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MUCA Signs Agreement With Honduran Government, But Repression Continues

After a long and exhausting negotiating session between the Unified Peasant Movement of Aguán (MUCA) and the Honduran Government, the parties signed a Deed of Commitment that incorporates part of the proposals made by the farmer organization. The text will now be shared with MUCA bases for possible adoption on April 17. Meanwhile, the militarization and repression continues in Aguán, with 40 people arrested during the negotiation process.

It has taken more than 14 hours for the government and MUCA to come to an agreement that will hopefully be the start of a process leading to a final solution to the agrarian conflict that erupted in the Lower Aguán in Honduras.

According to the text signed by the parties in the early hours of Sunday, April 14, all MUCA peasant families shall receive immediately 3 thousand hectares with planted oil palm and another 3 thousand hectares in the space of three months, after the voluntary evacuation of land taken over. It should be noted that farmers will not be able to sell or give these lands as a loan guarantee once it´s granted. They will also receive a thousand planted hectares and another 4 unplanted hectares in a period of a year.

A study will also be conducted to find out if the land in the hands of the three palm-oil businessmen Miguel Facussé Barjum, René Morales and Reinaldo Canales exceeds the limit allowed by the National Agrarian Institute (INA). If it is found that they have cultivated more land than they have registered, it will automatically pass to the hands of the MUCA. The transfer would not include the thousand acres under cultivation already granted, however.

The study will include technical and financial analysis who will determine areas to be given to rural households, their value, feasibility and profitability for production, and how these lands were acquired. A bipartisan commission for legal technicalities will be created.

The Deed of Commitment rejects a government proposal by which rural families compulsorily were to sell their production to oil extraction plants owned by the palm landowners, through co-investment contracts. As agreed, the type of contract implemented will be under MUCA’s discretion.

Finally, the parties agreed to develop health, education, and housing social projects in the area, and begin addressing “the urgent need to generate a national debate over farm legislation.”

According to Rudy Hernandez, a member of the negotiating committee of MUCA, “We cannot say that this Deed of Commitment, over which we have to consult our bases before a final decision, is a definite solution to the conflict but a beginning of something that will bring some peace to Lower Aguán. In that sense, we consider the government’s decision to guarantee the withdrawal of the army from the area very important. We now expect compliance.”

Yony Rivas, another member of the commission of MUCA, said “What we have achieved today is part of a process. Our struggle continues because our demand is the recovery of 20 thousand hectares of land. And until they hand over the areas that we agreed to in the Act, we will not move from the land we have recovered during these months of struggle,"

One element of great satisfaction is to have successfully stopped the attempt to tie thousands of farming families to a forced sale of production to the landowners who once encroached on their land.

“They failed in this attempt,” continued Rivas, “and now it will be us who decide our future. We also included in the Act the issue of agrarian reform legislation of the ’90s, which brought much harm to the peasant sector. “

Although the signing of the Deed of Commitment brought some hope among the bases of MUCA, the strong military presence is still generating fear in the Lower Aguán. While negotiations unfolded at the Presidential House, 40 peasants were arrested by soldiers and police, including the regional head of the National Agrarian Institute (INA), Coronado Avila Mendoza.

In the event of their conviction for the crime of encroachment, such persons may not be benefit from the agreement just reached, a point which generates concern about the real intentions of the government to fulfill the agreement.

“What happened -it’s unfortunate and just when we were in the process of a negotiation. This cannot be. We will demand the immediate release of all these people and the withdrawal of military and police forces,” said Yony Rivas.