Monday, June 4, 2012

Aguan Developments: English vs. Spanish

The confrontation between MUCA-- Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguan-- and the Honduran government that has dragged on now for years, most recently focused on attempts to take control over land claimed by Miguel Facussé, appears to be reaching an awkward resolution.

An AP report published in English in media like the Washington Post says MUCA has "agreed to move out" of lands they occupied in the Bajo Aguan. It quotes a spokesperson for MUCA, Vitalino Alvarez, saying MUCA has signed an agreement with the government
"under pressure and under threat...There are tons of lives on the line and due to the continuous threats to forcefully remove us we have given up to avoid bad outcomes."

Honduran papers, however, report no such thing. Nobody is abandoning any land.

Instead, both El Tiempo and El Heraldo report that tomorrow the final formal agreement between MUCA and the Honduran government will be signed.

El Tiempo says the agreement to be signed tomorrow is for 2414 hectares on the right bank of the Rio Aguan (the east side). The Honduran media report that campesinos on the left bank of the river accepted the conditions offered last week, leaving only those on the right bank not in agreement.

Campesinos have claimed land on both sides of the river by establishing settlements, from which residents are periodically evicted, and which are periodically the focus of attacks. The Honduran government has offered to buy out Miguel Facussé, and Dinant Corp, his business, on both banks of the river.

One of the major points of disagreement between the English language and Spanish language press concerns the impact of a judge's eviction order handed down over the weekend. The AP story, citing a spokesperson for the Security Ministry, Hector Mejia, says that
officials were sending hundreds of officers to force 5,000 people from the approximately 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of plantations that remain occupied after a series of earlier evictions.

None of the current Honduran press coverage mentions a new deployment of officers (police or army) to the Bajo Aguan. Of course, there remains in the region a contingent from the armed forces posted there as part of previous government actions.

As La Prensa Grafica of El Salvador explains, the urgency in the present situation comes from the expiration on May 31 of a Honduran government offer to pay Facussé the equivalent of $20 million for the land, to then be sold to MUCA by the government. When that date came and went without payment to Facussé, he
presented eviction orders that unleashed the end of the negotiation, stalled since the beginning of April of 2010. 

La Prensa Grafica quotes Hector Mejia's statement last Friday (June 1) that the eviction could happen "at any moment" because "the order to do so has now been handed down by a judge". In this context, Mejia added that action to remove the campesinos from the right bank of the Aguan would require "hundreds of agents". He didn't say they were sending hundreds more police into the area-- just that any eviction would require that scale of operation.

It is this rhetoric, combined with the judge's eviction order, that seems to be the increased "pressure" and "threat" cited by the MUCA spokesperson.

But contrary to the AP story, no Honduran reports suggest that MUCA will leave the land they have occupied. Rather, what the agreement they will sign tomorrow commits them to is to accept the terms dictated by the Lobo Sosa government to pay for the land they are currently living on and farming. According to La Prensa Grafica, that would be to pay the equivalent of $16 million, obtained as a loan at 6% interest for 15 years.

MUCA representatives had been holding out for a lower interest rate on the financing of the purchase price of the land. They raised concerns about the ability to repay the loan-- concerns the Honduran media say were dismissed by the head of the Instituto Nacional Agraria, Cesar Ham. According to Ham, the campesinos should easily be able to cover the payments by selling the product of African oil palms to the processing businesses-- which are owned by the same wealthy individuals whose land claims are now being settled with funds obtained in part from the loan taken out by MUCA.

In other words, MUCA is being asked to take on a large debt to a private bank, for funds that are being passed on, via the Honduran government, to the private individual who MUCA argues does not have a defensible claim to the land, and then to spend the next fifteen years at the mercy of the processing plants owned by the same individual (and others).

That is bad enough; if they were in fact being asked to leave the land, that would be adding salt to the wounds.

No comments: