Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population

HONDURAS-INDIGENOUS: Land Talks, and Hunger Strike, Continue

Thelma Mejia

TEGUCIGALPA, May 12 1997 (IPS) - More than 100 indigenous protesters have entered the second week of a hunger strike to back their demands for “land and justice.”

Negotiations between the Honduran government and indigenous representatives, which already have seen 2,000 hectares of land handed over for use by native peoples, were broken off last Wednesday. Members of the Lenca, Pech, Garifuna, Tawanka and Chorti communities reported Friday that negotiations were pending on another 18,000 hectares which they have demanded.

In the meantime 108 men and 20 women, vowed to continue their hunger strike to keep the pressure on the government of President Carlos Roberto Reina after some 3,000 indigenous marchers reached Tegucigalpa early last week in their “pilgrimage” for land and justice.

A government commission visited the western departments of Copan, Ocotepeque and Intibuca over the weekend to anlayse the situation and issue a legal decision on the ownership of the land. Minister of Culture, Arts and Sports, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, met with landowners in Copan to negotiate the sale of unproductive land, which will be delivered to the indigenous groups.

Fasquelle said the government has always been willing to talk, but the indigenous people have taken a “very intransigent” stance. “We cannot provide the 18,000 hectares overnight, as they would like,” he said, underlining that the Reina administration has already provided 62,000 hectares to indigenous communities. “No government has ever addressed their demands. We think they should have a little patience.”

But the indigenous leaders protest that the government is taking its time in fulfilling the commitments it undertook.

“We want real, concrete results. We won’t go away until the problem has been resolved,” warned Marco Gutierrez, a member of the indigenous negotiating commission.

The “pilgrims” are camped out near the Government House and the Palace of Justice, and health authorities have provided medical equipment and latrines to avoid epidemics. At night, the marchers gather to hear mass and sing their religious hymns, praying for improved living conditions and land. A number of them told IPS that they had sold chickens, cows, utensils and other belongings to join the march on Tegucigalpa, because they could no longer stand such poverty.

The protesters, meanwhile, have given the government a 15-day deadline to clarify the deaths of their leaders Candido Amador and Obidio Rodriguez, killed in Copan three weeks ago, allegedly by gunmen hired by local landowners.

Direct descendants of the Mayas, the 4,500 Chortis live in conditions of extreme poverty in the western departments of Copan and Ocotepeque.

“Out there life is tough, but here we are trusting in God and the government to be given an opportunity to live a little better,” said Simona Perez, a member of the Lenca community.

Roughly 600,000 of Honduras’ five million inhabitants are indigenous. The communities began to organise for their rights three years ago.

The marchers secured a promise by the courts to review the cases of some 40 indigenous people imprisoned on charges of “terrorism.” That category covers the invasion of land, a common practice by land-starved peasant farmers in Latin America, where the “latifundio” – large landholding – predominates, and land continues to be concentrated in a few hands.

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