Deposed President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya returned to Honduras on Saturday, May 28, (see Al Jazeera report) almost two years after he was first removed from power by Honduran security forces and flown into exile. Zelaya was greeted by thousands of red-shirted supporters at the Tegucigalpa airport. By some estimates as many as 900,000 to 1.5 million people met the one-time president at the airport, an indication of how popular Zelaya remains among members of the self-described “resistance” movement.
In an agreement brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos with current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, all charges against Zelaya were dropped, permitting his re-entry, and allowing the Organization of American States and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare the presidential succession crisis in Honduras over. That in turn permits the Central American state its own re-entry to the O.A.S., which had condemned Zelaya’s ouster and suspended Honduras’ membership. That took place on June 1.
But many indications remain that the nation is far from recovered from the internal conflict provoked by the June 2009 deposing of Zelaya. In the early morning of June 28, 2009, in a move backed by the Honduran Supreme Court and National Congress, the Honduran military detained a pyjama-clad President Manuel Zelaya and escorted him into exile in Costa Rica, ending 27 years of uninterrupted elected civilian democratic rule in Honduras. (A report released June 8 by a team of researchers from the Harvard University Law School finds that both the actions of former President Manuel Zelaya that lead to his overthrow on June 28, 2009 and the overthrow itself were illegal and unconstitutional.)
Over the past two years, agricultural workers and members of the resistance movement and labor and agricultural organizers and rural activists have been killed. Human Rights Watch reports ongoing attacks against human rights defenders and political activists. In 2010 ten journalists were killed in Honduras, making it the most dangerous duty station per capita for journalists in the world. The U.S. State Department is tracking a lengthy list of reported human rights infractions, including unlawful killings by police and government agents; killings committed by vigilantes and former members of the security forces; violence against detainees; violence and discrimination against women and against persons based on sexual orientation; and discrimination against indigenous communities.
Meanwhile a major showdown between two powerful Honduran forces, its business class and elements within the Catholic church which remain highly critical of the nation’s political and economic oligarchy and the ousting of Zelaya, is taking shape. The outspoken Luis Alfonso Santos, Bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán, is being sued for defamation and calumny by Miguel Facussé, the nation's most prominent land and business owner and supporter of the coup against Zelaya. In a May 11 speech, Bishop Santos alleged that Facussé was responsible for the death of 14 peasants in Bajo Aguan in northern Honduras.
According to a John Donaghy, a lay volunteer with the Catholic diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, “Facussé claims ownership of large tracts of land in this northern part of Honduras where he and associates have planted plantations of African palm for the production of palm oil. Unfortunately this land is claimed by a number of campesinos who have been rendered landless.” As many as 35 have been killed in the region because of conflict over the land as well-armed private security forces confront the region’s campesinos.
Last year, Andrés Pavón, director of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras brought a suit against Facussé for the deaths of 14 campesinos in Bajo Aguan. Donaghy writes, "Not surprisingly, for Honduras, the proof he presented disappeared." Now another suit has been brought by Facussé's attorny against Pavón, likewise for defamation. The day before the June 6 filing of that action, three more campesinos were killed in Bajo Aguan.
It will be interesting to see where the lawsuit takes us. Bishop Santos is offering no indication that he intends to back down and his priests are supporting him.
In an open letter released June 3, Bishop Santos writes:
I am a defender of human Rights and my words were motivated by the compassion that the poorest and the defenseless inspire in me; in this case the campesinos in the Bajo Aguan who defend their lives and the right to land to produce food for themselves and their children.
The document Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council affirms that the human being is the end (purpose) of all human action and at the same time has as ultimate end (purpose) Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word. The government, presided over by Porfirio Lobo Sosa has as its motto Christian Humanism; I hope that, based in this humanism, justice will be done for all those assassinated in the Bajo Aguan, at the very least after their death.
In his letter Bishop Santos suggests the lawsuit could be the basis for clarifying "the death of campesinos in the Bajo Aguán and that the lands which belong to the State of Honduras be put at the disposition of INA, the National Agrarian Institute, with the purpose of handing them over to the campesinos."
It could be that by the time this lawsuit is resolved, even if he wins, Mr. Facussé will lose because of what court testimony reveals about the state of land rights and plantation politics in Honduras.