Honduras: campesinos march for land rights

Hundreds of campesinos marched in Tegucigalpa on Dec. 2 to demand that the Honduran government resolve longstanding land conflicts in the Lower Aguán River Valley in the north of the country. The march, from the National Pedagogic University to the National Congress, was organized by various campesino groups and by the local section of Vía Campesina, an international federation of campesino organizations.

The majority of the Aguán Valley land disputes were supposed to be resolved by a pact that President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa signed with the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) on Apr. 18 to distribute a total of 8,000 hectares of farmland to campesino families if they ended their occupations of estates claimed by wealthy landowners. It is not clear how well the planned distribution has been progressing. The situation heated up again after Nov. 15, when five campesinos were killed by private guards in a separate dispute with landowner and industrialist Miguel Facussé Barjum.

Campesino groups responded to the Nov. 15 killings by occupying some nine estates in the Aguán region. Meanwhile, the government deployed hundreds of troops into the area, claiming they were searching for 1,000 AK-47 and M-16 rifles allegedly hidden in the valley by groups being trained to attack the government. On Dec. 1 Security Minister Oscar Alvarez told a press conference that the army had “evidence of the entry of military weapons like AK-47s, M-16s and possibly other, more powerful arms which could be being used by groups that want to destabilize democracy in our country.” “We’ve been informed that they entered through Nicaragua,” he said.

The main military activity in the region seemed to be aimed at ending the land occupations, not at finding rebels and weapons. As of Dec. 3, the military and police had removed some 100 campesinos from the Bolero 1 and 2 estates, with plans to end the occupations at the others. The military was leaving the estates in the control of heavily armed guards contracted by the landowners. Asked why the guards were allowed to carry military weapons, Commissioner Alfredo Villatoro, who headed up the government’s operation, and Commissar Alex Madrid answered simply that the guards’ weapons were registered. According to Rigoberto Rodríguez, one of the leaders of the guards, each estate will now have a private security force of 25 men.

On Dec. 4 President Lobo acknowledged that “[t]here is no evidence of any participation [of] “the government of Nicaragua” in training rebels to destabilize the Honduran government. (EFE, Dec. 2, via Terra.com; Prensa Latina, Dec. 3; AFP, Dec. 4, via MSN)

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

See our last post on Honduras.