Land rights activists in Honduras' north coast Aguan Valley have condemned what they call an ongoing “hunt” of campesinos (small farmers) in their communities.
The activists are calling for freedom for political prisoners and an end to repression of campesino movements.
Family members of jailed and persecuted rural workers have denounced the “dirty and malicious campaign” of criminalisation against campesino leaders and communities. They accuse the national police, and other state and private security forces, of operating as “a gang of hitmen”.
Aguan campesino communities engaged in alternative food production and economic development projects are among those most targeted by criminalisation, campesino movements say. The projects are seen as a form of resistance against the monoculture farming model and domination of oil palm plantations in the region.
“The campesinos in question have always been fighting for the right to land, to life, and to live with better working conditions to sustain their families,” Aguan movements said in a statement.
“The real gangsters that have generated violence and death in the Aguan, like [Miguel] Facusse, [Rene] Morales, and [Reinaldo] Canales [the three largest regional landowners], continue to enjoy absolute impunity.”
The Aguan movement statement comes just days after the death of the largest landowner in the region, and owner of Aguan-based snack food corporation Grupo Dinant, Miguel Facusse.
The palm oil magnate, who backed the 2009 coup that ousted democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, was a key figure in violent land conflicts in the Aguan.
Facusse, who had also been accused of drug trafficking, was implicated in the displacement and dispossession of hundreds of families and the deaths of at least dozens of rural activists.
Facusse was a key beneficiary of a huge land grab in the early 1990s, that has led directly to the current current conflicts in the Aguan. Campesino cooperatives were systematically undermined, coerced into selling their land titles or outright robbed of their land.
Responding to Facusse's death, Alliance for Global Justice's Chuck Kauffman said: “A prince of darkness has returned to hell.”
The campesino movement statement comes just days before the sixth anniversary of the military coup. Since the coup, decades-old land conflicts in the Aguan have deepened. Campesinos are fighting for their rights to land against large landowners violently seeking to expand their palm oil empires in the fertile agricultural region.
The situation in the Aguan Valley has been called the most intense agrarian conflict in Central America for the last 15 years. It has been characterised by grave human rights abuses and widespread repression of rural workers.
The human rights group Rights Action has documented more than 120 killings of Aguan campesino activists since 2010. Private security guards of large landowners and the regional unit of the Honduran military have been implicated in the crimes.
The Aguan has been heavily militarised since the coup. Along with a deep culture of impunity, this has compounded campesino repression.
[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]