Honduras: new death reported in land struggle

Honduran security forces mounted a major operation on July 3 to remove hundreds of campesinos from an estate they had occupied in a dispute over land in the Lower Aguán River Valley in the northern department of Colón. One of the occupiers, Pedro Avila, was shot dead in the operation and two were wounded, according to Santos Torres, who heads the campesinos' organization, the Gregorio Chávez Collective. Some 400 families were "violently evicted" and "repressed with tear gas and live ammunition," the campesinos charged in a statement, and at least 20 people were detained. The operation was carried out by soldiers under the command of Col. René Jovel Martínez and by National Police agents and by security guards in the pay of the Corporación Dinant food-product company, the campesinos said. The estate, named Paso Aguán, is owned by Honduran entrepreneur and landowner Miguel Facussé Barjum, Dinant's founder. On July 4 Dinant business relations director Roger Pineda denied that company security guards were involved. Pineda claimed no one was killed, although "the effects of the tear gas made [one person] pass out."

At least 147 people, including more than 104 campesinos, have died violently in the region since a number of campesino collectives started occupying estates in late 2009 to promote their claim that the landowners had illegally acquired territory intended for family farmers in an agrarian reform program in the 1990s. Facussé's Paso Aguán estate has repeatedly been a target of occupations by one of the largest campesino groups, the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA); the violent July 3 eviction followed a removal of occupiers from the same site just a week before, on June 26. The Gregorio Chávez Collective appears to be named for a 69-year-old MUCA supporter whose body was found buried on the estate in July 2012; there was evidence that he was tortured before being killed. (El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, June 27; Radio Bío Bío, Chile, July 3, from AFP; La Tribune, Tegucigalpa, July 5)

About 500 families from another group, the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), occupied the El Despertar estate on June 24. Soldiers, police agents and security guards under the command of the military's Col. German Alfaro removed the occupiers and arrested five campesinos later the same day; no injuries were reported. Col. Afaro claimed his forces found three M16 rifles, a Falk rife, 30-calibre rifle, a Macarov pistol, bulletproof vests and police uniforms at the site. The campesinos had reoccupied the estate after being removed on May 21. (El Heraldo, July 24)

El Despertar is owned by a Nicaraguan entrepreneur named René Alberto Morales Carazo (an earlier item incorrectly described him as an "entrepreneur and politician"). Apparently Morales Carazo is involved in the distribution of African palm oil grown in Honduras, as are Miguel Facussé and the Dinant company. According to a March 2007 article in the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario, Morales Carazo is the brother of Jaime René Morales Carazo, a leader in the rightwing contra war against the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) government during the 1980s–and later the country's vice president in the 2007-2012 administration of the FSLN's Daniel Ortega Saavedra. (END, March 12, 2007)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 6.