Honduras: four are killed in latest Aguán violence

Four Honduran campesinos were killed and 11 were wounded in an ambush March 29 at the Marañón estate, near the city of Trujillo in the northern department of Colón. The victims were members of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), one of several organizations struggling to gain farmland in the Lower Aguán Valley. MUCA vice president Juan Chinchilla told the Associated Press wire service that the victims “were leaving for work and were traveling in various vehicles where they were attacked by armed men without having a chance to flee or defend themselves.” About 50 campesinos have been killed in the Aguán region since 2009, mostly in disputes with major landowners; some died in unexplained violence sometimes attributed to criminal gangs. (AP, March 29, via Univision) (Juan Chinchilla himself was the victim of a kidnapping in January 2011.)

The ambush at the Marañón estate came three days after a similar attack in the same area left five soldiers wounded, two of them seriously. On the evening of March 26 some 30 unidentified men with high-caliber weapons opened fire on the soldiers as they were traveling in an area known as Panamá, near Sonaguera, Colón. The soldiers are stationed in the region as part of Xatruch 2, a military operation the government says is intended to reduce violence in the Aguán Valley.

The attack on the military patrol led to a flurry of contradictory statements by officials. President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa immediately denied that the attack was connected to the land disputes in the area. “These are not campesinos,” he said on March 26. “This has nothing to do with the agrarian conflicts. These are other people, the same gang, I think, that was in San Francisco de La Paz; they’re moving between Olancho [department] and Colón.” But a military spokesperson announced that the attackers were campesinos involved in the land disputes, while Gen. René Osorio Canales, head of the Armed Forces Joint General Staff, suggested that the campesinos were being armed and trained by Nicaraguan and Venezuelan instructors. (This isn’t the first time Gen. Osorio has attributed violence to guerrilla activities.) (El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, March 27; Prensa Latina, March 27; Honduras Culture and Politics blog, March 28; AP, March 29, via Univision)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 1.

See our last posts on Honduras and Central America.