Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Celebrations and Evictions: Honduran Reality

October 6, 2015
article and photos of the community,  V. Cervantes

In honor of the International Monetary Fund congratulating the Honduran government on its economic successes (La Prensa October 6) and Honduras Armed Forces Day on October 3rd, today we visited the community of Regalo de Dios (Gift from God) in Villanueva, Cortes, between Progreso and San Pedro Sula.
 The Regalo de Dios community was evicted from its land on September 23, 2015 by police and military who killed a 16 year old boy during the violent attack against the settlement.

The community had lived on the land for more than 7 years, constructing houses of cinderblock as well as wood, a church, and other buildings. 70 families live there and there were 20 houses under construction at the time of the eviction which started at 6 am on the morning of the 23rd when
police and military under the command of the Commissioner of the National Police in San Pedro Sula arrived. Members of the community told us that at least 32 troops came in and went house by house, beating and shoving around men, women and children while forcing them out of their homes. The people were yelling at the police and soldiers while moving and the police began firing tear gas. At some point many more troops arrived.  Residents from the surrounding neighborhoods began arriving to support the people in Regalo de Dios and the police fired more gas and then began firing live ammunition. 

Tear gas blanketed the area not only of Regalo de Dios but the entire area, made of numerous settlements on both sides of the highway. There was so much gas that it was heavy even at a school in session at least the distance of 3 football fields away from Regalo de Dios. One of the women told us that she and a boy ran from her home and took refuge in another building a little further away from the police but that the gas was so asphyxiating that they felt like they might die, and had to run further away. A nine month old baby was severely affected and had to be rushed to the hospital. The men we talked to told us that not only were the police and soldiers using incredible quantities of gas but they also were firing the canisters directly at the people, not up in the air, so that many people were injured by the canisters. 
The 16 year old boy, Fernando Castro was not even in Regalo de Dios but was with others who either fled or had come from other communities and were outside the land when he was fatally wounded by the gunfire from the police and army. 

The authorities finished by bringing in bulldozers and destroying the homes and community church. (Video  from Facebook via Orlin Martinez Almendares. 

The community leaders told us that this land was originally part of the Tela Company property (the US corporation that became part of Standard Fruit and owned most of the northern coast of Honduras for much of the 20th century. When the Company left it gave the land over to the Honduran government, thus making it eligible for distribution to people for agrarian reform. The landowner claiming the land is Alejandrina Elan Maldonado, the widow of Carlos Israel Martinez — the community leaders say that neither Carlos nor Alejandrina legitimately have title. One man told us that,  “it always happens that the State and all its forces just favor the rich and not poor people like us”. 

Meanwhile the IMF conducted its second review of the Honduran government’s economic program and approved the structural reforms and policies for economic development, predicting that the Honduran economy will grow 3.6% in 2016. Roberto Garcia Saltos, head of the IMF mission to Honduras this month said that, “We congratulate the Honduran government on its macroeconomic success….The mission is pleased to by the positive results achieved thanks to the appropriate political and economic decisions made in the past 22 months.”

These decisions include support for “charter or model” cities, destruction of the public health system and violent evictions and an intensification of the criminalization of the agrarian land movements. It is all too obvious that any growth occurring is not for the country’s poor. 

Photo La Prensa, Honduras
The eviction in Regalo de Dios occurred while Juan Orlando Hernandez was in the area celebrating the inauguration of various government projects and handing out baskets of food in the extremely poor agricultural communities in Yoro which have been devastated by the drought and government policies. 

On October 3rd, the military was celebrated (and by extention, the government's policy of militarization throughout the country) by the government with a massive parade and festival in the national stadium in Tegucigalpa and smaller activities in some other areas. The people of Regalo de Dios are in no mood to celebrate repression; the families there have started returning to the land and rebuilding homes, but they fear what might happen in the future. 
Official government photo

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