A contingent of some 30 soldiers and police agents arrested Juan Ramón Chinchilla, president of the largest campesino organization in northern Honduras’ Lower Aguán Valley, the evening of Feb. 8 in the central park in Tocoa, Colón department. Police then drove Chinchilla, who heads the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), 60 kilometers to a court in the city of Trujillo, where he was charged with “usurpation of land.” After a two-hour hearing, the judges released Chinchilla conditionally at about 2 am; he is required to stay in the country and to report to the court every Monday.
The criminal complaint against Chinchilla originated with Exportadora del Atlántico SA, the agricultural division of Grupo Dinant, a food product company founded by the wealthy Miguel Facussé Barjum. The Aguán Valley has been subject to violent struggles between campesinos and large landowners like Facussé since late in 2009, when MUCA and other campesino cooperatives occupied a number of estates they said were on land reserved for small farmers under an agrarian reform program from the 1980s. More than 80 campesinos have died in the land disputes, and Chinchilla himself was captured and beaten by hooded men in January 2011 and held for two days before escaping.
According to MUCA, the court’s decision to release Chinchilla so quickly was the result of solidarity from media groups and from hundreds of campesinos who headed to Trujillo the night of Feb. 8 and threatened to block roads if Chinchilla wasn’t freed. But the case against Chinchilla remains open. MUCA spokespeople say 3,081 campesinos have been arrested in connection with Aguán land disputes in the last two years, while the government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa has failed to prosecute the region’s landowners and their security guards for violence against campesinos. (Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más, LINyM, Feb. 9, via Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, Honduras); MUCA communiqué, Feb. 10, via Honduras Tierra Libre)
In related news, on the afternoon of Feb. 2 a group of armed men gunned down the campesino Juan Pérez near the El Tigre community, about three kilometers from Tocoa, as he was returning home from work. Pérez, the father of nine, was a member of the Campesino Movement for the Recovery of the Aguán (MOCRA). Three hours later Williams Alvarado was murdered in the community of Taojica; he was a MUCA member who worked at the Flor del Aguán cooperative in the Aurora settlement. (MUCA communiqué, Feb. 3, via Vos el Soberano, Honduras; Adital, Brazil, Feb. 4)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 10.