By: Matthew Bridges
Context in Brief:
Since May 2021, the Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective team has been accompanying agricultural cooperatives affiliated with the campesino organization Plataforma Agraria in and around Tocoa, Colon in the northern coast of Honduras. The region, also known as the Bajo Aguan, has been marked by land struggles involving Campesinx/farmer groups, large landowners, and Palm Oil/Agroindustry Companies such as the Dinant Corporation.
In the 1970s, the Honduran government distributed land in the fertile Bajo Aguan valley to agricultural cooperatives, and provided them with land titles. In the 1980s and 90s, many of these cooperatives were dispossessed from their lands by palm oil production companies, who, with tacit and sometimes overt state backing, used misleading and coercive tactics to gain possession of lands, eventually acquiring various types of illegal land use contracts from the government’s Institute of Property (INA in spanish).
This is where the Plataforma Agraria, and the current-day agricultural cooperatives come in. A decade ago, just after the golpe de estado in Honduras, land conflicts within this context were at a boiling point in the region, leading to state repression and massacres, as well as paramilitary activity.
While the region is still full of complexities, the campesino movements of the Aguan are committed to a non-violent struggle for land that is rightfully theirs. Currently, there are 9 cooperatives forming part of the Plataforma Agraria, all of which have definitive titles for their lands. The titles are original from the 1970 land distribution in the region, yet in order for their possession to be legal, the current day cooperatives are composed partially of the offspring of original cooperative members. In order to regain possession of their lands, cooperatives physically re-occupy them through a land recuperation effort, where people enter the property, present their land titles, and begin to live permanently, usually starting off in extremely basic conditions. This is a historic tactic commonly used by campesino movements around Honduras.
Meanwhile, the palm oil producing companies, and business interests in the region, known to work closely with government authorities have pushed defamation campaigns against cooperatives - framing them as armed and violent “invaders”, who are harmful to the economic development of the region.
This week, at least 6 different communities are threatened by imminent eviction, some of which are affiliated with the Plataforma Agraria. Communities feel this to be an act of retaliation, and perhaps one of the final moves of repression by the Hernandez regime and his friends in the Facusé and other landowning families of Honduras before Xiomara Castro takes power late January. This week, our team is on the ground as international observers, with the goal of documenting what we understand to be illegal evictions and to see that human rights are respected. We will continue to post updates throughout the week.
Summary: Dec. 16th, 2021 Eviction of the San Isidro Cooperative
Since we first got word of evictions, about a week ago, information about which communities will be evicted has been difficult to come by and sometimes misleading, as the police have not been willing to share with local or national level organizations. At least 6 evictions total are likely to happen between Dec. 16th-21st. On Dec. 16th, the San Isidro community was evicted. On the 17th, the community Palm Sol Rio Claro was evicted near Trujillo, but we didn’t accompany the community today, since they are not affiliated with the Plataforma Agraria and we have not accompanied them in the past.
On Dec. 16th, 2021, the eviction of the San Isidro community took place without any injuries, and no community members were detained. According to one of the cooperative members, 140 families make up the cooperative. The eviction order was presented to the community, with a Juez Ejecutor/Executing Judge present, and the remaining community members soon after left the property. The CONADEH (Honduras Government Human Rights Agency) was present when we arrived at the 2nd entrance of the property, where the eviction order was presented. After a closer examination of the order, it seems to be an order issued in 2019. We have not been able to verify yet whether the order was actually valid, or if the police carried out an eviction using an expired order.
The cooperative of San Isidro, affiliated with the Plataforma Agraria, has a definitive land title for the San Isidro farm, and they have been on the land for 2 years. Dinant Corporation claims to have tenure over the land. The cooperative had removed small sections of palm plantings to plant yucca, maiz, beans, plantains, and other subsistence crops.
One source told us there were at least 800 police and special force police present for the eviction of the community. We observed that this included “Tigres”, Fuerzas “Rurales”, DPI, and Policia Nacional. We know that the Tigres and the Policia Nacional receive U.S. funding and training. A few wore old green backpacks stamped with “US”, others had US military patches which they seemed to wear as a souvenir of sorts.
We observed several pickup trucks marked with the private security guards contracted by Dinant (Servicios Especiales de Colon). After the eviction, we saw the guards handing out food and drinks to the police out of the back of a pickup truck, and in general being very friendly with the police throughout the day. Relationships of this nature, between police and private security guards, where they work together to repress and criminalize campesinos in the process of land recuperation, have been denounced by the Plataforma on numerous occasions. After leaving, the police left the guards in charge of the land.
Leaders from the cooperatives and the Plataforma Agraria met with CONADEH the day before. One of the leaders from the Plataforma brought up the Interamerican Court of Human Rights case on the Aguan land conflicts, which recommends that the state of Honduras not carry out such evictions in the region, but rather seek dialogue to resolve the land conflicts. Two leaders shared concerning incidents of surveillance and repression they had faced from police or private guards in their communities in recent weeks. The lawyer from CONADEH said there was nothing they could do to stop evictions if there is an order, and that the police wasn’t providing them with information about which communities and what days they would conduct evictions, nor who signed the orders.