Honduras: four dead in latest Aguán violence

Three Honduran campesinos—Orlando Campos, Reynaldo Rivera Paz and José Omar Paz—were killed in a drive-by shooting the weekend of Nov. 3 while they were waiting for transportation in the city of Tocoa in the northern department of Colón. The killings took place in the Lower Aguán Valley, which has been the scene of violent struggles between campesinos and large landowners since late 2009, when members of several campesino cooperatives occupied a number of estates they said were on land reserved for small farmers under an agrarian reform program from the 1980s. As many as 80 people have died in the land disputes, most of them campesinos.

On Nov. 4 the Colón departmental police announced that they had arrested Marvin Noé García Santos, a police agent from Atlántida department, in the murders. Colón police chief José Amílcar Mejía said García Santos was part of a criminal gang that included campesinos occupying the Paso Aguán estate; one source says the victims were also part of the occupation there. According to Mejía the killings resulted from a dispute among three groups over the cutting and selling of African oil palms, the main commercial crop in the Aguán. But one of the main campesino groups in the region, the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), blamed the murders on the ongoing dispute between campesinos and landowners. The group asked for “national and international organizations defending human rights to provide accompaniment to this campesino struggle” and called on Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa to “rein in this violence against the campesinos of the Lower Aguán.” (La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, Nov. 4; Noticias Aliadas, Nov. 7)

A fourth Aguán campesino was mudered later in the same week. According to Julián Hernández, president of the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), three armed “men dressed in blue, security guards for landowners,” kidnapped MARCA member José Cecilio Pérez on Nov. 9 after he and other MARCA members withdrew the equivalent of $16,000 from a Tocoa bank for the salaries of members of the nearby El Despertar cooperative. Pérez’s body was found the next day near an African oil palm plantation. Hernández discounted simple robbery as the motive. “It’s a strategy of the landowners to make it appear that it was robbery,” he said, insisting that the kidnappers were wearing security guards’ uniforms. (AFP, Nov. 10, via Terra.com)

The company with the largest holdings in the Aguán is Grupo Dinant, founded by Honduran cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum, whose security guards have been blamed for many of the killings. In 2009 Dinant received a $30 million loan from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), in part to fund increased cultivation of African oil palms. The Canadian-based organization Rights Action is asking for letters to World Bank president Jim Yong Kim (at The World Bank Group, 1818 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20433) calling on the bank to suspend the loan. (Upside Down World, Nov. 8) An anthropologist and physician, Kim is a co-founder, along with Dr. Paul Farmer, of Partners in Health, which provides community-based health care in Haiti and other countries.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 11.