Even though we are a campesino movement COCOCH is slightly removed from the issue of land occupations, because we are currently involved in a process of land distribution with the INA (National Agricultural Institute). We are waiting for the field investigations to finish and feel that not all of the official means for giving land to campesinos have been exhausted yet.
La Via Campesina and their leader in Honduras Rafael Alegria coordinated the land occupation that took place in Manuel Cortes. Their organisation is under the umbrella of COCOCH but has acted out of their own volition on this occasion, meaning that there is no legal recognition of recovering lands using force.
We are aware of campesinos need for land access, but we believe this should be through legal means, otherwise our comrades are tortured, murdered or they disappear. So it is important for them to know the consequences, because sometimes they are not prepared for this.
La Via Campesina took this action without the consent of COCOCH. They were aware that INA is investigating uncultivated lands to give to campesinos, but they decided to act first by occupying the lands. It is true that we have more than a 100,000 campesinos without land, but we must take other types of action and first exhaust all the legal means with INA. These actions must be carefully planned and land cannot be recovered using force.
The occupied lands in question are huge sugar plantations and the legal status of these lands is not clear. Some say they belong to the San Manuel Municipality and they have colonial land titles, others say they are national state property and others say they are private and were bought by the sugar company ASONORSA. So this is what was under investigation, but La Via Campesina went ahead with their actions regardless.
At the moment 125 campesinos have been arrested, but only 15 had arrest warrants. The Judge of San Pedro Sula has issued an eviction order and the occupants are being forced to sign official documents, without knowing their content. If they do not sign they are threatened to have their fingers cut off with knife bayonets, as a means of torture.
The situation in tense and we live under a totalitarian regime where the military rule can do whatever they like. They serve the interests of the rich and the plantation owners who are millionaires and can pay any amount to evict people. Here, justice is non-existent; prosecutors are worthless and leftover from the Coup d’état and are only there to carry out the wishes of the rich. Here the rich can order the deaths of people with total impunity.
We have not participated in these actions, it has been carried out by La Via Campesina. The government has not done anything as it is waiting for the INA to finish its work so it can give back land, however these investigations have still not been completed. The President said yesterday he would not endorse the land invasions, but he was in agreement with giving unused land to campesinos within a legal framework.
We hope that this can be settled via legal means, but the problem will not go away. The evicted campesinos will never give up the fight for reclaiming land, the struggle has been ignited and it will be difficult to extinguish unless the Government gives them land and pays off the landowners. But this will not happen because the Government does not have money to buy land.
The only way to resolve these issues is through the COCOCH, and this is why we are working directly with the Government on a serious proposal. The other problem we have is that we do not have the resources to help out our comrades. What we really need is to assess their cases and provide lawyers to defend them, as we have experience in doing this.