"The land is not for sale, it is to be cared for and protected"
On January 24th and 25th, the Friendship Office's Human Rights Accompaniment Delegation visited the communities of la Flor, Puerto Grande and Coyolito on the peninsula of Zacate Grande in the department of Valle, Honduras on the Pacific Coast. The delegation met with representatives of ADEPZA (the Association for the Development of the Peninsula of Zacate Grande) and the community radio station La Voz de Zacate Grande.
Pedro Canales Torres, the director of ADEPZA, told the delegation that at this point there are 92 members of the communities of Zacate Grande who are being processed by the Honduran legal system for charges including land seizure, illegal construction, and disobedience for living and building on the land where their families have been for up to 150 years, and for resisting eviction orders carried out by police, naval officers and private security forces.
According to members of ADEPZA, about 25 or 30 years ago, the entire peninsula, which had been given as an inheritence by a former president of Honduras (Terencio Sierra) to his grandaughter (Carmen Malespín de Lazo) without the knowledge of those who lived there, was sold to private landowners, including Miguel Facussé. Since then, the majority of the 10 communities who have lived on the land have been resisting orders of eviction and violent harassment by authorities and others who they say work for wealthy Hondurans claiming ownership of the land. See COFADEH's human rights journalism site (in Spanish, with pictures) for information regarding the human rights violations against residents of Coyolito who resisted an eviction on December 17th of last year.
Residents stressed that through their organized resistence efforts as well as the Decree 18-2008 passed by Manuel Zelaya when he was president, they were within days of receiving titles to their land when the coup took place on June 28, 2009, all that was missing was the Minister of Agriculture's signature. According to ADEPZA, decree 18-2008 established conditions under which families and communities who had lived and subsisted on lands for a determined amount of time would have the right to titles to the land, and well as the possibility for expropriation of unused private lands for subsistence farming under certain conditions. After over a year and a half of stalling the titling process through both the Micheletti and Lobo regimes, earlier this month the Supreme Court declared Degree 18-2008 to be unconstitutional, to the disappointment, frustration, and outrage of campesino groups and their allies across the country.
La Voz de Zacate Grande community radio station was inaugaurated in April of 2010 and is coordinated by three young people who have received training from more established community radio stations in the country, and about 15 other young people have since participated in additional trainings and are sharing responsibility for programming that runs from 8am to 8pm every day. These young people and the radio station have suffered ongoing harassment by the authorities. See videos posted on the Zacate Grande blog documenting the attempted eviction of the radio station by police about six months ago.
Two correspondents from the radio station, Elba Mejía and Elia Hernandez, were reporting on the December 17th eviction in Coyolito when they were chased, beaten, and apprehended by police and charged with disobedience. Elba, in her early 20s, is one of the three coordinations of the station, and told the delegation that her vision for the radio station is to continue to train young people as informed correspondents who can report on events directly from their communities via cellphone as issues arise, and to use these peer trainings as opportunities to continue building awareness, analysis, and solidarity among the communities of Zacate Grande.
Members of ADEPZA and the radio station expressed to the delegation that they still believe their goals are possible with the support of national and international organizations exerting political pressure on Honduran officials, and asked us to tell their story in our home communities, respond to urgent actions, and continue to build our relationships of international solidarity over time.