Honduras: more evictions, more occupations in the Aguán

The situation in northern Honduras’ Lower Aguán Valley, where land disputes have led to as many as 70 deaths in the past three years, remained tense and confused as of July 20, with prior agreements and court rulings apparently being contradicted by later developments. The National Agrarian Institute (INA) was reportedly ready in the second week of July to implement agreements made between the government, campesino groups and major landowners in June to settle disputes over eight estates. The INA would pay out 636 million lempiras (more than US$33 million) to two major landowners—Honduran cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum and Nicaraguan entrepreneur and politician René Morales Carazo—for the estates and then turn them over to the members of two campesino organizations, the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA). The campesinos would pay the money back with 6.5% interest annually over a period of 15 years.

About 85% of the money was to go to Facussé for more than 4,000 hectares of land currently occupied by 3,500 families belonging to the MUCA. Seven estates were included: Marañones, Isla Número Uno, Isla Número Dos, La Confianza, La Aurora, Lempira and Concepción. Morales was to give up one estate, San Esteban, now occupied by some 600 families belonging to MARCA. (Honduran press reports were contradictory; some said San Esteban would go to MUCA members.)

The agreement didn’t cover four other disputed estates. Two of them, Despertar and La Trinidad, were officially owned by Morales but occupied by MARCA members. A court ruled on June 29 that they should go to the occupiers; the ruling also covered Facussé’s San Isidro estate, which is claimed by MARCA members. The landowners appealed these rulings to a higher court.

Another of Facussé’s estates, Paso Aguán, was occupied briefly on at least two occasions by some 700 families protesting the murder of campesino Gregorio Chávez, whose body was found buried on the estate on July 6 [see Update #1136]. The protesters formed an organization, the Gregorio Chávez Refoundation, which is backed by the MUCA. (El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, July 10; MARCA statement, July 17, via Vos el Soberano, Honduras)

Within a week the agreements on the eight estates seemed to have unraveled. The money for the landowners didn’t appear; Facussé still hadn’t been paid as of July 20, and Roger Pineda, a lawyer for Facussé’s food product and cooking oil company, Grupo Dinant, demanded the eviction of campesinos from the disputed estates.

Meanwhile, the Ceiba and Francisco Morazán Appeals Court issued an injunction blocking the lower court’s ruling in favor of the campesinos and backing Facussé’s claim to the San Isidro estate. On July 18 some 300 police agents and soldiers arrived at San Isidro to remove the occupiers there, but they were met by hundreds of MARCA members and supporters and decided to withdraw. The next day, some 250 campesino families occupied another of Facussé’s estates, Los Laureles, located south of the city of Tocoa in Colón department; the occupiers belong to a new group said to be supported by the MUCA. The police tried to remove them that morning but failed because of the presence of supporters. The police were successful in a new attempt on July 20. Meanwhile, a group of 200 campesinos again occupied Paso Aguán on the same day.

After the unsuccessful operation at San Isidro on July 18, Kenneth Sabillón, a police commissioner, complained to the local media about the confusing situation in the Aguán. “[I]t’s not possible that [the courts] should tell us one day to evict the [landowners’ security] guards and then the next tell us that we have to evict the campesinos,” he said, calling for the different parties to sit down and negotiate. (Lista Nicaragua y Más blog, July 19; Prensa Latina, July 20; El Heraldo, July 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 22.

See our last post on Honduras.