Thousands of farmworkers have occupied 30,000 acres (12,000 hectares)
of land around Honduras as part of a dispute with large landowners and the
government, activists and officials said Wednesday.
Activists say the seized territory is arable public land that small
farmers have the legal right to grow crops under Honduran law. The large
landowners who have been farming the land say they bought it legally from the
government. A land dispute between small farmers and landlords in the northern
Aguan Valley has led to dozens of deaths among farm workers in recent years.
Mabel Marquez, of the organization Via Campesina, said that the
largest seizure had occurred on the country's Caribbean coast, where roughly
1,500 farm workers had seized land held by a sugar plantation near the city of
San Pedro Sula. The movement also took possession of several farms on the
outskirts of the capital, Tegucigalpa, and in the provinces of Cortes, Yoro,
Santa Barbara, Intibuca, Choluteca, Camayagua and Francisco Morazan.
"We want to avoid any type of confrontation," Marquez said,
adding that the farmworkers were unarmed and used no force. Marquez said the
farmworkers didn't rule out an official attempt to dislodge them from the
Later Wednesday, police and soldiers read an eviction notice and the
farmworkers peacefully left the San Manuel sugar plantation of 6,000 acres
(2,500 hectares). The rest of the farms were still occupied late Wednesday.
Activists said they were seeking meetings with government officials to
open a national dialogue on land disputes, make clear that the lands were
public property and that the farmworkers shouldn't be dislodged. According to
United Nations figures, 53 percent of Hondurans live in the countryside and,
according to the Economic Commission for Latin America, the residents of 72
percent of rural homes are below the poverty line.
Cesar Ham, director of the
National Agrarian Institute, said the land seizures were politically motivated
and aimed at destabilizing the government.