By Andrew Melton
Last week, thousands of Honduran families and farmers moved and occupied 30,000 acres of land throughout the Central American country. This marks a large escalation in a land conflict that has been raging for years. Honduran law states that farmers have the right to grow crops on public lands, however private farm companies have been purchasing public lands with great frequency as of late. Small family farmers see this as an encroachment on the law allowing them to tend these public lands. Former President Manuel Zelaya came out to protest in support of the land occupation, and current President Porfirio Lobo has yet to release a firm opinion on the matter.
Obviously, the move by the farmers received harsh criticism from the landowners and farm companies. Some are trying to illustrate the occupation as nothing more than robbery on a national scale. Others believe the move is based in politics and not an agricultural issue as the farmers claim. It is nothing more than a political stunt aimed at destabilizing the current Lobo regime. Why else would the former deposed President Zelaya support the occupiers?
It is an entirely different story from the point of view of the rural farmers. It is not an act aimed at supporting or opposing current President Lobos, but rather, an act meant to bring attention to rural land reform. They do not want the past to repeat itself with large farming companies consolidating their hold on the highest quality land (United Fruit Company, anyone?). What good is a law permitting farming on public lands if those public lands no longer exist?
The truth here, as is often the case, is that both sides are probably right. Technically, the landowners purchased these lands legally. That being said, I feel the rural farmers’ position should be respected much more than that of the landowners. Latin America has a long history of the ordinary rural people being taken advantage of in the name of corporate interests. The large farm companies and landowners do not need others to advocate for their rights; they can already do that on their own just fine. When considering the history of business activities in the region paired with the dismal socioeconomic status of rural farmers, I fully support the current land occupation. Even if the farmers are eventually evicted, the move brings light to an important and escalating conflict.
Where things go from here is uncertain. Rafael Alegria, leader of a land rights group, stated that he expects to meet with current President Lobo sometime this week. Seeing as Lobo possesses the most power at the moment, the future of the land conflict depends on with which side he eventually stands.This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.