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Honduran Peasants Resist Land Grabbing, Occupy Farms

February 2013

Last month, Honduras passed legislation to allow the construction of charter cities in the ancestral land of Afro-descendant Garifunas and peasant communities. 

Charter cities relies on the [false] premise that foreigner investors can solve social and economic issues such as poverty and hunger by building and governing new cities that replace the endemic problems of the old.  Earlier, the Honduran Supreme Court had ruled a previous law regarding the charter cities as unconstitutional, because it violated the basic principle of national sovereignty. In response, the National Congress made a few adjustments and approved the amended legislation. The North American Congress in Latin America published an article about the charter cities in Honduras and its promoter, New York University professor Paul Romer. The article’s author, Keane Bhatt avers: “Even on its own terms, Romer’s development theory is disconnected from reality. He has repeatedly invoked Hong Kong as the sunny inspiration for the remaking of Honduras: ‘In a sense, Britain inadvertently, through its actions in Hong Kong, did more to reduce world poverty than all the aid programs that we’ve undertaken in the last century,’ he claimed. Romer neglected to add that the city developed as a hub for the largest narcotrafficking operation in world history, through which Britain inflicted untold misery on the Chinese mainland.” The passing of charter cities legislation in Honduras’ Caribbean Coast region represents a massive land transfer from Hondurans to foreigners. It will prevent campesinos and campesinas displaced in the process from realizing their rights to land and food. And, no doubt, the growing mass of landless peasants means the continuation of hunger and forced migration. Charter Cities and land grabs means maintaining Honduras in a hole of economic vulnerability and social and economic disparities. Knowing that this path of neo-colonial policies will set their struggle for land rights and agrarian reform back, Honduran peasants are pressing for its repeal through land occupations. Last week, thousands of small farmers and peasants participated in three new occupations. On February 17, 2,500 peasant families affiliated to the Association for the Development of Peasant Families of El Progreso occupied 9,042 acres of farmland that had already being expropriated for agrarian reform by the National Agrarian Institute (INA).  Simultaneously, 1,500 peasant families of the Peasant Movement of San Manuel Cortez occupied an area of approximately 7,400 acres on which to raise their families and produce food. The next day, February 18, a group of peasant families, members of the Peasant Association “Juan Almendarez Bonilla” reclaimed 175 acres of idle farmland. Peasant leaders of the occupation affirmed that the land occupations are a grassroots reaction to the charter cities. “Our goal is to create peasant charter cities,” said one occupation leader. The number of killed peasants continues to grow According to human rights organizations and solidarity groups, the June 2009 coup d’état in Honduras had the ultimate goal of stopping government policies that had favored land transfers to peasant families. The coup, which received prompt support from the Obama administration, was quickly followed by massive repression against peasant families and organizations.  Just a few hours before the land occupations, two peasants were brutally killed. Santos Jacobo Cartagena was murdered at a bus stop. Jose Trejo, brother of lawyer Antonio Trejo (who was killed last year), was also gunned down. To date in 2013 alone, nine people have been murdered. According to Rights Action, 88 peasants and human rights defenders have been killed since January of 2010. The resulting climate of fear impacts organizing efforts, but has not stopped them.

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