URGENT- Violence Planned Tomorrow

From Rights Action:

Honduran land rights activists denounce threats of violence tomorrow, April 20, in Rigores and/or Maranones by a large landholder backed by Honduran security forces, and a plan for military intervention of campesino communities.

Please write to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy and demand that the U.S. Army immediately withdraw soldiers from the Aguan and that the State Department express concern regarding the Honduran armed forces participation in human rights violations, specifically with participation of the 15th Battalion and 4th Naval base. Benjamin Gedan - GedanBN@state.gov, Nathan Anderson - andersontn2@state.gov

As a Honduran national newspaper quotes large landholder closely associated with the Army as threatening to enter campesino communities tomorrow, April 20, which he states will result in bloodshed, the Honduran Minister of Defense claims the Honduran military will permanently occupy the Maranones farm, home to 1,400 campesino families.

The Honduran government has demonstrated a lack of political will to resolve agrarian conflict in Honduras since the 2009 coup ended resolution processes making significant advances. Over the past two years, while prolonged and fruitless negotiations processes are carried out, State security forces assist private security forces and armed bands in carrying out violence against campesinos as a means of forcing them to cease demanding the respect of their rights.

Over the past four months, a series of criminal and violent acts have occurred both inside of and outside of campesino communities on the Left Bank of the Aguan River, in what appears be a campaign intended to eliminate important campesino leaders through violence and threats, criminalize the campesino movement, and justify a military occupation of the region.

Military intervention in campesino communities by the Honduran Army will only increase violence and repression of the land rights movement. The armed forces have consistently acted in a biased and illegal manner to benefit large landholders, which includes participation in systematic killings and other violence directed against land rights activists.

The U.S. military has been training and reportedly undertaking joint operations specifically with the two units most implicated in human rights violations, the 15th Battalion in Rio Claro and the 4th Navel Base in La Ceiba.

In December acts of violence within the Maranones farm and surrounding it began grow noticeably. Reports began to emerge in the towns surrounding Maranones that a large landholder based in the town of Atascosa, Erick Rivera, was maintaining contact with an armed network infiltrating the campesino movement. Rivera is engaged in active land conflicts with the campesinos in the communities of Rigores and Maranones, and controls a large group of armed men that operate in the area. It is reported that he maintains very close ties to the military and police, and that the military has provided personal security for his home.

On March 2 two bank robberies involving close to 30 armed men occurred in the town of Sonaguerra; local authorities and press blamed residents of the nearby campesino community of Maranones. Then, on March 26 a military convoy was attacked by an armed band and 5 soldiers were killed. Though at the time of the attack the press reported that the convoy was patrolling the area, an April15 article in La Prensa newspaper claimed that the convoy was attempting to take control of a property in the town of La Atascosa controlled by a campesino movement.

The next day, on March 27, campesinos from Maranones were attacked by an unidentified armed band. Though the press reported that three campesinos were killed, campesino leaders and local human rights activists claim no campesinos were killed. Unconfirmed reports have emerged that soldiers were later seen leaving the area, and the attackers traveled in trucks associated with the 15th Batallion.

Around this time some of the same individuals reported by neighbors to maintain communication with Rivera and to have use of heavy weapons occupied palm plantations within the Maranones farm, preventing the campesino businesses associations in Maranones from harvesting the fruit.

On April 10, 2012 a large military operation occurred along the highway from La Ceiba to Planes near Tocoa, reportedly with the direct participation of U.S. soldiers. The same day Arnold Trochez, a campesino in Maranones close to a MUCA leader Juan Galindo, was killed while working in the palm plantations.

On Friday, April 13, soldiers from the 15th Battalion entered the Las Maranones community and detained Juan Galindo, an important leader who has participated in the land negotiations. He was detained without an arrest warrant, though it has been reported that an arrest warrant existed for a different person with the same name. There have now been several instances of arrests of MUCA leadership with the same explanation.

On Sunday April 15,, 2012, the Honduran newspaper La Prensa published an article which argued the urgency of a Honduran military occupation of the Aguan, particularly focusing on the Left Bank and the communities of Rigores, Maranones and La Atascosa.

In the article Erick Rivera is quoted giving the Honduran authorities until April 20 to resolve conflicts in which lands he claims to own have been occupied by campesinos. Otherwise, he claims he will enter the farms himself and blood will run. Rivera’s statements as reported by La Prensa are extremely concerning; especially given his reportedly close relationship to official security forces and that he manages a large group of armed men.

On Monday, April 16, several reports describe an operation in which the army entered the Maranones farm and escorted the heavily armed group which had occupied palm plantations into the town of Maranones. The army then withdrew from the town, and the armed band burned homes, beat community members and kidnapped one man, who was eventually freed after the Human Rights Procurators office intervened at the request of his wife.

On Tuesday, April 17 the victims of the April 16 attack filed a complaint with the Human Rights Procurators office. The same day the military again entered Maranones, this time arresting 14 people on charges of possession of stolen vehicles and illegal weapons.

On April 17, La Prensa ran another story focused on the Aguan, this one quoting the Minister of Defense, Marlon Pascua in stating that as of today [April 17] the army through the Xatruch II operation, would establish a permanent presence in the Maranones Farm, elaborating that “This will allow us to have control of the area, identify people and watch their movements.”

This statement is extremely concerning given that since January 2010 approximately 60 targeted, death squad style killings of land rights activists have occurred in the region, many with the direct participation of the same military and police units that comprise the Xatruch II operation. The latest victim of these killings was Adonis Lopez, a member of the Las Camarones Campesino Business that forms part of the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguan of the Right Bank (MUCA-MD). He was killed on April 11 by shots fired from inside the Salama Cooperative, very close to the border it shares with the San Isidro farm, heavily controlled by the Dinant Corporation and the security guards they employ. Dinant is in an intense conflict with the campesino movement.