Four peasant farmers were killed and eleven wounded in an ambush in the Bajo Aguan region in northeastern Honduras, highlighting escalating violence in that area which top officials connect, in part, to organized crime and drug smuggling.
As the Associated Press reports, the victims of the March 28 attack were members of the Unified Peasant Movement of Aguan (MUCA). Eleven other MUCA members were wounded, according to the group's leaders.
MUCA's vice president, Juan Chinchilla, said the farmers were leaving from work in various vehicles when they were ambushed by a group of gunmen without any chance to flee or defend themselves.
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Bajo Aguan has been the site of a violent land conflict for over two years involving a multitude of violent actors. The region borders part of the northeastern province of Colon, an important transit point for transnational drug shipments moving north.
Thursday's attack occurred on the outskirts of the municipality of Trujillo, Colon, not far from where a military convoy was ambushed on March 26. That ambush was allegedly carried out by a group dressed as peasant farmers carrying automatic assault weapons. Descriptions of the assailants from Thursday's attack on MUCA's members match those of the gunmen who attacked the convoy on Monday.
President Porfirio Lobo stated this week that it has become clear that criminal groups active in drug trafficking are responsible for the recent bloodshed in Bajo Aguan. And he has deployed the military in recent months to tighten security in the zone.
However, there are also concerns that security forces themselves may be connected to other assaults on peasant farmers in the region. This month 94 members of the US Congress signed a letter calling on the Obama administration to suspend all military and police aid to Honduras until human rights violations in the region are addressed. Seven US senators signed an additional letter requesting that the State Department update them on Honduran investigations of human rights abuses in order for them to monitor progress.
For its part, the Honduran Congress attempted to quell conflict by passing decrees in June and September 2011 which permitted peasants to purchase over 4,000 hectares of land. However, both of these plans fell through as the result of outbreaks of hostility in the region.