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  • Members of the Peasant Unified Movement of Aguán carry mock coffins bearing pictures of people murdered in land clashes during a march in Tegucigalpa.

    Members of the Peasant Unified Movement of Aguán carry mock coffins bearing pictures of people murdered in land clashes during a march in Tegucigalpa. | Photo: AFP

Published 25 June 2015

Honduras' largest landowner, responsible for grave abuses of campesinos, died this week in the lead-up to the anniversary of the coup he supported.

Land rights movements in Honduras' north coast Aguan Valley are condemning what they call an ongoing “hunt of campesinos” in their communities. The are calling for freedom for political prisoners and an end to repression of campesino movements.

Family members of imprisoned and persecuted rural workers denounced the “dirty and malicious campaign” of criminalization against their leaders and communities by the national police and other state and private security forces they accuse of operating as “a gang of hitmen.”

According to movements, Aguan campesino communities engaged in alternative food production and economic development projects, are among those most targeted by criminalization. The projects are seen as a form of resistance against the monoculture farming model and domination of African oil palm plantations in the region.

“The campesinos in question have always been fighting for the right to land, to life, and to live with better working conditions to sustain their families,” Aguan movements said in a statement. “The real gangs that have generated violence and death in the Aguan like (Miguel) Facusse, (Rene) Morales, and (Reinaldo) Canales (the three largest regional landowners) continue to enjoy absolute impunity.”

RELATED: Right to Food Needed to Strengthen Human Rights in Honduras

The Aguan movement statement comes just days after the death of the largest landowner in the region and founder and owner of Aguan-based snack food corporation Grupo Dinant, Miguel Facusse. The palm oil magnate, who backed the 2009 coup that ousted democratically elected former President Manuel Zelaya, was a key figure in violent land conflicts in the Aguan. Facusse, who had also been accused of drug trafficker was implicated in the displacement and dispossession of hundreds of families and the deaths of at least dozens of rural activists.

“The influential Honduran businessman, Miguel Facusse, “the palm plantation owner of death,” dies at age 90.”

Facusse was one of the principal beneficiaries of a massive land grab underlying current conflicts in the Aguan since the early 1990s, in which campesino cooperatives were systematically undermined, coerced into selling their land titles, or outright robbed of their land.

Responding to Facusse's death, Alliance for Global Justice's Chuck Kauffman said on a Colorado radio station, “A prince of darkness has returned to hell.”

RELATED: Forced Disappearances in Honduras

The denunciation by the social movement also comes just days before the sixth anniversary of the 2009 military coup. Since the coup, decades-old land conflicts in the Aguan have deepened with campesinos fight for their rights to land against large landowners violently seeking to expand their palm oil empires in the fertile agricultural region.

The situation in the Aguan Valley has been called the most intense agrarian conflict seen in Central America in the last 15 years, characterized by grave human rights abuses and widespread repression of rural workers and their grassroots movement.

RELATED: Aguan, Honduras: World Bank Backs Death Squads and Displacement

The human rights organization Rights Action has documented over 120 murders of Aguan campesino activists since 2010, with private security guards of large landowners and the regional unit of the Honduran military implicated in the crimes. The Aguan has been heavily militarized since the coup, which along with a deep culture of impunity has compounded campesino repression.

Juan Carlos Portillo Alvarenga, one of dozens of arbitrarily detained campesino activists, will be tried in Honduras' business capital of San Pedro Sula Thursday after being captured by masked police earlier this week. At least four other Aguan campesinos are currently detained while four more are currently facing capture orders, according to the movement statement.

Aguan campesino movements is also demanding comprehensive agrarian reform in favor of small farmers and an end to criminalization of their communities.

Meanwhile, a massive government corruption scandal continues to grip the country and President Juan Orlando Hernandez' so-called measures to “combat corruption and impunity” have done little to appease popular calls for his immediate resignation.

The Aguan campesino movements have also spoken out in the matter, condemning what they call “government hypocrisy and empty promises.”

“The government cannot speak of dialogue and reconciliation if it continues repressing the campesino movement,” the group said in a statement. “We demand the prompt freedom of our detained comrades and an end to persecution of campesinos of Aguan.”

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