Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Selective memory and the Campesinos of the Bajo Aguan

Today's email brings another urgent notice about ongoing violence against farmers in north coast Honduras', in the fertile Aguan river valley. Here, the Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguan (MUCA) has been vigorously calling attention to violence that so far has resulted in the reported deaths of four rural farmers. The Bajo Aguan conflict has been well covered by like that of anthropologist Adrienne Pine, who reported on January 9 on a paramilitary operation to evict the campesinos in the lower Aguan valley. Spanish-language blogs include details of the names and numbers of those detained and mistreated in these operations. On January 9, El Libertador reported three deaths among the campesinos, two from Cooperative San Esteban and one from Cooperative Guanchias, without disclosing their names; as well as the deaths of two security guards involved in the raid.

But you would be hard-pressed to know the full story if you were only reading the daily newspapers in Honduras. El Tiempo has a story about the Bajo Aguan confrontation datelined February 16, headlined Government seeks solution to agrarian conflicts of the Aguan. It reports that César Ham, in his new role of government insider as director of the Instituto Nacional Agrario (INA), has formed a "commission" of landlords, campesino leaders, and the government to "seek a peaceful solution".

From the government's perspective, the problem is that 3500 campesino families have occupied and are cultivating 9000 hectares of land for which businessmen claim property titles. Ham is reported to be studying solutions ranging from expropriating the land (while paying the land-holders); moving the campesinos to other land; or a combination.

El Heraldo also had a story about the ongoing conflict yesterday. Not surprisingly, their coverage had a somewhat more sinister tone, claiming that the violence being experienced could be "attacks on the part of organized crime". Heraldo emphasized what they claim are the deaths or disappearances of five security guards for Dinant Corporation at the hands of "supposed campesinos". The report quotes an "anonymous source" who goes further in smearing the campesino movement that is itself under attack:
A different treatment should be given to this problem, since these actions have characteristics of guerrilla cells, based on the messages that they left and the weapons that they are using.

These Honduran news reports engage in selective silence. The deaths of the campesinos reported by email and on progressive blogs are not mentioned or are only vaguely included in a generalized claim of violence.

References to the "landlords" don't specify who is involved, nor do these reports make clear what is at issue and why. The conflict involves land claimed by Miguel Facussé and others prominent in the coup d'etat of June 28.

The land at issue was claimed by the campesinos under policies-- now silently repudiated-- of the Zelaya administration. As reported by the Salvadoran blog Tercera Información
These campesinos, belonging to various unions grouped in the Movimiento Unificado de Campesinos del Aguan (MUCA), a part of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, remind us that "there exists a legal agreement (convenio) between president Zelaya and these campesino groups of the Aguan, signed at the beginning of the month of June 2009 before the coup d'etat, in which was agreed that a technical legal commission would investigate the legality of the tenancy of these lands and the supposed property-owners Miguel Facusé, René Morales y Reinaldo Canales would be paid for the improvements that they had made; but the lands would be handed over [to the campesions occupying them].

Needless to say, in the wake of the coup, the Micheletti regime did not follow through. As those claiming title to the land were powerful backers of the coup and the regime, it was their interests that were uppermost for Roberto Micheletti. So, as progressive blog Kaos en la Red puts it, the campesino groups took direct action:
groups of campesinos initiated a process of recovery of land beginning December 9... land usurped by the businessmen Miguel Facussé, René Morales and Reynaldo Canales, who, taking advantage of the coup d'Etat, paralyzed the process of negotiation initiated under the presidency of Manuel Zelaya.

The attempt to throw the farming community off the land has involved police, Armed Forces, and security forces contracted by the landlords, who routinely hire military reservists for such purposes. The blurring of lines between military and civilian, government and private security, has been a feature of Honduran life for the entire time I have worked there. It is corrosive to the atmosphere of civil society at the best of times when you cannot be certain if the uniformed man with the gun telling you to "come with me" is official or free-lance. In the wake of a coup that officially authorized violence against peaceful protestors by both police and army, and that gave the army a renewed mandate to intrude in daily life, the blurring of lines is fatal.

And of course, none of this is reported in the English-language media, obsessed by its storyline of normalization under the new regime that supposedly is unifying Honduras.

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