Honduras: five killed in continuing Aguán violence

A Honduran campesino, Marvin Orlando Rivera Mejía, was killed around 6 am on Sept. 1 during a confrontation between security guards and a campesino group at the Boleros estate, at the edge of Trujillo in the northern department of Colón. The victim was reportedly not involved in the confrontation and was shot unintentionally. A guard, José Reyes González, was hit by a bullet in the back and was taken to a clinic in the city of San Pedro Sula. The campesinos fled when police and soldiers arrived; an unknown number were wounded. Departmental police chief José Mejía claimed the campesino group was heavily armed.

Apparently the campesinos were attempting to occupy land on the estate. Campesinos have taken over thousands of hectares in the region, the Lower Aguán Valley, since late 2009 in an effort to get possession of land they say big landowners acquired illegally during the 1990s. Vitalino Álvarez, a spokesperson for the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), said tensions would continue in the countryside unless the government treated the land problem seriously on a national level. Until now, he said, César Ham, the minister in charge of the National Agrarian Institute (INA), has only provided palliatives by arranging to transfer land ownership to members of some big campesino groups like MUCA. (La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, Sept. 2)

Rivera Mejía’s violent death was the fifth in the Aguán region in less than a week, and the second that appeared to be related to the land struggle. On Aug. 27 José Braulio Díaz López, secretary of the campesino group Tranvío, a MUCA affiliate, was shot dead by heavily armed men near the city of Tocoa as he was checking a problem with his car. Mario Roberto Hernández, who was helping him with the car, was wounded. According to MUCA, the men who shot Díaz were driving a vehicle belonging to security guards employed by cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum, a major landowner in the Aguán and one of the richest people in Honduras. MUCA said the national police removed all of Díaz’s possessions from the scene, including legal documents relating to the transfer of land to campesinos; as of Aug. 28 the police had not handed the documents over to MUCA.

Three other killings that occurred in the region from Aug. 27 to Aug. 29 seemed to be the result of common crimes or personal disputes, but they undercut government claims that it was limiting violence by banning firearms in the Aguán. Two young married people were killed while at their home in Sabá, and an unidentified man was beaten to death with a stone in Tocoa’s San Isidro neighborhood. Also in Tocoa, a 15-year-old girl was wounded by gunfire intended for someone else, and three members of one family were wounded in their home in a drive-by shooting.

One other shooting may have been politically motivated. A compesino identified as Daniel Sosa was wounded when a MUCA vehicle was shot up near the San Isidro African palm plantation, which is claimed by Facussé. (MUCA statement, Aug. 28, via Vos el Soberano, Honduras; La Tribuna, Aug. 29)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 2.