Brothers and sisters:
We are deeply concerned by increasing seriousness of the situation for the campesino movement in Bajo Aguán, in the northern region of Honduras. Fresh reports are coming to us daily – some of them desperate – of crimes committed against the people of the Aguán. With a military and police presence which has recently increased significantly – a presence which has been repeatedly criticised for its repressive role – we are convinced that action is urgently needed to avoid a further deterioration in the situation.
We are particularly concerned about the terror experienced by the children of the Bajo Aguan, as their trauma – caused by the repression and fear they are continually subjected to – will last, permanently affecting their lives. A few days ago, precisely at the same time that the Operation Relámpago (Operation Lightning) was being launched by the military, a group of campesinos were returning from the cemetery where they had visited the graves of their campesino friends and relatives who had died in the struggle for land, and were attacked, resulting in some being killed and others wounded. The children accompanying them were witnesses to this brutal attack.
In view of all this, we are raising our voice to sound the alarm and to request a quick and efficient response by the peoples, governments and institutions of our America in defence of life and to lay the foundations for a just resolution to deep-rooted conflicts.
Some background information
The seriousness of the problem was highlighted on 24 October, at the 143rd Period of Sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which noted the increase in murders – 42 people associated with campesino organisations murdered between September 2009 and October 2011 – persecutions, threats and intimidation of 3,500 campesino families demanding their right to land and food, and who find themselves completely defenceless when confronted with the criminal repression and looting by the Honduran oligarchy, essentially associated with oil palm production in this region and closely linked with the political regime installed by the 2009 coup. In addition to these murders, there are legal proceedings against over 160 campesinos – initiated up to July 2011 – forced evictions, and the destruction of the homes and livelihoods of entire villages.
According to the reports and public statements available, over 600,000 of the country’s families are landless, and the Honduran state has no agrarian strategy to deal with this serious social problem. Land conflict in Honduras has intensified and become more polarized with the 1992 Ley de Modernización Agrícola (Agricultural Modernisation Law), which allowed the existing limits on land tenure to be exceeded, resulting in enormous plantations in the Bajo Aguan being concentrated in the hands of land-owners such as Miguel Facussé, Reynaldo Canales and René Morales Carazo.
The current government, instead of addressing the serious and systematic violation of the population’s economic, social and cultural rights, launched Xatruch II, a joint operation under which, since the middle of August, about a thousand police and soldiers from the Naval Force (Fuerza Naval) and the Infantry Battalion based in the Aguán have been deployed in the region, as well as – since November 2011 – Operación Relámpago, ostensibly in order to ‘reduce the wave of murders and kidnappings in the country’.
Against this background, there have been serious and alarming reports in the region of agents from Operation Xatruch II being involved in the torture of campesinos, and US marines and Colombian paramilitaries advising the army and the landowners’ private security guards, as well as the presence of paramilitaries linked to the drugs trade, known as the Zetas, from Mexico.
Ironically, while death and terror continue to sweep through the fields of Bajo Aguán, and the regime criminalizes the campesino struggle and intensifies the militarization of the area, its leader, Porfirio Lobo, assures the world that the peace and reconciliation process within the country is making progress, thereby securing the reintegration of the State of Honduras into the Organisation of American States (OAS) and other international bodies as an active member with full voting rights. At the same time, free rein is given to ambitious plans for investment, indebtedness and occupation of the country’s territory, in order to increase the looting and plundering. Far from achieving this peace and reconciliation, the Honduran people are suffering the impacts of a system which has collapsed.
The National Police, responsible for protecting the population from criminals, is being shaken by the deepest crisis in its history, being condemned for its failure to fight crime and catch the perpetrators, for its human rights violations, and for the links which many of its officers have with the drugs trade, organized crime, and contract killings.
Instead of putting an end to the crimes which each year increase by thousands – and which places Honduras as one of the world’s most violent countries according to the Global Study on Homicide (2011) by UNODC (the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) – the Honduran police mercilessly attack the population, with the campesinos of the Bajo Aguán among their main victims, due their resolute struggle for land.
Faced with this situation, the international community’s response has tended to aggravate the conflicts rather than resolve them. As well as supporting Honduras’ full reinstatement into the Organisation of American States, ignoring the wave of repression which has been unleashed and the lack of legal safeguards resulting from the collapse of the justice system and the impunity which prevails, the US has noticeably increased its military presence, training exercises and expenditure in the country, including opening three new military bases in the period following the 2009 coup.
From June this year, in a joint move, involving the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank, and the USA among others, under the banner of a new Central America Regional Security Initiative which is supposed to be designed to improve the fight against the drugs trade and other forms of organised crime, strong support and increased supplies are being provided precisely to those sectors most implicated in these crimes. This new transnationalisation of a very peculiar concept of security, always under US control, already has many precedents both in the country and in the region, including the ‘security chapter’ incorporated into NAFTA, the results of which can be seen in Mexico. Its links with policies for investment, indebtedness and territorial control also cannot be ignored, under which, in the Bajo Aguan and the Garífuna coastal areas, as well as other parts of Honduras, there are efforts to impose schemes for ‘greened’ land theft – ‘renewable energy’, ‘ecological reforestation’ and ‘sustainable tourism’ – despite the opposition of the inhabitants who see their life chances under increasing attack.
For these reasons:
– We ask the Latin American and Caribbean presidents, including those who voted for the Honduras’ reinstatement into the OAS, to:
Arrange for their governments to have a presence in Bajo Aguán, appointing a representative from their embassies to go to the region in person, and to make the necessary efforts to stop the systematic aggression and the murders of campesinos.
Suspend all financial aid to the government, especially funds destined for the Ministries of Defence and of Public Security. To suspend all international aid aimed at strengthening the army, national police and maintaining foreign interference, whether in the form of a loan or a grant.
– We ask the Organisation of American States to organise a Fact-Finding Mission to Bajo Aguán as a matter of urgency, with the support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
– We ask the United Nations to send Special Rapporteurs to the country to record the testimony of the populations in the areas affected.
– We ask the international financial institutions, and international investors and so-called ‘donors’ to suspend all operations affecting the region, until such time as their necessity and legitimacy have been evaluated from the perspective of the rights of the communities affected.
– We demand that the Honduran authorities respect the following commitments undertaken before the international community:
1) Upholding human rights:
· Providing protection to people and communities at risk.
· Investigating crimes committed and punishing those responsible.
· Ending the criminalisation of campesino movements and the impunity enjoyed by the major landowners.
2) Advance progress on the part of the State towards resolving the serious land issue affecting Honduran campesinos:
· Halting forced evictions.
· Guaranteeing the campesinos’ right to land, education, health, and housing.
· Preventing the advance of agribusiness at the expense of food sovereignty, and concessions and sales of land and of our natural heritage without the obligatory prior and informed consultation of those affected.
3)Demilitarization of the region:
· Suspend military operations.
· Put an end to the foreign military presence.
– Finally, we ask the peoples of the continent to remain alert to the very dangerous situation in Honduras, particularly in the Bajo Aguán area, and to offer solidarity by participating in the various initiatives of the region’s grassroots organisations, such as the International Human Rights Observatory for the Aguán (Observatorio Internacional de Derechos Humanos para el Aguan) and solidarity brigades.
The Massacre in the Bajo Aguan must be Stopped Urgently!
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate – Nora Cortiñas, Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, Founding Line – Jubileo Sur/Américas (signatures confirmed so far)