Honduras: lawyer for Aguán and ‘Model Cities’ struggles is murdered

Activist Honduran attorney Antonio Trejo Cabrera was killed by unknown assailants the evening of Sept. 22 in Tegucigalpa’s América neighborhood near the Toncontín International Airport. Trejo, who was also a Protestant minister, received a call on his telephone while he was in a church attending a wedding; he stepped outside and was gunned down. He died an hour later in a teaching hospital. Trejo was active in two major political conflicts: a long-standing dispute over land in the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras and a new struggle over the Special Development Regions (RED, also known as “Model Cities“), a neoliberal project for creating several privatized semi-autonomous zones near ports.

Trejo was the attorney for the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), one of the main campesino collectives involved in the Aguán disputes; he was arrested along with 24 MARCA members at a demonstration outside the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) building in Tegucigalpa on Aug. 21. Annie Bird, co-director of the Toronto-based solidarity organization Rights Action, wrote after Trejo’s death that his “dedicated efforts had regained legal ownership of four farms owned by [wealthy landowners] Miguel Facussé, René Morales and Reinaldo Canales…. Now MARCA will have a hard time continuing to defend their land from the judicial hitmen.” In a statement on Sept. 23, another campesino collective, the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), charged that Facussé, Morales and Canales were responsible for Trejo’s murder. (El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, Sept. 23; Rights Action email, Sept. 23; Notimex, Sept. 23, via Univision)

Trejo was also one of several attorneys who filed a complaint with the Public Ministry charging the legislative deputies who voted in favor of the “model cities” project with “the crime of treason to the nation and abuse of authority.” A number of legal challenges have been filed against the project on the grounds that it cedes national sovereignty to private and foreign groups; the main investors appear to be Canadian and US firms, although some deputies suggested that one US investor, Michael Strong, might be fronting for some Honduran business interests. The Public Ministry itself has found the project unconstitutional, according to Danelia Ferrera, the director of prosecutors at the ministry, although she said any legal action would be on hold until the CSJ makes a ruling. (El Heraldo, Sept. 15, Sept. 19)

Opposition to the “model cities” isn’t limited to court challenges. A number of organizations have joined together in a National Campaign Against the Model Cities, which has called for “the most aggressive actions by all the organized sectors and by the citizenry in general, going beyond mere public pronouncements.” The campaign called for a demonstration on Sept. 19 outside the CSJ. (Adital, Brazil, Sept. 17)

Public school teachers included the “model cities” among the issues they protested with a one-day strike on Sept. 21 that shut down classes for two million students; the teachers also protested a change in the schedule for their pay day, which had previously been on the 20th of each month, and the cost of fuel. In Tegucigalpa the teachers gathered at 8 am outside the Francisco Morazán National Pedagogic University (UPNFM) and then spread out to different parts of the capital. One group of strikers blocked traffic on the Centroamérica Boulevard near the National Institute of Teachers’ Social Security (Inprema), which handles teachers’ pensions. In northern Honduras a number of teachers and students blocked Puerto Cortés, the country’s most important port, bringing economic activity to a halt. (A conservative parents’ group responded to the strike by calling for teachers to be subject to drug testing.) (El Heraldo, Sept. 22)

Members of the Garífuna ethnic group have combined opposition to the “model cities” project with their continuing struggle to regain land they claim along the northern coast. One of the supposedly “uninhabited” regions being considered for the first “model city” is the area near Puerto Castilla in Colón department, territory that the Garífuna say their ancestors began settling in the early 19th century, more than a decade before 1821, when Honduras became an independent country. On Aug. 26 some 200 Garífuna families occupied the Vallecito area on the coast, with support from a leading Garífuna organization, the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH); apparently this was intended as a preemptive move to establish the Garífuna claim to the area.

The coastal region is near the Aguán Valley, the site of the land dispute between landowners and campesinos, and the Garífuna settlers say they have been harassed by paramilitaries who may be linked either to drug traffickers or to Aguán landowner and cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé. (Desinformemos, Sept. 17, via Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más; Upside Down World, Sept. 18)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 23.