Saturday, January 09, 2010

What is happening?

I have tried not to pass on what I can’t verify personally but there are reports from several sources, including the on-line journal Revistazo, about two very serious violations of human rights. So I feel called to write a bit about them.

On Friday 600 families were forcibly removed from their lands in Bajo Aguán, in Colón, in northern Honduras. As their crops and shacks were destroyed by 300 members of the Armed Forces and the National Police, the people fled and one news source reported that they fled through the palm plantations in the area and were hunted down by the government forces.

It appears that the people had been working with the government, before the coup, to legalize their claim to the land. But three rich landowners who had rented the land years ago and now wanted it again are believed to be behind this violence.

The other event is also in northern Honduras.The Garifunas are Hondurans on the coast of Afro-Caribbean ancestry who maintain their culture. On Wednesday a small Garifuna-run radio station in Triunfo de la Cruz was burnt and its equipment plundered. The radio supported the efforts of the Garifuna to protect their ancestral lands against efforts to appropriate it by business, political and foreign interests. I'm not sure if this is why the station was destroyed, but it's probably related.

The issue is land.

In the US we tend to think of land and private property as absolute rights. But Catholic theology starts from the biblical premise that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. And, following in the Jewish tradition, we recognize that we are but stewards of this world. And, in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas and others, Pope John Paul II noted that all property has a social mortgage.

Thus we need to look at the need for land of the poorest.

In the document from their meeting in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2006, the Latin American and Caribbean bishops noted:
Most small farmers suffer from poverty, made worse by the fact that they do not have access to land of their own. Yet there are large landholdings in the hands of a few. In some countries this situation has led the people to demand an agrarian reform, while being mindful of the evils that free trade agreements, manipulation by drugs, and other factors may bring upon them. (¶72)
More than 42 years ago Pope Paul VI, in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio, stated the issue much more forcefully:
… the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional.
No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life. In short, "as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good." When "private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another," it is for the public authorities "to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups." (¶23)

If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation. (¶24)
Something needs to be done. Some people here are fortunate to have land for their sustenance, even though it may be mostly steep hillsides. But there are others without land who have to rent land if they want to plant corn and beans for the sustenance of their families. Some will rent in an arrangement that appears feudal – the landowner gets one-fifth of the crop!

There is a right to private property, but it is not a right solely of the rich. In fact, wide ownership of land can be a blessing, when “everyone under their own vine and fig tree can live in peace, and unafraid.” (Micah 4)

a family garden
Quebrada Grande, Copán


Anonymous said...

Great post, Brother John.

The issue of large landholders, who often seize lands through violence, manipulation of the courts, or subversion of communities (latifundistas) is an open sore running all the way from Colorado to Argentina. It even has relevance in the US, where subsidized agriculture has made it impossible for small farmers to compete with agribusiness.

I can't speak to the specific issues in Bajo Aguán, but this is a matter of life and death for many rural communities. Farmers rarely have skills that are in demand in the cities so, once displaced from their lands, they go from being poor to being desperately poor. Most of the life-threatening poverty in this hemisphere can, I believe, be said to have been caused by "progress:" heartless, soulless, destructive, money-centered development.

Biblical principles require that there be a Jubilee every half-century: a moment when all debts are forgiven, all lands returned to their ancestral owner, all slaves liberated.

It's not a principle that I see pushed by churches, many of which are property owners.

Boyz, do we need a Jubilee.

Just a guess, but I would think that the torching of the Garifuna station was to silence word of the desalojo. Do you know what's happening with Radio Progreso? I haven't been able to raise them for almost 24 hours, and they are the only media outlet that is positioned to report on the desalojo. And they've faced serious threats before.

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

The Jubilee principle was raised by some churches before 2000 and was the inspiration for much work on the international debt.

But it hasn't been deemed appropriate for nations (or churches).

However, I do know that in the 1960s or so the bishops of Ecuador distributed some of their land to the poor! I wish more folks would do this.

I don't know what the situation is with Radio Progreso. I'm in San Pedro Sula, but forgot my radio.

Another source to soon listen to is Radio Santa Rosa, the diocesan radio station. It should soon be on the internet. I'll post the info on my blog when it's up.

Radio Santa Rosa and its sister station,Radio Stereo Emaús) have a Saturday 9am show, Dando el Clavo, which can be quite controversial.

Two persons who were on the program last week got death threats on their personal cell phones. (Now where did they get the phone numbers? - But then there are lists, etc.)

Anonymous said...

I'll look forward to Radio Santo Rosa. The son of Eduardo Maldonado was kidnapped, which may or may not be a government-inspired act of terror. Tiempo is barely doing any political reporting. So, Honduras is going to need all the truthtellers it can find.

--Charles of MercRising