Populism v. neoliberalism: Indigeneity, territorial rights, and hegemony in Honduras

17 March 2018

How has the “populist” administration of Zelaya and the “neoliberal” administrations of Lobo and Hernandez dealt with the question of territorial rights in Mosquitia?

This paper analyses the distinction between these approaches and argues that the technocratic approach of the neoliberal administrations was more effective at cultivating hegemony than the direct democracy style of the populist administration.

Based on ongoing dissertation fieldwork, this paper attempts to explain the positioning of the pro-territorial rights among regional leaders in Mosquitia with respect to national politics. Although leaders represent only one dimension of hegemony, they exert great influence on the population. Also, these leaders are more likely to act as facilitators of clientelistic networks between the national and the local spheres. I build the case historically to explain the origins of the autonomist sentiments and the antecedents of political organization in Mosquitia. Then, I describe the land titling process that took place from the late 1980s until 2015, and how it relates to electoral politics. In the discussion, I address how a “common sense” over the meaning of territorial rights is formed within these hegemonic entanglements. The paper concludes by proposing that the recognition of territorial rights in Mosquitia allows the National Party to brand itself as a supporter of indigenous rights despite its authoritarism. Also, identity politics facilitates token participation in governance structures but constructing meaningful participation would require rethinking the object of autonomy from “legal victories” to a more substantive process of de-colonization.

This paper was presented at the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) 2018 Conference: "Authoritarian Populism and the Rural World"