Friday, March 05, 2010

Land issues - the 1980s all over again?

In some ways, Santa Rosa is isolated from other parts of the country and so I don’t always know about what’s happening. In addition, although there is a fair amount of sympathy for the Resistance, the situation is rather peaceful compared with Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, and recently in the department of Colón on the north coast.

I prefer to report what I have seen or heard or been told from reputable personal sources. But sometimes it’s important to speak out, especially when what happens feels like what happened in parts of Latin America and Central America in the sixties, seventies, and eighties.

A major issue here is land tenure. A few people own a lot of land and most of the people who farm the land for their livelihood have little or no land. There have been “land reforms” often in response to occupations of empty lands by landless peasants.

The issue is complex. I need to spend some time investigating it. But the demand for land is often justified. The Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine states in paragraph 300:
In some countries a redistribution of land as part of sound policies of agrarian reform is indispensable, in order to overcome the obstacles that an unproductive system of latifundium — condemned by the Church's social doctrine — places on the path of genuine economic development. “Developing countries can effectively counter the present process under which land ownership is being concentrated in a few hands if they face up to certain situations that constitute real structural problems, for example legislative deficiencies and delays regarding both recognition of land titles and in relation to the credit market, a lack of concern over agricultural research and training, and neglect of social services and infrastructures in rural areas”. Agrarian reform therefore becomes a moral obligation more than a political necessity, since the failure to enact such reform is a hindrance in these countries to the benefits arising from the opening of markets and, generally, from the abundant growth opportunities offered by the current process of globalization.
There have been land conflicts for many years but one has turned dirty and bloody in the last year.

The efforts of people in Baja Aguán in the department of Colón to find and keep have been in the news here recently. A scurrilous report in one of the major daily newspapers, La Prensa, accused the people of being armed terrorists and implicated the Jesuits and the church in the efforts of the people. My translation of a communication from the priests of the Trujillo diocese is posted below – as well as at my Honduras Church Documents site.

For more information I refer you to entries here, here, and here on the Honduras Culture and Politics blog, a blog I've found useful and reputable.. There are other sources in English and Spanish but I think these provide a good introduction, including reports of deaths of campesinos after the Honduran military invaded their lands.

This feels like the Cold War years when those who spoke up for the poor in Latin America were called Communists. This was often followed by cruel deaths by government forces or death squads.

There have been suspicious deaths here some of which can be attributed to government forces. And there are fears of resurgence of the death squads and a few cases that look like death squad killings.

Therefore, it is important for the world to be watchful and not think that all is well just because there is a new president and Honduras has dropped off the front page. This could be a very critical time in terms of human rights.

Your solidarity and prayer are needed.


Update: it appears that a military spokesman has denied that such a report exists. This makes it much more interesting since La Prensa is owned by one of the major supporters of the coup.


Communication of the priests of the diocese of Trujillo, Honduras


The Priests Council of the Diocese of Trujillo to the communications media and public opinion in general:

In the newspaper LA PRENSA on March 1, 2010, on page 4 of the Investigation Series, there is a citation from a military intelligence report in possession of that newspaper which, according to the authors of the article, “is already in the hands of the government authorities.”

Referring to the assistance and indoctrination of armed campesino groups who have occupied various African palm plantations in Bajo Aguán, the citation from the military intelligence report, supposedly taken from the text, states that the aid and indoctrination comes from “an established structure in the region which comes from non-governmental organizations in the region of a socialist bent, priests of the Jesuit order who hawk liberation theology in every community, leaders of the teachers, and radical leftist teachers, even including local means of communication with communist ideological biases.”

Further on in the article the following paragraph is cited”: “It is important to stress that the dominant Catholic order in the department is the Jesuits, followers of liberation theology which is a Marxist vision of the Gospel. Out of this order have come all the guerrilla priests of the Church including Guadalupe Carney.

We consider it necessary to make the following clarifications?

1. The priests who belong to the Society of Jesus, founded by Saint Ignatius Loyola, popularly called “Jesuits,” have accompanied the poorest families of the department of Colon who for the most part comprise the campesino population, to assist them in the defense of their rights and to attain the goals of their own development.

2. This work of the Jesuit priests is in accord with the preferential option for the poor which the church in Latin America has made for several decades. In the document “In search of human development n Honduras which is integral, just, and in solidarity,” dated January 6, 2010, the Jesuit priests who work in our country, affirm, “It is clear that the option for the poor is an intrinsic way of making our faith concrete and in it we play out the meaning of our life. This option has to be personal and communitarian, it has to connect the concrete person and the structures, it has to pass through the heart and it has to be expressed in actions in history.”

Pope Benedict XVI himself in his inaugural address at the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American bishops in 2007 explained it in this way: “In the effort to know the message of Christ and to make it the guide of one’s own life, one has to recall that evangelization has always been united to human promotion and authentic Christian liberation.” (Inaugural Discourse, 3) Integral liberation for which the Jesuit priests and the whole Catholic Church work is not Marxist action nor an action which belongs to a political ideology. It is action inspired by the Gospel which demands that we work against every ideology which manipulates the people. And this is what the Jesuit priests do in our diocese of Trujillo. We are clear about the effort the Jesuit priests make and which the whole diocese does for some eighteen years so that the campesinos do not sell their lands which now are the reason for this violent conflict. Likewise, in no moment have we promoted recovery of lands by the campesinos.

3. Also the report in LA PRENSA recalls the following quote from the military intelligence report: “Authorities of the Catholic Church in the area have strong ties with campesino groups in the department, officially to promote environmental and indigenous groups but it is believed that they are also to strengthen their party (the Christian Democrats).”

Aiding political parties is a individual right of every citizen. Nevertheless, no member of the Hierarchy of the Catholic church in the Diocese of Trujillo, which is composed of the departments of Colón and Gracias a Dios, has any commitment with any political party and therefore not with the Christian Democratic Party. We share the words of Pope Benedict XVI when he affirmed in the same inaugural discourse noted above, “If the Church would begin to be transformed directly in political affairs, it would not do more for the poor and for justice but would do less, because it would lose its independence and its moral authority, identifying itself with a single political way and partial opinions and positions. The church is the advocate (lawyer) of justice and the poor precisely by not identifying itself with politician nor with party interests.” (Inaugural Discourse, 4)

Having cleared up these points, we believe it necessary to ask for some clarifications.

a) To the Military Intelligence of the Armed Forces of Honduras and to the authorities of the National Police:

• We ask you to inform the people about the victims who up to this moment have been affected by this conflict and those responsible for these bloody deeds.

• We ask you, in the name of the population which believes in peace and respects life, to inform us of the general disarmament which was announced before the general elections of last November; of the results and the objectives, as well as the intentions of the military and police authority to not pursue aggressively the arms traffic when it seems that, these very authorities, warn us about the danger of the organization of a guerrilla cell in Bajo Aguán.

b) To the authorities responsible for the struggle against drug-trafficking, we urge them to clear up the movements of the various drug cartels which have invaded the departments of Colón and Gracias a Dios and of their participation in the agrarian conflicts. It is a question so that the population can know what is at risk and what is being protected in regard to the unforeseen, illegal, immoral and even violent consequences which are brought about by being involved in this activity [drug-trafficking] which is destroying so many lives and which intends to convert Honduras into a narco-state.

c) We ask Military Intelligence that it justify how a supposed internal unpublished document has come into the hands of a member of the communications media.

d) To the means of communication we ask them to be more careful in citing unpublished sources which provoke misinformation and confusion in public opinion, attacking the good name of persons and institutions.

The Catholic Church defends the life and dignity of every human being. It rejects every form of violence and also every judgment which, without being tied to the truth, can defame or discredit persons and institutions. It is desirable, if the military report is authentic, that the Military Authorities revise and publish their information.

We trust that the dialogue that the President of the Republic, Don Porfirio Lobo Sosa
proposes as the democratic path will serve in this conflicts to show the legal ways with which it ought to be resolved. We ask the parties in litigation to put aside weapons in order that the force of reason, common sense and legality may finally dominate.

Given in the city of Trujillo, March 2, 2010.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good summary, Brother John.

This cycle of land re-distribution, re-acquisition by means often nefarious and never genuinely voluntary, followed by social explosion and re-distribution has been going on for at least 80 years throughout Latin America (80 years ago is roughly when Lazaro Cardenas became president of Mexico) and parts of the United States.

Expropriation often occurs by means that may look legal, but involve great duress. In indigenous communities and in some mestizo communities, it often involves getting one person to sign on the sale of communal lands, then kicking out the whole community. Obviously, one person cannot have authority for the community, but courts are cheaply bought.

But even when the process is completely legal, it's wrong. Rural farmers normally do not have other marketable skills. Without their land, they are unable to support themselves. They sell only because they are so desperate for food or medical care-- or alcohol-- that they are clearly being coerced. And this is the consequence of a deliberate American policy of subsidizing food production at home, and denying countries the ability to impose tariff on that food as it is exported into their markets. This drives down the price of food to the point that farming does not even provide subsistence.

Sometimes the land grabs are over water rights or mineral rights, or simply to have the land. As RAJ, I think it was, pointed out, many times the seized lands are not even used. That's the worst of it, starving people simply to have something one isn't even using.