Friday, April 20, 2012

Honduras Reacts as Thousands Occupy Land

Honduras’ former President Manuel Zelaya marched Thursday through the country’s capital, joined by supporters and members of his political party, Libre, expressing solidarity for the recent nationwide land seizure. Wednesday morning, some 3,000 families occupied over 12,000 hectares of arable land in as many as seven different departments (see map). Police were deployed to evict some of the occupiers, particularly in the northern Cortes department. But as of Thursday, at least 7,000 hectares of land remained occupied by 1,500 families, reports the AFP.

Zelaya expressed support for the land occupation and stated that this was primarily the campaign of land rights organizations like Via Campesina, and that Libre was supporting rather than coordinating the movement. Via Campesina leader Rafael Alegria told AFP that they expect to meet with President Porfirio Lobo on Friday.

Other protests associated with the Libre party were reported in cities across the country, reports El Heraldo. But some of the protests appear to have involved labour unions and other activist groups, who were demonstrating against Honduras’ increased cost of living, as well as a range of other issues.

Honduras’ government and business sector is already speaking out against the “land invasions.” The former director of the government’s agrarian agency said that the primary goal of the movement was political, and has more to do with disrupting President Porfirio’s government rather than seeking rural reform. “The end is to make the government uncomfortable, coerce them and show the government’s weaknesses,” the official told El Heraldo. “This means it’s not an agrarian problem, it’s a political problem...”

Critics who say that the land movement is primarily an anti-Porfirio initiative state that the most prominent leaders involved, including Via Campesina’s Rafael Alegria and labour activist Juan Barahona, are members of the Libre party and known Zelaya supporters (as one El Heraldo headline put it, “Anarchist and political interests behind invasions in northern Honduras.”)

Labor leader Juan Barahona countered these critiques, stating that there is no political objective to the land occupations, and that it is fundamentally an issue about land rights.

President Lobo’s position is unclear. The head of one prominent business association, the ANDI, said Thursday that Lobo supported the land “robberies” if he planned to meet with the peasant organizations (the ANDI director is a known critic of President Lobo). His allegations prompted a quick rebuttal from a presidential spokesperson and the current head of agrarian agency the INA, but the rebuttal did not clarify Lobo’s position before this latest wave of land conflict.

So far, even as police has evicted the land squatters, there has been few reports of violence between the protestors and the government. Violence is a typical by-product of Honduras’ tense land conflicts: the AP reports that 55 people (including farmers and members of the security forces) have been killed in land disputes in the past two years.



News Briefs
  • Colombia’s Director of Police Oscar Naranjo will retire, President Juan Manuel Santos announced Thursday. Naranjo reportedly says he is stepping down in order to allow other police officers ascend in rank. Naranjo was named Police Director in 2007 and is considered one of Colombia’s most popular and effective public officials. In 2010, the International Association of Chiefs of Police named him the best police officer in the world. La Silla Vacia reports that Naranjo’s exit will instigate a “race” among those hoping to replace him: the top candidates include the current head of security of the presidential headquarters, the Casa de Nariño, and the man whom La Silla Vacia identifies as Naranjo’s personal pick, Rodolfo Palomino, currently the police fourth-in-command. Meanwhile, the popular Naranjo says he has no intentions of running for office, reports Semana
  • Former Venezuelan Supreme Court judge Eladio Aponte spoke with a Miami-based online TV station Soi TV about corruption in President Hugo Chavez’s administration. El Universal has a full transcript, while the 41-minute video is available on Youtube. As previously reported, Aponte was stripped from his position in March after evidence emerged that he helped known drug trafficker Walid Makled access a government ID. He left Venezuela for Costa Rica, and recently left that country in a DEA-chartered flight, reportedly prepared to share intelligence with US authorities on the Venezuela military’s involvement in drug trafficking. During the TV interview, Aponte said that Venezuela’s justice system is manipulated like “plasticine,” and that the government frequently instructs judges how to rule on legal cases. He added that he was once forced to release a military official charged with smuggling cocaine. The Chavez government has said that the US plans to use Aponte as a political tool to attack it. Reuters has a nice summary of the affair. 
  • The Washington Post with profiles of the Secret Service supervisors forced to retire after a group of agents brought prostitutes back to their hotels rooms in Cartagena last week. 
  • Infolatam reports that Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is trying to convince indigenous communities in the TIPNIS national park to sign an agreement committing not to participate in an upcoming protest. Bolivia was set to build a highway that passed through the TIPNIS reserve, but Morales was forced to cancel the project after a series of massive protests last year. 
  • As government and business officials prepare to meet this weekend at the World Economic Forum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Fox News Latino with a report on how Asia is overtaking the US as Latin America’s primary trading partner. 
  • Jamaica will establish a task force intended to fight lottery scams, reports the AP. The “lotto gangs” call people overseas, frequently elderly US residents, and inform them that they have won the lottery,  and need to wire funds to Jamaica in order to collect the winnings. The AP reports that these scammers could be collecting as much as $300 million a year. Along with the task force, the government will introduce tougher legislation against lottery scammers, reports the Jamaica Gleaner
  • From Chile, CIPHER with a two-part series (one and two) on an intelligence document authored by a jailed ex-military officer and Pinochet supporter, addressed to President Sebastian Piñera. CIPHER notes that some of the suggestions made in the intelligence briefing -- to replace one government official with another -- later came to pass.
  • Rio de Janeiro residents rioted and burned a bus after a young girl was injured as a result of police gunfire, reports the AP.
  • Residents in Cheran, Mexico, took 16 police temporarily hostage, demanding that authorities investigate a recent attack that left eight people dead in the town. Last year, Cheran barricaded itself in protest of illegal loggers, who cut down the trees which the community depends on. Some Cheran residents have said that the loggers have the backing of criminal gang the Familia Michoacan.