The following was originally circulated by the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America.
Below you will find a background piece on what led the Lobo government to deploy 300 heavily armed police and military in late November 2010 to systematically evict and displace campesino farming communities on Agrarian Reform cooperatives in the Aguán region of northern Honduras in December 2010 and January 2011 on behalf of wealthy Honduran businessmen who have fraudulent claims to these campesino lands. The farmers are engaged in widespread non-violent resistance. The military and police have responded with violent detentions, beatings, and arrests. Following the article, you will find a letter that was sent to the State Department. We encourage you to send similar letters to the State Department as you see fit.
Violence and Death in the Aguán Valley
FIAN International – Food First and Information and Action Network
15 November 2010
In response to the persistent violence in the Aguán Valley and the manipulative intent on the part of many communication media, we must remember important events that clarify the conflict over land tenure in what was known as the Regional Center for Military Training (CREM).
In 1977, Temístocles Ramírez, a United States citizen of Puerto Rican origin, purchased 5,700 hectares along the coast, paying 165 thousand Lempiras in a flagrant violation of the Constitution which prohibits foreigners from owning land on coastlines and borders.
Within the framework of the national security doctrine, in 1983, the United States required the government of Honduras to install the CREM and this required the expropriation of property from Temístocles Ramírez.
In 1987, Temístocles appealed the government of the United States, demanding indemnification for “his” land. On June 29th of that year, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to reduce a $51 million loan to Honduras by $17 million with which the government of Honduras paid Temístocles this multi million dollar sum. These lands were paid with external debt and titled to the State of Honduras.
In 1991, during the government of Callejas, a new Municipalities Law was passed, allowing municipalities to sell all untitled lands, national and collective. The municipality of Trujillo sold the CREM lands to local cattle ranchers for only 23-30 Lempiras per hectare. In other words, what the government had purchased for 17 million dollars, the municipality sold for less than 50 thousand. The sale was illegal because the CREM lands were not collective, nor national, but land titled to the State.
In 1993, the Attorney General formally transferred these lands to INA to be distributed to landless peasants. However, the violent conflict did not end there. Even though the land purchases were illegal, the landowners demanded the State of Honduras to pay improvements and the government ceded, paying 105 million Lempiras.
From August 2008 to September 2009, there have been between 17 and 19 deaths as a result of the conflict between the peasants of the Guadalupe Carney Community (GC) and the landowners. Unfortunately, the conflict does not end there. Several years ago, Miguel Facussé planted 700 acres of African Palm on lands belonging to this community. According to the peasants of Guadalupe Carney, Miguel Facussé took these lands illegally together with other large landholders in the area: Rene Morales and the national member of Congress, Oscar Nájera.
The peasants know that these lands belong to them, and so nine months ago they occupied them, but Miguel Facussé reacted by using approximately 300 private security guards to evict them. As a result, negotiations were initiated between the MCA peasants and Miguel Facussé, who approached the negotiations from the perspective that the land did not belong to the peasants. The discussion, therefore, focused on the payment of improvements, in an attempt by Facussé to take advantage of the resources of the Honduran State. The negotiations moved very slowly and the INA (National Agrarian Institute) did not participate to the extent that it is required to by law, allowing the violence to emerge.
Under these circumstances, at 04:00 today, peasants from Guadelupe Carney occupied the 700 acres of land that Miguel Facussé illegally occupies in the “El Tumbador” sector. Following the occupation, approximately 300 of Miguel Facussé’s private guards attempted to evict them. According to the same source, an exchange of gunshots lasted four hours.
At the time of this statement (approximately 17:30 CST), the following deaths are confirmed: Teodoro Acosta, campesinofrom the “Nueva Vida” community; Ignacio Reyes from “Familia Unida Dos”; Raúl Castillo from “14 de mayo” and Ciriaco Muñoz from “Nueva Esperanza”. There are four wounded; Calidonio Ramírez, Pedro Eleazar Deras, Marvin Jerónimo Méndez Leiva and Abraham Martínez, and two disappeared; José Luis Sauceda and Noé Pérez. The homes and cooperative buildings in the communities of “10 de abril” and “14 de julio” were damaged by shots fied by Miguel Facussé’s security guards.
Suspiciously, the police did not arrive at the scene until 12:30 and seemed to have been expecting more dramatic results. Their intention and the result of their actions was the eviction of the peasants and leaving the lands in question in the possession of Facussé’s guards.
It has again been made clear that the state institutions are at the service of the large landholders of the region and private security guards are acting for the repressive state organs and proceeding to capture, torture, and assassinate those who oppose the powerful, with full authority and complicity of the police.
We urge human rights organizations, governments, and transnational organizations to pressure Porfirio Lobo’s regime to halt the violence that has caused so much damage to the residents of the Aguán Valley.
Adapted from statement in Spanish.
Translated by Friendship Office
Letter to the State Department
Robert W. Boehme
Director of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20220
Dear Mr. Boehme,
We are very troubled by the expansive and totally unwarranted violence in the Aguán against campesino farmers who have for 20 years worked to successfully secure land rights under the Agrarian Reform Institute (INA). These lands, and the campesino farmers to whom they belong, are threatened by wealthy private business people, most notably, Miguel Facussé. Many of us have raised these concerns with the State Department for the last six months, urging that those responsible for the murders of at least seven (7) campesinos this year alone in the Aguán, including those who may have funded such abuses, be arrested.
We urge the State Department to insist on an immediate and indefinite moratorium on any further police or military actions in Honduras aimed at forcing campesino farmers off their land across the
entire Aguán region until long-standing negotiations are concluded, fraudulent titles and intimidation by powerful land owners are investigated, and independent human rights organizations have offered their final assessments. We also urge the arrest of the armed paramilitaries that terrorize and kill campesino farmers with impunity in the Aguán, along with those who employ these abusers.
We believe it is not in the interest of the U.S. government, which is supporting a post-coup government that has failed to meet the most minimal standards of respect for human rights, to stand by as entire communities of farming families are forcibly and violently displaced from land to which they have legitimate claims. Our hope is that the U.S. State Department would be standing in solidarity with these campesinos who have struggled tenaciously for two decades to lift themselves out of poverty rather than with wealthy landowners, private security forces, illegal paramilitaries, and the police and military carrying out violent operations at the behest of powerful, violent economic interests among Honduras’ traditional political elite. An ongoing U.S. alliance with these violent, unjust actors in Honduras is inconsistent with stated U.S. foreign policy goals of promoting democracy, human rights and poverty reduction in our hemisphere. Rather, it undermines them.
Instead of supporting a government that is repressing its own people, the United States should insist that authorities respect the rights of Honduran citizens, civil society organizations and social movements which are massively and non-violently resisting the coup, the illegitimate de facto regime and seeking a Constituent Constitutional Assembly to create a fully inclusive, new Honduran constitution assuring the rights of indigenous, African-descendant, campesinos, LGBT citizens, women and the full expanse of civil society which has traditionally been excluded in the political and economic life of Honduras.
We also want to express our alarm regarding the December 15, 2010 police beating, gassing and detention of campesinos in the community of Zacate Grande.
In closing, we also request that you share our concerns directly with Assistant Secretary Posner. Please let us know what steps you and Assistant Secretary Posner are taking to press the Honduran authorities end the police and military actions to dislodge campesinos from their INA authorized land cooperatives in the Aguán, and what steps you have taken to call upon the Lobo government to arrest the paid security guards and paramilitary assassins, along with those who employ them, for murder and terror in these same communities.
We look forward to your reply, which we kindly ask that you send to Catalina Nieto
firstname.lastname@example.org, who staffs the Witness for Peace office in Washington, DC.
(In the interest of space, signatures are not listed here as there are over three pages of names.)