Honduras: Aguán campesino convicted of murder

In a retrial held on Feb. 7, a court in La Ceiba, in the northern Honduran department of Colón, convicted campesino José Isabel Morales ("Chavelo" or "Chabelo") on one count of homicide; the judges are expected to sentence him to 20 years in prison. Morales, a resident of Guadalupe Carney community in Trujillo municipality, Colón, belongs to the Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MCA), one of several grassroots organizations in the Lower Aguán River Valley demanding land that campesinos say wealthy landowners acquired illegally. He was first arrested on Oct. 17, 2008, in connection with an incident in which 10 people were killed, including Carlos Manrique Osorto Castillo, a member of a landowning family and the nephew of a local police agent, Henry Osorto. Prosecutors charged Morales on 14 counts, 10 of them for homicide. Morales was acquitted of 13 counts in the first trial, but the court convicted him of Manrique Osorto's death.

Campesino organizations and human rights defenders challenged the conviction, saying that there was no credible evidence against Morales and that the court relied on suspect testimony from Henry Osorto. Morales' lawyers appealed and his supporters organized protests and a phone-in and petition campaign, with responses coming from as far away as Australia and Taiwan. Morales won a partial victory on Nov. 5, 2013, when the Supreme Court of Justice threw out the conviction and sent the case to the La Ceiba court for a retrial. Morales' supporters plan to appeal the new conviction. (Upside Down World, Nov. 18; Adital, Brazil, Feb. 12)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 16.