Bajo Aguán:

A place where life is worthless

International Mission


An alarming scenario of deprivation of the most basic rights unfolded before the members of Rel-UITA and the other organizations that are participating in the International Mission to Bajo Aguán. This northeastern corner of Honduras has become a no-man’s land where African palm rules.


The reports filed by hundreds of Bajo Aguán peasant families struggling for access to land and decent living conditions all speak of unchecked violence and systematic and selective murders that go unpunished, a court system that harasses the people, overcrowded housing conditions, lack of access to basic services, and the government’s failure to comply with any of the agreements it signs.


During its first days in Bajo Aguán, the mission team, formed by representatives of several national and international organizations,1 visited the settlements occupied by the United Peasants Movement of Aguán (Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguán, or MUCA) and met with lawyers of the victims and members of the Authentic Movement for the Rights of Aguán Peasants (Movimiento Auténtico Reivindicador de Campesinos del Aguán, or MARCA).


As they visited the settlements and interviewed the people living there, the members of the mission team were able to perceive again and again the widespread violence and impunity that these people suffer. But as they came up to give their testimonies, the men and women of Bajo Aguán also evidenced an unwavering fortitude that sustains them as they struggle for their rights.


“We’re up against very difficult situations. The government signs agreements with us, only to ignore them. We don’t own the land, we’re living in plastic champas (huts), many of our children are sick, and most have no access to education,” Ricardo Morales, of La Lempira settlement, told Sirel.


“There are more than 300 families here. We plant our own food and work in the palm fruit harvest but we’re just barely surviving. We’re constantly bullied by private guards hired by Miguel Facussé.”


“After 6 p.m. we can’t move freely because they’re surrounding us. They threaten us, point their guns at us, and fire shots in the air to terrorize us.”


 “A single person can’t own this much land while we’re all being denied the right to work and live decently,” Morales said.


Threats, persecution and murder are words that keep coming up in the testimonies of the people of Bajo Aguán. With tears in her eyes, Margarita Méndez Ramírez recalls how a hired gunman killed her husband, José Leonel Guerra, a member of MUCA, in front of their terrified daughters.


“He got up to go to his mom’s and as he stepped out into the street a man drove by on a motorcycle and shot him. They killed him in front of our daughters. They were right there and saw him being gunned down. I ran out but there was nothing I could do. Our youngest daughter was only a few days old.”


“We filed a report with the Prosecutor’s Office, but the case is not being followed and nothing is being done to bring the killer to justice. In this country you just can’t trust justice,” Méndez Ramírez said.


Impunity and harassment from the justice system


According to the lawyer who is following numerous court cases against members of the peasant movement, in Bajo Aguán there is clearly a situation of impunity and harassment by the justice system, and the people live in a permanent state of defenselessness.


“They’re treating the struggle of the peasants as a criminal activity. We’ve been able to get 80 activists out of jail, but there are people with as many as seven pending trials, and 162 peasants have been prosecuted in the area since January 2010.”


The lawyer, who preferred to remain anonymous for personal safety reasons, also said that the Prosecutor’s Office has acted as a spearhead for large landholders, representing the interests of palm producers.


“In the city of Trujillo, in particular, the prosecutors are extremely aggressive, they’re like inquisitors who are out to suppress any efforts to defend the peasants. The courts and the prosecutors here are criminalizing social protests, they’re pawns who respond to the interests of agro-industrial producers,” the lawyer concluded.


Right before this article was posted, SIREL was informed that MUCA director Matias Valle had been arrested and taken to the Central Támara Penitentiary for illegal possession of a weapon.


From Tocoa, Giorgio Trucchi


February 28, 2011





Photo: "La Lempira" settlement (Rel-UITA, Giorgio Trucchi)


1-  International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), Swiss Interchurch Aid (HEKS), Rel-UITA, Copenhagen Initiative for Central America and Mexico (CIFCA), FIAN International, Via Campesina International, MS Denmark, and Honduran human rights organizations.


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