Decentralized finance, territorial appropriation and dispossession

What happens when techno-libertarian dreams of colonization—typically directed at either Mars or ocean space—are transposed onto nation-state territory? In 2013, actors within the global “startup city movement” collaborated with former political advisors to the Ronald Reagan administration and the post-coup regimes of Honduras to establish self-governing jurisdictions on Honduran mainland. The new territories, known as “startup cities,” “charter cities,” or “free private cities” internationally, were codified into law in 2013 under the name Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDEs). The project, while opposed by anti-colonial and land-based Honduran social movements, sparked the excitement of radical libertarian reformers and crypto and blockchain enthusiasts invested in “experimental” free market governance models worldwide.

My paper explores this convergence of techno-libertarian utopianism, new special economic zones (SEZs), and primitive accumulation. Mike Levien (2011,2012) and other scholars have identified how contemporary SEZ models are fueling new “regimes of accumulation by dispossession” that take land acquisition for real estate development as a primary aim while failing to absorb expropriated rural inhabitants as proletariat labor. However, while land for rent seeking in the real estate and mining sectors is one motivating factor for ZEDE developers, the Honduran case also highlights the links between “decentralized finance” and new territorial appropriations. In this presentation I will discuss the role of decentralized technologies in new colonization projects, the impacts of this process on nation-state and local sovereignties, and the prospects for new modes of accumulation and dispossession. The work presented is the result of roughly two years of field work on Honduran ZEDEs and the “startup city movement” and will include an analysis of the governing models, economic systems, and land appropriation methods of two of Honduras’s first “private cities.” Finally, I will present a theory of ”territorial flexibilization” within contemporary global capitalism.