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Peasants victims of criminalization
Jennifer Ávila
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Thousands of peasant women and men have been imprisoned for demanding land reform.

Honduras is one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world. This poverty and violence directly affects the vulnerable sectors of society, such as peasants, who have recently denounced the criminalization of 4,200 peasants, 700 of whom are women, according to the international organization La Vía Campesina.

According to Rafael Alegría, current deputy in the National Congress and leader of the international organization La Vía Campesina the situation for peasants is very difficult, even more serious in the context of repression and the food crisis characterized by shortages of basic grains and meats in Honduras due to climate change and conflict in agriculture.

“There is a serious agrarian crisis, and there is an exclusion of a large group of farm workers as a result of the application of the neoliberal model since 1992,” Alegría told Latinamerica Press.

The peasants demand a new law for land reform in the country. Many organizations have begun a process of land recuperation, especially in the Aguán and Sula valleys in the north of the country, with land richest in natural resources and the most productive.

“The peasants occupy the land in response to the inability of the National Agrarian Institute (INA), to address [their demand for land]. For this, the peasants are severely criminalized; there are around 4,200 peasants who have gone to jail in just four years, and more than 162 peasants killed, including many in Bajo Aguán; 723 women have been in jail and now they have to comply with alternatives measures to prison like signing each week in court. That generates enormous economic harm to peasants because they don’t have enough money for even the [transportation] ticket, or food and they miss the workday. It’s a situation of severe economic impact,” said Alegría.

The peasants are prosecuted on charges such as illegal usurpation of land, damage to private property and even sedition.

A 70 percent of the more than 8 million people of Honduras live in poverty, and half of the 4 million peasants have no access to land due to the land monopoly by a few, which keeps peasants mired in extreme poverty. The Agricultural Sector Development Modernization Law, approved in 1992 by the government of former President Rafael Leonardo Callejas (1990-94), broke up the land reform process initiated in 1960 and divided the peasant movement when it made way for the negotiations of the land. Many cooperatives were broken up by the lack of support for production, and big businessmen offered to buy them. Because of this, a bill to revive the agrarian reform and make it more comprehensive and inclusive has been introduced. But, it has been already a year without any discussion of this matter in the legislature.
The official version
To find a way to resolve this situation, peasants have mobilized and protested at various times this year in front of the National Congress, the Supreme Court and even the INA.

For the director of the INA, Ramón Lara, the number that peasant organizations release about criminalized people is not real, and he ensures that there are many misunderstandings in regards to the issue of evictions.

“All prosecutions are related to the legal nature of the land; they go to court proceedings because courts must show who the real owners of the land are, and there are trials that last 8 to 10 years and when that time passes, they are given eviction notices. So sometimes the farmer does not understand that after having the land for so many years, he is evicted. We have intervened so that the legal actions [against them] are removed, entering in joint ventures with them and in some cases we have avoided more deaths in the land dispute. We believe that the 4,200 figure is not real, that is to draw attention. [The number of imprisoned peasants] definitely does not reach this number. I’m not saying that there are no cases, but it’s not in that dimension,” Lara told Latinamerica Press. He also states that the INA is responsible for investigating how many prosecution cases of peasants exist.

Lara also believes that the problem is less from the government and more a responsibility of the peasants themselves, who have not understood, according to him, the value of the land, and when they have the opportunity to sell it without thinking that the state itself has invested heavily in the land.

“We want the spirit of land reform to reach all peasants. Daily, we live conflicts that used to be between agricultural entrepreneurs and peasants, but now more than 80 percent of the conflicts we have are a struggles among peasants themselves”, ensures Lara.

Lara has called the whole process of land reform a “failure” because peasants sold their land, even when the government created the Agricultural Modernization Law in 1992, replacing the Agrarian Reform Law and allowing peasants to sell the land amid a situation of poverty and abandonment that the state itself had caused among the peasants, who at that time had land but had no support for production.
Repression against peasant women
Magdalena Morales, of the National Confederation of Farm Workers (CNTC), was imprisoned, accused by the company Azucarera del Norte (AZUNOSA), part of the South African transnational SABMiller, of land robbery, damages and sustained damages. Morales was arrested on July 27, 2013, imprisoned and assigned to a female judge, who dictated precautionary measures as an alternative to prison, forcing her to sign in each week in court. Morales is a peasant leader in Yoro, in northern Honduras, and she ensures that women are the most affected by this crisis.

Morales and 108 others, including three underage girls, were prosecuted because of this land restoration process in Yoro.

“We were imprisoned, [had to go] to court to sign in. Even now with our own efforts, we have helped release one third of our co-workers, but we still have 35 peasant co-workers under judicial measures. It is regrettable that, in Honduras, transnational corporations have rights but we Hondurans are displaced to the riverbanks as if we have no right to life. I have children; I had to tell them to not even mention my name; I had to take one of my daughters out of school because many asked about me, I feared repression. In another case against the CAHSA [Honduran Sugar Company], also in this sector, three co-workers were killed and no one is paying for these crimes with jail time”, Morales said in an interview with Latinamerica Press.

The killings occur during land recuperation processes and remain unpunished.

Like Morales, many rural women are prosecuted for their struggle to recover land.

“We have 2 million landless peasants, single mothers who seek to give their families a better life. When we want to recover a parcel of land to improve our situation, we are criminalized. We rural women are being killed and criminalized, my organization alone has 700 who are sentenced and are going to sign in at the court, two co-workers were killed, nine children were abandoned; that has to be a government responsibility”, says Morales.

The current government of President Juan Orlando Hernández affirms he supports farm workers and ensures having restored order in Bajo Aguán, but Morales says this support is actually for the landlords, not inland peasants.

“[The government] gives them projects, irrigation systems, and we the peasants are being replaced by the landowners. On our behalf, [landowners] receive large amounts of money that are to favor small and medium-sized producers. We watch the news that say the government favors peasants; earlier this year we had a sit-in at the INA because they want to close it, at the Supreme Court because the judges are involved with the imprisonment of farmers and at the National Congress to demand a law for comprehensive agrarian reform. We will continue in the streets to demand our rights”, Morales concluded.
—Latinamerica Press.


Support demonstration for peasant leader Magdalena Morales, one of the 700 women criminalized for fighting for land. (Photo:
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