Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Central America: Taking a stand over land in Honduras

In post-coup Honduras, campesinos are having to fight biofuel barons for their land, reports Mike Gatehouse of the Latin America Bureau

August 7, 2012
5 min read

Peasant families in the small Central American country of Honduras are waging a courageous and unequal struggle for land. Very little has been reported in the international media, but since 13 April hundreds of poor campesino families have been occupying 15,000 hectares of land in eight of the country’s departments. Much of this land, they say, either belongs to the state or is uncultivated and should therefore be distributed under the land reform law. They want it to grow food crops for their own families and local markets. The situation is extremely tense.

In recent months there has been an escalation in violence between campesinos on the one hand and army, police and militias employed by rich landowners on the other. In just one area, Bajo Aguán, according to the Honduran human rights organisation COFADEH, at least 43 peasants and land rights campaigners have been killed in the past two and a half years. This is an area where landless peasants were given official incentives to settle on vacant lands in the 1960s. However, titles were never regularised and in the past two decades large landowners have been taking over swathes of land to plant sugar cane and African palm.

On 28 March, just before the occupations began, four peasants were killed and eight wounded in an ambush in Trujillo, Bajo Aguán. Their attackers were dressed as peasants but carrying automatic weapons. Confused reports from press and government sources claimed that the attackers were either the peasants themselves or drug traffickers. However, locals suspect them of being militia hired by landowners, one of whom, Miguel Facussé, heads Dinant, a company specialising in producing and marketing palm oil, used to make biofuel. According to US analyst Lauren Carasik, Dinant has received loans from the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to support the production of palm-derived biofuels.

Facussé is a member of one of Honduras’s most powerful oligarchic families, and was one of the leading supporters of the June 2009 coup that toppled President Manuel Zelaya. He was also identified as a probable drug-trafficker in several US embassy cables from 2004 released by Wikileaks.

Honduran peasants are demanding action by the government’s National Agricultural Institute (INA) to regularise land titles under the terms of the land reform law, which has been steadily eroded in the past 50 years, notably by the ‘agricultural modernisation law’ of 1992. According to the peasants, this was a charter for large landowners to assume formal title to lands they had been accumulating for decades by illegal purchase or simple seizure.

For a brief period in the 1990s it seemed that the power of the landowners might be challenged when President José Manuel Zelaya shifted to the left in the middle of his administration and promised new laws, proper implementation of the existing land reform and regularisation of land titles. However, these hopes were dashed when Zelaya was ousted in June 2009 in a military coup that was condemned throughout Latin America and by the OAS, the UN and the EU.

Only the US dragged its feet, claiming ‘further study’ of the situation was required, and then acted swiftly to recognise the new government of Porfirio Lobo, largely made up of those who had staged the coup. This has been one of several factors (along with US unilateralism on drug policy, the exclusion of Cuba and trade) impelling Latin American countries to strike a more independent line, establish their own regional organisations excluding the US and sideline the discredited OAS.

Honduras is the third poorest country in the Americas (after Haiti and Nicaragua) with a GDP per capita of £2,700 (Britain’s is £22,400). The 2009 Honduran coup and the installation in 2010 of the right-wing government of Porfirio Lobo (himself the scion of a rich landowning family from Olancho) gave the green light to landowners to resume seizures, and to international financial organisations to fund them, partly in the name of promoting green energy.

The response to the latest land occupations has been swift, both from government forces and from militias employed by the landowners. Rafael Alegría of Via Campesina, one of the organisations co-ordinating the action, told the Latin America Bureau that 126 peasants have already been tried for various offences. One, Neftali Zúñiga, was beaten by guards belonging to the sugar companies that claim the land. In San Manuel the occupying peasants have twice been evicted forcibly – but each time they returned to the land.

‘They are being threatened and prosecuted by the sugar companies and the press barons, because it is the landowning bourgeoisie in the north of the country who own the land, the banks, the press, and control government ministries and the police,’ says Alegría. ‘They’re all in a conspiracy together against the peasants.’

The Latin America Bureau website (www.lab.org.uk) is covering the Honduran land occupations in detail, with interviews with some of the peasant organisations directly involved

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power


5