Battling the Octopus: Food and Land Struggles in Honduras

Food First | 07.01.2012

By Tanya M. Kerssen, author of Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras

Honduras is approaching the third anniversary of the military coup that overthrew its president on June 28, 2009. The event is a grim reminder, not only of the human rights atrocities that followed, but also of the rapid expansion of corporate control over land, resources and food. In the face of intense repression, Honduran peasant movements have built powerful movements for agrarian reform and food sovereignty.

Known as the quintessential “banana republic”, Honduras is no stranger to agribusiness. At the turn of the 20th century, U.S. companies took over massive swaths of fertile coastal land for fruit plantations. By 1917 a few foreign companies led by United Fruit (now Chiquita) owned almost a million acres of the best Honduran farmland. These companies exerted extraordinary power over domestic politics: United Fruit’s far-reaching political and economic influence in Central America earned it the nickname el pulpo, the octopus.

In the face of intense repression, Honduran peasants have built powerful movements for agrarian reform and food sovereignty.

The expansion of export agriculture violently displaced peasant food production, deepening rural poverty and hunger. The fast rise of the corporate fruit empires also sparked strong social movements for the right to land. These struggles achieved important reforms, but the dominance of politically powerful landowners linked to foreign capital has persisted into the 21st century. The recent military coup, supported by the country’s landowning and business elite, ushered in yet a new phase of agro-industrial expansion and peasant repression.

The business-friendly administration of Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo seeks to position Honduras as “the most attractive investment destination in Latin America.” This includes providing tax breaks and other incentives to agribusiness, extractive industries (mining and logging), tourism, renewable energy (agrofuels and dams), and máquila zones (sweatshops) for textile manufacturing. In the fertile Aguán Valley near the Northern Coast, African oil palm is the hallmark crop, coveted by investors for its lucrative market as cooking oil, junk food and biodiesel.

Also in this issue of News & Views:

  • A Message for Eric Holt-Giménez