Three CRLN staff and board members traveled to Honduras February 28 – March 8 together with La Voz de los de Abajo, one of CRLN’s partner groups. Below is a reflection by Sharon Hunter-Smith upon visiting two communities engaged in land recuperation as part of the National Center of Rural Workers.
Our group from Chicago stood staring at the rough wooden table, which held 2-dozen or so spent tear gas canisters plus a couple of bullet shells, collected by the 9th of July community from the area immediately surrounding the place where we stood. The largest one, designed to be fired from a rifle, was stamped “Made in U.S.A.” The connection between U.S. military and police aid to Honduras and the violent persecution of impoverished Honduran farmers was crystal clear in the objects before us.
The original rural community of 28 families has been tear gassed and evicted from their simple hand-built dwellings and cultivated land 26 times by the Honduran military or police. In the last surprise eviction on January 13, 2017, the police followed the fleeing people, even women and children, across the valley, shooting all the way. One man was shot in the leg and a pregnant woman miscarried after running away, panicked, from the “security” forces. They also tore down and burned houses, stole or burned possessions and tools left in and around the houses, and cut down some of the fruit trees and crops. Since then, the women and children, have moved to a nearby community while the men have re-occupied the land.
“Thanks be to God that we continue to live on this land,” said one man. After each violent eviction, the community’s commitment is to return and resettle on the land within 24 hours of being pushed off, rebuilding houses and restoring crops as they are able. The bravery and endurance that this strategy demands is fed by their hope of land ownership. They experience other threats in the form of arrest warrants against them and death threats from the national or military police. “Every time we receive a group of international people who are in solidarity with us, it gives us the strength to keep going on with our struggle,” said another.
This community of formerly landless people, organized by the Central Nacional de Trabajadores del Campo (CNTC–National Center of Rural Workers), settled this abandoned and desert-like land in 2010. They dug trenches and bought plastic pipes to carry water for irrigation and drinking water from a spring 3 kilometers away. They planted fruit trees and other crops to feed their families. A dry hillside turned green and provided a way to make a living. The CNTC works with 203 other communities, like 9th of July, who are reclaiming land and putting it to good use in 14 of the 18 Honduran departments (what in the U.S. would be called states).
The National Agrarian Reform Law provides that idle land fit for farming can be expropriated and awarded to indigent and landless persons by the government, but this does not happen often. To force the issue and obtain the land essential for rural people to support themselves and their families, the CNTC works with landless people to settle and plant on unused, undeveloped or abandoned land. The occupants then file for title to the land under the Agrarian Reform Law with Honduran National Agrarian Institute (INA).