Rosie’s report from Honduras, (Tegucigalpa/Bajo Aguan) on 12 Dec 10
First impressions on my return to coup inflicted Honduras
When I first arrived back in Honduras, I was relieved to see anti-coup messages from people posted still all over the walls. Accidentally being honest in an initially friendly conversation with someone (who says her name is Dina) who turns out to be pro-coup in a cafe, I learned what pro-coup people are most sensitive about at the moment..
So, when I mentioned i’m part of a group working against the coup, she said what coup? ‘it was a constitutional succession’… I was surprised she would say that, it’s an argument that has long been proven to be total rubbish, even the procoup US Ambassador has been leaked by Wikileaks to admit it is a poor argument with no substance (president removed illegally forcefully and violently from country = coup), and she is still using it.
Her attitude really showed when she asked me evidence about weekly murders against resistance members and I told her about Walter Trochez to give an example (it is one year anniversary of his torture and assassination today. We continue to struggle for justice for his and many other killings and tortures). She almost looked sad but when i finished, she laughed.
BUT it was when I went on to talk about the massacre against 5 campesinos by the security guards of palm oil plantation illegal landowner Miguel Facusse at El Tumbador Bajo Aguan, and she said it was private property of Facusse’s (saying in Honduras if you invade private property being killed for it is normal and accepted!) and I said that actually the land does not belong to Facusse, that it was state land for agrarian reform that Facusse illegally usurped, that she said I can be deported for saying such things, and that being a social worker I should know better.
So these thousands of hectares of land in Bajo Aguan are an extremely sensitive topic for coup supporters – they impose their fabricated version of story through the media which they control, and do what they can to silence those who want to expose the truth. There is no free speech. I denounce that while it is relatively minor compared to threats to local farmers and others in resistance, I also received some kind of threat by telephone. It was just a call that when I picked up, hung up, but if you look up the number 8999 9999 Honduras on google you will find this is the number they make threats from.
Trip of 90 Honduran and international journalists and human rights defenders to Bajo Aguan
I had the privilege of joining this trip, those who came included: from Honduras – human rights organisations including COFADEH (whose coordinator just received the Tulip prize from Holland Government in recognition for her work and resistance), Centre of Women’s Rights Honduras, Women for Life, Right to Food Informational and Action Network Honduras, Via Campesina Honduras, alternative medias: Globo Radio and TV, El Libertador, amongst others. Internationally there was a delegation of 10 journalists and activists from Germany and Austria.
On our way there in the bus, we kept passing by palm plantation after palm plantation, they are endless, and most palm plantations are owned by the same few (literally) large land holder/usurpers – Facusse, Morales, and Canales.
Not only are they monocrops killing biodiversity, have limited lifespans of 25 years and die, and imagine, these few people are growing export crops to make profits and illegally own most of the land in this country, while many small farmers struggle for a small piece of land.
Eviction of farmers at Paso Aguan and Panama
Our first visit on Thursday morning was to the communities Paso Aguan/Panama.. which had just been evicted before we arrived by a contingent of army, police, and seemingly, also paramilitaries. When we arrived many of them were around and had done their dirty work already. There were around 100 police, soldiers, and what many said to be Colombian paramilitaries, with heavy arms, standing around, sitting in their vehicles, moving about, inducing fear in the community and in the visitors.
Here is one of the soldiers with balaclavas
Here journalists and human rights defenders were interviewing the police PR rep Alex Madrid who was overpowering and kept saying that the police respect human rights, that they were carrying out orders, that everything was within the law, and that unless we have video or photographic evidence of police and military violence or presence of Colombian paramilitaries, they maintained that they had done nothing wrong. Many campesinos around gave testimonies that the security forces are displaying completely different words and actions since the arrival of the big team of journalists and human rights defenders. When asked about the disarmament and why it is against the campesinos who have no arms, and not against Facusse’s visibly heavily armed guards Madrid said their job is not to confiscate all arms but all arms that are without permission, whether they be of farmers or security guards. When journalists pointed out that security guards and paramilitary gain easily and illegally access to permissions, he said that is not within his responsibility, that has to be questioned to someone else.
Campesinos were in the process of gathering their few possessions with nowhere to go but to leave.
Here is Alex ‘we do everything within the law’ Madrid – apparently it is also his right since we are filming and photographing him for him as an official to do the same against us reporters and human rights defenders. There are also reports that a military was filming people entering and leaving the hotel where we were staying as a means of persecution and intimidation. If international visitors can be scared and intimidated, and local reporters and human rights defenders more so for lots of reasons, imagine the daily reality of fear and intimidation and persecution the farmers struggling for land rights are under, with over 20 campesinos killed since the coup and a massacre against 5 farmers by Facusse’s security guards on 15 November.
Evictions against the poorest of the poor
The communities being evicted lived in houses made of sticks and plastic covers for roofs. They lived in appalling conditions, instead of improving their living conditions, the armed forces came along and forcefully destroyed people’s sticks-homes with fire and force.
They had nowhere to go, but have no choice but to go.
This little child kept picking up big pieces of things sadly and loading them onto a bus.
‘Everything within the law’. Where are the numberplates? As always not on the police/other vehicles.
This is a picture of a youth Misael showing us the beating injury from police. He is from a community with 200 stick houses. He said he was getting ready to go to work and families were cooking breakfast when before 6am hit, families in their homes were suddenly surrounded by security forces. He said they were told to be gone within an hour or everything will be set on fire because police knew the cameras were coming. That things would have been much much worse in terms of violence and they would be throwing their clothes in the streets, if only the cameras weren’t coming, and that fewer of the contingent was now present than before we arrived.
‘We had a lot of fear because they are armed….People can’t say anything because they can shoot at us, they shoot at us, capture us, put us in prison, they beat us’…..
‘They came looking for arms but found only machetes that we use to cut corn’
‘We just want a place to live and work. We don’t know where we are going now. We are just going to the street…In Honduras there is a lot of land but much of it (is held by) Facusse… We hope that the government will make a solution, that we will have another government, because it is not just one family here, it is the whole Colon territory.’
So that was one story from one of many settlements struggling for their land rights and to produce for Hondurans.
Militarisation at the Agrarian Department (INA in Spanish)
Since late November, the Agrarian Department had been taken over by the military. Their excuse was that there were allegations that farmers kept arms there. On not finding any arms, they are still there weeks later. So what are the real reasons?
Journalists caught up with Jose Andres Andrade Soto recently put in charge of this regional Agrarian office. He has been announced to have the power to fire and hire, but further to that he has literally no power. He could not make statements other than of what has been said publicly already. The military did not allow him access to the buildings and files of the department he is supposably the head of (no one can enter apart from the military, not him, not the workers). He could not answer the questions of why militarisation continues.
Esly Banegas, the president of the SITRAINA – workers union of the Agrarian Department, said the department’s job is to facilitate projects of Agrarian reform, and that the militarisation is there to violate rights of farmers and workers. The paper and electronic documents about land rights and conflicts are there in the hands of military. She said the real intention of militarising the INA is to close this regional office, fire and remote everyone, and legalise the theft by Miguel Facusse of the Tumbador land where the massacre took place on 15 November 2010.
Outside the INA offices, the parade celebrating one year anniversary of the MUCA – Unified Movement of Aguan Campesinos, of around 5000 families struggling for their land, passed by and stopped to send a message to the military occupying the INA.
Because media and regime spokespersons try to discredit the farmers land rights movement and justify militarisation and paramilitary killings against farmers, they hold up this sign/placard saying: ‘These are the arms of MUCA: agriculture project, fishery project’. In sum, projects to create independence.
At the same time some days ago, campesinos started blocking the highway to Trujillo 24 hours a day… it is still blocked now but a violent eviction could occur at any moment. Their demand: demilitarisation. Simply, get out – soldiers, police, paramilitaries..
Adjacent to the INA, is some families who have been refuged there because their settlement was flooded; when military invaded INA, they also invaded the homes of these families. Their work tools were taken from them, some farmers told of stories of one case of stolen money which was returned later to save face, and another case of a stolen watch that was never returned. So you can see them in the picture below, the caretaker tried to enter to stand with the community but the soldier didn’t allow.
Here are some of the workers of INA who have been sitting out here since military invaded and overtook INA. Some 80% of the INA workers are unionised with SITRAINA.
The message above says: MUCA/MCA: Cops, get out of Aguan. Soldiers, get out of Aguan.
Below shows an intervention by a van of journalists and human rights defenders driving past seeing that the police stopped a small farmer passing through with his produce of palm fruits. Journalists questioned the police and police had to let the person go.
Another example of highway militarisation, there are many, but they reduced their presence because of the presence of the big group of journalists/human rights defenders.
This last photo is of a mother giving testimony of his son having been assassinated.
On the Friday we visited several communities one after another, all with the same stories and messages (My camera ran out of battery at this point! Sorry..)
The coup against President Zelaya
Many farmers explained that the land struggle has been for many years as had the persecution, but that during Zelaya’s term they felt he was supportive of farmers, they said that he talked with the military telling them not to kill campesinos, that he signed a commitment 15 days before the coup to legalise the campesinos’ land ownership in 90 days
Lidia Ramos said that with the Agrarian Modernisation Law in 1990 allowing individual rather than collective ownership of land while some campesinos sold out, those who refused to sell were persecuted by paramilitary, including her spouse. Members of the Maran~ones settlement reported the same story. As did MARCA members who said Facusse persecuted those who wouldn’t sell, and falsified papers.
‘We have all the paperwork’ and have the right to recover the land: Gilberto Oliva, MARCA
‘Let us work’
‘Please help us so there is no more of this (persecution) so we can work’ Lidia Ramos.
‘We want the land to work…how can one man (MF) have so much land?’ Sebastian
‘We are looking for the future of these people’ said MARCA representative.
‘We started with nothing and began to grow food and the African Palm” Gilberto Oliva.
‘We have no arms, only work tools, as if we can afford arms anyway..’
Consuelo Castillo of Lempira said they have no arms there, just machetes and another tool called malayo.
‘We have only machetes’ San Isidro leader.
‘It is the military and security guards with the arms’
Consuelo Castillo (Lempira) said the farmers cannot move around, that there are always guards and soldiers who are armed and insult people and come looking for arms. They install checkpoints and ask for documents and look for ways to repress people. They are always threatening people by pointing their loaded guns at them.
Giovanni (La Confianza) said security guards and forces are always posted on the highways and pointing their guns including at women. He said INA was militarised to stop the agrarian reform projects.
Fausto Reyes (La Confianza) said people are treated like animals.
From the Maran~ones, la Confianza, Paso Aguan and Panama settlements, people said they knew of Colombian paramilitaries.
‘We will keep claiming our land even if they keep killing us’
Lidia Ramos ‘We can’t put up with this anymore. We will not be silenced. Even if they kill us.’ Lidia recounted with sorrow the killing of the local journalist Nahum Palacios this year who fearlessly reported on the plight and struggle of campesinos in Aguan and was riddled with over 30 bullets.
Consuelo Castillo (Lempira settlement) said 80% of people in Colon are in the Resistance with FNRP, to transform Honduras to a better country.
Terrible living conditions
You saw the stick houses. The water gets in and its uncomfortable. Community members also told of their experiences of children being excluded from school and health services. People told of stories like, many children for one school, and many do not go. Communities need places for schools. One man asked for my glasses because he couldn’t see far away. He said the Cuban doctors come in their brigade but there is so much demand it is only a part of the need that they can help with.
Violations of women’s rights by the security forces
Gina of Centre for Womens Rights Honduras said the farmers live in a climate of terror and women live in fear in leaving or not leaving for work, are victims of sexual, physical and psychological violence by the forces that they underreport. They also don’t have access to pre/post natal services. The communities in struggle need security guarantees.
– Let us work on our land
– Let our families and children work to have a future
– Let us live in dignity
– End plunder and exploitation
Under this coup regime, it is clear who the public institutions answer to – the army, police, congress, DPP, etc execute what happens, and they answer to interests of few elite people including Palm Plantation Agro-industrial businessman Miguel Facusse. This is including according to the well respected Father Fausto Milla. Coup governments particularly are not for the masses.
It is really impressive how many people said they will continue the struggle and know their lives are on the line. Entire communities of thousands of families struggling for land and for a better Honduras are subject to this impossible to accept campaign of control and domination by death and terror.
BUT THIS IS NOT THE IMAGE THEY WANT PORTRAYED, BECAUSE THE REGIME WANTS MONEY AND NEEDS TO APPEAR LEGITIMATE. In fact, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, IMF, and WWF are all complicit in having given funds and whitewashing to the regime, and to the company Dinant of Miguel Facusse, who contracted his army of security guards that carried out the El Tumbador massacre. We can put the pressure on our diplomatic representatives – MPs, Foreign ministers, embassies, UN, World Bank, etc etc.. we can break the silence, etc, so many different things..