Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Honduras Bishops Conference on the Bajo Aguán conflict

Reflections on the ConfliCt in the Bajo Aguán

In the Plenary Meeting of the Honduras Bishops Conference (CEH), concerns about the events related to the conflicts in the Bajo Aguán which the Bishop of Trujillo and his priests have referred to us, we offer the faithful, pastoral workers, and people of good will the following reflections:

1. The Catholic Church is called to be the untiring seeker for Truth and Freedom. We seek Justice from the perspective of the Truth, and we seek the Right  [Law] from the perspective of Freedom. When faced with conflicts as serious as those in the Bajo Aguán, we have the obligation to seek, in Justice and Right, the ways which help us live in Truth and Freedom.

Faithful to this search, the Catholic Church opts, as did the Lord Jesus, for the persons who are the poorest and the marginalized of society. We do this to share with them the defense of their rights. We also do this so that the poor and marginalized may live the values of Truth and Freedom by knowing and respecting Justice and Right. But this option for the poor and the defense of their rights does not mean approving violent means, because we reject violence, come what may. And, above all, we reject the violence that comes from the abuse of power, of whatever class.

From these convictions as members responsible for the way the Catholic Church goes in Honduras, we make a call to the parties involved in the various crises to seek decidedly and firmly a permanent solution to these bloody conflicts which are lived in the Bajo Aguán, among other places.

2. The conflict has various protagonists whose responsibilities we can not judge, but we can point out so as to create a consciousness/conscience and to call them to the search for a just solution.

a) THE GOVERNMENT. Having inherited this conflict which could have, and ought to have been solved by previous governments, the present government is responsible for the most part of not having achieved even the fulfillment of some agreements with the campesino movements of the Bajo Aguán, which at the time it considered itself qualified to make. Its attitude prolongs the situation which each day becomes more violent and it is losing the opportunity to show to the people of Honduras the ways by which Justice and Right ought to face the problematic created by the failure of previous attempts at Agrarian Reform which today has become more necessary and urgent than ever.

b) THE CAMPESINADO [peasantry]. The concept of campesinado, to generalize, has the danger of confusing or ignoring the different positions held among the campesinos themselves, above all in the face of the land ownership which is provoking so much violence. Campesinos are those who have never been land owners and with all right demand land to work on them; campesinos are those who were owners of campesino enterprises and sold them freely; campesinos are those who were mislead or forced to sell their land against their will; campesinos are also those who already own lands and are seeing how to increase their possession, taking advantage of the current struggles; campesinos are those who are part of association; campesinos are those who are independent; campesinos are those who are armed; campesinos are those who possess no weapons but their machetes… What is certain, and which we one more time denounce is that the majority of the victims who have been killed up to this point are members of the campesinado.

c) THE LAND OWNERS. The inordinate accumulation of lands is, in itself, a social injustice, because it is an attack against the Common Good and because it detracts from the social function that all private property should exert. No matter how legalized might be the lands which are owned, they cannot be defended with violence as has happened in the Bajo Aguán, provoking the deaths of many; one cannot convert the employees and security guards of the estates into an armed and violent army which has provoked so much death and at the same time has shared its own quota of dead victims. Campesinos and watchmen are persons from the same social poor stratum, who seek work in order to survive. And their deaths grieve us equally, whatever social class they come from.

d) ORGANIZED CRIME AND DRUG TRAFFICKING. These have taken over control of this region of Honduras. They pass through without any scruples – these new rich, who own arms that are prohibited by the Law. They are also in the business of turning themselves into large landowners, possessing grand expanses of land.  They signify a power which appears to have total immunity and which the majority of the population fear; by, paradoxically, they also signify the opportunity to obtain incomes larges that an honest occupation can offer. There is some talk of possible connections of these protagonists with some members of the three previously mentioned groups, but we all know that in order to denounce illegal activities one must have proofs. And to obtain proofs is the responsibility of the investigative branch of the police and the Public Ministry.

e) AGENTS OF PUBLIC ORDER AND THE ARMED FORCES. There is no doubt that the State of Honduras has the authority to move to whatever zone of conflict the agents of public order who guarantee the security of the citizenry and respect for the Law. Curiously, nevertheless, in the case of the Bajo Aguán, the campesino population, for the most part, fears their presence, surely because of the experiences that they have lived through firsthand [in their own flesh] of the abuse of authority of some members of these State institutions. Other settlers, above all the merchants in the urban areas and the very same landowners, feel themselves protected by this presence. Furthermore, the Ministry of Security and the Armed Forces justify their massive presence in the area for the sake of a disarmament which absurdly is announced in advance and which never has been effective.

f) OTHER PROTAGONISTS. The people comment that there are persons infiltrated in the campesino Associations and Movements, perhaps intending to destabilize the whole process which the current government has given samples of wishing to resolve, or with other intentions which are not easy to know.  Also, in this group one must point out the lawyers who play an extremely important role whether it be to direct the conflict toward a solution that seeks the good of the majority or whether it be to make it worse by the art of manipulating the laws in favor of the highest bidder.  And there are reasons to suspect that there are probably unidentified persons who could be considered the intellectual authors of this disgraceful plot that is so difficult to disentangle.

3. We repeat that the Catholic Church does not make itself the judge in this conflict but it we are required in faithfulness to our prophetic vocation to denounce, in the midst of the complexity of the situation, the responsibility of those who do not intervene in a way that is firm, just and not politicized, though they ought to do so, as well as the responsibility of those who intervene in a negative manner when they ought not to intervene.

As the Catholic Church, we are and will always be on the side of those campesinos who are going through real need and suffer the consequences of their poverty and their abandonment by the State. We are and will be on the side of those who defend their right in the path of lawfulness and dialogue. As the Catholic Church we are in favor of life which ought to always be respected and which in the case of the Bajo Aguán has been profaned with tens of victims which number, if no decision is made, will increase in an uncontrollable way. We will not stop preaching the values of the Gospel to convert the hearts of all the persons who do not choose the ways of lawfulness, dialogue, and nonviolence, but choose the ways of false politics, cheating, lies, and the lack of respect for life.


a) Most of the persons pertaining to these groups of principal protagonists in the conflict are armed. And, either by contagion or fear, most of the population of these departments have weapons. If there is no true disarmament in Honduras, the level of criminal violence will not be able to decrease.

b) It is not merely a question of disarming firearms. We need a moral disarmament of all the weapons we use to continue destroying our common life and continue to impair the quality of our life. There must be a disarming of the thirst for vengeance which nests in the hearts of so many persons and families who have suffered the loss of some one who has been a victim of the generalized violence. There must be a disarming of the resentment generated by the unjust inequality in which we live. There must be a disarming of the prejudices which make us see the other classes or social groups which we don’t belong to as enemies whom we ought to hate There must be a disarming of the arguments which we make which give us the right to despise those who don’t think as we do or have political opinions different from ours. There must be a disarming of the hatred, the defamation, and the division which some means of communication constantly are sowing.

c) We need, instead, to arm ourselves with courage, justice, and truth to eradicate impunity and corruption.

d) We consider it necessary that the Government fulfill the agreements signed with the campesino groups, respecting the decisions of the Courts of Justice, if an immediate accord is not achieved in the dialogue among the different social groups involved. This can be a dependable way to resolve the problematic of the ownership of the land at the national level.

e) The Constitution of the Republic defines the path of Agrarian Reform in article 345: “Agrarian Reform constitutes an essential part of the global strategy of development of the Nation, based on which the rest of the economic and social policies which the Government approves ought to be formulated and put into practice in a way which is in harmony with it, especially those policies which have to do with, among other things, education, housing, employment, infrastructure, marketing, technical and credit assistance. Agrarian Reform will be carried out in a manner that ensures the effective participation of the campesinos, in conditions of equality with the other sectors of production, in the process of the economic, social, and political development of the Nation.”
f) The Public Ministry and the Human Rights Organism have to carry out a thorough investigation which is guaranteed to clear up all the al the bloody deeds of the last few years so that la Lay is applied to all those who are responsible for these deeds.

The Church which is on pilgrimage in Honduras continues to see with the sorrow of a Mother the Bajo Aguán through the diocese of Trujillo with which we are in solidarity. AS we have seen, there a conflict is in debate which gets ever more complicated. Only sincere dialogue, concern for Common Good, respect for life and human dignity, good will of the parties, giving way to all for love of Country, will yield the result hoped for. But let us not forget that there will not be peace without justice, reconciliation without mutual forgiveness, communion without solidarity.

With Mary, the Virgin of Suyapa, who teaches us to seek unity in love, we pray together to the Lord that no more blood is shed in the Bajo Aguán nor in all of Honduras.

Comayagüela, 15 June, 2011
The Honduras Bishops Conference

The  original in Spanish can be found here.

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