Thursday, May 26, 2016

From the Aguan Valley: La Lucha Sigue

May 9, 2016, meeting with campesino
organizations in Tocoa, Colon
Article and photos by Vicki Cervantes
Video: Massacre en El Tumbador courtesy of Alto Al Riesgo, written and directed by Laura Bermúdez. 

On May 24, 2016 at around 6:30 in the morning, Jinson Aldin Alfaro Almendares, a young member of the campesino group Empresa Campesina Gregorio Chávez was shot in the back without warning by private paramilitary guards working for COFRUCO, a large land holder in the Aguan, as he worked in his fields. The COFRUCO plantation as well as the land Jinson was working are next to the Paso Aguan plantation controlled by the Faccusee family's corporation Dinant. The Paso Aguan plantation and the nearby community of Panama have been the scene of many attacks on local campesinos including the murder in 2012 of Gregorio Chavez, which has never been investigated and remains in impunity.   Jinson survived, but this incident is one of many, recent attacks against campesinos and their organizations. The day before the shooting, the home of the coordinator of the campesino umbrella organization the Regional Agrarian Platform for the Aguan Valley, Jaime Cabrera was surrounded for a time by armed men wearing ski masks while Jaime was inside the house. Police refused to take action against the guards who shot Jinson. (Information on the attack as reported by the Plataforma Agraria del Aguan via Karla Zelaya). 

In Guadalupe Carney on May 9, premier of documentary
of 2010 El Tumbador massacre of 5 campesinos

Just two weeks ago, I participated in an International Human Rights Observer Mission organized by COFADEH (May 6-12) that met with campesino organizations in the Aguan, including the Movimiento Revindicador Campesino Gregorio Chavez, Movimiento Unificado Campesinos del Aguan (MUCA) Movimiento Authentico Revindicador Campesino del Aguan (MARCA)  and the Permanent Human Rights Observatory of the Aguan (OPDHA).

That same day we also participated in an event to commemorate and launch a new struggle to demand justice for the November 2010 massacre of 5 campesinos from the MCA by guards working for DINANT.  COFADEH has been working with the survivors of the massacre and the families of the murdered campesinos and is getting ready to take the case to the international justice system. The event held in the community of Guadalupe Carney included a photo exhibition of the survivors and victims and the premier showing of a new documentary about the El Tumbador.

May 9, Meeting with survivors and victims
of 2010 massacre at El Tumbador 
The meeting with campesino organizations, social movement organizations such as the Coordinator of Peoples' Organizations of the Aguan (COPA), and community organizations from the towns in the region who are defending the environment from mining and mega-tourism projects took place in the town of Tocoa. Participants in the meeting gave moving testimony about the violence, including murders, against campesinos, and different trickery and pressure being used to facilitate campesino lands passing into the hands of the large landowners and agro-businesses. Testimony also denounced what is seen as a new phase in the violence in the Aguan in which large scale violent attacks have been replaced with a more selective violence, infiltration of communities, threats and intimidations to terrorize and disorganize all opposition to land grabbing, mining and dispossession of the poor residents of the Aguan.

MUCA leaders speaking
MUCA leaders talked about the establishment of outright death squads, one group calls itself "head collectors of Colon"; on September 1, 2015 after police attacked a local protest with live ammunition and tear gas, a Coronel was reported to have said that he wanted the heads of two campesino leaders which he named by their names. Around the same time a 'hit list' came to light with more names of leaders and activists. Environmentalists, members of organizations opposed to the coup and current government also spoke of threats they are receiving. Employees of the National Agrarian Institute spoke of being threatened personally and having their jobs threatened because they support campesinos or because they belong to LIBRE (the left opposition party). Another woman who works for the municipality but is opposed to mining concessions that will affect her community. She was told at work that her job was at risk and that furthermore that bad things happen to people working against mining.

Members of the human rights observatory (OPDHA) also gave testimony about recent attempts on their lives. Irma Lemus and Rigoberto Duran were run down by a car that was obviously waiting for them as they rode by on Rigoberto's motorcycle. Both suffered serious injuries. There were previous incidents in which cars with darkened windows and without license plates followed them and attempted to intimidate or run them off the road. Campesino activists and members of COPA and other social movements emphasized that Juan Orlando Hernandez's government is firming up a dictatorship that is "asphyxiating" the campesinos and that there is a strong alliance between National Party politicians, big businessmen, judges and police against the campesinos in the Aguan.

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