A version of this piece originally appeared in Latin America Bureau.
The Latin America Bureau (LAB) interviewed Grassroots’ partner, Rafael Alegría in Honduras. Co-coordinator for the Via Campesina-Central America, Rafael joins hundreds of other peasants in occupying land to call attention to the need for agrarian reform. Below is the interview, which also appeared on the Via Campesina website.
Honduras, May 3, 2012
Rafael Alegría: My name is Rafael Alegría and I am from Honduras. I am the regional co-ordinator for La Via Campesina in Honduras and for all of Central America. We are coordinating La Via Campesina which is a movement that integrates 6 organizations at a national level: the National Office of Farm Workers (CNTC), the National Association of Campesino Organizations (ANACH), the Western Region Association (ANRO), the San Manuel Campesino Movement and the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguan (MUCA), amongst other organizations.
At this moment in time, there is a very serious agricultural conflict taking place – the campesinos want to work and produce their own food to feed their families and to contribute to the national economy. This is why on the 17th of April, the International Day of Peasants’ Struggles, the Honduran campesinos occupied 15,000 hectares of national, communal, fiscal and unoccupied lands. But the government and landowners are using repressive measures against the campesinos. At the moment, 126 campesinos have been charged and persecuted with preventive measures. I would also like to mention that there are approximately 700 women participating in the struggle to reclaim the land. LAB: Are the land occupations still happening or has everyone been evicted?
Rafael Alegría: The San Manuel movement has been evicted twice but they are still determined and have taken over a part of the land. But they are receiving threats and proceedings on behalf of the sugar companies and those who own the press, because in the North it is run by an agricultural middle class who own the land, the banks, the press, the prosecution service and the police, all of whom are conspiring against the campesinos. One of the wounded is called Neftalí Zúñiga, who was injured by the armed groups who work for these owners and the sugar companies on the country’s Northern Coast.
LAB: Why did you decide to undertake this kind of action? What is it about the situation in Honduras that caused you to take such drastic action – reclaiming the land by occupying it?
Rafael Alegría: In Honduras, the INA (National Institute of Agriculture) was created 51 years ago, but the agricultural situation is still as problematic now as it was back then. By this I mean that the government has no interest in advancing Agrarian Reform and so they work extremely slowly and sometimes they rule in favor of the landowners or employers even when the campesinos have rights to the land, as it states in the Republic’s Constitution and the country’s laws.
LAB: I have read that you have received criticism for your participation in these occupations and would like to ask what have been the repercussions for you and your organization?
Rafael Alegría: I have been a campesino leader for 40 years. We are fighting for Agrarian Reform in the country, and I completely identify with the campesinos and support them. La Via Campesina is working for Agrarian Reform. But, yes, I am being targeted by a campaign to blacken my name and am being threatened by groups who are opposed to Agrarian Reform. The campaign against me is huge; it is in all of the most important newspapers and radios in the country. And we are also receiving threats. That is why we are asking for international solidarity for the Honduran movement and its leaders.
LAB: How do you think this situation can be resolved? What are your hopes for the future of campesinos in Honduras?
Rafael Alegría: Well, Don Porfirio Lobo Sosa has announced he will emit a decree and we are waiting to see if this will resolve the issue. But we have no idea of what this consists– neither the government nor the mining ministry or anyone has called us to talk about it or discuss anything. So the government has no intention of having a dialogue with the campesinos and it seems that there is no will to resolve this situation in favor of them.
LAB: Is there anything you would like to add, such as your message to people abroad or in Europe?
Rafael Alegría: It is important and we ask for the solidarity of the European [and North American] people, of people with goodwill, to send letters to the government asking that the situation is resolved in favor of the campesinos. The campesinos are in an extremely difficult situation. 40% of the population lives in destitution and abject poverty that they could get out of if they had access to land, credit and technical assistance. So we need international support to defend our human rights and the struggle of the campesino movement in Honduras and Central America.