Thousands of Hondurans Occupy 30,000 Acres to Reclaim Life and Land
Photo Credit: Jennifer Jewell
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"Land, well, it’s our first mother. For us farmers, we don’t have life without land. That’s the reason we’re in this struggle.” - Consuelo Castillo
In Honduras, as in most places, the government and the wealthy treat land as a commodity. In pursuit of the profits it offers, they have taken enormous tracts of land from indigenous peoples and small farmers, often through legally suspect if not outright violent means.
On April 17, several thousand Hondurans set out to take back some of this land. They occupied 30,000 acres of land that day, claiming a legal right to grow crops there. These occupations were part of the International Day of Peasants' Struggle, organized by the several million-member, world-wide, small-farmer organization Via Campesina. From Mozambique to Palestine to Spain, farmers and activists took to the streets, hosted teach-ins, and established land occupations. Over 250 actions took place globally on that one day.
While the April 17 action in Honduras made international headlines, it was just a snapshot of a much larger national movement for land reform that is rarely reported. Documented or not, it’s making waves that can’t be ignored. In 2009, the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya, who had been making concessions to the grassroots’ demand for agrarian reform, was ousted and replaced with a government whose favorite motto quickly became “Honduras is open for business.” But despite, or perhaps because of the coup d’état - as Consuelo Castillo suggests in the interview below - the resistance is growing.
Four days after these land occupations began, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) celebrated a long-fought victory: winning a community title to 741 acres of their ancestral land. COPINH and the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) are two groups demanding the right to communal control over ancestral lands, rivers, forests, and agriculture. Over the years, they and others have reclaimed ancestral lands, and stalled or stopped free trade agreements, hydro-electric dams, mining exploration, and logging. Their victories have come through the strength of their movements and their marches, national mobilizations, and direct actions such as road blockades.
For decades in the fertile Bajo Aguán region, the members of small-farmer cooperatives such as the Aguán Small Farmers’ Movement and the Unified Movement of Aguán Farmers have been peacefully occupying land they claim has been taken from them, mainly by bio-fuel agribusiness. Today, despite constant arrests, assassinations, and threats from the landowners and the government, they have established six settlements where they’re working towards their long-term vision of food sovereignty, liberatory education systems, collectively run media, cooperative businesses, and strong community.
In the fifth part of the Birthing Justice series, we’ll hear from Consuelo Castillo, an organizer with the land movement in Bajo Aguán and a resident of Lempira, one of the six land reform settlements.
Consuelo Castillo | Bajo Aguán, Honduras
My name is Consuelo Castillo and I have been fighting to defend the land for five years. Our goal is for everyone who is part of the land occupations to have access to land. Land, well, it’s our first mother. For us farmers, we don’t have life without land. That’s the reason we’re in this struggle.
We want a better Honduras, a different Honduras where there is equality for everyone. A Honduras where everyone can enjoy the wealth generated by this country and the fruits of our land. We’re fighting for the changes that we truly need and, well, I believe that with everyone’s strength and work, we’re going to reach the goal.
The [national] resistance has a lot of capacity. Those participating in the resistance are the people most marginalized, those suffering most because of the coup. There have been families that have lost their jobs, family members, and many other things because of the coup, understand? People are ready to give their lives for their country, and so we are going to continue defending what is ours. All of the small-farmer organizations are in resistance here in the department of Colón.