Ten to twenty people, from teenagers to older campesinos, stand guard near the gate separating the road from the beginning of the Marañones land occupation of the Movimiento Unificado Campesino de Aguán (Unified Peasant Movement of Aguán, better known as MUCA). Just past them, plastic bags, tarps, sacks and other material stretch between hundreds of trees providing shelter to the over 1,000 families. Though they are direly poor and conditions are harsh, the children and families that emerge are anything but the picture of desperation. Instead, they are national heroes who have re-taken lands formerly controlled by one of Honduras's richest men, Miguel Facussé. They, along with over 2,000 other families at six total occupations along the Aguán river, have withstood brutal killings, torture, arrests, beatings and ongoing intimidation in order to challenge one of Honduras's most powerful men and the coup regime he helped install.
The gates open and the committee guarding the entrance allows the delegation to enter. As the delegation walks towards the encampment, the MUCA activist accompanying it tells one of the men resting in the shade to assemble a few people to explain the situation. Within minutes, dozens of people emerge, with more and more joining them, eager to tell the story of this ongoing confrontation between some of Honduras's poorest and one of its richest. Just ten days ago, they explain, one of their young people, a boy of just 17 years old, Oscar Yovani Ramírez, was captured, tortured and brutally killed. As insult to injury, the police who came to pick up his body captured and tortured five more members of MUCA.
"We are clear that there is no difference between Miguel Facussé's private guards, the police and the army. They are the same," explains one MUCA member.
The struggle in Aguán dates back at least 15 years to when former President Callejas passed the Law of Agricultural Modernization, known to many campesinos as the "Law of Agricultural Liquidation." That law allowed lands previously designated for agrarian reform to be sold off to large land-owners such as Facussé. In 2005, peasants displaced from the area along the Aguán river in Colón along with other landless peasants who joined with them organized themselves into MUCA and began pressuring the government to turn the land back over to the landless peasants. For years they carried out actions ranging from hunger strikes to mass marches to highway take-overs. Under the Zelaya administration they finally found an ally in the government and on June 12th, exactly two weeks before President Zelaya was kidnapped and exiled by the military, they signed an agreement to get title to the lands for work in agricultural cooperatives. Needless to say, the military-coup regime did not uphold the agreement made under Zelaya.
Members of MUCA immediately joined the resistance and by December decided to take back the lands in question themselves. From December through April the over 3,000 families of MUCA set up camp on the lands and began cultivating them, amidst ongoing confrontations with the military, the police and the private guards of Miguel Facussé. In April tension reached a precipice as a massive military buildup in the region raised fears internationally of a massacre and bloody eviction. With all eyes turned on Aguán and the coup-continuing Lobo regime desperately striving to gain international recognition and legitimacy, the government finally decided to concede. Negotiations yielded an agreement giving most of the land in question to MUCA members that was elaborated on April 13th and approved by a vote of all MUCA members on April 17th.
But the threats, intimidations, murders and tortures have continued. While MUCA has followed all the provisions of the agreement, it is still waiting on the government to turn over 3,000 uncultivated hectares of land and it is still waiting to see when the aggression and human rights violations will cease.
Pride and resilience ring in the voices that rise from that land despite the ongoing repression. It is the ultimate story of David vs. Goliath. It is a struggle not just over a piece of land, but for the re-founding of a country where just one year ago the oligarchy and its backers in the U.S. government thought they had finally stopped the rising tide of popular struggle in Latin America. In the eyes of the MUCA members guarding the entrance of these lands and in the playful laughs of the hundreds of children running around them however, one can see and hear that not even a military coup can crush the spirits of an awakened people.
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