Honduras: campesinos evicted, indigenous leaders attacked

Early in the mcrning of June 11 some 200 Honduran security agents–including Preventive Police, National Criminal Investigation Directorate (DNIC) agents and soldiers from the 105th Infantry Brigade—evicted campesinos occupying more than 4,000 hectares on three estates in San Manuel in the northern department of CortĂ©s. About 30 people were arrested, mostly women, according to press reports, but DNIC sub-director Reinaldo Rubio said the agents only found 20 people at the site and arrested them for land usurpation. The eviction was authorized by a judge in the nearby city of San Pedro Sula.

The soldiers and police “were dishonest and didn’t have the courage to tell us what they’d come for,” one of the occupiers, MarĂ­a Reyes, told a reporter. “They just indicated that they were going to explain some matter to us, but minutes later they arrested us and put us in a bus, as if we were criminals.” After removing the campesinos, the security forces brought in tractors and razed the structures the occupiers had built out of bamboo and metal sheets, including three small shops. The security forces “didn’t spare anything,” according to another women, who was arrested while she collected plastic bottles to sell to recyclers.

The campesinos, members of the San Manuel Campesino Movement (MOCSAM), had occupied the land since May 23. They occupied the same estates for a little more than one day on Apr. 17 as part of a massive demonstration in which some 3,500 families took over land in different parts of the country to mark the International Day of Campesino Struggles.

The titles to the three estates are held by Compañía Azucarera Hondureña, SA (CAHSA), a sugar company; another company, Inversan (Inversiones San Manuel); and an individual named José Jacobo Zacapa. MOCSAM says the occupation is justified by a recent ruling from the National Agrarian Institute (INA) that the lands were designated for agrarian reform and the current owners had therefore bought them illegally. (La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, June 12; Agencia Púlsar, June 13; EFE, June 13, via Latin American Herald)

Land disputes continue to create tensions throughout northern Honduras, despite a partial settlement the government made with one group of campesinos on June 5 in the Lower Aguán Valley, in ColĂłn department. The Permanent Human Rights Monitoring Center for the Aguán, an organization formed by Honduran and international groups last fall, has accused the government of carrying out a “remilitarization” of the valley. “Groups of up to 60 soldiers do guard duty in the landowners’ African palm oil processing plants, in the African palm plantations and at points considered strategic for the security of the landowning companies’ properties,” the organization wrote. There are monitoring operations located “at little distance from campesino settlements to keep close to the campesino population, which is the object of permanent repression.” (Adital, Brazil, June 11)

On June 13 two indigenous activists were shot at in the La CuchĂ­a community, in the northwestern department of Santa Bárbara, as they were driving from a meeting about a local land conflict and the imprisonment of a community member. Two men on a motorbike fired at least twice at Juan Vásquez and Sotero ChavarrĂ­a, members of the Executive Committee of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), causing their vehicle to crash. The two activists weren’t hurt, but the vehicle, which belongs to the organization, was damaged.

COPINH says that for several months the group and its members have been subjected to a “campaign of threats, intimidation and aggression…on the part of armed men from the Honduran government and paid members of companies that plan to develop megaprojects in indigenous territories.” (COPINH, June 14; Frontline Defenders, June 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 17.

See our last posts on Honduras and Central America.