This afternoon, February 14th, the courts of El Progreso, Yoro issued a provisional dismissal in the case of Magdalena Morales, Regional Director of the National Union of Rural Workers (CNTC), accused by the transnational sugar producer AZUNOSA, a subsidiary of SABMiller (South African Brewing-Miller Brewing, headquartered in England), of land usurpation, damages, and continued profit losses.
Magdalena was arrested on July 27, 2013, jailed (for a short time) and then given an alternative injunction ordered by a judge as a substitute for jail (basically she was order to appear every 15 days at the courthouse to sign a registry and she was ordered to stay away from the community of Agua Blanca Sur, the site of the recuperation) and now this trial took place in the courts of El Progreso, Yoro.
Víctor Fernández, Defense Lawyer for Magdalena, assured that this decision was a cause for celebration, but what was needed in this case was a definitive dismissal .
"Now we have 3 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling, as the plaintiff may apply to the Court of Appeals to reverse the ruling. Also, there is a space of five years in which the MP (Ministerio Publico, the Prosecutor) could investigate the case, we should remember that the conflict that we have here remains intact, that is whether the company is the legitimate owner of the land that is in dispute with the peasant movements," said Fernandez.
Magdalena Morales was surprised and happy assuring that the ruling was hopefully a demonstration of the fairness of the fight .
Members of the Association of Peasant Development in Progreso (ADCP) accompanied Magdalena with demonstration at all the hearings all the way up to today.
Last week the peasant farmer Isabel Morales of the Peasant Movement of Aguán (MCA) was convicted by the courts of La Ceiba again for the murder of Manrique Osorto, family member of Deputy Police Commissioner Henry Osorto who waged a land dispute with the Guadalupe Carney community in Trujillo , Colón, which belongs to the MCA .
Magdalena did not hold much hope for " Chabelo " Morales whom the justice system has convicted twice now even though the defense had proven his innocence.
These are two emblematic cases of the struggle for access to land, and the message of the State to these farmer’s groups: If you continue the fight this is what can happen to you, stated Omar Menjivar, Maagdalena’s other Defense Lawyer.
Magdalena Morales’ Case
Observers from the International Accompaniment Project in Honduras – PROAH – wrote a summary of the process that led Magdalena Morales to be accused by the company because before there were several attempts at conciliation.
The two sides are locked in a dispute over land in Agua Blanca Sur, occupied by AZUNOSA which operates in the Sula Valley.
The reconciliation process, which began in November 2013, should have allowed the withdrawal of charges against the peasants (who had occupied the disputed land until their expulsion in June 2013). But by Jan. 29th at the 4th conciliation meeting between the company and farmers, it had hardly progressed. AZUNOSA made no specific offer and Magdalena Morales faced another court hearing on February 11th.
Before the hearing, counsel for AZUNOSA relied on the verdict of the Supreme Court dated December 9, 2013, in favor of the sugar company. Apparently it was not made public until December 20th, leaving little time for the peasant farmer’s legal team to react. Finally, they brought an appeal against the judgment on grounds of unconstitutionality (writ of amparo). The judgment of the Supreme Court endorses the decision of the National Agrarian Council (CAN) in November 2012, which reversed the decision of the INA (The National Agrarian Institute) in March 2012 in favor of the peasants. (The CAN was basically created by the ruling elite to destabilize INA, which had historically been the government agency that carried out land reforms benefiting campesinos)
The INA had ruled against AZUNOSA because their land holdings in Agua Blanca Sur surpassed the "sobretecho " – the ceiling imposed by the LMDSA ( 1992 Modernization Act and the Agricultural Sector Development ), which limits 250 hectares of land ownership in the Sula Valley. AZUNOSA has argued that the purpose of the LMDSA was to discourage the accumulation of idle land for speculative purposes and was not intended to be used against farms in full production, claiming that this is explicit in the preamble of LMDSA .
AZUNOSA argues that it was on that basis that the SAG (Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock ) had formally granted the “sobretecho” waiver.
Today we met the ruling for provisional dismissal for Magdalena Morales that, although it could be reversed, means a victory for Morales and all the peasant movements of the Sula Valley .
According to the latest data from the CNTC , there are now a total of 108 persons subject to proceedings in relation to this case (meaning that they have to regiser every 15 days at the courthouse or be arrested if they don’t). The cases of Magdalena and Chabelo are not the only ones, also the leadership of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras ( COPINH ) was charged by the company DESA which sought to install a hydroelectric dam on a Lenca community in Intibucá. However, after a long process of criminalization, Bertha Cáceres, accused by the hydroelectric company (of similar charges as those of Magdalena) also obtained a provisional dismissal of her charges .
The criminalization of these peasant leaders is the case with many peasants in Honduras which is reflected in the faces of Jose Isabel Morales and Magdalena Morales, in an effort to assert their right to the land as a provider of life, they are persecuted, threatened, killed, prosecuted and imprisoned, and and shown implacable justice .
The cases of "Chabelo" Morales and Magdalena Morales are a true reflection of persecution against those who dare to challenge a piece of land to pursue what they do best: grow food to support their families and a step toward a guarantee of food security for people suffering from hunger and who have a big thirst for justice.