Court victory arouses hope for an end to land conflict in Bajo Aguán
Several international organisations have welcomed the ruling in favour of the Authentic Peasant Reclamation Movement of Aguán (MARCA), restoring the land they have been claiming for 18 years. This decision also insists that the numerous grave human rights violations committed during the rural conflict in the Bajo Aguán not go unpunished.
Wednesday, 11 July 2012, by HRH Oslo, based on FIAN International information
On 29 June, after the Trial Court of Tegucigalpa decided in favour of the peasants, the public security forces in Honduras confiscated the San Isidrio, La Trinidad, and El Despertar estates, and turned them over to the members of the Authentic Peasant Reclamation Movement of Aguán (MARCA). The court ruling confirms that the acquisition of these three estates, totalling 1,776 hectares, by businessmen Miguel Facussé and René Morales was, indeed, illegal. In turn of what many in Honduras hope signals an end to the land conflict in the Bajo Aguán Valley, President Porfirio Lobo and representatives of the Unified Peasant Movement of the Aguán (MUCA) and the Authentic Peasant Protest Movement of Aguán (MARCA) on Tuesday signed a financing agreement for the purchase of the land located within four farm areas or estates known as La Confianza, La Aurora, La Lempira, and La Concepción. The land is owned by businessman Miguel Facussé. The signing took place at the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa and was witnessed by the director of the National Agrarian Institute (INA) César Ham, who has been at the center of negotiations between private landowners and peasant groups during the past two and half years.
Violence associated with land conflict
The violence stems from several long-standing, unresolved land conflicts. Much of the disputed land was agrarian reform land granted to cooperatives, and this land was not supposed to be sold. But once the Law to Modernize the Agrarian Sector was passed in 1992, corrupt Agrarian Reform Institute officials and large landowners pressured cooperative leaders to sell their land, often without the consent of the membership. A variety of peasant movements, such as MUCA, MARCA and MCA, for some years have been "recovering" this land, taking it over, farming it, and negotiating with the Agrarian Reform Institute and the large landowners to purchase it back. All of these peasant movements who tried to advance the idea of collective bargaining against landowners are facing constant harassment and aggression from the State security forces and the private security forces working for the landowners´ businesses.
Local human rights organisations have documented the murders of 48 campesinos (peasants) associated with the campesino movements in Bajo Aguán since January 2012. One peasant leader disappeared, a number of campesinos have been wounded, and several people have been tortured. There are numerous incidents of threats against campesino activists. In addition, a journalist who had favorably covered the peasant movement, and his partner, were assassinated. These abuses are attributed primarily to private security guards on large plantations, as well as to soldiers and police. Campesinos are not the only ones harmed. According to the Attorney General's office, 12 security guards have also been killed during this time period. There are several other deaths that are still not explained.
International community supports MARCA
"This decision in favour of the members of MARCA represents a positive sign, opening the way for further restitution for the communities of Bajo Aguán", said Souhayr Belhassen, president of FIDH. "Nevertheless, we must not forget that the Bajo Aguán peasants are living with violence every day, and that the numerous murders committed against this community have gone completely unpunished", she added.
A number of organisations, including among others FIDH and FIAN, welcome the decision to restore the lands to the MARCA communities, and also would like to remind the Honduran authorities that they must fulfill their obligation to investigate and sanction those intellectual and material authors of the crimes committed in the Bajo Aguán. "Along with the other international organizations, we would like reiterate our petition for a comprehensive, fair, peaceful, and sustainable solution guaranteeing the right to food and other human rights of the peasant communities", said Flavio Valente, Secretary General of FIAN International.
HRH Oslo, based on FIAN International information