Farmworkers agree to vacate disputed Honduras land

AP News
Posted: Jun 04, 2012 10:26 PM
Farmworkers agree to vacate disputed Honduras land

A group of Honduras farmworkers who seized lands on the Caribbean coasts agreed Monday to move out and end a bitter dispute with the government and landowners that has caused dozens of deaths in recent years.

Spokesman Vitalino Alvarez said the Unified Farmworkers Movement of Aguan signed an agreement proposed by President Porfirio Lobo but only because the group was "under pressure and under threat."

"There are tons of lives on the line and due to the continuous threats to forcefully remove us we have given up to avoid bad outcomes," Alvarez said.

A judge granted an eviction notice in the Bajo Aguan Valley last week, and officials were sending hundreds of officers to force 5,000 people from the approximately 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of plantations that remain occupied after a series of earlier evictions, Security Minister spokesman Hector Mejia said.

Farmworkers in the Aguan Valley have been demanding ownership of about 25,000 acres (10,000 hectares) since 2009. The lands, mostly oil palm plantations, were the property of the large agribusiness company Dinant, but poor farmworkers built a city. The government has deployed hundreds of soldiers and police to the region to respond to the conflict.

The dispute has led to at least 60 deaths since December 2009, including 48 farmworkers, 10 employees of the corporation and two police officers.

In March, 94 U.S. representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to suspend assistance to Honduras' military and police over human rights violations in the Aguan Valley's land disputes.

The government plans to sell the vacated land to the farmworkers. Activists have argued that the farmers had the right to grow crops on public property under Honduran law.