Honduras: family killed in latest Aguán massacre

Eight people, including four children, were murdered in the village of Regaderos, in Sabá municipality in the northern Honduran department of Colón, on the evening of Jan. 9. Seven of the victims were members of the same campesino family; the eighth was a man running errands. The attackers took the victims from the family’s home to a field and killed them there with machetes and firearms. The youngest of the children was one year old; the others were seven, 12 and 15 years old. The attackers cut a part of the ear off each of the eight bodies. (El Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, Jan. 10)

The massacre was one of three mass killings in northern Honduras since the beginning of the year. Six people were murdered on Jan. 3 in the village of El Palmar, Las Vegas municipality, Santa Bárbara, in northwestern Honduras, and four members of one family were killed on Jan. 10 in the Rivera Hernández section of the main northern city, San Pedro Sula. There were 6,723 homicides in Honduras from January 2011 to Dec. 15, according to researchers at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH). With a homicide rate of 82 per 100,000 inhabitants, Honduras is the most violent country in Central America and one of the five most violent countries in Latin America. (Proceso Digital, Honduras, Jan. 11)

Sabá municipality, where the campesino family was massacred the night of Jan. 9, is in the Lower Aguán Valley, the site of violent land disputes between campesinos and large landowners. Colón chief of police Osmín Bardales almost immediately ruled out any connection between these disputes and the murders.

But the Honduras Culture and Politics blog points out that it is typical for both police and media to play down possible political motives behind violence in Honduras. One example is the US media’s tendency to blame Honduras’ homicide rate on the increase in drug trafficking through the country. But a United Nations report released on Oct. 6, “Global Study on Homicide” (PDF), notes that there isn’t always a connection: “Organized criminal groups involved in drug trafficking do not necessarily make themselves visible through violent and lethal crime…. Violence often escalates when an existing status quo is broken, as a result, for example, of changes in the structure of the drug market, the emergence of new protagonists or the ‘threat’ posed by police repression.” Meanwhile, the media rarely mention the increase in murders of women, campesinos and transsexuals since the June 2009 military coup that overthrew President José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog, Jan. 12)

As of Jan. 6 the Honduran government appeared have made no progress in a plan to buy 5,700 hectares of land in the Aguán to turn over to campesino collectives as a way of ending at least some of the land disputes. Alba-Petróleos, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), reportedly offered about $28.8 million to help with this plan. President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa still seemed interested in this proposal on Jan. 6. “Just imagine,” Lobo said, “someone gives the campesinos financing at low interest rates in long-term loans. What I can say is: best wishes and thanks.” (Proceso Digital, Jan. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 15.

See our last post on Honduras.