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Violence continues in Honduras, agro-fuels plantations
By Saulo Araujo
February 1st, 2012
Bajo Aguan is vast piece of fertile farmland. Good soil, abundant water resources and cheap labor make this region in Honduras the main target for international investors seeking profits from agro-fuels plantations.
In many areas of Honduras, large plantations of African palm (used to create biodiesel) have already replaced small plots of rice, beans, plantains, cabbage and other staple foods. As more land is given over to growing plants for cars, less is available to grow food for people. Small farmers displace by the gold rush for land in Honduras face increasing hunger and economic vulnerability. Dozens of peasants who are struggling to keep their land have been killed during the land conflict with agro-fuels businessmen.
In Bajo Aguan, peasant families continues to say “No!” to those who would displace them from their land, even though they are threatened by private security and paramilitary forces and the army. At least 40 people have died in Aguan, according to the international peasant network the Via Campesina. That includes Matias Valle, a member and leader of the United Peasants Movement (MUCA) who was brutally killed in January 2012.
Honduran journalist Carlos Herrera links the motive for Valle’s killing to MUCA’s rejection of a land contract. According to Herrera, Banco Financiera Comercial Hondureña, S.A. (Banco FICOHSA), the largest national financial group linked to the 2009 coup, offered “more than 636 million Lempiras” to purchase of land from mega-landowner Miguel Facusse knowing that it would render them a huge profit.
After years of dispute, MUCA families had signed an agreement with the Honduran government in which the families would take a loan to purchase the 4,700 hectares at a favorable interest rate. Knowing that, FICOHSA decided to purchase the land at a low price and resell it to the families. Herrera stated that the financial transaction “in the end would mean a profit of 2 billion Lempiras [nearly $105 million] in interest for the FICOHSA group.”
Via Campesina-Central America coordinator Rafael Alegria believes that “the proposal from the private bank intended to suffocate the peasants. If they maintain the agreement with the government, the peasants will be forced to pay more for the land because of the FICOHSA land arrangement. The other option is to continue without their own land, facing growing repression against them which includes presence of between 600 to 1,000 army personnel.
Alegria also identifies repression against peasant organizations like MUCA as a chronic problem in Honduras. “The government and impresarios in Aguan are responsible for the murders [against peasant leaders in Aguan]. It seems that there is a well-orchestrated plan, because recently, when we [met] to analyze the last [government’s] proposal with MUCA members, in the building of Via Campesina, we were photographed in three occasions.”
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Paul Imison’s report in CounterPunch stated that “Honduras is currently the murder capital of the world with 86 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants; a murder rate nearly five times higher than Mexico’s.”
In Aguan, as in other rural parts of Honduras, the number of homicides continues to grow. Perhaps because the government considers the impoverished peasant population as a barrier to the expansion of agro-fuels production, the government shows little interest in resolving land conflicts.
Despite the violence and ongoing repression, peasant families refuse to go away. They maintain their commitment to the land, despite backroom deals and a government that sides more with banks than its citizens.