Reinterpreting the Banana Republic: Region and State in Honduras, 1870-1972

Reinterpreting the Banana Republic: Region and State in Honduras, 1870-1972

Reinterpreting the Banana Republic: Region and State in Honduras, 1870-1972

Reinterpreting the Banana Republic: Region and State in Honduras, 1870-1972

Synopsis

In this new analysis of Honduran social and political development, Daréo Euraque explains why Honduras escaped the pattern of revolution and civil wars suffered by its neighbors Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Within this comparative framework, he challenges the traditional Banana Republic 'theory' and its assumption that multinational corporations completely controlled state formation in Central America. Instead, he demonstrates how local society in Honduras's North Coast banana-exporting region influenced national political development.

According to Euraque, the reformism of the 1970s, which prevented social and political polarization in the 1980s, originated in the local politics of San Pedro Sula and other cities along the North Coast. Moreover, Euraque shows that by the 1960s, the banana-growing areas had become bastions of liberalism, led by local capitalists and organized workers. This regional political culture directly influenced events at the national level, argues Euraque. Specifically, the military coup of 1972 drew its ideology and civilian leaders from the North Coast, and as a result, the new regime was able to successfully channel popular unrest into state-sponsored reform projects. Based on long-ignored sources in Honduran and American archives and on interviews, the book signals a major reinterpretation of modern Honduran history.

Excerpt

"Hondurans joke that their country is so poor it can't even afford an oligarchy." This joke, almost an adage now, enjoys wide currency among scholars and commentators who study Honduras. In a lengthy economic history of nineteenth-century Honduras, José Francisco Guevara-Escudero stated, "the Honduran super-rich . . . when compared to that of other Central American nations appear to be quite modest and with limited influence." Moreover, the poverty of elite Hondurans has assumed a peculiarity that has distinguished the country from its counterparts in Central America since the colonial period.

On the other hand, in this discourse the nature of "an oligarchy" is connected to more than the Aristotelian notion of a form of government in which power is exercised by the few. Rather, an oligarchy in the Central American context has been associated with economic elites whose political power has depended on their monopoly of the countries' economic resources, usually land, and, since the last century, land cultivated with crops that are exported-- beginning with coffee and bananas after the 1870s. In this scenario, the quip about Honduras's historic and current poverty and the absence of an oligarchy also implies that coffee and banana cultivation never served as the extensive basis of even landed oligarchic government. It is not surprising, then, that William S. Stokes in the 1940s felt comfortable arguing, in a now classic study, that Honduras's structure of land tenure could "in time be the basis for the. development of a kind of rural, agrarian democracy."

The character of Honduran poverty and its relationship to land tenure, as well as its social and political implications, have always distinguished the coun-

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