Honduran Police Burn Community to the Ground
Honduras’ Aguan Valley continues to be ground zero in the ongoing conflict that followed the 2009 military coup. Police burned an entire community to the ground without so much as an eviction notice. The community, known as Rigores, had been living there for 12 years and had been on a path toward getting land titles when the coup turned that dream upside down. Many believe that the land is destined to be bought up by Honduras’ richest person, Miguel Facusse, to add to his massive palm oil business. But, the farmers of Rigores vow to continue fighting for their land, as well as participating in the national resistance movement to refound Honduras on more equitable terms.
Produced by Jesse Freeston.
SANTIAGO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Here is the house of a friend, destroyed.
JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: This is what’s left of the village of Rigores in Honduras’s Aguan Valley. At first glance, it looks like a scene after a hurricane, but this was no natural disaster. It’s called the desolojo, the Spanish word for eviction. It’s when the police, the military, or hired paramilitary forces demolish communities of the country’s smaller landless farmers, known as campesinos. On this occasion, it was the Honduran national police force, armed with automatic weapons, torches, and bulldozers, that destroyed more than 100 homes here, most of which were burned to the ground.
SANTIAGO: Here we can see how they destroyed this community.
FREESTON: Santiago … is a member of one of the 114 families that lost their homes.
SANTIAGO: They didn’t provide us with any eviction notice.
FREESTON: Not a single building was left intact by the operation.
SANTIAGO: This house here is a church–was a church. These buildings were our schools, where the teachers gave our kids the gift of knowledge, and you can see here they destroyed them as well. These people had no compassion. This was the kindergarten where our five- and six-year-olds received classes.
FREESTON: The campesinos of Rigores have been living on and farming this land for almost 12 years. They came from all corners of the country, drawn by promises of land in the Aguan Valley. Twelve years ago, they made use of Honduran land reform laws and occupied this plot, then owned by plantation owners that were holding more than the 300 hectare limit allowed in the Aguan Valley. Their legal claim was never recognized, and their occupation was consistently threatened until 2008. That’s when the government of Manuel Zelaya included Rigores amongst a group of communities nationwide that was to be awarded government loans in order to buy the land at market value from the plantation owner and get their long-sought legal titles for the community. But following the overthrow of President Zelaya in a military coup in 2009, the Supreme Court declared the minor land reform decree unconstitutional. Rigores and many other communities never got their titles.
SANTIAGO: We left our homes in hope of finding a piece of land like the one we found 12 years ago. But look at the extreme we’re at today, when we thought the land was about to be legalized because that’s what they told us.
FREESTON: Believing that the land was about to be legalized, … was one of the farmers to begin investing in his home. He built a second room out of concrete to put the kitchen in. It stood alongside the one-room hut made of wood and earth that the family slept in. Now they’ve lost both.
SANTIAGO: This was my house. They came and yelled, "Get out! Get out!" without giving us a chance. Then they quickly brought in the bulldozer. They knocked it over in one swoop and left it destroyed. That was my flashlight. They didn’t give us time to grab our stuff. Some people managed to save a few things that are now in the community center.
FREESTON: Sofia Lopez is the community’s kindergarten teacher. She gave us a tour of the community center located a mile or so from the community.
SOFIA LOPEZ (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Most of the stuff was lost. We didn’t have a chance to get it out. We lost beds, stoves, kitchenware.
FREESTON: The one-room building is currently serving as both home and school to 80 of the homeless families. … Castro was one of two women in the group who suffered miscarriages in the days following the attack. She shows us the bruises that were inflicted upon her by police batons.
CASTRO (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): My entire body is bruised. We have nowhere to raise our kids. We need this land. And these people need to pay for what they’ve done to us. They even caused us to have miscarriages. I feel bad for all of this. Why? Because I lost my child. That’s all I have to say.
FREESTON: The story of the community of Rigores is just one example of a desalojo in Honduras, a country where organized farmers are fighting for control of land with a handful of wealthy plantation owners. We were denied an interview with the man who claims to own the land of Rigores. But many speculate that he plans to sell the land to Honduras’s richest person, Miguel Facusse. Facusse’s African Palm plantations surround Rigores on three sides. And palm is the dominant business in the Aguan, where the fruit is made into a high-energy oil used for lard, snack foods, and, most recently, biodiesel. Rigores, on the other hand, is a community producing healthy food for local consumption.
SANTIAGO: Here we see an orange orchard that was also destroyed by the same police officers that carried out the desalojo. They took our own machetes and cut the trees down.
FREESTON: … is coordinating the little food that the community has to work with.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It’s really hard to be without food, to watch them burn our harvest and cut down the orange trees just as we were wanting to harvest them. The same officers took our coconuts off our trees and ate them. It’s terrible to know that the police aren’t here to defend us but instead to destroy us.
FREESTON: The Honduran police force is currently receiving funding and training from various governments and political parties across Europe, the United States, Canada, Colombia, and Japan. If it weren’t for the coup, the campesinos of Rigores would have likely had titles to their land today. Instead, they’re homeless. They’re also all active members of the national anticapitalist resistance movement that has been organizing since the 2009 coup with a goal to rewrite the Honduran Constitution and, in their words, refound Honduras. For the campesinos of Rigores, the resistance represents their path toward a Honduras with a more equal land distribution.
SANTIAGO: Ever since the coup, we’ve left behind the foolishness of thinking in terms of the traditional political parties that only bring us misfortune. We are with the resistance.
(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We are honorable campesinos. We don’t steal anything from anyone. We’re only fighting to work the land, to grow our beans, our corn, and our squash, everything for eating. I don’t know what else to tell you. The truth is, it hurts to have planted my corn one day before they took us out in this way. So I ask you to help us in this fight. Let’s win our land. God gave the land for all of us, not just for a small few. That’s all I can add.
FREESTON (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): You’re wearing a T-shirt from the National People’s Resistance Front.
LOPEZ: Oh, yes! Look! "We women aren’t taking back the country."
FREESTON: What does the resistance mean to you?
LOPEZ: Well, it’s for the struggle that we’re all in, men, women, and children. Nobody’s going to give up here. We are going to win. That’s how we’ll prevail, with everyone together.
FREESTON (ENGLISH): From Honduras’s Aguan Valley for The Real News Network, I’m Jesse Freeston.
End of Transcript
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