Land Rights Conflicts: Bajo Aguan

Last update: July 27, 2014

In the 1970s, government land reform efforts brought thousands of small farmers from southern Honduras to the fertile Bajo Aguan valley, near the northern coast.  The land reform initiative limited the maximum size of individual landholdings, turned over mostly public lands to campesino cooperatives, and included investments in infrastructure, agricultural equipment, and technical support.

In 1992, the Government of Honduras authorized the sale of collectively-held land to individual landowners.  Land was sold by campesino collectives to large, individual landowners.  Some groups have disputed the legality of these land sales, some through legal claims in the court system, and others through land invasions.  Confrontations, at times violent, among campesinos, private security guards, and government security forces have occurred throughout the region over the last decade.

Since 2009, more than 100 people have been killed in violence in the region.  To date, very few of these crimes have been investigated.

Status Update

A U.S. Embassy delegation led by the Deputy Chief of Mission visited the Bajo Aguan region in February 2014 to meet with leaders of campesino cooperatives, small farmers, human rights organizations, and security sector representatives regarding human rights and the long-standing land conflicts in the region.  The Deputy Chief of Mission returned again in May 2014 with a senior level delegation visiting from the U.S. Department of State.

During their meetings, Embassy staff emphasized that threats against labor leaders and human rights defenders stifle voices that are critical to democracy and human security.  Some of those with whom the delegation met indicated that the lack of clear land titles, inadequate consultation with local communities regarding land development, and long delays involved in judicial resolution of land conflicts contribute to conditions that undermine peace and security.

The U.S. Embassy welcomes the initiative of the Attorney General and the Director General of the Honduran National Police to create a special unit of police and prosecutors dedicated to investigation of homicides in the Bajo Aguan.  The unit started operating in March 2014 and is expected to issue its first report in July 2014.

Further Information

One of the primary objectives of U.S. assistance to Honduras is to help Hondurans reduce the overall level of impunity.  We have raised as a priority with the Government of Honduras the need to investigate and prosecute crimes in the Bajo Aguan region, as well as the need to facilitate more transparent, inclusive and peaceful resolution to land rights issues.

Link: Human Rights Watch Bajo Aguan report.