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Honduras: Terror in the Aguán

By Greg McCain | Upside Down World | April 11, 2013

During the first week of April, the Honduran daily newspaper La Prensa ran a series of articles that included photos, a video and a link to a montage of past articles entitled Terror en el Bajo Aguán. The major thrust of the series is that there are heavily armed clandestine groups of men training in the region. The photos and video show them with AK47s, M16s, and .223 assault rifles, all of which are military issue. All of the men are wearing ski masks over their faces and they appear to be playing to the camera, running in defensive stances, crawling on the ground and being sure to showoff their heavy firepower, all at the direction of whoever is holding the camera. An April 1 article states that there have been more than 90 deaths in the Aguán attributed to people with high caliber arms like the ones shown in the photos. It states that the latest one was a campesino, but it fails to point out that these more than 90 deaths since the coup in 2009 were all campesinos who have been murdered by sicarios: assassins who mainly perform drive by shootings.

Not unexpectedly, the new propaganda campaign being orchestrated by Colonel German Alfaro, commander of Operation Xatruch III and graduate of the School of the Americas, has been carried out with the help of the pro-ruling elite, pro-coup mainstream media. In a further attempt to criminalize the campesino movements, the La Prensa series, by implication and by direct assertions, links the struggles of the campesinos to acquire land that is rightfully and legally theirs to these mysterious armed groups that are roving the Aguán and allegedly terrorizing the private security forces of the rich landowners.

The video of the alleged training maneuvers would be laughable in its obvious staging if the repression that has befallen the campesinos at the hands of the private security guards, the Honduran military, and the National police wasn’t so tragic and ever present. These forces are not just working side-by-side, but are also interchangeable since the security companies that Dinant contracts often hire police and military personnel.

Colonel Alfaro states several times to La Prensa that the identities of these clandestine groups are known and that they even know who the leaders are. In a March 1, 2013 La Prensa article, he asserts that they are being trained by Nicaraguans’ with combat training. He declares that these groups go into the fincas owned by the rich landowners, such as Miguel Facussé’s Paso Aguán, “to terrorize and scare off the security guards. Later, the campesinos go into the plantations to steal the fruit and then money is exchanged at some later date.” No explanation is given as to why it is that campesinos are being killed in overwhelming numbers if this symbiotic relationship truly exists.

The La Prensa “exposé” raises more questions than it answers. If it is the security guards who are being terrorized then why aren’t there huge numbers of their deaths? Furthermore, why are they only a tiny fraction of the campesino deaths, and often found to be the result of infighting among the guards? Why are the campesinos from MARCA who have successfully fought in the courts to retain possession of their land being assassinated? Their lawyer, Antonio Trejo, was assassinated last November in Tegucigalpa after successfully winning the case that secured the land for three of MARCA’s collectives. His brother was later assassinated in Tocoa while investigating his murder. While denying any responsibility, Facussé told an L.A. Times reporter in a December 21, 2012 interview that he certainly had reason to see the lawyer dead. The National Police have attempted to raise spurious claims that the Trejo’s were involved with different less than desirable elements, creating red herrings to take the focus off of Facussé.

There are further questions raised by Alfaro’s claims of there being a connection between armed groups and campesinos.  Why are the leaders of MUCA being stopped at every police checkpoint as they drive from Tocoa on their way to a meeting in Siguatepeque in the south. At one checkpoint an officer said to another, “It’s them… they are here.” Later, when they decide that it is safer not to drive any further, they stop at a hotel to rest and then take a bus at 3am to their destination. A group of armed men was seen by the campesino’s driver, who stayed behind, pulling up to the hotel at 3:30 a.m. and question the receptionist about them. Further, why are Facusse’s guards and police and military on a regular basis harassing the MUCA collectives. A truck full of soldiers drove through the community of La Confiansa on the eve of the internal elections shouting out “we’re hunting for Tacamiches” a derogatory term used by the upper classes and police and military to denote campesinos? Why have the military been surrounding the campesino community of La Panama, which borders the Paso Aguán finca, and in which two bodies of members of the community have been dug up near where the private security guards camped? Meanwhile, more are suspected buried there, but why won’t the police and private security, and indeed, the military allow the community to search for the bodies of those missing?

These are questions that neither the mainstream media will ask, nor will Colonel Alfaro answer. Instead they work in concert to manufacture a connection between alleged criminal groups and the campesinos. Alfaro’s motives are made clear when he states that they are there to protect the property and the palm fruit of the rich landowners. Soldiers are often seen riding in or along side Facusse’s Dinant trucks and they along with the National Police intermingle on a regular basis with Facussé’s and the other rich landowner’s guards, who have often been described by those living in the Aguán as paramilitaries.

Alfaro claims that, after the National Congress passed a decree in 2012 that banned all firearms from being possessed except by the police, military and private security, they captured 200 weapons in the first month (he does not specify if they were of high caliber like AK47s or if they were .22 rifles or handguns), and then an average of about 14 per month since then. It is evident from his boast that the military has greatly disarmed the general public, while it is evident just by driving up and down the roads between Tocoa and Trujillo that the arms of gruesome caliber, as the newspaper describes them, are in the hands of the police, military and paramilitary of Facussé and the other rich landlords.

There are both police and military checkpoints that randomly stop cars and buses along the main road between these two cities. When a bus is stopped all the men are told to leave and keep their bags and backpacks on board along with the women. The men are then told to press up against the bus with arms and legs spread while the very young soldiers of the 15th Battalion, with their rifles strapped across their chests, do a body pat down while looking at IDs. Other soldiers search the personal belongings on the bus. Off to the side of the road is a military personnel carrier that has a mounted machine gun pointed toward the street.  Alfaro doesn’t explain if this is the method that has led to the discovery and confiscation of so many weapons, but it has been successful in labeling every citizen as a potential criminal and preparing the streets for Martial Law as the country prepares for the general elections in November.

In late February, several hundred police, military, and security guards surrounded the community of La Panama, as they have done various subsequent times since then. They proceeded to knock down a security gate that had been erected to keep the paramilitary guards from invading the community. In July of 2012, La Panama found it necessary to put up the gate after one of the community’s leaders, Gregorio Chavez, was disappeared and his corpse later found in the Paso Aguán. His shallow grave was a ten-minute walk from where Facussé’s paramilitary guards had set up an encampment. The community, after pleading with police to accompany them onto the finca, and after international human rights observers had visited and taken testimonies from the community, finally were allowed access. As Señor Chavez’ son and brother pulled the cadaver from the ground it was apparent from marks on the body that he had been tortured. Previous to Chavez’ murder the guards had been harassing him, shooting his chickens, and threatening to do the same to him and his family. They often drove up and down the road that goes through the community with their guns pointing out at the children who played in the yards.

Dinant had put up a building in the middle of the community that functioned as both a guardhouse and a parking space for their palm fruit trucks. A week before his disappearance Gregorio Chavez had gone to this building to complain to someone in charge about the threats and the killing of his chickens. It was also in this building that many in the community had seen the bicycle of one of the disappeared after he went missing.  It is suspected that he is buried in the Paso Aguán. It could be the remains that were recently found on April 3. A security guard who had connections to the community tipped them off as to where they could find the body. The community is hoping, with the help of COFADEH and other human rights groups, to get an international forensic team to positively identify who it is.

This latest news was revealed at a press conference in Tegucigalpa held on the April 3 by the Agrarian Platform of the Campesinos of the Aguán (PARCA, in its Spanish acronym). PARCA is a new initiative formed by 13 campesino movements to better support each other as they face ever-increasing threats to their rights to the land. The press conference was called in response to the La Prensa stories. Yoni Rivas, Secretary General of MUCA, reasserted that the campesinos have no connection to any armed groups. In fact, it was the campesinos who had gone to the press in 2011 to point out that there were armed thugs killing campesinos in the Aguán and he showed pictures of armed men with automatic weapons wearing uniforms that matched the clothes worn by Dinant’s security forces.

The ultimate question is, if Colonel Alfaro and Operation Xatruch are simply doing what they say they are, “maintaining the peace and harmony of the people of Colon,” then why is he conducting press conferences denouncing both Honduran and international human rights groups? On February 18, 2013, in a clear act of aggression toward these groups and in a further attempt at criminalization of the campesinos, he called out human rights observers and campesino leaders. He published the phone numbers of international human rights observers in the US and Europe, and attempted to set up a confrontation between what he refers to as the “Laboriosa población,” the hard working people of the department of Colon against the aforementioned campesino groups referring to them as “a minority”, who create permanent friction and a constant problem of disrespect for the legally established laws and legal authorities. Alfaro’s and the Honduran military’s disdain for the campesinos is further illustrated in the report, Human Rights Violations Attributed to Military Forces in the Bajo Aguan Valley in Honduras written by Annie Bird of Rights Action where she states that her report, “describe[es] the abuses, many of them grave human rights violations, in which soldiers from the 15th Battalion were present and/ or direct participants [in the killings of campesinos]; in either case the 15th Battalion is a responsible party to the violations.” The 15th Battalion is where Xatruch III and Colonel Alfaro are stationed.

In a further indictment of Alfaro’s disingenuousness, during Xatruch’s raid of La Panama in February, there was, coincidentally, a human rights delegation from the US-El Salvador Sister Cities organization visiting the community. This forced the military, police and security guards to retreat. Much of the military force moved into the Paso Aguán finca. Later, members of the community who didn’t want their names made public stated that Alfaro attempted to “negotiate” with the community, but told them to stop talking to human rights groups. They of course denied his request. Today, the tensions between the community and the heavily armed forces continue as the military remain in the finca protecting Facussé’s palm fruit.

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will the World Bank Stop Investing in Campesino Assassinations?

By Arthur Phillips | CEPR Americas Blog | March 8, 2013

On February 27, the office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) for the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) launched an audit of the lending arm’s $30 million investment in Tegucigalpa-based Corporación Dinant, which produces palm oil and food products. The audit comes in response to widespread claims of violence, intimidation, and illegal evictions carried out by Dinant’s private security guards in Honduras’ Bajo Aguán valley, the center of the country’s ongoing land struggle. In offering its resources and reputation to the company, the World Bank and its member countries are complicit in the deaths of countless innocent farmers.

The COA’s review began just two days after the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries urged the Honduran government “to properly investigate and prosecute crimes committed by private security guards and to ensure that victims receive effective remedies.” A delegation from the Working Group was in the country from February 18 to 22, when it met with government officials and representatives of civil society and the private sector, including security firms. The delegates voiced their particular concern about the “alleged involvement of private security companies hired by landowners in widespread human rights violations including killings, disappearances, forced evictions and sexual violence against representatives of peasant associations in the Bajo Aguán region.” Dinant is the largest single landholder in the region.

An appointed panel of unnamed experts is currently convened in Washington, D.C., to review both the IFC’s adherence to its social and environmental policies and the role Dinant has played in the abuses. Many human rights observers consider the company’s owner, Miguel Facussé, to be one of the country’s most powerful men and hold him responsible for the killings of dozens of campesinos.

The audit had been a long time coming. On November 19, 2010, the human rights organization Rights Action wrote a letter to the World Bank’s then-president Robert Zoellick demanding that the financial institution suspend its funding to Honduras. The group cited the “context of grave human rights abuses and lack of independence of the justice system” as grounds to withhold funding, and characterized support for Dinant as “a case of gross negligence of the World Bank’s human rights and due diligence obligations.” In the letter, Rights Action also noted that “at least 19 farmers in this region have been killed in the context of conflicts with biofuel industry interests.” (In a new report released two weeks ago, the same group declared that 88 farmers and their supporters have been killed in Bajo Aguán since January 2010, most of them in targeted assassinations.)

In the ensuing period, the office of the CAO maintained discussions with local civil society organizations and in April 2012, CAO Vice President Meg Taylor informed the IFC that her office was initiating an appraisal of the funding group’s investment in Dinant. That appraisal, having found sufficient grounds for further investigation, culminated this August in the decision to conduct the current audit.

A diverse group of international organizations, including Oxfam, Vía Campesina and the Latin American Working Group, welcomed CAO’s decision. In a co-signed letter, though, the groups expressed their firm demand that the IFC halt its financial cooperation with the palm oil company

until a) clear evidence is provided of significant progress in overcoming impunity of crimes and human rights abuses committed against organized peasants and their supporters in the Lower Aguán; and b) a comprehensive, just, peaceful and sustainable resolution is provided to the conflicts over land between the Corporación Dinant, the government of Honduras and the local peasant movements.

The panel is scheduled to conclude its audit on March 8.

On Friday, March 1, while the CAO panel gathered in Washington, journalist Carlos Augusto Lara Cruz was reportedly threatened by a Dinant employee while covering a confrontation between campesinos and a military unit. It must be noted that Honduran human rights defenders have consistently and credibly accused military and police units of collaborating with Dinant security guards in kidnapping, torturing, and murdering land rights activists.

One of the latest assassinations in the area took place on Thursday, February 21, when lawyer José Andrés Andrade Soto was shot dead in the town of Tocoa. Andrade Soto led the regional office of the National Agrarian Institute until former president Manuel Zelaya was deposed in the June 2009 coup. Today, farmer organizations continue to struggle for land titles that the Zelaya government granted to them shortly before it was overthrown.

As part of its Summary of Proposed Investment, written before the program’s approval in order to boost the institution’s transparency, the IFC described its cooperation with Dinant as an opportunity to help small farmers in Bajo Aguán. It also declared that there was no controversy regarding the land in question. “Land acquisition is on a willing buyer-willing seller basis, and there is no involuntary displacement of any people,” the report assured.

Since that report was published, scores of campesinos have been assassinated for efforts to re-appropriate their rightful land. The World Bank and its member countries bear some degree of responsibility for their deaths. No matter the outcome of the CAO audit, the IFC should apologize for the suffering in which it has been complicit and should immediately revoke its support for Facussé and Corporación Dinant.

March 8, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Killings Continue in Bajo Aguán as New Report Documents Abuses by U.S.-Trained Honduran Special Forces Unit

By Alex Main | CEPR Americas Blog | February 22, 2013

A few days ago two more land rights activists were murdered in the Bajo Aguán, a region of Honduras where dozens of campesinos have been killed over the last three years. On February 16, Jacobo Cartagena, member of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (or MUCA, by its Spanish initials), was shot and killed as he waited for a bus.  Hours later, José Trejo Cabrera, was shot down while driving a motorcycle near the town of Tocoa. Trejo was the brother of Antonio Trejo Cabrera, a lawyer who had defended small farmers’ land claims who himself was shot to death last September as he was leaving a wedding. Amnesty International has called on the Honduran government to “urgently investigate” José Trejo’s killing and noted that “the day before he was shot dead [he] had been in the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa, to meet with officials in an effort to ensure justice for his brother’s murder and visiting media outlets to keep the spotlight on the case.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, José Trejo had said “if they killed my brother, what will they not do to me?” He and others blamed the powerful businessman Miguel Facussé for his brother’s murder.  Facussé and a handful of other wealthy landowners in the region have hundreds of armed security guards who are believed to be responsible for many of the numerous killings and other attacks targeting campesino activists. Honduran authorities have failed to bring those responsible for the killings to justice or to take effective measures to protect the activists.  As the AP notes, “no one is serving time in prison for any of the 89 assassinations of campesinos committed in the Aguán Valley since December of 2009 when land occupations began…”

Since August of 2011, hundreds of Honduran soldiers have been stationed in the Bajo Aguán as part of the so-called Xatruch Intervention Force, ostensibly to mitigate the ongoing violence taking place there. But targeted killings of campesinos have continued unabated and representatives of land rights movements have accused military personnel of being involved in attacks on their members.  A new report authored by Annie Bird of Rights Action adds significant weight to these allegations.  It documents 34 cases of abuses directly involving members of Honduras’ 15th Battalion, a special forces unit of the Honduran army that has been present in the region for decades and has played a central role in the Xatruch Force.

The report describes in detail specific instances of torture, threats, forced disappearances and killings in which members of the 15th Battalion have been reportedly involved, often in tandem with police and private security forces operating in the Aguán.  Only a small handful of these abuses have been partially investigated and none of those responsible have been prosecuted.

The report also examines how military officials have sought to criminalize the region’s campesino movements, associating them with terrorism and drug-trafficking, while steadfastly defending the property claims of powerful landowners.

Those who have reported on the abuses of security forces in the Aguán have also been criminalized by military officials. On February 18th the Commander of the Xatruch Intervention Force publicly accused various journalists, human rights defenders by name of “denigrating the actions of the armed forces” and of “besmirching the image of the Honduran nation.” Following the incident, Reporters Without Borders issued a release stating that the accusations were “a clear attempt to intimidate and censor” and that “this kind of public stigmatization directly exposes those concerned to significant risks, given the human rights situation in Aguán in particular and Honduras in general, where those who dare to provide information about land disputes and environmental problems are systematically criminalized.”

As Rights Action notes, the 15th Battalion reportedly receives training and assistance from the U.S. government.  The Honduran media has reported that U.S. Army Rangers have trained personnel from the Battalion and that U.S. Special Operations South has funded the upgrading of the Battalion’s Rio Claro base.

provision attached to the annual U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Act – known as the Leahy Amendment, after the U.S. Senator who first introduced it – prohibits U.S. military assistance to foreign units that commit gross human rights violations with impunity.  The provision states: “No assistance shall be furnished under this Act or the Arms Export Control Act to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible evidence that such unit has committed gross violations of human rights.” The only exception being if the “Secretary determines (…) that the government of such countries is taking effective measures to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice.” A similar provision can be found in Defense Appropriations Acts, though it only deals with the funding of training activities for foreign troops.

Rights Action’s report appears to provide “credible evidence” that the 15th Battalion and other Honduran authorities are involved in gross abuses and there is no indication that Honduran authorities have pursued any form of judicial action to address these abuses.  If the U.S. government has plans to fund further military assistance to the unit there may well be cause for the Secretary of State to cut off assistance until abuses are adequately investigated and any responsible military personnel are brought to justice.

Other recent incidents involving Honduran security forces have also appeared to be within the realm of Leahy Amendment action. Last November the AP reported on how Honduran soldiers trained and vetted by the U.S. murdered an unarmed teenager who ran through a check point last May. The same month, four Honduran villagers in the Moskitia region were killed in the course of a counternarcotics operation carried out jointly by the DEA and a special Honduran police unit trained and vetted by the U.S. As a joint report and previous posts have explained, the Honduran investigation of the incident was flawed and inconclusive, a fact which the State Department still appears unwilling to acknowledge.

February 23, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Honduras: Two More Campesinos Murdered in Aguán

Weekly News Update on the Americas | January 13, 2013

Two campesinos were shot dead on Jan. 11 in the Lower Aguán Valley in the northern Honduran department of Colón as they were walking out of an estate which they and other campesinos had been occupying for two months. A long-standing conflict between campesino groups and large landowners in the area has resulted in the deaths of some 80 campesinos since the groups began occupying estates in December 2009 to dramatize their demands for land [see Update #1154]. According to Wilfredo Paz Zúniga, spokesperson for the Permanent Human Rights Monitoring Center for the Aguán, the victims were José Luis Reyes and Antonio Manuel Pérez. He said unidentified people shot them at close range from a moving automobile.

The Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), one of the main campesino groups in the region, identified the campesinos as Luis Antonio Ramos Reyes, originally from the Tepusteca de Olanchito Yoro community, and Manuel Antonio Pérez, originally from Remolino on the Aguán river’s left bank. MUCA said the two men were members of another group, the Campesino Movement for the Recovery of the Aguán (MOCRA), whose 600 families began occupying estates on July 20, 2012. According to Paz, the campesinos had been occupying land claimed by the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH); MUCA said the land was owned by UNAH’s Atlantic Coast Regional University Center (CURLA), which had abandoned it. (AFP 1/12/13 via Terra.com; Anncol (Colombia) 1/13/13 via Rebelión (Spain))

January 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

Honduras: Another Campesino Murdered in Aguán

Weekly News Update on the Americas | December 3, 2012

Unidentified men on motorcycles shot Honduran campesino Adelmo Leiva dead the morning of Nov. 25 as he was waiting for a bus with his wife and daughter in Trujillo, in the northern department of Colón. Leiva was a member of the Despertar Cooperative, one of the cooperatives forming the Authentic Claimant Movement of Aguán Campesinos (MARCA). Along with other campesino organizations, MARCA has sponsored occupations of estates in the Lower Aguán River Valley in Colón since December 2009 to regain land that the campesinos say big landowners bought illegally in the 1990s.

Although some of the land disputes have been settled this year, other struggles continue, as has the killing of campesinos [see Update #1151]. According to the French wire service Agence France Presse, the number of dead in the violence over the past three years is now about 90, the great majority of them campesinos. After Leiva’s murder the Honduran branch of the international campesino movement Vía Campesina said that living in the Aguán region involved “high risk.” “The terror appears to be a well thought-out strategy to provoke a mass exodus from the zone with pernicious and dangerous objectives,” the group charged. (Adital (Brazil) 11/26/12; AFP 11/26/12 via La Tribuna (Honduras))

December 4, 2012 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , | Leave a comment

   

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