Honduras: new violence in Aguán land dispute

A private guard shot Honduran campesino Miguel Alonso Oliva dead on April 1 when a group of campesinos attempted to occupy an African palm farm in the northern Honduran department of Colón, according to the German-based organization FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN). The victim was a member of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), a group based in the Aguán River Valley that has fought since 2001 for some 20,000 hectares of land it claims were bought illegally by a group of influential landowners, Miguel Facussé, Reinaldo Canales and René Morales. Morales holds the title to the farm where the April 1 killing took place.

FIAN reports that this was the third killing of MUCA members in less than a month. José Antonio Cardoza and José Carías, directors of the Brisas de COHDEFOR cooperative in Bonito Oriental, were murdered on March 17, according to FIAN. (Prensa Latina, April 2, 4; Vos el Soberano, Honduras, April 4)

On April 2 MUCA charged that the military, police and paramilitaries were planning to remove thousands of campesinos “in a violent and bloody manner” from the land they are living on in the Aguán region, and that this operation might come as early as April 6. The security forces to be used were trained in the Fourth Infantry Battalion facilities in La Ceiba, Atlántida department, MUCA said, under the command of retired captain Fernando “Billy” Joya Amendola. There was also training in a number of other locations, according to MUCA, including a factory belonging to Exportadora del Atlántico, a subsidiary of the Facussé family’s food company, Grupo Dinant.

Billy Joya was a notorious leader of the Battalion 316 death squad in the 1980s. A Honduran court ordered him and nine others arrested in October 1995 in connection with the 1982 abduction and torture of six students; at the time he was living in Spain. Apparently Joya has been operating freely in Honduras at least since the military carried out a coup in June 2009. (Prensa Latina, April 4; Vos el Soberano, Honduras, April 3)

Conservative Honduran media have been depicting MUCA as a violent and intransigent armed group receiving help from Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans. The Tegucigalpa daily El Heraldo reported that the campesinos were armed during the April 1 incident at the Morales farm and that two security guards were killed, although the paper gave no further information about the guards. According to El Heraldo, the government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa was trying to resolve the conflict by offering to buy 3,000 hectares where Miguel Facussé now grows African palms; presumably the land would be distributed to the campesinos. El Heraldo said MUCA hadn’t responded as of April 2.

The paper also reported that “thousands of Hondurans employed by the Dinant company took to the streets to demand that private property be respected, along with national investment and the right to have a job. At the head of the peaceful demonstration was business leader Miguel Facussé himself; it ended in the Presidential House” in Tegucigalpa. The article didn’t give the date of the demonstration. (EH, April 2; Honduras Culture and Politics blog, March 4)

Founded by Miguel Facussé Barjum in 1960, Grupo Dinant produces snacks, other food products and cooking oil (including the Central American brand of Mazola). In June 2009 the Inter-American Corporation of Investments (CII) approved a $7 million loan for Dinant, in part to help finance increased cultivation of palm trees. At that time the company had started working on biodiesel production based on oil from palm trees, jatropha, and tempate. (CentralAmericaData.com, June 16, 2009; ICC, Jan. 16, 2009)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 4.

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