Land Reform

Land Reform

The Honduran government nominally began to address inequitable land ownership in the early 1960s. Those efforts at reform focused on organizing rural cooperatives. About 1,500 hectares of government-owned land were distributed by the National Agrarian Institute (Instituto Nacional Agrario--INA) beginning in 1960.

A military coup in 1963 resulted in an end to the land reform program. Lacking even modest government-directed land reforms, illegal squatting became the primary means for poor people to gain land throughout the early 1970s. These actions spurred the government to institute new agrarian reforms in 1972 and 1975. Although all lands planted in export crops were exempted from reform, about 120,000 hectares were, nevertheless, divided among 35,000 poor families.

By 1975 the pendulum had swung back, and agrarian reform was all but halted. From 1975 through the 1980s, illegal occupations of unused land increased once again. The need for land reform was addressed mostly by laws directed at granting titles to squatters and other landholders, permitting them to sell their land or to use it as collateral for loans.

Despite declarations by the Callejas government in 1989 of its intent to increasingly address social issues, including land tenure and other needs of small farmers, the early 1990s were jolted by increased conflicts between peasants and the Honduran security forces. Agricultural credit and government support increasingly favored export crop producers at the expense of producers of basic food crops.

The Honduran land reform process under President Callejas between 1989 and 1992 was directed primarily at large agricultural landowners. An agrarian pact, signed by landowners and peasant organizations in August 1990, remained underfunded and largely unimplemented. Furthermore, violence erupted as discharged members of the Honduran military forcibly tried to claim land that had already been awarded to the peasant organization Anach in 1976. In May 1991, violence initiated by members of the Honduran military resulted in the deaths of eight farmers. To keep similar situations around the country from escalating into violence, the government promised to parcel out land belonging to the National Corporation for Investment (Corporación Nacional de Inversiones--Conadin). The government also pledged to return to peasants land that had been confiscated by the Honduran military in 1983.

An Agricultural Modernization Law, passed in 1992, accelerated land titling and altered the structure of land cooperatives formed in the 1960s. The law permitted cooperative members to break up their holdings into small personal plots that could be sold. As a result, some small banana producers suffering from economic hard times chose to sell their land to the giant banana producers. After an agreement was reached with the European Union (EU) to increase Honduras's banana quota to the EU, the large banana companies were avid for additional land for increased production to meet the anticipated new demand from Europe.

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