Friday, October 9, 2015

War on Drugs? War on Campesinos

The country is buzzing about the arrest of Yankel Rosenthal in Miami for money laundering and the indictment  of Jaime and Yani Rosenthal from one of the most powerful families in Honduras. Karen Spring, the Honduras Coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network has a very thoughtful piece in her Aquí Abajo blog that that lays out both background and things to think about in this "war on drugs" run by Washington DC.  Talking about wars, I am publishing below an article from my visit on Wednesday with the campesino leaders in Progreso from the CNTC.

Conversation with Magdalena Morales & CNTC regional leaders - Progreso
Campesino Movement Still Fighting for Justice and Survival

Wednesday October 7th .
V. Cervantes

The National Center for Rural Workers (CNTC) in the province of Yoro has 42 organized communities, each with several cooperative projects (campesino empresas).  Magdalena Morales is the general secretary and we were joined by Francisco, Julian and Bernabe, the other members of the regional secretariat. I was eager to get an update on one of their communities in Sulaco that, on August 18th,  was violently evicted from its land after 15 years. The community is named Hernando Figueroa and has been home to two former national General Secretaries of the CNTC.
Sulaco eviction

At least 200 police and military, accompanied by the government Human Rights Commission, arrived at the community with 12 patrol cars, an ambulance, firemen and armored vehicle. No eviction order was shown, but the troops destroyed 20 homes, an evangelical church and about 350 acres of beans, corn and other food crops which represented all the community's cultivation.  Only the intervention by phone of a regional official from the government's Agrarian Institute stopped the violence before the Catholic church and preschool and water purification system were destroyed.

Magdalena said that the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez seems to have new protocols for violence in evictions: using quantities of tear gas, sending in ambulances, firemen and armored vehicles with larger numbers of both military and police troops---as if they were going to war. The group talked about the recent attacks on settlements in Choluteca and Villanueva as examples of how far the government is willing to go in making poor people homeless. Those attacks were documented by social and traditional media so that the whole country could see them, most evictions are not shown on television.

The group also talked about the ongoing intimidations against campesino leaders. In Progreso there was an intense campaign against the CNTC, especially Magdalena during the recuperation of land claimed by the ASUNOSA corporation (part of SAB Miller's operations). Magdalena was criminally charged and all the leadership was threatened. The case against Magdalena was finally negotiated but there remain threats and intimidations, such as surveillance of the leaders' movements. The group felt, in general, that the Hernandez government has unleashed a new campaign against campesino organizations and communities with threats, evictions and the criminalization of the campesino social movement. They said that one of the key fights for the agrarian movement is to fight this criminalization and intimidation.

Julian, Francisco, Bernabe
Francisco explained that his community, 6 de April,  is also under threat of eviction after more than 11 years on their land. They were being titled under President Zelaya's decree (18-2008), which was aimed at resolving hundreds of long-standing agrarian conflicts in favor of the campesinos living and working on recuperated land. After the coup, the decree was annulled and, in the case of 6 de April, a big landowner claimed the land, first demanding payment from the Agrarian Institute and when that was denied moving to the courts to claim title to the land. The campesinos have now been told by the Agrarian Institute that they need to get a lawyer to defend their title, but they do not have the resources to hire private representation. Juan Orlando Hernandez has slashed the budget and and functions of the Agrarian Institute in the past few years so that it no longer provides the same legal and advisory services to the campesinos that it once did.

Magdalena with poster
for Credi-Mujer Law
In the middle of this discussion a reporter and cameraman from the television station, TV Progreso arrived to interview Magdalena about a recent success for the campesino movement, the passage of the Credi-Mujer law in Congress. This law is aimed at increasing gender equity so that poor women and campesinas in the rural areas can get access to credit and other economic assistance. Magdalena talked about the importance of this access in a country with a high percentage of women headed households and single mothers who are struggling to survive. After the reporter left she told me that there are some people who don't feel this small victory is important but that she and other women leaders believe that it will not only help women directly but indirectly will increase access to other services and assistance for poor women in the countryside.

Magdalena began talking about the determination of the organized campesino movement to begin the fight again for Congress to pass their project, the Law for Integral Agrarian Reform with Gender Equity.  She said that they had not been able to win in Congress over the past two years but are gearing up to fight again because only with a just agrarian reform will it be possible to begin to address the extreme poverty and the agrarian conflicts and violence against communities  in the countryside.

Margarita Murillo
Another important campaign that Magdalena said they want to take up is an independent investigation of the assassination of Margarita Murillo, a campesina leader and member of the resistance, killed on August 26, 2014, in nearby Villanueva while working on her parcel of land.

Margarita was a founding member of an early campesino organization, the FENACAMH (National Unity Campesino Front) and of the CNTC. She was kidnaped and tortured during the repressive period of the 1980's and had to go into hiding. She returned and after the coup became active in the resistance. At the time of her murder she had protective measures ordered by the Interamerican Human Rights Commission but, as is usual,  the Honduran government had not complied with requirements to provide protection. Magdalena said that there is a real need for an independent investigation to find out the facts because otherwise there will not be a serious attempt to know what happened.

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