Honduras: Aguán campesinos arrested in Supreme Court protests

Some 45 campesinos from the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras were arrested during protests on Aug. 21 and Aug. 22 demanding that the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) issue rulings in favor of campesino struggles for land. The protests were sponsored by a number of organizations—including the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA)—that have led land occupations and other demonstrations since 2009 in an effort to obtain farmland that they say big landowners acquired illegally during the 1990s.

Tensions started to mount on Aug. 20 when a group of campesinos arrived at the CSJ building in Tegucigalpa expecting to meet with judges. But according to MUCA members, CSJ president Jorge Rivera Avilés decided not to receive their representatives and in fact had already made an agreement with representatives of two major landowners, Miguel Facussé and René Morales. The protesters also reported being attacked by the police at the building that day.

On Aug. 21 a group of about 80 campesinos escalated their protest by taking over the CSJ building’s five main doors; they also set up barricades on the street in front of the court, blocking traffic. (According to the Brazilian news service Adital, a total of 350 protesters, including children and older people, were participating in the demonstration.) After the campesinos had kept employees and others from entering or leaving the building for about three hours, agents from the Preventive Police arrived and asked the protesters to end the blockade. The campesinos refused. A squadron of Cobras, the notorious anti-riot police, then appeared and carried out a surprise attack, using tear gas and nightsticks.

A total of 27 or 28 protesters were arrested, including two women, a minor, and three people who had to be taken to a hospital for emergency treatment. Some of the protesters sought refuge in the headquarters of the militant Union of Workers of the Brewery Industry and the Like (STIBYS), but police agents used tear gas on them as well

On Aug. 22 a campesino group in the Aguán Valley–at first mostly women carrying machetes and clubs–responded to the arrests in Tegucigalpa by blocking the highway that connects Saba and La Ceiba with rocks and two trucks to demand the release of the 27 detained protesters. Police and military units broke up the blockade, arresting 18 protesters; several injuries were reported.

The Aguán campesinos’ eight demands on the CSJ included the suspension of criminal cases against campesinos detained for protesting and the removal of judges that the protesters said had favored the big landowners over campesinos in their decisions; the protesters were referring especially to a case in July in which the Ceiba and Francisco Morazán Appeals Court overturned a June decision by a lower court awarding 2,000 hectares of land to MARCA members. The campesinos were also asking the CSJ to declare unconstitutional a government move to ban firearms in Colón department, which includes the Aguán region. The measure discriminates in favor of the landowners, according to Rafael Alegría, a national campesino leader. The security guards hired by the big landowners and the business owners can go around with whatever arms they want, he told reporters, but ranchers, shopkeepers and campesinos can’t.

More than 70 people have been killed in the Aguán region over the past three years, most of them campesinos. (Vos el Soberano, Honduras, Aug. 21; La Prensa, Tegucigalpa, Aug. 21, Aug. 22; Adital, Brazil, Aug. 22; Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, Aug. 23)

On Aug. 22 the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) issued a statement condemning the “brutal aggression” against campesino protesters on Aug. 21. The statement also cited death threats made against Donny Reyes, the coordinator of the LGBT Rainbow Coalition, and against members of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), a group that fights against corruption and for the defense of natural resources. The statement suggested writing letters to CSJ President Jorge Rivera Avilés (presidencia@poderjudicial.gob.hn) and Justice and Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda (info@sjdh.gob). (Copinh statement, Aug. 22)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 26.