On April 18 Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa signed an agreement with the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) granting some 2,600 campesino families about 11,000 hectares of land in the lower Aguán River Valley in northern Honduras. MUCA has fought since 2001 for 20,000 hectares which the group says were bought illegally by three wealthy business owners, Miguel Facussé Barjum, Reinaldo Canales and René Morales. The agreement came after several months of heightened tension in the area, with four murders of MUCA members in March and April; around April 11 Lobo’s government launched an unprecedented mobilization of soldiers and police agents into the area, with troops surrounding some campesino communities.
Under the agreement the government is to grant the campesino families 3,000 hectares of land for planting African oil palm trees and 3,000 hectares of uncultivated land; within a year the government will turn over another 1,000 hectares for African palms and 4,000 hectares of uncultivated land. In exchange, the families will leave the private estates they have been occupying. Despite early reports, the government apparently didn’t agree to a withdrawal of the troops and police agents.
Government and MUCA negotiators worked out a preliminary agreement on April 14 after a 14-hour bargaining session. All but three of the 28 cooperatives that make up the MUCA ratified the agreement on April 17. The remaining cooperatives will continue with pending court actions to regain land that they claim should be theirs.
Hundreds of campesinos and other activists used the April 18 signing ceremony, which took place in the colonial city of Trujillo in Colón department, to protest President Lobo’s rightwing policies. “Golpistas [coup perpetrators] out of the Aguán,” they chanted, referring to a June 28, 2009 coup d’état that removed then-president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales; current president Lobo backed the coup and was elected in a vote organized in November by the de facto government that replaced Zelaya. Protesters also repeated a demand of the grassroots resistance for a Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution.
“This agreement isn’t a definitive solution to the conflict,” Rafael Alegría, who heads the local branch of the international campesino organization Vía Campesina, said on April 14, “but it brings calm to the region.” The big landowners involved seemed less satisfied, although the government is apparently compensating them for any land taken from them. A few hours after the signing ceremony a report circulated that Miguel Facussé Barjum had filed a legal action against the president’s decision. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog, April 14; Prensa Latina, April 14; Nicaragua y Más blog, April 18 via Vos el Soberano, Honduras)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 18.