Honduras: another Aguán campesino leader murdered

Two men on a motorcycle gunned down Honduran campesino activist Matías Valle Cárdenas on Jan. 20 as he was leaving his home in Quebradas de Arena, Tocoa municipality in the northern department of Colón. Valle was a leader in the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), one of several campesino groups fighting for land redistribution in the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Hondruas. More than 50 campesinos and private security guards have been killed in Aguán land conflicts over the past two years. Valle’s murder came just three days after the killing of attorney José Ricardo Rosales in the northern city of Tela shortly after he reported abuses by local police.

According to the French-based organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Honduran journalists Gilda Silvestrucci and Itsmania Pineda Platero both received threatening phone calls in January. The two women were among a group of journalists that organized a Dec. 13 march to the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa to protest free speech violations; the march was violently dispersed by the police. Silvestrucci edits the online newspaper El Patriota and produces a program on Radio Globo; both media opposed the June 2009 military coup that overthrew President José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales. Silvestrucci received an anonymous call on her cell phone on Jan. 23. “We know that you have three children,” the caller said, “that the oldest is 15, that at this moment you are walking down the street with your seven-year-old son and that the oldest is at home looking after the one-year-old baby, and we are going to kill you.” (Notimex, Jan. 20, via Univision; RSF, Jan. 24)

While US media coverage has tended to attribute violence in Honduras and the country’s rising crime rate mostly to drug traffickers, a Jan. 22 article by Frances Robles in the Miami Herald focuses on the role of corruption in law enforcement, from low-ranking police agents to top officials. Honduran law enforcement is “rotten to the core,” Gustavo Alfredo Landaverde, a former adviser to the government on drug trafficking, told Robles two weeks before his murder. “We are at the border of an abyss. These are criminal organizations inside and out.” (MH, Jan. 22)

A Jan. 20 op-ed in the New York Times goes further, discussing the role of the 2009 coup in the growth of this corruption. “[T]he coup was what threw open the doors to a huge increase in drug trafficking and violence,” University of California Santa Cruz history professor Dana Frank writes, “and it unleashed a continuing wave of state-sponsored repression.” Frank notes that the US government was quick to recognize the questionable elections held by the de facto regime in November 2009. “This chain of events—a coup that the United States didn’t stop, a fraudulent election that it accepted—has now allowed corruption to mushroom. The judicial system hardly functions. Impunity reigns.” Honduras is descending into “a human rights and security abyss,” Frank says. “That abyss is in good part the [US] State Department’s making.” (NYT, Jan. 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 29.

See our last posts on Honduras and Central America.