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Land Struggles Suffer Repression, Billy Joya Reported Training Paramilitaries

An extremely dangerous situation is developing in Honduras in the municipality of Tocoa, department of Colon in the region known as the Aguan.

In the days leading up to the April 1 murder of a young campesino farmer, the preparation of an operation intended to (falsely) confirm the existence of an armed resistance movement in Honduras was exposed. Reports claim that a renowned death squad member from the 1980’s is training paramilitary forces, while a select police unit is being prepared to “combat guerillas.”

This extremely high level of violence, repression and impunity threatens the lives of campesino families organized in the Movimiento Unificado Campesino de Aguan (MUCA) who are immersed in land conflicts with some of Honduras’ most powerful businessmen. It also threatens to present a justification for greater repression of the non-violent resistance movement in Honduras (the Frente), who, along with many nations in the world, do not recognize the legitimacy of the Pepe Lobo government, and are calling for a new constitution.

ATTACKS ON MUCA MEMBERS

On April 1, 2010, 22 year old Miguel Alonso Oliva was fatally shot in the back during the occupation of the Boleros farm. This killing comes after the steady escalation of the presence of military, police and private security forces in the area.

The morning of Lobo’s inauguration, January 27, 2010, a group of police, military and private security forces entered a MUCA community, where they opened fire and gravely injured four young men. The timing of acts of extreme repression during significant moments appears to be a pattern meant to send messages to the Frente.

In addition to the violence, disinformation is being published in the Honduran press stating that the MUCA families are an armed guerrilla movement tied to the national Resistance movement, financed by international drug traffickers, tied to the Colombian guerrilla movement, the FARC, and with the backing of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Though blatantly false, this fabrication is disturbingly similar to narratives being promoted in the United States Congress by lobbyists and right wing congress people. The objective of the manipulation of Honduran press may not only be to manipulate the Honduran population, but apparently to substantiate a false narrative presented to the “international community.”

Hondurans have been very savvy and capable in avoiding an armed or violent response to the coup and the provocations of the anti-democratic forces. They know that an armed resistance movement would provide justification for even greater repression and even more pervasive de-legitimation of their political demands.

POLICE WIFE DENOUNCES OFFICERS DETENTION IN PREPARATION FOR ILLEGAL ACTS

In a communiqué dated April 1, 2010, the Committee for Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH), explains that on Friday, March 26, 2010 it received a phone call from a woman who stated: “I speak for more than thirty police officers who have been locked up for over two weeks, on the premises of the Regional Police Command of Tocoa, Colon. I am the wife of one of them. These officers were brought from various regions of the country such as La Paz, Comayagua, and Choluteca, among others, having been told they were being recruited for a mission in Tegucigalpa. From Tegucigalpa they were sent to Colon. They are being trained to commit acts that are against the law, they are offering better pay and that if something happens to implicate them, they will immediately be transferred to places they came from. They are told they will confront guerrillas and that was why they were paid well. They make them go hungry and claim it is the fault of the people who they are soon going to fight.”

CODEH concludes that “the thirty policemen selected from various sectors of the country, can be used to create the false perception through the media that they died in combat in the area, confirming the existence of an armed resistance, which will justify the eviction and death of dozens of farmers and he seizure of their land.”

The psychological preparation for the perpetrators of gross human rights violation, such as massacres, that is suggested in the denouncement is a well documented process widely employed during the 1980s in Latin America. The officers being denied food and being told their hunger is caused by the ‘guerillas’ they will combat is reminiscent of so-called “False Flag” operations were a tactic widely used and well documented in the 1980s.

BILLY JOYA, RENOWNED TORTURER AND DEATH SQUAD COMMANDER, REPORTED IN THE AREA

The same CODEH communiqué continues, “CODEH members who are in the area [Aguan], received the following information “that in the area is Mr. Billy Joya Amendola [pictured], hired by businessmen to coordinate operations. He is currently in the facilities of the Fourth Battalion Infantry based in the city of La Ceiba, Atlántida, where there is a group training for paramilitary actions. Another group is being trained in a in the Fifteenth Infantry Battalion based in the town of Rio Claro, jurisdiction of the municipality of Trujillo in the department of Colón.”

The Fifteenth Battalion has been consistently implicated in providing direct support to the businessmen involved in the illegal acquisition of cooperative land. The commander of the military battalion is reported to hire reservists and paramilitaries, and supervise the private security forces on the African Palm plantations. Witness claim the Fifteenth Battalion illegally detained two young members of the MUCA as they rode on their bicycles on January 13, 2009.

Billy Joya is a Honduran widely rumored to have close ties with, or to work for, the Central Intelligence Agency, and to principally reside in the United States. He is renowned in Honduras for his participation in the “Battalion 316” death squad, responsible for kidnapping and torture in the 1980s. Since the 1980’s, Billy Joya is reportedly the owner of major private security firms in Honduras and has consistently held security advising positions in government cabinets charged with overseeing policing and security.

THE STRUGGLE OF THE COOPERATIVES IN THE BAJO AGUA

Early in the 1990s, while Central America was still immersed in “peace processes,” a wave of legislation across Latin America destroyed legal mechanisms to insure the possibility of securely held collectively owned land. Its impact resonated the loudest in Mexico where the reform of Article 26 of the constitution destroyed the Ejido system. This was an important factor in the formation of the Zapatista movement.

In Honduras, that same international land agenda hit hard. In 1992 changes to Honduras’ agrarian reform legislation made it possible for land acquired through the agrarian reform program to be resold. This allowed the politically powerful Honduran businessmen, Miguel Facusse, Rene Morales and Reinaldo Canales, beginning in 1998, to destroy 29 African Palm oil producing cooperatives of the Aguan region, using paramilitary violence to intimidate cooperatives into selling and other illegal mechanisms. These methods are very similar to methods being employed throughout the region by drug traffickers to acquire land. In this way these men have become some of largest landholders in Central America. They have also received significant financing from the private sector funding arm of the Inter American Development Bank.

In 2001, the now landless families from the cooperatives destroyed in this process formed the MUCA, through which they continued to investigate the illegalities in the manner in which the Aguan cooperatives had been acquired. In 2004 they presented the first of many law suits. Unfortunately, as is the standard practice in the Honduran justice administration, the suits simply have not been expedited, this kind of corruption is what inspired hunger strikes by Honduran justice operators in 2008.

This forced the farmers, beginning in 2006, to undertake a series of peaceful protests, which culminated in a negotiation process. The negotiations had advanced to the point of signing an important agreement with then president Manuel Zelaya on June 12, 2009. The agreement would have allowed the farmers to acquire land title to the contested farms, as they provided sufficient proof of their land rights.

However, the June 28, 2009 military coup forced an end to the land titling process. Thus, on December 9, 2009, during the de facto regime headed by Roberto Mitcheletti, the MUCA began occupying the farms to which they hold legal rights but which were illegally in the possession of Facusse, Morales and Canales. The immediate response was an attempt to portray the land rights movement as an armed guerrilla movement connected to international terrorism and drug trafficking.