Hey, La Prensa, the 1980s called and they want their rhetoric back!
I knew something was wrong when I read the story in Jorge Canahuati's La Prensa on March 1 entitled "Guerrilla cell arming itself in the Bajo Aguan". The article, which claims to be based on a military intelligence report in their possession, makes a series of unbelievable claims about the campesinos opposing Miguel Facussé's title to several farms of african oil palms in the Bajo Aguan.
In a nutshell, it accuses the campesinos of allying themselves with drug traffickers for protection, organized by non-governmental organizations "of a socialist type" and by Jesuits "with communist ideologies". The alleged report claims to have studied 54 campesino cooperatives that through misadministration and corruption sold off their lands in 1993, but now want it back.
The Honduran government of the 1970s and 1980s had a single minded agrarian policy. If a group of campesinos wanted land, they were made to form agricultural cooperatives and the cooperative was then given land at the discretion of the state.
In the Bajo Aguan, the campesinos involved were largely from more highland departments of Santa Barbara, Lempira, Intibuca, and so on, forced to move into the tropical lowlands of Honduras to have access to land. The government of the 1980s failed to learn what the Spanish colonial government learned in building the eighteenth-century fort at Omoa: when you make highland people relocate to the lowlands, they die of malaria and other tropical diseases that only rarely occur in the highlands. Yet the government of Honduras continued to encourage people from the highlands to "emigrate" to the lowlands to gain access to land. The land campesinos were moved to in large numbers in the 1980s previously had been developed for agriculture in the 1920s and 1930s by banana companies, then abandoned as banana production became uneconomical.
In exchange for the land, cooperatives were directed, as part of national agricultural policy, to plant export crops like sugar cane, african palm, and to a lesser extent cacao, and were given low interest loans to buy the equipment and fertilizers necessary to plant and harvest these crops. They were not given guaranteed markets, or price guarantees on their crops, and had to compete with the oligarchy, who already controlled the markets for these raw agricultural goods and set the prices. Many cooperatives went badly into debt when market prices were low for their crop, and disbanded, though others managed to survive.
The supposed intelligence report alleges that Miguel Facussé and a Nicaraguan, Reynaldo Morales, bought up land as cooperatives failed and sold land to pay off their debts. The campesinos contest this, pointing to agrarian policy under Rafael Callejas in the early 1990s, under the Law for the Modernization and Development of the Agricultural Sector. Through this law, the government expropriated land it had previously given to campesino cooperatives, and turned it over to modern industrial farmers. The timing of this policy is not coincidentally linked to the paving of the road from La Ceiba into the Aguan valley, and back up to Olancho, which happened in the 1980s, giving this region decent access to the national market for the first time.
The alleged report, La Prensa tells us, singles out and analyzes the positions of a number of named organizations. The Movimiento Unido de Campesinos del Aguan (MUCA) is said to be more heavily armed than the National Police and supposedly is causing "thousands of dollars of losses daily to businesses" and scaring away international investment. Here's the most ludicrous part: La Prensa tells us that a named campesino leader affiliated with MUCA, and a named campesino leader affiliated with the resistance, are purchasing arms and waiting for FARC, the Colombian guerrilla movement, to come and train them in how to use them! Even more ludicrous is the allegation that these resistence leaders also head a band of kidnappers. The report claims there are orders out for their arrest. Both of these named individuals would be easy to find and arrest, since neither is in hiding, were there actually any such arrest warrants.
The report goes on like this, a fantasy with no anchor in reality, laughable if things like this didn't kill people. It talks about school teachers, assuring us that in the end, they won't support the campesinos. It talks about the Comité de Organizaciones Populares del Aguán (COPA), which sided with the resistance during the coup. It describes the Catholic Church "trying to fortify its political party, the Christian Democrats", and that the priests in the region are Jesuits, and are marxist advocates of liberation theology.
Rafael Alegria, head of Via Campesina and a leader in the resistance, rightly denounced this fantastic story. He reports he talked with the military spokesperson, Ramiro Archiaga, who denied the existence of any such military report and said he would ask La Prensa for a written explanation. Alegria attributed this bit of disinformation to the security minister, Oscar Alvarez.
A pseudonymous source, published and translated yesterday by Adrienne Pine at quotha.net, attributed this campaign of disinformation directly to La Prensa's owner, Jorge Canahuati Larach, along with Maria Antonia de Fuentes, Ana Morales, and Nelson Garcia.
Whatever the source of this disinformation, it is dangerous. It is meant to provoke bloodshed. It is a reminder that "newspapers" such as Canahuati's La Prensa and El Heraldo have not changed since they served as media to churn up enough controversy to incite and then justify a military coup d'etat. Maybe the rhetoric is from the fight against communism of the 1980s; but the tactic is that of yellow journalism of the 19th century.