Honduras: three campesinos killed, more trouble for landowner?

Campesino organizations from the Lower Aguán Valley in northern Honduras marched in Tegucigalpa on June 9 to protest the killings of Aguán campesinos and to demand that the government act on its promise last year to distribute 3,000 hectares of land to campesino families. The Honduras section of the international campesino group VĂ­a Campesina joined in the demonstration, along with the Alliance for Food Sovereignty and Agrarian Reform (SARA) and members of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), the country’s main alliance of social movements. The groups say 39 campesinos have been murdered in the course of a longstanding land dispute in the valley.

In addition to land distribution, the protesters called for the disarming of “security” groups employed by big landowners in the region, the intervention of international human rights organizations in the conflict, and the government’s fulfillment of promises it made on May 22 in Cartagena, Colombia to respect human rights. The campesino groups also made “an urgent call to the national and international community and especially to national and international social movements to stand in solidarity with the Aguán and to demand a halt to the campesino bloodbath and the terror.” (Prensa Latina, June 9; Vos el Soberano, Honduras, June 11 from VĂ­a Campesina)

The march followed the June 5 murder of three campesinos in the Aguán Valley. According to the European organization FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), paramilitaries employed by landowners shot JosĂ© Recinos Aguilar, Joel SantamarĂ­a and Genaro Cuesta as they were driving a few meters from the San Esteban cooperative, of which they were members. The victims belonged to the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA), one of several campesino groups claiming land in the Aguán valley. The paramilitaries then went to the local offices of the government’s National Agrarian Institute (INA) and shot at campesinos who had taken refuge there the year before. Five people were wounded, including the campesina Doris PĂ©rez Vásquez, who was shot in the abdomen and had to be rushed to a hospital in the city of La Ceiba. (Adital, Brazil, June 6, with information from FIAN, FNRP, Comuna Ataroa and Tiempo, San Pedro Sula)

Pressure has been mounting on the landowners to settle the land dispute. An initiative has been introduced in the National Congress to expropriate 14 estates belonging to the main landowners in the valley—Honduran business owner Miguel Facussé Barjum, René Morales Carazo and Reinaldo Canales—and distribute them to the campesinos.

FacussĂ©, who owns seven of the estates, has been campaigning vigorously to improve his image, taking out newspaper ads and bringing unsuccessful defamation suits against such critics as Santa Rosa de Copán archbishop Luis Alfonso Santos and AndrĂ©s PavĂłn, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (Codeh). On June 10, however, FacussĂ© announced that he would sell four of his estates to the government at the government’s asking price, but he said he planned to retain one, the Marañones farm, for employees who were losing their jobs because of the sale, and wanted to keep two others for himself, the Lempira and La ConcepciĂłn farms.

Honduras Culture and Politics, a US-based blog, suggests that FacussĂ© is now willing to compromise because of international campaigns charging that he is responsible for the deaths of as many as 14 campesinos. The allegations have already cost his Grupo Dinant company investment from two major European companies. FacussĂ© “knows he has lost control of the message internationally, and probably nationally as well,” the blog concludes. (Honduras Culture and Politics, June 11; Prensa Latina, June 9; La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, June 10)

Although the courts have dismissed FacussĂ©’s suit against Archbishop Santos, the archbishop made a partial apology on May 30 for identifying FacussĂ© as an Arab rather than a Honduran. The FacussĂ© family is one of a number of families that emigrated from Palestine and settled in Honduras several generations ago. VĂ­a Campesina also gratuitously referred to FacussĂ©’s Middle Eastern origin in its report on the June 9 march in Tegucigalpa; it appears not to have apologized. (Tiempo, May 31; Vos el Soberano, Honduras, June 11, from VĂ­a Campesina)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 12.

See our last posts on Honduras, the Aguán Valley, and Central America.