TEGUCIGALPA – One of the 200 peasants taking part in an occupation of a palm-oil plantation in Bajo Aguan, a region on Honduras’ Caribbean coast, was killed Friday by private security guards, his comrades said.
Guards at the Los Laureles property unleashed a “massive” volley of gunfire against 37-year-old Israel Garcia, the leader of the Muca peasants organization told Efe.
“People who were near him saw when the security guards shot him,” Yoni Rivas said, adding that three other Muca members were missing.
The long-running conflict over land in Bajo Aguan will not be solved by “militarizing, murdering and repressing,” according to the Muca leader, who urged Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to foster a dialogue aimed at settling the dispute.
Lobo, however, said Friday that he plans to deal with the strife in Bajo Aguan “as a problem of national security.”
In a speech in the northern city of San Pedro Sula, the president claimed that some of those demanding land in Bajo Aguan are not peasants.
A security guard was shot and wounded last Friday when the Muca members invaded Los Laureles, which is run by the Dinant corporation on behalf of magnate Miguel Facusse, one of the richest people in Honduras.
Last year, the Honduran government, plantation owners and Muca signed an accord calling for more than 4,000 hectares (9,876 acres) of land to be distributed among landless families in Bajo Aguan.
The agreement has yet to be implemented and around 60 people have died during the last four years in the conflict pitting peasants against private security guards employed by the palm-oil barons, according to the National Human Rights Commission.
Most of those killed have been peasants.
The Lobo administration sent troops and police to the region last October, but the presence of security forces has failed to stop the violence.
Under a new pact signed by Lobo on June 5, the government pledges $17 million to purchase 2,429 hectares of land from the Bajo Aguan plantation owners for distribution among poor peasants. EFE