Theses Doctoral

Martial Love: Articulation and Detachment in the Moskitia's Military Occupation (Nicaragua/Honduras)

Montero Castrillo, Fernando

This dissertation examines the military occupation of the Afro-Indigenous Moskitia region of Central America in the context of the “War on Drugs.” Despite the ideological differences professed by the regimes that have clung to power in Nicaragua and Honduras from the late 2000s to 2020, both governments have channeled “anti-narcotics” military assistance from the United States to install Army and Navy outposts in practically every Caribbean Afro-Indigenous coastal village during the last decade. For the first time in history, Miskitu male soldiers have been systematically recruited and deployed to these new posts. While the War on Drugs is often theorized as a “thanatopolitical” intervention enforced by disembedded, sovereign state forces, this dissertation focuses instead on the everyday life of petty sovereignty: soldiers working in contexts where state and market infrastructure is rudimentary, and where they typically turn to local villagers for labor, supplies, and logistical support. Violating military rules, Nicaraguan and Honduran soldiers habitually find sexual and romantic companionship in Miskitu villages. Ricocheting between the vantage point of soldiers, their lovers and former lovers, occasional and dedicated drug merchants, and other residents of Miskitu villages across the Nicaragua-Honduras border, the dissertation interrogates Central American security regimes not only in relation to the history of war and extractivism in Afro-Indigenous regions, but also vis-à-vis Afro-Indigenous kinship and gender norms, property forms and economic practices, and overlapping jurisdictions of regional governance.

Based on 27 months of participant-observation research in occupied Miskitu villages between 2014 and 2018, the dissertation compares the operations of the national armed forces of Nicaragua and Honduras to those of the United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In 2012, the DEA launched a 90-day, drug-interdiction “pilot program” code-named Operation Anvil in Miskitu land under Honduran jurisdiction. The operation manifested differentiated practices of articulation and disarticulation across various spatial scales: a peculiar form of articulation to the Honduran central government –which DEA saw as a corrupt but corrigible ally in the fight against drug trafficking— and a radical form of disarticulation vis-à-vis Miskitu regional authorities—who were perceived, alternatingly and contradictorily, as 1) inexistent, 2) irrelevant, 3) nomadic, 4) foreign to the region, or 5) hopelessly corrupt. This imaginary gave shape to a governmental intervention that relegated indigenous criminalization to a discourse of last resort, but that upheld nation-state sovereignty over the Moskitia and elided all the questions of indigenous economic and political autonomy which have been central to the Moskitia’s regional politics since the 1980s. DEA agents disavowed relationships with regional authorities and residents on an a priori basis. In combination with the privileged forms of legal immunity protecting US law enforcement and military officials, such disavowal carried homicidal consequences.

The Nicaraguan and Honduran militaries, on the other hand, interact closely with local residents, Afro-Indigenous authorities, and drug merchants. These relationships represent both resources and risks for Nicaragua and Honduras as geopolitically subordinate states. The risks largely derive from the contradictory demands of superordinate geopolitical entities that Nicaragua and Honduras “respect indigenous human rights” and simultaneously participate in the hemispheric “war on drugs.” Nicaragua and Honduras have addressed this contradiction by organizing multiculturalism and militarization on the basis of indirect rule. Indirect rule involves the limited incorporation of indigenous forms of socioeconomic and political organization into state governance, as well as the appointment of regional intermediaries such as Miskitu soldiers. These intermediaries act as lightning rods onto whom state institutions might displace responsibility. More than a “hearts and minds” strategy of counterinsurgency, military indirect rule fosters displacement and sublimation: displacement of risk towards the lower, racialized levels of governance; sublimation of refusal of the occupation towards questions of sex, love, and parental abandonment.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Lomnitz, Claudio W.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 8, 2020