Hondurans in Tacamiche resist eviction by Chiquita Banana company, 1994-1997

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Land struggles in Honduras, especially in the departments with banana plantations, have been frequent since the beginning of the 20th century when the United Fruit Company entered Latin America. This particular campaign covers a particular struggle of a certain group of workers who have been and continue to be fighting for their right to the land. This time period denotes a specific series of actions that were taken by Chiquita to remove the workers from their land and the workers' response which resulted in a lop-sided compromise.
June
1994
to
November
1997
Location and Goals
Country: 
Honduras
Location City/State/Province: 
Tacamiche, Cortés
Goals: 
The squatters demanded that Chiquita return the land to them since they were evicted illegally. Companies are required to redistribute defunct plantation land to the people who live there. This mandate was not followed. As an alternative goal, they demanded that Chiquita sell them the land at a reasonable price.

Secondary goals included the installment of adequate housing, sanitation systems, churches, and a community center.

 

In response to labor strikes on banana plantations throughout the country, which were a result of a large drop in wages for plantation workers, Chiquita Brands International closed its plantation in Tacamiche and three other farms in June of 1994 due to their heightened involvement in the strikes. The closure was not only devastating to the strike, which soon after conceded to a pay increase, which due to inflation was far below the amount from before the strike, but also for the people living on the plantations.

The farmers at Tacamiche had come to rely on the plantations due to the monopoly the company had on land use. The wages earned from the work were their only means of subsistence. When Chiquita closed the plantation, an illegal action by Honduran law, the people of Tacamiche were left with nothing because it was not their land to farm. Chiquita offered the permanent workers $500 severance pay or relocation and just laid off 1,200 temporary workers; however, workers, permanent or temporary, and non-workers alike were all inseparably connected. With little to no sources of food and no viable options for moving, the farmers and their families chose to occupy the land.

Instead of offering a section of the 1,200 hectares of the land that had become inoperable, Chiquita moved to evict the people that occupied the land. On July 26, 1995, approximately one year after the initial occupation, four hundred police and soldiers arrested 36 plantation residents, injured about 75 more with tear gas, rubber bullets, and baseball bats, and destroyed 80 hectares of corn and beans planted two months before. The corn and beans had been planted illegally by Jorge Antonio, a leader of one group of the banana workers, and a group of farmers in order to provide some food for the community. Some of the Tacamiches responded by throwing rocks at the police, and they retreated. Subsequently, the government extended the date for eviction by a month, setting the date by which the Tacamiches had to vacate the land at September 26, 1995. The Tacamiches refused to retreat, and with the support of public attention provided by a Honduran media sympathetic to the Tacamiche cause, they were able to not only maintain but expand their occupation. By January of 1996, they had moved on to other plantations such as Copén and occupied a total of 50 hectares.

The second eviction attempt came on February 1, 1996, when Chiquita finally had the approval of President Carlos Roberto Reina and the Honduran judiciary. This time the police gave no advance notice. An onslaught of 500 troops, a ‘field judge’, and over 400 workers, hired by Chiquita especially for the task, made 100 arrests. Other Tacamiches hid in the town’s three churches while the hired men bulldozed everything: subsistence crops, homes, the health post, and, after ousting the Tacamiches who had sought sanctuary there, the three churches as well.”

With the help of FIAN (FoodFirst Information and Action Network), a strong and adverse reaction to the eviction from a range of international groups, organizations, and people caused Chiquita to be accountable for their actions. However, Chiquita’s response, which amounted to nothing more than PR damage control, turned out to be just empty words. Chiquita re-built 46 huts, and the government built a school and a health center, both of which were far short of the promises for electricity, running water, sewage systems, a sports center, and compensation for the destroyed crops and belongings of the 123 families.

In protest, the Tacamiches refused to move to the town partially constructed by Chiquita. They crammed into a one-room community center in the nearby city of La Lima and began a formidable public relations campaign while subsisting entirely on donations from friends, the surrounding banana plantation communities, and the local Catholic parish. However, supplies were limited, and after a year, they began to face malnutrition, unhealthy living conditions, and an increasing epidemic of bronchitis.

By 1997, however, things began to change. Other communities in plantation areas in danger of eviction began to stand up in protest. Some claimed that their plight indicated their status as internal refugees and therefore applicable under international law, which lead to threats of occupations in the Latin American and European embassies of the capital. Some groups did turn violent, but with the support of FIAN-International and several other Honduran human rights and campesino organizations, the Tacamiches were able to maintain their non-violent occupation. FIAN organized a writing campaign that resulted in over 10,000 letters sent to C.E.O Carl Lindner and Honduran President Carlos Roberto Reina. FIAN also presented the case to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Human Rights in Geneva. These actions were also accompanied by citizen protests in the city of Cincinnati at the front of the US headquarters of Chiquita International with about 40 participants in the first and 70 in the second.

On November 4, 1997, the families moved into the 47 newly constructed shacks; shortly thereafter, Chiquita rebuilt another 76 homes and two of the three demolished churches. The government invested over $80,000 in self-help industries for the Tacamiches, including a fish farm and concrete block manufacturing so that they would have means to sustain themselves. They were able to stay, but Chiquita still held a monopoly on the land rights. Although this was only a partial victory of the Tacamiche peoples’ demands, it was a huge victory considering the consequence of a reverse outcome.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Corr, Anders. No Trespassing!: Squatting, Rent Strikes, and Land Struggles Worldwide. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1999.

Rohter, Larry. "La Lima Journal;Where Banana Is King, a Revolt Over Farmlands", New York Times, Online, July 26, 1996. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/07/22/world/la-lima-journal-where-banana-is-king-a-revolt-over-farmlands.html?scp=1&sq=tacamiche&st=cse Accessed on April 13, 2011.

"Peasants Ejected from Tacamiche." Central America UPDATE, vol. 2, no. 3, February 1, 1996. http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/47/240.html Accessed on April 13, 2011.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Alex Frye, 06/05/2011