Honduran Campesinos under the Gun: Part 1

Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa: I will not allow armed groups of any kind in Honduras.

Jesse Freeston: With that, the president of Honduras, Pepe Lobo, moved these 2,000 soldiers into the region of Bajo Aguán, a biofuel farming zone in northern Honduras, where 3,500 campesinos, organized as the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán, or MUCA, have occupied a series of African Palm plantations in a demand for land reform.  President Lobo, who remains unrecognized by most South American governments and large sectors inside Honduras, made those comments and ensuing military deployment at the same times as he was reentering negotiations with the campesino group.  The negotiations ended with a tentative agreement, for the government to buy 11,000 hectors of land from three businessmen who control the area and mortgage it to the campesinos at low interests.  When I visited the plantations in mid-December, the movement was just in the beginning stages of the occupation.  Following this week’s negotiations, I spoke to one of MUCA’s leaders.  He asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

Voice of MUCA Leader, Tocoa, Colón, Honduras: It’s not what we wanted.  But we were negotiating with an M-60 to our head.  They’ve put checkpoints every two kilometers in our villages.  They’ve got the people in the plantations surrounded on all sides.  How are we supposed to negotiate like this?

Jesse Freeston: In the months leading up to the negotiations, Honduras’s mainstream media, all owned by supporters of the coup, routinely speculated that the landless farmers are actually foreign-financed guerrillas.

Honduras MSM: We cannot allow the presence of irregular forces, paramilitary groups supported by foreigners with Ecuadoran accents, some Nicaraguans, and we’re told, some Venezuelans.  Honduras can’t allow this.  Neither the Armed Forces, nor the Secretary of Security, nor the President.

Jesse Freeston: The country’s largest newspaper chain even launched a dedicated Web site titled “Terror in the Aguán Valley.” . . .   None of these reports ever provided evidence of their claims.

Campesino: We are peaceful people.  We are only reclaiming our rights and we’re doing so with empty hands because we have no weapons.  Our weapons is dignity we carry in our hearts.

Campesina: The land belongs to us, the campesinos.  I am not ashamed of being a campesina, not today, never.

Campesino: I ask the civilian and military forces in our country not to provoke a human catastrophe.

Jesse Freeston: But the president himself helped to feed the misinformation campaign. . . .  Since I left in December, six members of MUCA have been murdered.  The campesinos blame the killings on hired death squads.

Voice of MUCA Leader, Tocoa, Colón, Honduras: Neither the ombudsperson, nor the public prosecutor, nor the police have ever said they’ll look at the cases.  We’ve demanded that they come pick up the bodies to do forensics, but we’ve never been listen to.

Jesse Freeston: One local journalist who broke with the mainstream and covered the situation as a land conflict, as opposed to a national security threat, was Nahún Palacios.  He was shot dead on March 15. . . .

Voice of MUCA Leader, Tocoa, Colón, Honduras: We are demanding that the soldiers leave now.  They’re acting the same as during the coup.  So, they said “no.”  The soldiers stay until the agreement is signed.

Rosemary Joyce, Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley: The international press, in English in particular, hasn’t covered it.  It just is invisible.   It’s only gotten a little bit of hearing in the English language press following an AP report written by a stringer in Tegucigalpa that was retailing the local sources of the government’s claim that it’s moving ahead with an anti-crime campaign in which the military is being enlisted in support of interdiction of drug violence.

Jesse Freeston: That report was reprinted in dozens of English-language outlets [including the Guardian and the Huffington Post].  For many of those publications, it was the first report on Honduras in weeks.  With the agreement ratified, the military is showing no sign of leaving the region.

This video was released by The Real News on 17 April 2010.  The text above is an edited partial transcript of the video.

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