Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bad Press: Violence in Honduras

CNN's headline on its coverage reads: Troops deployed to northern Honduras after clashes leave 11 dead.

There is, indeed, violence in Honduras. But you won't understand much about it from CNN, nor from other English-language press relying on official statements.

CNN characterizes the government ministry of agriculture as "a national land reform organization", thus managing to use the spokesman for a government agency as if he were speaking for the campesino activists who are being accused of escalating violence.

So we are treated to Marco Ramiro Lobo speaking for INA being framed as the campesino position:
"What is happening at this moment has nothing to do with these organizations ... It is the result of individuals who have committed criminal acts and must be held accountable and punished."

This is contrasted in CNN's narrow-band reporting of different government voices with Miguel Angel Bonilla, minister of communications, who says
"Effectively there are people who are taking advantage of the situation... They want it to look like they are peasants."

CNN accurately reports that 11 people were killed in the Aguan, five on Sunday, 6 on Monday. But it leaves out some critical details, like who died, when, and how. And where it gives "details", it is relying on less than objective sources.

The Honduran paper La Tribuna reports that the conflict Sunday was an armed ambush of security guards on one of the African palm plantations, which have been the focus of contention between campesino groups and large corporate farm owners.

The violence reported on Monday claimed the lives of four employees of a bottling plant and a fifth person traveling with them, shot as they drove on the highway between Sinaloa and Sabá, Colón. Univision quotes regional police authority Roberto Benítez as saying that the victims were mistaken by someone-- he doesn't know who-- as parties to one side of the conflict-- he doesn't say which. Still, that is better than CNN manages.

Honduran press reports, never particularly sympathetic to campesino activists, nonetheless clarify that the government is at pains to try to distinguish between the people they think are responsible for the ambush on Sunday, and campesino groups involved in negotiations with the government designed to confirm title to lands in the region, such as the Movimiento Unificado del Aguán (MUCA).

You wouldn't understand that from the CNN report, which instead links the Sunday and Monday incidents-- one, remember, the shooting of bottling plant employees on the road-- to the long confrontation between campesinos and landowners:
The region in northern Honduras is the site of longstanding disputes over palm plantations between local peasants and corporate landowners.

Of course, CNN got that from a Honduran government statement that said the deployment of 600 troops-- bringing the total number of troops stationed there to 1000-- is aimed at
reinforcing operations to stop more disturbances and confrontations between peasants and private security groups.

CNN then develops its storyline further, relying on the most dubious unverified source possible: Dinant Corporation company treasurer Roger Pineda, who claimed that "hundreds" of armed attackers were involved in the Sunday attack.

Dinant, of course, is the corporation owned by Miguel Facussé, one of the main landowners losing land in the government-brokered settlement with MUCA. Dinant's comments were reported in El Nuevo Diario of Nicaragua on Sunday, where he is quoted as saying
"This morning some 200 campesinos attacked us, wanting to take over a finca, and they wounded 11 guards of ours and killed four of them."

Do I know who is responsible for these latest incidents, which are serving as the pretext for increased militarization of the Bajo Aguan? No. But I know more, even though I have to rely on the biased media of Honduras, than anyone would whose only insight into Honduras came from CNN and other English language media.

Oh, and another thing about the CNN article. The accompanying photo is not of the violence in the Bajo Agua. The caption starts "Students confront soldiers in a protest in Tegucigalpa on Tuesday".

But that's another blog post.

1 comment:

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

I don't know exactly what's happening either but Rights Action is reporting about the August 14 killings the following:

"According to local sources, the campesinos were quickly surrounded by approximately 120 soldiers from the 15th Army Battalion and approximately 40 security guards from the Orion Security Company employed by Dinant palm oil corporation. The security forces opened fire, killing 17 year old campesino Javier Melgar and also five security guards!
"Campesinos believe the soldiers confused the security guards and the campesinos, as some security guards were dressed as civilians and, also, the security guard uniform is difficult to distinguish from civilian clothing. Local informants report that all of the victims were killed by shots fired from military issued RPG-15 rifles."