Monday, April 12, 2010

"We'll respect human rights" (for now)

After creating total alarm in the Bajo Aguan over the weekend, we learned late this morning that contrary to the official statements made yesterday, the government of Honduras does not intend, at least today, to evict the campesinos who reclaimed african oil palm plantations in the region around Tocoa, Colon.

El Heraldo reported that in a press conference late this morning, which it characterizes as involving, "the three powers of the state" those involved confirmed the presence of large numbers of police and military in the Bajo Aguan, but denied that they were there to evict the campesinos from the African oil palm farms they've claimed.

In this case, the "three powers" were not the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, but rather Maria Antonieta Bográn, representing the Executive branch, Marlon Pascua, the defense minister, and Roberto Romero Luna, the vice minister for security. El Heraldo goes on to inform us that they assured the press that the police and military would respect human rights.

The sub-director of the National Police, René Maradiaga Panchamé, is quoted as saying that the police and military were "complying with the precise instructions of the President, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, the Security Minister, Oscar Alvarez, and the Director of the National Police, José Luís Muñoz Licona, to maintain public order and preserve the rule of law, bringing security to all in the area." He also denied local reports of a curfew having been imposed over the weekend.

Today the police set up checkpoints around Tocoa, Colon, to check people's papers and confiscate weapons, El Heraldo concluded.

Meanwhile, Tiempo reported this morning that the same Police spokesman, René Maradiaga Panchamé, confirmed to them that the evictions were scheduled for early this morning (Monday), and that's why there was a strong presence of the police and military in the area. Tiempo confirmed with Maradiaga Panchamé that more than 2000 police and 1000 Special Forces (a.k.a. the Cobras) had been dispatched to the Bajo Aguan.

The military commander of these troops, Colonel Florentino Sarmiento, said that the military was simply there to assist the National Police, and it was the police that would have to carry out any evictions.

La Tribuna changed its story this morning, from the earlier headline "Bajo Aguan heavily militarized" to "Start of Disarmament Operation" adopting the messaging of the Lobo government.

Meanwhile, videos posted to YouTube show military transports loaded with troops and towing supply trailers:

The government is deliberately muddying its message. On the one hand, the massive deployment of police and military is, they tell us, meant to reduce tensions in the Bajo Aguan, never mind that it achieved the opposite; but it is also meant to carry out drug interdictions, no doubt using the water canons seen transiting past El Progresso toward the Aguan over the week end.

Anyone concluding the Honduran government is not being honest about the purpose of water canons, troops, and police in the Bajo Aguan would not be mistaken.

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