Thursday, July 4, 2013

In the Mountains of La Paz, Campesinos Struggle for their Land

In the municipality of San Jose, high in the mountains of the western province of La Paz the scenic views are breathtaking, mountain peaks covered in vegetation-  pine trees, flowering bushes, coffee plants - with bright colored birds and in the late afternoons a soft damp fog that sinks down into the little valleys. But for the campesinos, most of whom are indigenous Lencas, affiliated to the CNTC and other campesino organizations, the life in La Paz is harsh.

La Paz has one of the most intense agrarian conflicts in the country. Our delegation visited the regional CNTC center and 3 communities that have been recently evicted (desalojados). The CNTC has 53 base communities in La Paz. The land plots in La Paz are much smaller than the extensive plantations in the Aguan Valley and Sula Valley but the population is very concentrated and the large number of landless campesinos is up against a local political and economic elite that includes the family of a former President (Suazo). Land is power in La Paz and now even more so as the big landowners looks towards development of mineral and water resources as well as coffee and other development.

30 of the CNTC communities are involved in intense land conflicts. In 2013 so far there have been 40 violent evictions, two during the month of June. Although there have not been deaths, each time the military/police forces burn down the campesinos’ shelters, destroy their crops, beat even the women and children and arrest and torture the detainees. 200 CNTC members have legal cases against them - some were jailed temporarily and released on probationary measures (having to travel distances each week to sign in at police stations). Others have been held longer and 5 CNTC campesinos were jailed for 5 months last year. The campesinos told us that the La Paz general prosecutor is openly hostile to the campesinos and has implemented measures such as eviction raids in the middle of the night (not actually allowed under Honduran law), and is using conservation laws to prosecute campesinos for supposedly damaging trees and the environment because those laws have tougher penalties than land takeover charges.

We visited three groups: Planes de Calamateca (36 families) which we had visited last September after an eviction - they were evicted again this June.
Fuerza Unida (38 families). They were evicted in June also. The police and soldiers burned down all of their wooden huts - then after those fires spread to the pine forest, the prosecutor accused the campesinos of violating environmental protection laws by causing the fire.
Finally we visited a new recuperation with only 6 months in place, Los Laureles (48 families). They were last evicted in April of 2013 but have replanted many crops although they have not rebuilt homes in the same area.

It was heartbreaking and frustrating to speak with the families who described building small homes and planting crops only to have everything destroyed - and repeating this process multiple times. The campesinos told us that the land is their existence and their identity and they can’t give up their struggle. The CNTC regional and national leaders traveling with us explained the importance of national and international support and the current demand of all the campesino organizations in Honduras for an end to all the evictions and for a new Integral Land Reform Law that creates a just distribution of land to increase food production for the whole country and provides the populous countryside with a decent life.

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