Violence and Death in the Aguan Valley
by Gilberto Ríos, FIAN (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 manzanas 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, campesino from 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 fired 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.
Macuelizo, November 15th, 2010