Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Buenos Amigos Follow-up

Delegation Report -
Yesterday (January 25) we posted an action alert for the campesino community, Buenos Amigos in Elixir, Colon - a community of 100 families at immediate risk of a violent eviction. On January 26, the delegation returned to the community to accompany them further. At the time that we left the community no eviction had occurred but it is still expected at any time.

The community of Buenos Amigos sits on 360 hectares of land, one of several properties owned by landowner Cesar Velasquez, which had been both neglected and foreclosed on, and is now available for agrarian reform.

The community spent three years investigating land that was eligible for reform. Since recuperating the land, the community has begun the process of applying to the National Agrarian Institute (INA) for title to the land. So far, they have not received any response. In fact, the campesinos stated that director of the INA, Cesar Ham, has been particularly unresponsive.

In the two months that they have been on the land, they have faced three evictions (now, four). Blanca Espinoza is a leader in the community who has denounced the violent attempts to remove them. During one of the incidents that Blanca has publicly denounced, they were shot at by unidentified assailants hidden in nearby palm trees. On another day Cesar Velasquez came by with 10 armed men to confiscate large farm equipment in their possession. They demanded to see any official order, but because he could not produce any, they resisted his attempts to enter.

On January 22nd, three vehicles full of heavily armed men arrived to Buenos Amigos and began shooting. They followed a young man of the community and shot at him, fortunately without harming him. They suspect Cesar Velasquez, though they note that they have been confronted by both police and military, as well as by private guards from the Standard Fruit Company (Dole) and other big landowners in the region. Blanca stated that they had to remove their children from the land after this attack because many of them became sick from fear.

The day we went back (January 26), we were informed by Blanca that they had received two calls---one at 9 the night before and the other at 6 in the morning, both threatening immediate eviction. La Voz de los de Abajo attempted to call Cesar Ham, but were only able to leave messages. As of today, he has not returned our call

The residents of Buenos Amigos expressed their gratitude for the presence and support of the delegation, which was the first international delegation to visit the community. They expressed their need for basic elements such as food, money, medicine, and school supplies for their children. They have received support from other campesino communities, but continue to be in danger.

The community of Buenos Amigos remains committed to the land. Though, to them, every eviction signifies death and destruction, Blanca Espinoza said that “If we die in our fight for this land, so be it. I cannot afford fear because I have children, and my compañeros have children. We’re not going to leave this land. If they remove us, we’ll be back in 48 hours.”

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