In September 2011, the Aguan region in northern Honduras was militarized for the third time since the coup d’état in June 2009. Under the pretext of protecting the local population from the narcotrafficking-related violence in the region, the Lower Aguan has seen a drastic increase in military presence. This third episode of militarization since the coup comes at the same time as a dramatic rise in violent attacks and assassinations, and various local groups and international organizations argue that this rise is a result of the militarization, rather than a cause of it.
Given this situation, various social movements, groups, local and national leaders – between them Artistas en Resistencia, CEMH, COFADEH, COPINH, ERIC, Insurrección Autónoma, OFRANEH, MUCA, and the “Campaña América Latina y el Caribe, una Región de Paz: Fuera Bases Militares Extranjeras,” decided to hold the most recent Conference Against the Militarization, Occupation and Repression in Honduras in the city of Tocoa, Colón, from 30 September to 2 August, in the Ramón Rosa Institute. PROAH’s presence was requested by the coordinators of the event to provide accompaniment. The conference, hosted by the Frente Nacional Resistencia Popular (FNRP) of the municipality of Tocoa and the Coordinación de Organizaciones Populares del Aguán (COPA), focused on the militarization, repression, and occupation occurring in the Lower Aguan and across Honduras, which, according to the organizers, rather than increasing the security in the country, has served to divert funds from public services and education, and has benefitted the land owners, big businesses and the narcotraffickers.
The conference began on Friday with El Guancasco, a dance performed by members of the Garífuna and Lenca communities of the country, and was followed with a memorial service for those who had been killed by the repressive forces since the 2009 coup, led by the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH). Various participant organizations gave talks and discussions during the day about their experiences of the militarization and shared analyses and information about the presence of military bases in the country. In total, around 400 people were present the first day.
The same day, however, the conference was informed that Enelda Fiallos, from the cooperative Prieta of COAPALMA, had been assassinated the previous night, in an attack that left her husband, Germán Castro, president of the cooperative, gravely injured. This emphasized the gravity of the situation in the Lower Aguan, and highlighted the vulnerability of the people who live and work there. On the second day of the conference, the group was divided into eight groups to discuss various themes: international solidarity; community defense and protection; training, sensitization and awareness; campaigns and communication; mobilization and organization against the militarization; victims of the militarization and repression; reports of human rights violations; solidarity and direct help for the affected communities. PROAH, along with representatives of other international organizations, was present in the international solidarity group. Each group presented the results of their discussion to the plenary, and various concrete agreements were made, including the formation of a Network Against the Militarization and Occupation in Honduras, which would also be used to follow up the other commitments made over the course of the event.
The final day was planned to be a visit to the campesino villages of Marañones and Rigores, so that the participants of the conference could see first-hand the reality of life in these communities, which was to be followed by a concert by the Artistas en Resistencia. The group left in caravan for the communities – two buses and several cars – and just like everyone who wants to travel by road in the zone, had to negotiate the three military checkpoints. On arriving at Rigores, the coordinators received news that another campesino, 23-year-old Carlos Humberto Martínez, from the nearby community of La Lempira, had been assassinated close to Tocoa in around 5.00am. The group decided to extend the tour to pass by the wake of Carlos in La Lempira.
At the wake, representatives of the social organizations and journalists spoke with the families, whilst the musicians present at the conference dedicated songs to the deceased. The Sunday afternoon, the Artistas en Resistencia presented their multidisciplinary artistic event AGUANta Vida, with musicians, installations of plastic art, and giant puppets. The event was finished with a presentation by the youths of Proyecto Jóvenes en Arte from the School of Arts at UNAH, “Estampas de un pueblo minero, o un árbol que cuenta historias” (Prints of a Mining Town, or A Tree That Tells Stories) by Dr. Rafael Murillo Selva, a historical theatre piece showing the process of North American colonization of Honduras from the end of the 19th century to the first part of the 20th through the microcosm of the town of San Juancito, Francisco Morazán.
The general security was a predominant worry throughout the conference. The voluntary security team confirmed that various security incidents, including the presence and expulsion of infiltrating police agents, heavy stones being thrown at the roof of the building during the meetings, and during the first afternoon someone cut the electricity to the auditorium. René Mesén, the municipal coordinator of the FNRP in Tocoa and sub-director of the Ramón Rosa Institute (the place of the conference) also announced that during the meeting on Friday morning two males, dressed in civilian clothes, had been identified as agents of the DNIC, and had come into classrooms and told students at the school that “they should be careful” because “members of the resistance” were going to “throw teargas grenades”, and confirmed that they had suspended classes due to the fear the students felt.
On arrival in Tocoa, PROAH had also received information from the event coordinators that the two hotels in the center of town – where many participants of the conference were staying – had been infiltrated by the “military and police”, who had rented rooms in each floor of the hotels and were watching the guests from the lobby and asking information from the hotel personnel about those that arrived for the days of the conference. The PROAH accompaniers observed two men following the participants of the conference between the restaurant in front of one of the hotels and the hotel lobby. The same men were present for the three days of the conference, always in the lobby, or outside near to the hotel. The accompaniers also observed various pickup trucks with tinted windows and without license plates parked outside the hotels. The same people were getting in and out of the vehicles, or were speaking to the people inside the hotels.
The assassinations of the two campesinos during the conference and the palpable tension at the conference can be thought of as a result of the militarization, occupation and repression in the Lower Aguan region, however they also served to give strength and determination to the those present to continue the struggle. Holding the event in the middle of a region so affected by the recent militarization was, more than just a unique opportunity for debate and collective analysis, a concrete act of solidarity with those that live with the daily undeniable and inhumane effects of the militarization.
 The event also included representatives from: ANACH; CNTC; CODEMUH; COPA; FNRP of Colón; FNRP of Tocoa; MAD; MARCA; MCA; Patronato de Iriona; PST; SOB; URP; various members of the media and both national and international independents; and members of international solidarity organizations from the Americas and Europe.