountain slopes and cut down the mountain vegetation. Otherwise how are we going to survive? We're not in a financial position to say, "Here I am! . . . I would like a loan to plant so many hectares!" I put in my request but the banks don't want to give me credit because I cannot guarantee the loan. I know what I am doing . . . as a person I know . . . I am destroying the land!
--Southern Honduran peasant, 1990
Bounded on the southeast by Nicaragua and on the west by El Salvador, southern Honduras was flanked by political revolutions during the 1980s. While media coverage focused on military actions and human suffering in those countries, the desperate and worsening circumstances of the people of the south largely went unnoticed. Yet, according to most measures of income, health, and nutrition, the situation of most southern Hondurans was as bad or worse than that of their neighbors in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Located within the Pacific watershed and characterized by steep slopes, rugged terrain, and erosive soils, the south is also the most populated and environmentally degraded area of Honduras. The underlying and more immediate causes of the complex human and environmental problems there are the focus of this book.
This work is about interconnections--among the historical, social, economic, ecological, and demographic aspects of development--and about the ways Honduran people are struggling with increasing poverty and environmental destruction. Using an approach which integrates political economy and ecology, the book examines the systemic linkages among the dynamics of agricultural development, demographic change, associated patterns of capitalist accumulation, rural impoverishment, and environmental decline. It is a specific historical example of how larger international and national forces evolved and affected people and the natural environment and how, in turn, human agency is affecting those powerful forces. In so doing, the study contributes to an understanding of the complex interrelationships between development and the environment, to predictions regarding the destiny of peasantries within the dynamics of contemporary capitalism, and to the recognition that the fates of the peasantry and the natural environment are intimately linked. Moreover, the complex, multifaceted interconnections established for the Honduran case are widespread throughout much of Central America.