Israel Garcia Perez, a member of an Aguan peasant group, was found dead, with bullet wounds marking his body, early morning Saturday July 28th, at the Los Laureles property on the outskirts of Tocoa. His death brought to 52 the number of peasants violently killed in this region in less than 3 years. Israel Garcia Perez had been participating in a land occupation on lands claimed by African palm oil magnate Miguel Facusse, whose security guards are implicated in several executions in the region.
“We are very worried,” said Vitalino Alvarez, spokesperson for the Aguan Unified Peasant Movement (MUCA)in a blog interview. “They keep killing us and now the government is trying to criminalize our struggle and link the peasant movement to organized crime.”
Hours after this murder, a further five peasants were seriously wounded in a shooting incident in the nearby San Isidro cooperative. Eye witnesses reported that the victims were shot at by heavily armed men from a white vehicle with tinted windows, as they approached the property. Tensions have mounted since a local court ordered the eviction of workers and security guards from San Isidro, La Trinidad and El Despertar properties, which have been held for many years by landowners Miguel Facusse and Rene Morales. The court ordered that the lands be handed to the cooperative members who benefited from rulings in 2010 and 2011, which theoretically ended an 18 year old land conflict.
Development and Peace partner the Popol Nah Tun Foundation works to strengthen peasant groups who benefited from land reforms in the Aguan region over the last 20 years. In many cases, land reforms have not been implemented, and large landowners still hold onto large tracts of land, often cultivating lucrative African palm oil. The violence of land conflicts has intensified since the June 2009 coup d’etat. Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and malnutrition is common in rural areas such as the Lower Aguan, where peasants lack land and a means to produce food to feed their families. According to UN FAO Statistics, 12% of Honduras’ 7.2 million population are undernourished.