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Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras

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Grabbing Power explores the history of agribusiness and land conflicts in Northern Honduras focusing on the Aguin Valley, where peasant movements battle large palm oil producers for the right to land. In the wake of a military coup that overthrew Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, rural communities in the Aguin have been brutally repressed, with over 60 people Grabbing Power explores the history of agribusiness and land conflicts in Northern Honduras focusing on the Aguin Valley, where peasant movements battle large palm oil producers for the right to land. In the wake of a military coup that overthrew Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, rural communities in the Aguin have been brutally repressed, with over 60 people killed in just over two years. United States military aid--spent in the name of the War on Drugs--fuels the Honduran government's ability to repress its people. A strong and inspiring movement for land, food and democracy has grown over the last two years, and it shows no sign of backing down.


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Grabbing Power explores the history of agribusiness and land conflicts in Northern Honduras focusing on the Aguin Valley, where peasant movements battle large palm oil producers for the right to land. In the wake of a military coup that overthrew Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, rural communities in the Aguin have been brutally repressed, with over 60 people Grabbing Power explores the history of agribusiness and land conflicts in Northern Honduras focusing on the Aguin Valley, where peasant movements battle large palm oil producers for the right to land. In the wake of a military coup that overthrew Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, rural communities in the Aguin have been brutally repressed, with over 60 people killed in just over two years. United States military aid--spent in the name of the War on Drugs--fuels the Honduran government's ability to repress its people. A strong and inspiring movement for land, food and democracy has grown over the last two years, and it shows no sign of backing down.

30 review for Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    Noted critical development scholar Philip McMichael lays out concisely the value and the challenge surrounding Kerssen's excellent book Grabbing Power. First, "[t]he story is one thing, and it is powerful." Kerssen broadly and clearly lays out the multi-layered, deceitful and often brutal political and social forces that comprise governmentalities (more-or-less-calculated regimes of rule) of neoliberal exploitation in Honduras. Secondly, "land grab analyses need to take account of the full range Noted critical development scholar Philip McMichael lays out concisely the value and the challenge surrounding Kerssen's excellent book Grabbing Power. First, "[t]he story is one thing, and it is powerful." Kerssen broadly and clearly lays out the multi-layered, deceitful and often brutal political and social forces that comprise governmentalities (more-or-less-calculated regimes of rule) of neoliberal exploitation in Honduras. Secondly, "land grab analyses need to take account of the full range and genealogy of political forces at work." Kerssen's narrative identifies these forces as they operate within Honduras; it is then the job of other authors to work the Honduran story into broader comparative and analytical frameworks of representation and population discipline. Honduras is a country often at the margins of Central America in terms of both representation and exploitation. During the Cold War, people focused on Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and to a lesser extent Panama and Costa Rica. This has continued to the present day. Even the coup against Manuel Zelaya seems to have dropped not only from the corporate media radar but also from much of the progressive media, rightly concentrating as the progressive media is on the vicissitudes of the court proceedings in Guatemala against Rios Montt. Kerssen places Honduras and the coup squarely within neoliberal/neocolonial Central America, the larger global systems of agricultural exploitation, and the equally broad if not nearly as financially well-endowed food sovereignty movements that struggle against increasingly financially based land grabs. Honduras is a classic "banana republic," dominated until recently by foreign capital. Domestic elite did not begin dominating until structural adjustment and Hurricane Mitch facilitated movement of wealth. "[N]eoliberal policies not only reversed the state-led development paradigm of the 1960s and 70s, replacing it with a free-market model. They also transferred the tremendous physical capital built up during the development decades in the Aguán—roads, ports, processing plants and oil palm plantations—into the hands of a few wealthy families" (p. 33). The Zelaya administration began some incremental reforms, passing pro-peasant legislation that was quickly overturned after the coup. Since Zelaya's overthrow, power has returned with a vengeance to the agro-oligarchy, and violence has spiked in "drug-trafficking areas," which are also "coincidentally" the areas of agribusiness and tourism expansion. Thus, violence against peasants and other community leaders can be represented as "drug gangs." Though the book lays out broad political and economic fissures, Kerssen's specialty is agriculture and food. Thus, the core of the book deals with struggles between subsistence/small-farmers and agribusiness concerns grabbing land for industrial production particularly of palm oil. Palm oil has long been a favorite plantation crop, as can be seen from historical works on colonial Central Africa and East Asia. This is as true today as in the past, and it is fascinating that in addition to being used as a nearly nutrition-less food product (Kerssen points to Pollan's description of "edible food-like substances"), palm is returning to pre-colonial and colonial roles in replacing petroleum (this time as a fuel rather than a lubricant). Palm and other bio-fuels are often given "carbon credits" (Certified Emission Reduction credits) and strongly supported by inter-governmental development organizations (especially World Bank, USAID, IDB) as a form of "sustainable development." These "sustainable development supports" accrue primarily to large corporate entities while the few peasant cooperatives that have survived the neoliberal invasion struggle to retain resources and markets. Kerssen references Kay's ("Reflections on Latin American Rural Studies") notion of agriculture having "two velocities": "On the one hand, a struggling peasant sector with little access to credit, local markets or social services; and on the other, a thriving, export-oriented agro-industrial sector absorbing the majority of state resources." The primary purpose of the book is to lay out a brief, focused and concise call to action on behalf of peasants and other marginalized peoples in Honduras. This objective will be found wanting if the Honduran case is not examined in the broader global contexts not only of "land grabs" but also neoliberal political economies of exploitation and highly charged multi-scale social movement interactions. The ground is laid in Grabbing Power for these kinds of analyses, with brief mention of Harvey's work on global "accumulation by dispossession." However, an opportunity may have been missed (given that Grabbing Power will come up in searches relating to Edelman, McMichael, Dangl and others) to at least introduce broader analyses by elaborating on, and going beyond, Harvey's argument. As importantly, Marc Edelman's recommendation at the beginning of the book would have been better served by going deeper into his work on strategic representations of peasantry and invisible movement organizations (see especially Peasants Against Globalization). In particular, this (supplemented by Keck and Sikkink's influential Activists Beyond Borders) would have effectively contextualized the problematic relations between local social movements and Vía Campesina. Additional work would look at development fissures, including how Honduras fits into larger narratives (e.g. Nigeria, Mexico and Congo) whereby barely controlled violence actually aids in, rather than inhibiting, exploitation. Despite the lack of broad theoretical/geographical analysis, which admittedly would have increased its size, Grabbing Power is in the end a critical book to read for all those interested in Latin America, agriculture, representational and disciplinary power, and social movements among others.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    I'm heading to Honduras in November as an election monitor and this little study of the political situation and particularly the struggles for control of agricultural land was a great background piece for me. Neoliberal policies that have been accelerated since the 2009 coup. But the changes in land ownership laws and international lending policies have a history that goes back into the 70's and 80s. Fortunately, come of the indigenous communities have longer traditions of collective action and I'm heading to Honduras in November as an election monitor and this little study of the political situation and particularly the struggles for control of agricultural land was a great background piece for me. Neoliberal policies that have been accelerated since the 2009 coup. But the changes in land ownership laws and international lending policies have a history that goes back into the 70's and 80s. Fortunately, come of the indigenous communities have longer traditions of collective action and defense of their human rights.

  3. 4 out of 5

    John

    A good analysis - from a sympathetic viewpoint - of the struggles of campesinos for land in northern Honduras. It includes a helpful history of the problems of land and land reform which is invaluable, since there is so little good writing on Honduras in books in English. I recommend it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Devan

  5. 5 out of 5

    April

  6. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Gothman

  7. 5 out of 5

    Christinaz

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  9. 5 out of 5

    Shelby

  10. 4 out of 5

    Victor

  11. 4 out of 5

    José

  12. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn S

  13. 4 out of 5

    Harriet Mullaney

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bobby

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anisah

  17. 5 out of 5

    Curtis Tripp

  18. 5 out of 5

    Teresa Gomes

  19. 5 out of 5

    Roxanne

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nick Rogers

    I live in Honduras. never understood the land grabs until now. Of the powerful elite I do though. Fascinating read. Could do with some counter balance opinions though.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Emily Johnson

  22. 5 out of 5

    Skidmarquez

  23. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Food First

  26. 5 out of 5

    Georgia

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erika

  28. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mary Beth Miller

  30. 4 out of 5

    Greg McCain

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