Honduras: campesinos detained as Aguán land talks stall

Honduran police detained 13 leaders of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) the night of Feb. 2 at a checkpoint in Arizona, in the northern department of Atlántida, according to the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) and the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH). The leaders, who were returning from Tegucigalpa, were reportedly taken to the city of Tela; one leader, Juan Angel Rodríguez, was turned over to the Public Ministry, allegedly because of a warrant for his arrest. (COPINH, Feb. 2; OFRANEH, Feb. 3)

The day before, on Feb. 1, police had arrested MUCA spokesperson Vitalino Álvarez in Tocoa in the northern department of Colón, apparently without a warrant. (La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, Feb. 1)

The arrests came after a breakdown in negotiations between the MUCA and the government at the end of January over implementation of an April 2010 agreement that was supposed to resolve at least some of the violent land disputes taking place in the Lower Aguán Valley. Under the deal, the government would buy some 5,700 hectares of land from the wealthy agribusiness owner Miguel Facussé Barjum and turn it over to campesino organizations that have been pressing a claim to the land. But the campesinos balked when told they would have to pay interest at a 14% annual rate on a 600 million lempira loan (about $31.5 million) from a private bank. Vitalino Álvarez—the MUCA spokesperson arrested on Feb. 1—had denounced the proposal, noting that the plan was originally for the campesinos to pay a low interest rate.

In December there were reports that Alba-Petróleos, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), might finance the loan and help campesino organizations by building an African palm fruit processing plant for their use. Apparently Alba-Petróleos will not be financing the loan but is still planning to pay for the processing plant and guarantee a market for the palm oil it would produce. (El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, Jan. 31)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 5.

See our last post on Honduras.