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18 1 tHe HoNduRaN LibeRaL RefoRms aNd tHe Rise of West iNdiaN migRatioN t he initial stages of the West Indian migration experience in Honduras are best understood within the context of the liberal reform period in Honduran historiography. Banana companies and economically minded Honduran liberals used the reforms to create an extralegal environment in which fruit corporations benefited economically from the political and social agendas of the nation. Because West Indians were an imported labor force hired specifically by the fruit companies, they remained in a quasilegal position that left them outside the scope of the state. This was clearly a benefit to the corporations that were able to control West Indian labor on the North Coast, but it proved to be a mixed blessing for the West Indians, whose fate in Honduras was often decided by others. Scholars in the United States and Honduras such as Darío Euraque, Héctor Pérez Brignoli, Mario Argueta, and Mario Posas have examined the complexities of the liberal reforms and their impact on the political, economic, social, and labor dimensions of the modern Honduran state. This chapter focuses on the reforms as they relate to the emergence of the West Indian migrant population in Honduras and their settlement in the banana enclaves of the North Coast. By adhering to established analyses of this period, I do not seek to reinterpret the existing literature on the liberal reforms in Honduran historiography, but rather to provide the context for a better understanding of the political, economic, and social climate West Indians entered on their arrival. The liberal reforms represent a major shift in the history of migration in Honduras. The fallout from the political and economic legislation dur- tHe HonDURAn lIBeRAl ReFoRMs 19 ing the period constitutes perhaps the most comprehensive example of population shift in the history of the modern state of Honduras. Among those arriving on the North Coast of Honduras were North American businessmen seeking to benefit from liberal economic policies in agriculture , Honduran elites shifting from coffee-producing regions to the easily accessible banana lands and commercial opportunities of the North Coast frontier,1 European and Middle Eastern immigrants capitalizing on the expanding mercantilist economy as a result of the expansion of agribusiness, West Indians seeking employment as laborers and skilled workers, and Hondurans and other Central Americans fleeing from the interior to the North Coast in search of more viable means of making a living. All of these groups were seeking to share in the liberal vision of a Honduras deeply integrated into the global economy and the modernization and industrial processes. Honduran historiography dates the beginning of the liberal reform period from 1876 with the inauguration of the Liberal party candidate Marco Aurelio Soto (1876–1883) as president of the republic. Kenneth Finney suggests that 1876 was a watershed year for Honduras owing to such innovative legislation as the suppression of the tithe, the introduction of public education, and the codification of legal commercial mining and the passage of administrative laws aimed at the promotion of economic development within the country.2 Marvin Barahona maintains that, in order to allow access to agricultural lands, the reforms also called for the separation of church and state and the nationalization of church lands in an effort to curb the latifundia systems that monopolized land and inhibited the development of natural resources for the benefit of the nation. Furthermore, the system hindered the development of large-scale agricultural enterprises believed by liberals to be the catalyst for economic growth.3 Perhaps the greatest legacy of the reforms as they relate to the emergence of the West Indian community in Honduras is their facilitation of new ties between Honduras and the world economy by offering incentives to both Hondurans and foreigners to develop and expand the export agricultural industry.4 The reforms served as the catalyst that ignited the banana boom in Honduras by regenerating the Honduran agricultural industry and redirecting the economic orientation of the nation from the interior to the North Coast.5 Darío Euraque asserts that Honduran efforts to establish banana plantations on the North Coast between 1870 and 20 RACe, nAtIon, AnD West InDIAn IMMIGRAtIon to HonDURAs the first decades of the twentieth century represented an obstacle for the legislature in Tegucigalpa to develop other possibilities for agriculture.6 The reforms established the North Coast of the country as the economic center of the nation and encouraged an influx of both human and economic capital...


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