PBI-Honduras on defending and caring for the land in the time of coronavirus
“Honduras is currently suffering a double epidemic: on the one hand COVID19 and on the other hand the Army.”
The director of the LGBT+ rights group Rainbow Association expresses the situation of the Central American country in this way after the government of Juan Orlando Hernández announced the absolute curfew throughout the country on March 20.
A measure that the Executive is willing to enforce with an intensification of the police and military presence. For more than a month, members of the Military Police and the National Police have been patrolling and detaining anyone who does not stay home.
In fact, according to data from the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared (COFADEH), in the first days of the curfew, the security forces detained 1,115 people who, in his opinion, were violating the curfew. However, in many cases they were people authorized to circulate in search of food and purchase of medicines.
With the curfew implemented throughout the country and the suspension of some constitutional guarantees, such as freedom of movement, peasant defenders of the land and territory who depend on their crops to be able to eat cannot leave their homes either.
“The lands where we cultivate are far away and when we go out to work or gather our crops we find checkpoints that make us go home and even threaten to stop us,” explains Nora Ramírez, coordinator of the Regional Progress Board of the National Central of Field Workers (CNTC).
And even if they could reap the harvest, they would find closed markets without being able to sell. From the CNTC Colón, Adolfo Cruz points out that more than 300,000 loads of corn could be lost in this context.
In a country where almost half the population lives in rural areas and where more than 60% of the population lives below the poverty line, the coronavirus has made it more visible than ever how vulnerable the rural population is.
A situation that, according to national organizations, seems to worsen when the military and the National Police make a partisan delivery of the food promised by the Government within the ‘Honduras Solidarity’ campaign, with which the Executive intends to cover the needs of 800,000 families impoverished of the country.
“The military who distribute these bags, first go from house to house asking many questions and people are afraid to share so much information. Then they draw up a list of the ideal families to receive these bags. And it turns out that in the end they are only for people or families who vote for the National Party, the government party. But we defend that hunger has no color or political party,” explains Sebastian Reyes, Coordinator of the Regional Peace Board of the National Center for Rural Workers (CNTC).
“Sometimes they don’t even give us food for the crime of being organized,” adds Andrés Domínguez, also from the CNTC La Paz. In this Regional Board alone, they have counted nearly 500 organized families who are running out of food.
A human rights crisis
The organized peasant movement is being hit hard by this crisis, which in Honduras is not only being health but also economic, social, humanitarian and human rights, as recognized by Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights.
“In addition, this context will be used by multinationals and landowners to occupy the land,” warns the CNTC. “With the new food production project approved by the Government, it will be the entrepreneurs who are in charge of food production, not the small producers or peasants,” explains Franklin Almendares, coordinator of the Board National of the CNTC.
“The most serious thing is that it is ordered to inventory and register all the national lands to dedicate it to this activity, that is, to hand them over to the businessmen. This is going to mean a worsening of peasant and indigenous struggles and an increase in evictions and criminalization,” explains Almendares, while remembering that this adds to an increase, already prior to the coronavirus crisis, of the violent presence. of the military in the communities of various departments.
A violence that was not long in coming. At the beginning of April, human rights defender Iris Argentina Álvarez was assassinated during an attempted forced and illegal eviction according to the National Commission on Human Rights (CONADEH).
This farmer was shot by members of the security of the Sugar Company La Grecia along with members of the private security company CRAE`s. Iris Argentina Álvarez and her communities have lived in those lands since 2017, which, while the recovery process is over, belong to the State.
And in the Department of La Paz, the families organized around the CNTC fear what is to follow. “At the moment the cutting of forests is stopped, but the businessmen have declared that this situation is not going to stay like this and that at any moment they could start the work again.”
And the fact is that not even the coronavirus seems to be able to stop the extractive policies implanted in Honduras. In fact, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has already announced that applications and renewals of environmental licenses are being processed online, with the aim of not stopping the work of companies.
A measure that, from the National Coalition of Environmental Networks and Organizations (CONROA) involves “taking advantage of the crisis to continue dispossessing the territories and their natural assets.”
Between 2010 and 2017, more than 120 people were killed in Honduras for confronting companies that monopolize the land and destroy the environment. Figures that led the country to be considered the most dangerous country for defenders of land and territory, according to Global Witness.
Now COVID19 comes to remember the particularly risky situation in which these people carry out their advocacy work and the need to prevent this viral epidemic from also becoming an epidemic of human rights violations.