Date of Award

1996

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

William V. Davidson

Abstract

Historical route geographers consider the factors that influenced past roadbuilding, and the changes that result from roadbuilding. The earliest Spanish colonial officials in Central America initiated roadbuilding projects that were sensitive to physical and cultural factors. Officials had to consider the region's aboriginal routes, Spain's trade flows, the isthmus' topography, and the region's population distribution. The roads the Spaniards opened four centuries ago guided early settlement. In some cases, these early roads persist in the region's route network. During the 16th-century Spaniards sought to establish transisthmian roadways that would link Spain's Atlantic and Pacific maritime networks. Partial fluvial routes across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Isthmus of Panama, and Nicaragua's Desaguadero received early attention. So, too, did the 195-mile long geologic depression that runs across western Honduras. Colonial officials, among them Francisco Montejo, repeatedly attempted to persuade the Crown to direct Spain's inter-oceanic traffic across the Honduran corridor. This prospect figured significantly in Montejo's plans to transform the province from a colonial backwater into a center of commerce. Honduras failed to attract transisthmian traffic to its corridor. An examination of roadbuilding and overland transport in Latin America in the 16th-century, demonstrates the corridor's transport liabilities. Honduras suffered from a depleted indigenous population, a small agricultural base and a long, uneconomical crossing. Indians initially served as cargo bearers in lieu of mules and carts and later constructed roads and bridges. Mules and oxen, were needed to draw wagons and carry loads. Grain surpluses were needed to feed beasts of burden, Indians and travelers. With regard to these demands, surveys from 1590 confirmed what previous letters to the Crown had suggested: Honduras could not support transisthmian traffic neither did its corridor provide a rapid crossing. A description of a recent crossing of the corridor and a glance at current traffic flows in Honduras demonstrate that despite the region's failure to capture Spain's inter-oceanic commerce, traces of its past promise persist. A few segments of the route possess Honduras' cores of industrial growth and agricultural production. Conversely, isolated route segments exist that continue to lag behind.

ISBN

9780591035025

Pages

364

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