Honduras: Land Conflict Background

This article is a personal reflection, my version if you will, of the agricultural coop movement from the reform sector in Honduras, which I believe has contributed to the land problems we are seeing nowadays. Let me first say that I believe Honduras has a very good if not excellent cooperative law and regulations; therefore, I do not think that is the problem. May be the problem is enforcement.

Following on my dad’s steps who worked on cooperative extension back in the 60s after receiving training in the US, I had my share of experience working on agricultural coops in the 80s. Ag-coops were popular at that time, induced by the reforma agraria which started in the early 60s but did not picked up momentum until the 70s and 80s. As such, the agricultural coop movement became very politicized, and most of the agricultural coops were not born out of the farmers own needs, but were also induced since in order for landless peasants to be beneficiaries of the agrarian reform and recipients of large extensions of land under the reforma agraria, they had to be organized.

The most common and typical organizational model were agricultural coops which comprised the so called “reformed sector”. One of the main characteristics of the reformed sector is that in its majority, lacked governability, in part as a result of the lack of education of the coops members (consider that most if not all coops members were landless peasants who did not have access to resources, education, etc.), reason why they were managed by outsiders appointed by politicians and for political reasons; consequently, they were mismanaged leading to corruption and the failure of many ag-coops. Still, a few were very successful, especially those on the banana and palm oil subsector. Due to the failure of most ag-coops from the reform sector, the “Cooperative” word as an agricultural organization, become almost a prohibited one in Honduras; especially since many farmers felt cheated and that they were taken advantage of, since they never saw the promised results of the agrarian reform.

Then came the 90s, and along with it the WB and IMF induced macroeconomic and structural reforms in Honduras, which included the liberalization of markets and privatization of public enterprises. In the agricultural sector the market liberalization included the factors of production, (read: tierras agricolas), for what the government saw the need to privatized the lands that were assigned to the reform sector since until then, they were considered public lands given to the reform sector just for the usufruct, and as such they could not be sold. Consequently, as result of the structural reforms, the government gave ownership through private property titles to the coops members and some, including large ones and considered successful coops, collectively decided to sell their land (e.g. Cooperative Gaunchias); in the process creating a new generation of landless peasants.

Based on this description, I think that it at least in part explains the land problems the country is facing nowadays. Some of the new landless peasants may be the offspring of the ones who sold the land back then and feel that they were cheated out of their land also, especially when considering the current value of such land compared to the sale value of back then. Some are asking to be re-compensated and others just want what they consider “their” land back. As the problem evolves, let’s see what happens.