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Obama and the Militarization of the “Drug War” in Mexico and Central America May 10, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Costa Rica, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America, Mexico.
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Honduran soldiers exercised at Forward Operating Base Mocoron, one of three military outposts the United States is building in Honduras to help take the fight in Central America’s vicious drug war into remote, ungoverned areas that have been safe havens for narcotics traffickers. (Photo: Tomas Munita for The New York Times)

During his trip last week to Mexico and Costa Rica, President Obama sought to down play the U.S.’s security agenda in the region, emphasizing trade relations, energy cooperation and other more benign themes.  In a May 3rd joint press conference with his Costa Rican counterpart Laura Chinchilla, Obama stated that it was necessary “to recognize that problems like narco-trafficking arise in part when a country is vulnerable because of poverty, because of institutions that are not working for the people, because young people don’t see a brighter future ahead.”  Asked by a journalist about the potential use of U.S. warships to counter drug-trafficking, Obama said “I’m not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking.”

Human rights organizations from North America and Central America have a very different impression of the administration’s regional security policy.  In a letter sent to Obama and the other region’s presidents on April 30th, over 145 civil society organizations [PDF] from the U.S., Mexico and the countries of Central America called out U.S. policies that “promote militarization to address organized crime.”   These policies, the letter states, have only resulted in a “dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves.”  The letter presents a scathing indictment of the U.S.-backed so-called “war on drugs” throughout the region:

Human rights abuses against our families and communities are, in many cases, directly attributable to failed and counterproductive security policies that have militarized our societies in the name of the “war on drugs.”  The deployment of our countries’ armed forces  to combat organized crime and drug-trafficking, and the increasing militarization of police units, endanger already weak civilian institutions and leads to increased human rights violations.

In Mexico, the letter says, “drug-related violence and the militarized response has killed an estimated 80,000 men, women, and children in the past six years. More than 26,000 have been disappeared, and countless numbers have been wounded and traumatized.”  The letter also discusses the situation in Guatemala, where violence is “reaching levels only seen during the internal armed conflict” and “controversial ‘security’ policies have placed the military back onto the streets.  And, in Honduras:

Since the coup d’état that forced the elected president into exile in 2009, the rule of law has disintegrated while violence and impunity have soared. We are witnessing a resurgence of death squad tactics with targeted killings of land rights advocates, journalists, LGBT activists, lawyers, women’s rights advocates, political activists and the Garifuna’s community. Both military and police are allegedly involved in abuses and killings but are almost never brought to justice.

Though Obama claims that he has sought to avoid “militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking”, the opposite trend has been observed throughout his administration.  As the “Just the Facts” database of U.S. military spending in the Western Hemisphere shows, military assistance to Central American countries has significantly increased under Obama, from $51.8 million in 2009, to $76.5 million in 2013 and an anticipated $90 million in 2014.

The U.S. sale of arms and military equipment to the region has also soared.  According to a recent Associated Press investigation by Martha Mendoza , “the U.S. authorized the sale of a record $2.8 billion worth of guns, satellites, radar equipment and tear gas to Western Hemisphere nations in 2011, four times the authorized sales 10 years ago, according to the latest State Department reports.”

The presence of the U.S military in the region, and the U.S. promotion of military tactics in law enforcement, has also increased under Obama.  A New York Times investigative report from May 5, 2012 described how the U.S. military had recently established forward operating bases in the remote Moskitia region of Honduras and was providing support to drug interdiction efforts.  A heavily armed DEA Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) previously deployed in Afghanistan was conducting operations with a U.S.-trained and vetted Honduran Tactical Response Team.  Six days after the article was published, FAST and TRT killed four indigenous Miskitu villagers during an early morning operation.  As we showed in a report published last month jointly with Rights Action, the victims’ families continue to wait for some form of justice and compensation for the killings.

Alexander Main

Alexander Main is Senior Associate for International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

US Special Operations Command Trained Military Unit Accused of Death Squad Killings in Honduras March 1, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Photo: democracyinaction.org

By (about the author)
OpEdNews Op Eds 3/1/2013 at 20:13:41

This article is based entirely on the report “Human Rights Violations Attributed to Military Forces in the Bajo Aguan Valley in Honduras” published on February 20, 2013. To see the full report with citations:


Since January 2010, there has been a constant stream of killings of members of land rights, campesino movements in the Bajo Aguan region of Honduras. At least 88 campesino movement members and supporters have been killed, along with five bystanders apparently mistaken for campesinos. Most recently, on Feb. 16 two campesinos were killed–Santos Jacobo Cartagena was gunned down while waiting for a bus, and Jose Trejo, an outspoken advocate for the investigation of his brother’s Sept. 22, 2012 murder, was shot while driving.

While the 2010 and 2011 State Department human rights reports described deaths of campesinos in the Aguan as the result of “confrontations” between palm oil corporation’s security forces and campesino farmers who claim the land was stolen by the agri-businessmen, only six of the killings have occurred on disputed land during land occupations or evictions. In contrast, 78 were targeted assassinations, 8 of those preceded by abductions, their tortured bodies found later; another 3 victims remain disappeared.  Fifty-three people were shot while driving, riding their bicycles or walking along public roads. Another 13 were assassinated in their homes or while working on farms not in dispute.

All of this points to one explanation: a death squad is operating in the Aguan.  This is not news to anyone who lives there, where it is considered common knowledge and it is widely understood that police and military participate in the killings.  Dozens of acts of violence and intimidation have been carried out by the Honduran military against campesino communities over the same time period and geographical area where the death-squad killings have targeted campesinos, lending greater credibility to the charge.

While masked gunmen have been killing campesinos, the Honduran military’s 15th Battalion special forces unit and units or joint taskforces associated with it, have been receiving training from the U.S. armed forces Special Operations Command South, SOCSOUTH, which is also funding construction on the 15th Battalion’s base in Rio Claro, Trujillo.

Local residents and national press have reported the presence of U.S. Army Rangers in the area since at least 2008, and public records of the U.S. government confirm their presence. In 2008, SOCSOUTH conducted two trainings with 135 soldiers each, all from the 1st Special Forces Battalion. The Honduran press has reported that the 1st Battalion and 15th Battalion, both special-forces units, operate as one command, sharing the installations in the Rio Claro military base for training. SOCSOUTH and the U.S.Southern Command, SOUTHCOM, have also funded improvements and expansion of the Rio Claro base since September 2011.

One disturbing observation that resulted from our investigation is that conditions surrounding many of the killings involved techniques included in U.S. training.  According to Honduran press, U.S. special forces train the Honduran Special Operations Forces of the 1st and 15th Battalion in insertion, parachuting, explosives, long-distance sharpshooting, intelligence, advanced marksmanship, urban operations, close combat, martial arts and offensive driving. Dozens of campesinos have died after high-speed pursuit in vehicles, either after crashing or being shot, in incidents that can only be described as offensive driving.

Campesinos have reported surviving long-distance sharpshooting assassination attempts, and many have been killed from shots fired from a significant distance. One man was found dead from unexplained internal injuries while it was rumored that the unit was being trained in mortal hand-to-hand combat, raising suspicions. At least one man was killed in a stealth raid assisted by a helicopter, in which an armed group wearing black uniforms with masks quickly and surreptitiously entered a farm in the night, assassinated a campesino, and left–an operation known in military terms as “insertion”.

The improvements to the Rio Claro military base began just weeks after Xatruch II, a military–police joint task force, arrived in the Aguan. Honduras sent a Xatruch II unit to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, and at least two of the commanding officers of the Xatruch II deployment in the Aguan participated in Iraq. There is significant evidence that the Xatruch II operation in the Aguan is the same unit that served in Iraq.

From Iraq to Aguan

But Xatruch II is not all that is moving from the Middle East to the Aguan–so is the war on terrorism. The conflict in the Aguan is an 18 year-old land dispute. Campesinos explain that agri-businessmen used violence and fraud to illegally separate them from the palm oil plantations they had labored to create and equip. In 1998 they initiated lawsuits demanding annulment of the title transfers, but ever since they have struggled to maintain legal representation as their lawyers were threatened or bribed into abandoning the cases. On September 22, 2012 they lost the only lawyer who had stuck it out when he was shot to death outside a church. Just three months before, he had won the annulment of 3 of the 28 disputed title transfers.

Honduran military, even the commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Security, have consistently distorted the nature of the conflict, claiming there is a guerrilla group operating in the area, connected to drug traffickers. On Sept. 6, 2012, The Times of Israel ran a story citing only Israeli radio, claiming the Hezbollah had established a training camp in Nicaragua on the border with Honduras, a story that was then repeated in Latin American press. The Times of Israel then reported further on the story citing the Latin American press reports it had generated itself. The dangerous, unsubstantiated and opportunistic accusations of narco-terrorism levied against the campesino movement in the Aguan by the military fit neatly into the U.S. objective of expanding its military reach in the region.

Security forces in the Aguan explain that the mission of Xatruch II is to defend the land of the businessmen from the “criminal’ campesinos. However, broad evidence indicates that some of the businessmen in conflict with the campesinos are involved in drug trafficking in the region. Local residents have reported that the 15th Battalion and the Tocoa police have provided protection to the traffickers. The police define their mission as defending the property of Miguel Facusse, whose principal residence in the region was implicated in drug trafficking,according to a State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks.

The conflict in the Aguan is a longstanding land conflict, and it must be treated as such. The conflict can be resolved by duly addressing the land-rights claims. Militarization, supported by the U.S. government, will not resolve the underlying conflict and it clearly increases, rather than decreases, the bloodshed.

Only the courts can resolve the conflict, but the courts don’t function and have further collapsed since the June 2009 military coup.

There is a solution to the violence in the Aguan–the courts, not the military.

Crossposted at cipamericas.org

Annie Bird, a Central America & Latin America human rights activist. She is co-director for rightsaction.org & a writer for cipamericas.org’s Americas Program.

Message to Washington, DC: Let Honduras Live! December 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights.
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http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=4IRzDKV2NjB/HTzDE58uKdJKPBE2/8+5 Hundreds of Hondurans have been assassinated by Honduran security forces, many of whom are trained, equipped and vetted by the U.S. Tell Washington: No more money for Honduran military and police! Click here to send a message to Congress and the White House.
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=k68QtixAdg+djkGQz4XGgNJKPBE2/8+5 SOA-WHINSEC graduates are once again stealing the lives of innocent Hondurans, this time with the aid of equipment, funds and vetting by the U.S.military. Honduran soldier Josue Sierra, a 2011 graduate of WHINSEC has been charged with killing and covering up the May murder of fifteen year old Ebed Yanes. Further cover up was ordered by Lt. Col. Reynel Funes, also a graduate of the SOA.
Three years after SOA graduates toppled democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, Tegucigalpa has become the murder capital of the world. Honduran police and military have made significant contributions, not to the prevention, but to the perpetration of such murders. Over the past 23 months, the deaths of 149 youth have been linked to Honduran security forces that are trained, vetted and equipped by the US military. U.S. agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency have also been connected to recent murders.
After 94 members of Congress signed a letter calling on the U.S. to stop military aid to Honduras, the Obama administration temporarily halted $50 million of military aid in August. This is a concrete victory because people like you took the time to ask. But the halt is temporary.
Please take one more minute of your time to send a letter to White House, to your Senators and to your Representatives, asking them to stop all training and funding of Honduran security forces, and to ask President Obama to close the School of the Americas by Executive order. We are also working with our partner groups to send an organizational sign-on letter to White House aide Denis McDonough, to educate him about the reality in Honduras.
HONDURAS ON THE HEART: REPORT BACK FROM SOA WATCH VISIT TO 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF COFADEH (Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras)
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=aCbovGPPW0zfKxWkHIqBI9JKPBE2/8+5 Backyards are such convenient places. That’s where I keep my compost pile, hang out my clothes, start plants in old sardine cans and step out in my old sweats to do my morning exercises. I can’t imagine adorning my front yard with a similar display of drying underwear, rusted cans, rotting tomatoes and sagging hips.
Honduras is our back yard, so it seems. It’s where we dump things and do things there that we never would with front-yard friends. We dump tax-evading fast food joints and cheap-labor-seeking maquilas there. We sprew the land with military bases, and DEA agents, offer rest stops to military commanders overthrowing democratically elected presidents. We vet soldiers and give them trucks to hunt down and shoot young teens who sneak out for dates.
Wait, that last part must be made up, right? Actually, no. A few days ago I found myself sitting in the Yanes family living room in Tegucigalpa, sipping coffee, and looking at family photos. Mostly of their teenaged son Ebed. A good kid who rarely ventured out alone from his gated community. But, being fifteen and in love, one night he snuck out on his motorcycle to see his girlfriend.
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=U1ATaly0sG1mPBi5dkId8dJKPBE2/8+5Upon return he encountered a road block where men with ski masks and automatic weapons stood by an imposing truck. Like most teens in this situation, he skirted the scary scene, dashing for home. Truck and soldiers took off after him and within minutes he was dead.
That tale wouldn’t probably have gotten much mileage in a country that holds the world record for murders. One more dead delinquent. Except that his dad, Wilfredo, knew this wasn’t the case, and became a driven man in his pursuit of truth. Risking his own life, he found witnesses who described soldiers shooting from the truck, collected the bullet shells, and secretly photographed the truck and soldiers in the same place his son had come across.
Pressing on, he discovered that the Ford 350 truck was one of dozens provided by the US military and that the bullets had come from guns given to troops that had been vetted by the US for respecting human rights. Specifically, the first bullets shot came from the gun of Honduran soldier Josue Sierra, a recent 2011 graduate of WHINSEC, the new name for the School of the Americas. The cover up was ordered by Lt. Col Reynel Funes, also a graduate of the SOA.
Ebed was just one of hundreds of young people have been killed since the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya. In the past 23 months, 149 of them were killed at the hands of Honduran police themselves. Add to the mix the assassinations of over a hundred who have dared to resist the post-coup government: farmers, lawyers, journalists, LGBT activists, teachers and students The murder of four people returning to their remote village of Ahuas by boat might have been ignored had not villagers seen DEA agents firing.
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=MWxDTLG4LMhSHmg4W/LZQdJKPBE2/8+5 One of those powerful bullets blasted through the hand of another young teen, Wilmer Morgan Lucas Walter. I had lunch with Wilmer and second mom, Mery Agurcia,one of the devoted staff of COFADEH, whose 30th year anniversary drew us to Honduras. When a fellow COFADEH staffer traveled to the village to investigate last May, she not only brought back notebooks of testimony, but Wilmer himself. He needed medical attention to save his hand, only available in the capital.
While we were having lunch with Wilmer, President Obama’s aide Denis McDonough was in town, sharing snacks with President Porfirio Lobo. Although McDonough did make a reference to the problems of human rights in the country, he said in the same breath that the US and Honduras have never had more robust relations.
McDonough did not meet with Wilfredo or Wilmer or any family members of victims of government repression, or more importantly, with victims linked to US complicity. He did, however, recently meet with a group of SOA Watch activists at the White House to hear their concerns about the School of the Americas. According to McDonough, the SOA was not a current day problem.
So, let’s remind McDonough what life looks like in a country where SOA graduates have helped to change the hopeful dreams of a new society for that of murder capital of the world. Remind him of the pain in the living room of the Yanes family, or in Wilmer’s hand. He will probably actually listen. Already the Obama administration is temporarily suspended $50 million in military aid to Honduras, thanks in great part to folks like yourself who pressured your member of congress to stop military funding to Honduras. Over 94 signed on. Now, please help make sure that not one more young life be taken, and ask that the US immediately stop ALL training and funding of Honduran security forces.
Last night I told my kids that this year we should decorate the front yard with Christmas lights. Maybe I’ll change my mind. I think I’ll decorate the backyard, with lights of justice. Join me.


Two human rights lawyers assassinated in Honduras: take action! September 26, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=CTq/v6I8SdHBJU0LgfN9m1OPYOzjeDLW This past Sunday and Monday, two human rights lawyers, Antonio
Trejo and Eduardo Diaz, were brutally murdered in Honduras, bringing to over 60
the number of victims caught in the struggle for life and land in the Bajo Aguan
in Honduras. The debate over the production of food for families versus
bio-fuels for corporations has reached a high note

After the 2009
coup that was led by SOA graduates, massive privatization has become the order
of the day for Honduras, with almost everything, from land to entire cities, on
the docket for privatization.

Lawyer Antonio Trejo had the valor to take
a stand against this. He was defending the right of the MARCA peasant collective
to the restoration of their lands in the Lower Aguan valley. These lands were
seized 18 years earlier by Honduras’ wealthiest man: Miguel Facussé. Facusse’s
Dinant Corporation was using this land to produce African palms, a source of bio
fuel .

Trejo’s efforts led to initial success, with a June court
decision calling for the return the land to the campesinos, However, pressure
from the private corporation led to an overthrow of the court order, as well as
the arrest of Trejo and other campesinos protesting the

Saturday night unknown assailants riddled Trejo’s body and car
with bullets as he left a wedding. On several occasions, Trejo denounced the
threats he had received to the media and had publicly said that if he were
killed, Facusse would be responsible.

Trejo had also taken a stand on
the controversial proposal by the Honduran government, in conjunction with a US
company, MGK Group, to build three privately run cities with their own police,
laws and tax systems. Just hours before his murder, Trejo had participated in a
televised debate in which he accused congressional leaders of using the private
city projects to raise campaign funds.

Only hours after Trejo’s
assassination, another human rights lawyer, Eduardo Diaz Madariaga was killed in
Choluteca, 84 miles (135 kilometers) south of the capital.

Antonio Trejo and Eduardo Diaz lost gave their lives to the struggle for
dignity. If you have at least 3 minutes to spare or a 3 cents in your pocket,
this is what you can do:

3 minutes to spare? Contact
your Member of Congress and demand an end to US military aid to

10 minutes to spare? Learn how Nicaragua found the
courage to withdraw their troops from the SOA last month, while neighboring
Honduras continues to pay the price for actions of SOA graduates, by reading the
from a recent SOA Watch delegation

3 days to spare? Go to
Honduras as an
election observer
. The National Popular Resistance Front formed a political
party, LIBRE, to compete in next years national elections, and primary elections
for LIBRE and Honduras’ traditional parties will be held this November. Four
LIBRE primary candidates have been killed to date and violence against FNRP
activists and members is committed daily

10 days to spare? Join
Witness for Peace and the Friendship Office of the Americas to see the effects
of militarization in Honduras
and then take action at the SOA
Watch vigil
in Georgia.

No time, but some pocket
Help sponsor
SOA Watch’ Human Rights Accompanier
with the PROAH Accompaniment Program of

“Oligarchs beware: the Honduran people of struggle will
continue to place our bet on the construction of a dignified life, until we
achieve a new society and a new country that we will refound with equality,
justice, peace and sovereignty”

– statement by COPIHN, September 25,

Honduras is just days away from approving an extremist law that would put teenagers in prison April 13, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Honduras, Latin America, Women.
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Dear friends,

The Honduran Congress is about to vote on a proposal that would send women to jail if they use the morning-after pill — even for victims of sexual assault. But the President of the Congress can stop this. He’s concerned about his international image and his future in politics, so our massive outcry can shame him and stop this attack on women.

Honduras is just days away from approving an extremist law that would put teenagers in prison for using the morning-after pill, even if they’ve just been raped. But we can stop this law and ensure women have the chance to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Some Congress members agree that this law — which would also jail doctors or anyone who sells the pill — is excessive, but they are bowing to the powerful religious lobby that wrongly claims the morning-after pill constitutes an abortion. Only the head of the Congress, who wants to run for the Presidency and cares about his reputation abroad, can stop this. If we pressure him now we can shelve this reactionary law.

The vote could happen any day — let’s show Honduras that the world won’t stand by as it jails women for preventing pregnancy even after sexual violence. Sign the urgent petition calling on the President of the Honduran Congress to stand up for women’s rights. Avaaz will work with local women’s groups to personally deliver our outcry:
A few countries, including Honduras, have banned the emergency contraceptive pill, which delays ovulation and prevents pregnancy — like ordinary birth control pills. But if this new bill passes, Honduras will be the only state in the world to punish the use or sale of emergency contraception with a jail term. Anyone — teenagers, rape victims, doctors — convicted of selling or using the morning-after pill could end up behind bars, in flagrant contravention of World Health Organisation guidelines.
Latin America already has too many tough laws which restrict women’s reproductive rights. The Honduras Congress first passed this draconian measure in April 2009, but just a month later then-President José Manuel Zelaya bowed to pressure from campaigners and vetoed it. Then Zelaya was removed in a coup, and the new regime has taken a sledgehammer to the country’s judicial processes and forced the bill back to a vote.
Time is short, but we can stop this awful proposal in its tracks. Congress has the final vote on the matter and the government doesn’t want to risk its already fragile global reputation. Let’s tell the President of the Congress not to make Honduras the region’s most repressive country against women. Sign this urgent petition now:
Emergency contraception is vital for women everywhere, but especially where sexual violence against women is rampant, unplanned pregnancy rates are high and access to regular birth control is limited. Let’s stand with the women of Honduras and help them stop this bill.
With hope and determination,
Alex, Laura, Dalia, Alice, Emma, Ricken, Maria Paz, David and the whole Avaaz team
More Information:
Honduras Supreme Court upholds absolute ban on emergency contraception (ReproRights): http://reproductiverights.org/en/press-room/honduras-supreme-court-upholds-absolute-ban-on-emergency-contraception-opens-door-to-crim
Honduras, most sweeping ban on emergency contraception anywhere (RH Reality Check): http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/article/2012/02/14/honduran-supreme-court-upholds-complete-ban-on-emergency-contraception-0
Women’s rights under attack with Honduran coup (LatinoPolitics): http://latinopoliticsblog.com/2009/11/16/women%E2%80%99s-rights-reproductive-freedoms-under-attack-with-honduran-coup/
The legal status of emergency contraception in Latin America (Hevia M.): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22088410
The prohibition of emergency contraception in Honduras is inadmissible (WLW): http://www.womenslinkworldwide.org/wlw/new.php?modo=detalle_prensa&dc=163&lang=en
Emergency Contraception in theAmericas (Pan American Health Organization): http://www.paho.org/english/ad/ge/emergencycontraception.PDF

Carbon Blood Money in Honduras March 10, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Saturday, March 10, 2012 by Foreign Policy in Focus

  by  Rosie Wong

With its muddy roads, humble huts, and constant military patrols, Bajo Aguán, Honduras feels a long way away from the slick polish of the recurring UN climate negotiations in the world’s capital cities. Yet the bloody struggle going on there strikes at the heart of global climate politics, illustrating how market schemes designed to “offset” carbon emissions play out when they encounter the complicated reality on the ground.

Small farmers in this region have increasingly fallen under the thumb of large landholders like palm oil magnate Miguel Facussé, who has been accused by human rights groups of responsibility for the murder of numerous campesinos in Bajo Aguán since the 2009 coup. Yet Facussé’s company has been approved to receive international funds for carbon mitigation under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

The contrast between the promise of “clean development” and this violent reality has made Bajo Aguán the subject of growing international attention — and a lightning rod for criticism of the CDM.

The Coup and Its Aftermath

In June 2009, a military coup in Honduras deposed the government of Manuel Zelaya, stymieing the government’s progressive social reforms and experiments with participatory democracy. “It was not only to expel President Zelaya,” says Juan Almendarez, a prominent Honduran environmental and humanitarian advocate. The coup happened “because the powerful people in Honduras were acting in response to the people’s struggles in Honduras.”

The result has been social decay and political repression. The homicide rate in Honduras has skyrocketed under the Porfirio Lobo regime, registering as the world’s highest in 2010. Human rights groups highlight the ongoing political assassinations of regime opponents. In this small country of 8 million people, 17 journalists have been killed since the coup. LGBTI organizers, indigenous rights activists, unionists, teachers, youth organizers, women’s advocates, and opposition politicians have also received death threats or been killed. Those responsible are rarely punished by the justice system, which instead devotes its energies to prosecuting social and human rights activists. Protests are often met with teargas canisters and live ammunition.

The coup has also proved a setback for campesino activists seeking to halt the encroachment of large landowners on their farms.

The Struggle for Land in Bajo Aguán

Highly unequal land distribution has long been an issue in Honduras, and genuine land reform has been evasive. However, partial agrarian reform in 1961 made the rainforests of Bajo Aguán available for cooperatives of farmers who migrated there from other parts of the country. Clearing the forests to make the land suitable for farming was extremely difficult work, but the farmers’ perseverance turned it into one of the most desirable and fertile agricultural lands in the country.

However, under pressure from international financial institutions, Honduras’s government passed the Law of Agricultural Modernization in 1994, allowing large producers to extend their territories beyond the maximum legal property limits. As a result, large landowners began to buy up the land of small farmers, effectively reversing whatever limited land reform had been achieved. The human costs were immense. According to Juan Chinchilla of the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguan (MUCA), “it forced masses of farmers to migrate to the cities and to the U.S. under terrible conditions.”

An older movement, the MCA (Campesino Movement of Aguan), has organized several dramatic acts of resistance to this dislocation. In May 2000, the collective orchestrated a remarkable mass occupation of a former U.S. military base on a large tract of arable land controlled by agro-industrialists. Coordinating with landless farmers from all over the country, the MCA organized 50 trucks and, early one morning, entered the former base and tore down its fences. This occupation continues today, despite threats and persecution.

In 2008, MUCA occupied one of Miguel Facussé’s palm oil processing plants and subsequently entered into negotiations with then-President Zelaya to have occupied lands legally transferred to small farmers. When the coup occurred and jeopardized these hard-won gains, landless farmers mobilized against it, with MUCA officials travelling to the Nicaraguan border to meet Zelaya on his second attempt to return to Honduras. It was there that MUCA decided to organize a mass land occupation starting on December 9, 2009.

But despite this resistance, aggressive landholders buoyed by the coup have continued their onslaught against the farmers of Bajo Aguán. According to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 42 farmers were assassinated between September 2009 and October 2011 in Honduras. More recent reports have the numbers in the 50s by 2011. In one surprisingly brazen incident in November 2010, after five farmers were killed in El Tumbador, Facussé gave a press statement acknowledging that it was his hired security guards who were responsible.

A community member from the Marañones settlement in Bajo Aguán described an eviction of small farmers from the Guanchía cooperative on 8 January 2010, carried out by a contingent of 500 police and soldiers with teargas and guns: “It was a violent eviction where they had nothing legal to show us; the first greetings they gave us were the weapons. They began to shoot at us, to capture and beat our compañeros. There were captured children, nine of them…compañeras were raped…our homes were destroyed, our food – they took part of it and destroyed the other parts.”

Almost every farmer I interviewed said that it was unsafe to leave their settlements. The countryside is dotted with military checkpoints, and farmers have been killed travelling to or from their settlements. “The way we see it, it has become a crime to be a farmer here,” Heriberto Rodríguez of MUCA explained. There have been at least four military operations in the area since 2010.

Palm Oil and Power

Bajo Aguán’s small farmers are already under siege. But carbon trading with the global North could help to fuel in this aggression even further under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Set up under the current UN climate treaty, the CDM is supposed to encourage “clean” technology in the South and to provide Northern actors with the most efficient (i.e., cheapest) way to reduce global pollution. The basic equation is simple: a project in the global South that ostensibly reduces carbon emissions generates carbon credits. These credits can then be bought and sold by companies in the global North, who can use them to meet government requirements to reduce pollution without actually reducing emissions in their factories or power plants.

Dinant, Facusse´s palm oil company, has set up one of these projects. In the past, the company’s palm oil mill pumped its waste into large open pits, a process that produces large quantities of methane. Dinant’s project involves capturing this greenhouse gas and using it to power the mill. The project’s blueprint claims that it will reduce pollution in two ways: first, by not letting the methane from open pits escape straight into the atmosphere, and second, by preventing pollution from burning the fossil fuels that were formerly used to power the mill.

Dinant’s approval is obviously problematic for a number of reasons.

First, with the expanding palm oil industry contributing to massive deforestation in sensitive tropical regions, it’s ironic that Dinant would be rewarded for environmentally sound practices. Moreover, its CDM approval essentially endorses a business model of producing palm oil for export—instead of food for local consumption—in a country where one in four children suffers chronic malnutrition. As Heriberto Rodríguez argued, “We don’t need palm oil here. We need what we can eat.”

Finally, if Wikileaks cables detailing some of Facussé’s more unsavory dealings—including but not limited to his potential links to drug traffickers (to say nothing of his documented violence against local farmers)—are any indication, Facussé’s misdeeds are no secret to the North. And yet one CDM board member told a journalist that “we are not investigators of crimes” and that there is “not much scope” to reject the project under CDM rules.

As rights groups have brought these problems to light, Northern companies associated with the project have pulled out one by one, including a consultant that contributed to the project application, the German government bank that had agreed to give a loan to Dinant, and the French electricity company that had agreed to buy the credits. This has left Miguel Facussé and Dinant out on a limb. However, the struggle to stop European carbon market money from flowing to Bajo Aguán is not finished: the CDM board has re-approved the project, and the British government has not withdrawn its support, which means that new buyers could still appear.

Not for Sale

At an international human rights conference held in Bajo Aguan in February, MUCA signed an agreement with the Lobo regime that included a financing plan for the farmers to pay the large landholders for occupied land. But critics say that even if the government can be trusted (itself a questionable proposition), the crucial issues of assassinations and impunity were ignored. Facussé´s company is now accusing farmers of new “invasions.”

Needless to say, the situation in Bajo Aguán continues to be incredibly dangerous. Local rights groups have called for a Permanent Human Rights Observatory to witness, document, and discourage the ongoing violence against farmers in the region.

Although growing international condemnation has made it more difficult for Dinant to access carbon market money, the project remains officially sanctioned, and loans from international development banks have not been cancelled. Heriberto Rodríguez, speaking from his roadside hut in an Aguán settlement, had no doubt about the impact of this international support: “Whoever gives the finance to these companies also becomes complicit in all these deaths. If they cut these funds, the landholders will feel somewhat pressured to change their methods.”

MUCA spokesperson Vitalino Alvarez rejects the idea of carbon trading projects altogether. “To get into these deals is like having [our land] mortgaged,” he said. “So to this we say no; this oxygen, we don’t sell it to anybody.”

© 2012 Institute for Policy Studies



Rosie Wong has accompanied the anti-coup movement in Honduras since 2009, visiting Honduras three times and doing organizing work in Sydney, Australia. She compiles monthly updates at http://www.sydney-says-no2honduras-coup.net and can be contacted at latinamerica.emergency@gmail.com. Kylie Benton-Connell, currently based in Brazil, provided research support.

Honduras in Flames February 16, 2012

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Published on Thursday, February 16, 2012 by The Nation

  by  Dana Frank

Tuesday night, February 14, at least 357 prisoners died in a fire at La Granja penitentiary in Comayagua, Honduras, in one of the worst prison fires in the past century. The fire, though, is only the latest deadly outcome of the larger politically-driven firestorm that is Honduras today. The Comayagua fire must be understood in the context of the near-total breakdown of the Honduran state since the June 28, 2009 military coup that overthrew democratically-elected President José Manuel Zelaya.

Relatives of inmates stand outside the prison in Comayagua, Honduras, Wednesday Feb. 15, 2012.  A fire late Tuesday tore through the jail killing 382 inmates. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Honduran authorities were quick to insist that the dead were hardened criminals and blame the fire on a crazy inmate who set his own mattress on fire. But human rights advocates, prison experts, and the opposition media have been quick to underscore that the biggest criminals in this story are the police and the Honduran state.

Daniel Orellana, director of prisons until he was suspended in the fire’s aftermath, was the mastermind managing the Honduras police during and after the military coup, according to the July 2011 report of the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation convened by the coup government of President Porfirio Lobo. Héctor Ivan Mejía, currently the police spokesperson reporting to the public about the Comayagua fire, was previously fired as Chief of Police of the nation’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula, in part because he issued the notorious order to tear gas a peaceful opposition demonstration on September 15, 2010, including a high school marching band.   When the fire broke out just before 11:00 pm, the prisoners were locked into spectacularly overcrowded cells, in some cases sixty to a room. Their guards, ordinary police, in many cases didn’t have keys or refused to use them and fled, abandoning the screaming prisoners. Rubén García, a survivor, has testified that guards shot at the prisoners before fleeing. Outside, police held back firefighters for thirty minutes before allowing them to enter.

Although some of the inmates were, indeed, gang members and drug traffickers, as the media has reported, the Comayagua penitentiary is a second-tier prison, housing ordinary criminals from the area; the most dangerous are housed in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Many of them had never been convicted and were awaiting court dates that would never arrive, in a country widely acknowledged to have no functioning judicial system.

When the fire broke out, their family members rushed to the prison, only to be met by bullets and tear gas. All the following day the Jesuits’ opposition radio station, Radio Progreso, read out the names of the dead, and the incantation of their classic Honduran names underscored the magnitude of the blow to the Honduran people.

This is the country’s third major prison fire in recent years. In 2003, police deliberately set a fire killing 69 gang members in El Porvenir. In 2004, 104 inmates died in San Pedro Sula, unable to escape. In both cases the government called for dramatic reform; yet conditions worsened.

Over 300 people have been killed by state security forces since President Lobo came to power in a November 2009 election boycotted by most of the opposition and almost all international observers. At least forty-three campesino activists have been killed by police, members of the military, and private security guards.

This past fall the country was further rocked by a massive scandal when authorities revealed that on October 22 police officers had allegedly killed the son of the university rector, Julietta Castellanos, and a friend of his, and then the culprits were allowed to go free. Throughout the fall former government officials and others came forward to denounce widespread involvement of the police at in drug trafficking and assassinations, at the highest levels. The most prominent of the critics, former Congressman and Police Commissioner Alfredo Landaverde, was himself assassinated on December 6.

Who, then, is to blame for the Comayagua maelstrom? Former police commissioner María Luisa Borjas, herself a target of ongoing death threats because she has criticized police corruption, charged the next morning that the fire was a “criminal act” by the Honduran government. Attorney Joaquin Mejía called it the “institutionalized violence of the state.”

They know that the Lobo administration is still riddled from top to bottom with coup perpetrators, drug traffickers, and those responsible for the repression of the opposition. The danger, now, is that the Honduran police and military will take advantage of the prison fire to further justify a rapidly increasing militarization of Honduran society, as Oscar Estrada, who has studied the Honduran prison system, warns. Indeed, the government already passed a controversial law in November 2011 allowing the military to take over ordinary police functions.

This militarization is being fueled by the US State Department, which continues to throw its financial and diplomatic support behind the corrupt and illegitimate Lobo regime. Obama in his 2013 budget proposed to double the funding for Honduras, despite growing Congressional pressure to suspend all police and military aid to Honduras. US military funding has increased every year since the coup, and the United States is currently pouring $50 million into expanding its strategically important Soto Cano Air Force Base in Honduras, using the fight against drug trafficking as a pretext to expand both its military presence and its direct control of the Honduran police.

The Honduran human rights community and opposition are clear, though: they want the United States to cut the aid—”stop feeding the beast,” as the university rector has famously asked—and they want to clean up the state security forces themselves. They do not want the United States, whether itself or through its puppets, to take over their country further through an alleged cleanup operation in service to the very coup regime into which it continues to pour millions of dollars.

© 2012 The Nation



Dana Frank

Dana Frank is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of “Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America,” which focuses on Honduras, and Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism. She is currently writing a book about the AFL-CIO’s Cold War intervention in the Honduran labor movement.

Fierce feminists of Honduras February 4, 2012

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by Veronica Arreola, delegate & blogger, http://nobelwomensinitiative.org/2012/01/fierce-feminists-of-honduras-veronica-arreola/?ref=17516

January 30, 2012

We arrived in Honduras on Honduran Women’s Day. The history of Honduran Women’s Day set the stage for what were to be three intense days.

After many years of struggle, in 1954, the Honduran Congress passed women’s suffrage. The last step was for it to be signed by the President. Later that year, there was a coup d’etat. But the next leader decided to sign into law women’s right to vote, exactly one year after it was passed. Thus Honduran women mark this occasion every year on January 25th. Despite the regret that women’s suffrage is linked to a coup, women still take to the streets to celebrate.

Our visit came two years after yet another coup. The previous president was seen as getting too cozy with leftist ideas, including Venezulan President Chavez’ Alba Project. The coup not only installed a oligarchical president, but ended twenty years of gains for women.

Our hosts made it clear that the coup is ongoing and that many do not recognize the current administration as legitimate. Hondurans also believe that the Pentagon had a hand in the coup. The USA has one military base with plans to expand in a country the size of Virginia.

The streets of Honduras are small and traffic is frantic. We survived the drive and landed at the Plaza la Merced where the celebration was in full force. What stands out to me about Honduras is how fierce their feminists are.

The police are so corrupt that the Honduran government has sent the military out into the streets. The impunity that both operate under was what we heard from the women. One woman came to a press conference after being beaten earlier that day. We heard stories that range from assaults, rape and assassinations, all perpetrated by the local police. But we also heard from women who were targeted because they were speaking out against hydroelectric dams which were robbing their communities of clean water.

Despite all the violence the women of Honduras live and work under, their spirits were high. They spoke with such courage, even those who we were asked to not take photos of or use their names.

But the main theme I came away from Honduras is that the women want to be heard. They want to be at the table when the local government officials decide to make deals with multinational companies  to ensure the people get a fair price for their land or to voice their strong opposition to the project even starting. Their voices are ignored in every sense. The authorities do not listen when someone assaults them, whether it is their husband or their father — why would they do anything about police brutality? But the women carry on.

The plaza was filled with women and girls chanting that their bodies are not a battleground. In between speeches was beautiful music by Honduran singer Karla Lara.  And of course dancing — because Emma Goldman was right.

I had hoped to write everyday on this trip. But that plan was tripped up in Honduras. The poverty just outside our hotel was overwhelming. I needed time to take it all in and digest before writing. We were in the capitol and the infrastructure was simply missing. I’m working on a PhD in public administration and I learned so much about administration here. I was in a meeting at the US Embassy with our ambassador. As we talked about the violence the women lived with, she spoke only of economic projects to help women earn their own money through “tortillas, bakeries and beauty shops”.  We cringed. She touted how the USA is training the police on how to investigate crimes. But when we met with the Attorney General, he blamed budget cuts for the lack of investigating crime. The two women in his office who work on domestic violence issues were passionate in defending what they have been able to do with their limited power.

How do the women of Honduras operate within this broken structure? One thing is clear, they rely on each other. And they rely on us to listen and do what we can. Does that mean supporting efforts to cut off US taxpayer support? Will that help or make things worse? Even our attempts to support them play out in a broken system. As a feminist and a public administration student, my heart left Honduras battered, but determined to work on this problem. If they can find a way to dance, I can find a way to support them. We all can.

Attorneys Urge Court to Hear Lawsuit Against Honduran Coup Leader November 7, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Center for Constitutional Rights   
Thursday, 03 November 2011 16:26
Total Impunity in Honduras Underscores Need for U.S. Court to Hear His Case

November 3, 2011, Houston, TX and New York, NY – Last night, in a human rights case against Honduran coup leader Roberto Micheletti Baín, attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed papers emphasizing that the case is one of the few opportunities for accountability for the wave human rights abuses committed during and in the aftermath of the coup.  Micheletti is the former head of the de facto government immediately following the June 28, 2009 military coup that led to systemic attacks on and extrajudicial killings of members of the opposition movement and journalists that continue today. The Center for Constitutional Rights filed the suit on behalf of David Murillo and Silvia Mencías, seeking justice for their son, 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo, who was shot and killed by Honduran military forces during a peaceful demonstration against the coup.   

In last night’s filing, CCR provided extensive documentation illustrating the culture of impunity in Honduras that blocks justice for the violations and that has permitted the attacks to continue under the current government of Porfirio Lobo.  An expert report submitted by a Human Rights Watch researcher emphasized that no one has been held criminally liable for the scores of politically motivated killings and other human rights violations that took place under Micheletti and that little to no progress has been made in investigating the violence that has taken place under Lobo since he assumed the role of President in January 2010 after a post-coup election that was widely criticized as illegitimate.  

In a statement included in Micheletti’s motion to dismiss the case, the office of the Prosecutor of Honduras asserts that Honduras does not hold Micheletti responsible for Murillo’s death, despite the lack of a full, credible investigation.  Yet, even the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR), the independence and impartiality of which has been questioned by experts and advocates, found that Micheletti bore responsibility for the killing of Isis Obed Murillo and others.  In particular, the CVR found that Micheletti wielded command responsibility and implemented policies and practices that were the driving force behind the excessive use of force by the military and resulting human rights violations. Furthermore, CCR attorneys say the prosecutor’s statement strengthens the Murillo’s claims that the case must be tried in the U.S., because justice is not possible in Honduras given the absolute impunity there for the coup and post-coup abuses.  

“Isis was the first victim in what became a systematic and widespread attack on dissent that continues today,” said Center for Constitutional Rights staff attorney Pamela Spees.  “The Honduran government’s explicit refusal to hold Micheletti accountable for Murillo’s death – effectively clearing the coup leader’s name without any genuine investigation – highlights the importance of this lawsuit.  It is one of very few avenues of accountability left.”   

Subsequent to Isis’ killing, the plaintiff and his family were subjected to surveillance and harassment by police and other authorities. This harassment took place in the context of what lawyers describe as intense repression and political persecution that began under Michiletti’s regime that targeted the National Front of Popular Resistance, which formed in opposition to the coup, as well as journalists and other groups standing in opposition. 

The filings also make public for the first time a September 11, 2009 U.S. Embassy letter included in an attachment to Micheletti’s motion to dismiss the case that states his visa was revoked due to “the continued resistance of the de facto government to accept the San Jose Agreement and the continuous failure to restore the democratic and constitutional government of Honduras.”  Yet the U.S. has since successfully lobbied the Organization of American States to recognize the new government and is reportedly considering reinstating visas for Micheletti and other coup leaders despite any accountability for their illegal actions and the mass repression they presided over. The U.S. also provides funding to the Honduran military and police, who have been implicated in numerous grave human rights abuses, including assassinations, the burning down and bulldozing of nearly the entire town of Rigores, firing live ammunition and other brutal attacks on peaceful protests, and disappearances.

The case was brought under the Alien Tort Statute and is before the Houston Division of Southern District of Texas.  To view the motions and for more information on the lawsuit, visit: http://ccrjustice.org/honduras-coup

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org and follow @theCCR.

Honduras: Wealthy Landowners Attempt to Quash Farming Collectives September 16, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Friday 16 September 2011
by: Andrew Kennis, Truthout | News Analysis


The Bajo Aguán region of Honduras is a rich, fertile valley that comprises land that is worth nothing less than millions upon millions of dollars. It was not even two months ago that Secundino Ruiz, 44, proudly boasted to Truthout: “this valley is numero uno for agriculture in Central America; there’s corn here, beans, rice, fantastic African palms and everything that a human being would need.”

Hospitable and friendly, Ruiz extended a personal invitation to Truthout: “I’m going to propose you something, I would like for your colegas and you to all come to Bajo Aguán to see for yourselves just how beautiful it is here.”

Several masked men prevented Ruiz’s offer from ever being realized, as they shot him to death on August 20, and also seriously injured Eliseo Pavon, who suffered head wounds. Ruiz’s killers approached the taxi that he and Pavon occupied shortly after they had exited a bank with $10,260 of organizational funds in their possession.

The government and authorities have painted the event as nothing more than a robbery, but local farmers, researchers and activists do not agree with that perspective. Given Ruiz’s position as the vice president of the Authentic Peasant Protest Movement of Aguán (MARCA) and Pavon’s role as its treasurer, they argue that the killing was just one of many politically motivated killings that have been occurring on a regular basis in the region throughout the year.

Marcelino Lopez, a fellow MARCA activist and friend of Ruiz’s, described the loss: “He was a very accessible and dedicated activist filled with solidarity, who was a fantastic representative of the movement, who is going to be a tremendous loss to the movement.”

While 2011 has been a year filled with killings of activist farmers in the conflict-ridden region, August was an exceptionally violent month during what has been an exceptionally violent year.

Just one day following Ruiz’s murder, Pedro Salgado of the Unified Movement of Campesinos of Aguán (MUCA) and his wife were both shot and killed in their own home. Teenagers have been among the August victims as well: 17-year-old Javier Melgar was killed in the Rigores community on August 15, while 15- year-old Roldin Marel Villeda and 18-year-old Sergio Magdiel Amaya were slain just three days later in the municipality of Trujillo. Marel’s and Magdiel’s deaths occurred in the same incident that brought an end to the life of Victor Manuel Mata Oliva, aged 40. All were part of the Campesino Corporation of San Esteban, one of the two dozen cooperatives that form the base of MUCA. Examples of more teenager victimization included 17-year-old Lenikin Lemos Martinez and 18-year-old Denis Israel Castro, who were beaten by police, arrested and charged with murder (which residents claim were trumped-up charges). The beating occurred in the community Guadalupe Carney, which is home to the Campesino Movement of the Aguán and located near the eviction-riddled Rigores community (earlier this past summer, police evicted Rigores farmers by burning down well over 100 homes, as reported by Honduras-based journalist, Jesse Freeston and confirmed by international human rights observers).

Why is this violence occurring? What is the root of the conflict? Is the depiction of the situation in Aguán given by the Honduran government – only recently recognized internationally by the Organization of American States – an accurate reflection of what is going on? Bajo Aguán campesinos, as well as researchers and activists who have been visiting the region for decades worth of collective time, provided Truthout first-hand testimony in an effort to shed light on an otherwise largely overlooked, underreported and ongoing human and land rights catastrophe.

Plantation-Like State of Affairs Long Existent in Bajo Aguán

Annie Bird has been visiting Honduras for the last dozen years and is the co-director of Rights Action, a nonprofit and non-governmental organization, which funds community efforts in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador. Bird explained to Truthout that the campesinos first started organizing farming collectives and cooperatives back in the 1960s and ’70s. Those same groupings form the bedrock of most of the organized collectives in the region today.

By the 1990s, however, a temporary change to a previous law preventing land purchases of over 300 hectares devastated the farming cooperatives of the region. Among those that pounced on the opportunity to take advantage of the law was one of the wealthiest businessmen of Honduras, Miguel Farcusse, owner of Exportadores del Atlantico (Atlantic Exporters).

The 1990s land grab was shrouded in corruption and violence, according to Bird: “literally through kidnappings, at gunpoint and through corrupt methods and practices, much of the land was ‘sold’ to wealthy individuals.”

Those wealthy individuals were at the heart of an initiative by former President Zelaya. His administration had forged ahead with a decree announced on June 12, 2009, which contained the intention to return much of land to the campesino groups via a commission formed to do so. The process of investigating land titles to determine authenticity and validity had just begun when the coup which overthrew Zelaya occurred, completely interrupting the process.

As a result, the plantation-like land distribution and labor arrangements continued. The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief found that some one-third of the most desirable agricultural lands in Honduras are owned by just 1 percent of its populace.

MUCA first started issuing demands for a return to its land and eventually resorted to occupying lands (from December 2009 to February 2010).

Many of the landowners hired armed security guards, with Farcusse being the most prominent among them. The impunity enjoyed by the armed guards is what is chiefly responsible for the continuing violence in the region, Bird has argued, as no less than four dozen farmers have been killed by the guards since the latter’s training first began in January 2010.

While the government has accused the farmer collectives of using foreign firepower, there is little evidence to support such allegations – which have been roundly denied by the groups themselves. Further, some reports have indicated that it was Farcusse himself who had resorted to hiring 150 Colombian paramilitaries as the basis for his private army.

“We can assume that the recent violence is a means of terrorizing the farmers. After all, the people who have died are important farmer activists and not just random people; clearly, they have been targeted,” explained Gilberto Ríos, the director of the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN) Honduras, an organization that has been following the situation closely.

Negotiations Continue to Flounder, Related Frustrations Lead to Increased Violence

The violence in the region has been a continuing source of embarrassment and concern to state authorities, who finally managed to broker a deal in April 2010. In the agreement, some 11,000 hectares of land would have been returned and distributed to the MUCA and MARCA farming collectives. Further, the arrangement included provisions for additional social services, such as additional education and health care facilities, as FIAN’s Claudia Pinera pointed out to Truthout.

The agreement’s implementation, however, was marred by violence, evictions, arrests and a general lack of follow-through. When Farcusse and other wealthy landowners got in on the act and negotiated their own arrangement with select MUCA representatives, the resulting June 2011 agreement had reduced the land to be distributed down to 4,000 hectares, not even half the total included in the April accords.

The farming representatives who negotiated the more recent agreement, however, were limited to farmers hailing from the northern bank. According to Bird, Farcusse and his landowner colleagues took on a divide-and-conquer strategy: “Since most of the leadership is comprised by northern bank representatives, the perception is that the landowners have been deliberately dividing the movement by favoring them in negotiations.”

Of the 28 most important farming collectives in the region, some 24 belong to MUCA, with about four associated with MARCA. Of those two dozen MUCA collectives, around two-thirds belong to the southern bank region of Aguán. None of their representatives, however, were present during the talks which led up to the June accord.

At the end of July, the southern bank representatives of MUCA re-emphasized its opposition to these arrangements.

Marcelino Lopez of MARCA revealed to Truthout that some breakaway farming collectives were retaking land above and beyond the June agreements, out of frustration from their exclusion and in opposition to the trajectory of the talks: “there are some unaffiliated farmers who are starting to recover lands that are outside of the scope of the agreements, as they are completely opposed to the way matters have developed.”

Lopez speculated that these breakaway groupings and their respective attempts to recover and reclaim land may have provoked the additional violence from the landowners’ security guards in August.

Nevertheless, Lopez expressed hope about forthcoming unity: “There is a little division in the MUCA, because of misunderstandings, but there are some indications that there is growing unity between the two wings [the northern and southern banks] and talks between them are ongoing.”

In the meantime, the armed guards employed by Farcusse and other landowners, continue to operate at will, a situation which has only worsened with the passage of time.

“There have been paramilitaries and death squads operating since January 2010 and the army started moving in around March 2011,” remarked Bird.

Organization of American States Recognition Pointed to as Exacerbating Factor, as Campesinos Continue to be Killed in September

Back in June, the lead Amnesty International researcher on Honduras, Esther Major, expressed some hope and cautious optimism to Truthout about the Organization of American States’ (OAS) decision – long lobbied for and supported by the US – to finally officially recognize Honduras: “We were hoping that Honduras would have made more progress before its admittance, but hope that they seize this opportunity to improve matters and likewise, that the OAS tracks matters so that this can be accomplished.”

Gerrardo Torres, who is the international representative of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), offered a contradicting prediction to Truthout: “The Honduran regime has gained a legitimacy that it does not deserve and from our perspective, this will likely raise – not decrease – the level of violence present both in Aguán and beyond.”

As the month of September begins after a bloody August, the prediction by Torres is largely being borne out, as yet another killing was announced by MUCA and relayed by FIAN on Friday, September 2: “Olvin David González Godoy, a young 24-year man – married and with an eight-month-old baby girl – was assassinated today in the early morning hours. He was a member of the July 21st Cooperative, affiliated with MUCA … the organizers of the cooperative don’t have any doubt that his death was related to the agrarian conflict that continues without a solution.”

The cooperative also expressed its opposition to a continually escalating military and police presence in the region, as 600 more soldiers and 400 more police were dispatched to Aguán in the wake of August’s violence.

Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University who specializes in research on Honduras, and has regularly visited the country since 1997, criticized the OAS and US policy on Honduras, linking the stances taken to the continuing abuses:

The State Department’s lobbying efforts to bring Honduras back into the fold and recognized in the international community were successful. But the Cartagena Accords, which re-inserted Honduras into the global community as a legitimate state, means that there’s less pressure from international institutions such as the OAS. The implicit and explicit agreement was that the State would be recognizing human rights. But any of us who was following this with a critical eye, didn’t believe a word of it. Now, we’re seeing the results of that.

Elaborating on US support for the regime and non-action on internal abuses, Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy told Truthout that the March 2010 restoration of military aid by the US to Honduras prompted “widespread criticism.” Alexander Main of the Center for Economic Policy and Research echoed such sentiments, pointing out that “full throttle support for the regime” dated back all the way to November 2009, with the decision to support the election which elected the Lobos regime, an election that was not recognized by most of Latin America.

Will impunity for hired “security” agents of wealthy landowners against the long-running struggle of Aguán’s farming collectives continue to reign? Whatever the outcome, Aguán will certainly continue to be a central part of crafting the future of a country still reeling from the effects of the July 2009 coup and the subsequent coup-supported Lobos regime. For the time being and as Torres told Truthout, “the police and the military continue to terrorize the population with impunity.”