Monday, April 19, 2010

Campesinos and sombreros in Honduras

Honduran press coverage of the national march called by the Frente de Resistencia for April 15 was, not surprisingly, muted.

Pro-coup La Tribuna, for example, framed their story (credited to AFP) around the"success" of the campesinos of the Bajo Aguan in obtaining land grants earlier in the week.

Most interesting is their description of the march as
convened by the Frente de Resistencia Popular de Honduras (FRPH), created after the coup d'Etat against ex-president Manuel Zelaya in June of 2009.

OK. Remember, this is a pro-coup paper. The official line of the Honduran media throughout 2009 was that no coup d'Etat had happened-- just a "constitutional succession". The terminology used repeatedly to describe those continuing to argue for social justice has almost always been "zelayistas", a way to personalize and dismiss the organized Frente. Naming the Frente properly seems like a major shift. Even though the source of the story is Agence France Presse, the printing of a story without editorializing or editing is an unexpected break.

But even when the story lacks overt signs of dismissive rhetoric, it is important to be cautious about the claims made. Take the last paragraph of the AFP story:
La solución de este conflicto alivia en poco el problema de los sin tierra en Honduras. Según las organizaciones del llamado sector reformado, unos 300.000 campesinos carecen de tierra y tienen que trabajar como asalariados o alquilando tierras a latifundistas.

[The solution of this conflict alleviates a little the problem of those without land in Honduras. According to organizations of the so-called reformist sector, some 300,000 campesinos lack land and have to work as salaried workers or renting land from large landowners.]

If we leave aside the use of "llamado sector reformado" here, which could be translated slightly differently ("what is called the reform sector"), this seems to be a very clear acknowledgment of the challenge experienced by Honduran campesinos.

Except that it actually understates the problem. The real extent of the land problem for Honduras' farming sector is better described elsewhere on the web, in activist blogs written by people like Giorgio Trucchi:
300,000 families -- approximately 1.5 million people -- do not have access to land, while another 200,000 possess barely 1 to 3.5 hectares.

That's 300,000 families, not individuals. The additional 200,000 families with up to 3.5 hectares fall below the level of land needed to sustain an agricultural family.

Again, from the same blog,
the rural Honduran population lives on an average of one dollar per person per day, and less than 30% live in homes whose incomes pass this level. Almost half of the rural population lives with income less than half a dollar a day and around 25% have income less than 25 cents a day.... 2.8 million Hondurans in rural areas live with an income under the poverty line. This group represents more than 75% of the rural population and more than 70% of the poor in all the country.

According to a 2005 report by the World Food Programme,
More than 80 percent of farmers, about 400 000 households, own less than 5 hectares each (for a total of about 560 000 hectares, only 15 percent of total agricultural land).

This situation has been brought about, in large part, by a shift in use of land to large plantations, for agricultural exports, leading Honduras today to produce less than half of the basic grains needed by its own population, as summarized by Trucchi:
Each year there is a deficit of more than 10 million quintales of corn, and 200,000 quintales of beans and 500,000 quintales of rice have to be imported.

Where do those imports come from? Among other places, the United States. According to the World Food Programme report, "imported basic grains mainly originate from the United States". Between 1991 to 2005,
Rice imports from the United States flooded [Honduran] markets, with highly negative impact on national price and planted areas.

These economic facts were not solved by the agreement reached in the Bajo Aguan. They provide the motivation for continuing campesino participation in the Frente. As Adrienne Pine notes in her coverage of the march, the adoption of the imagery of the sombrero recovers a symbol of the agrarian countryside, a symbol also used by Manuel Zelaya, that resonates with people of the campo.

While it remains impossible to know how many people took part in the April 15 march due to lack of objective reporting, the photographic testimony tells the story:

men and women wearing sombreros listening to speakers in auditoriums with banners saying

"Honduras Free of Transgenics" and

"We demand comprehensive agrarian reform now"

Marchers on the street carrying signs reading

"Let's stop hoarding land immediately-- Yes to a comprehensive agrarian reform for food sovereignty"

And above all, the presence in the crowds, variously estimated at hundreds or thousands, of entire families and generations of campesinos, each one proudly wearing the formerly despised symbol of rural backwardness, the sombrero, now recovered as a sign of agrarian strength.

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