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Carlos’ body

Family and friends dress the body of Carlos Martinez, a 23-year old farmworker who was shot to death on October 2 on the La Lempira Cooperative outside Tocoa, Honduras. Martinez and other members of the cooperative are among thousands of Honduran activists who have seized plantations they claim were stolen from them by wealthy Honduras businessmen. The Honduran security forces have militarized the area, and killings of peasant leaders have become common. Many of the cooperatives were started with assistance from Catholic priests and lay pastors in the region, and some Catholic leaders remain close supporters of the peasant movement. A sister of Martinez claimed he was killed by a security guard from a nearby plantation belonging to Miguel Facusse, the wealthiest of Honduran landowners.

I am in Honduras currently, and on Sunday morning I was visiting the La Lempira cooperative near Tocoa, in the Aguan Valley of northern Honduras. It’s a region I’ve written about in the past. It boasts very fertile land which has been systematically stolen over the years by the rich. When the poor organize to recover their land, they are met with violence from the private armies of the plantation owners and the government military and police. Since the 2009 coup, the region has been militarized, and dozens of people have been killed—almost all of them members of courageous cooperatives that have liberated land. La Lempira is one of these cooperatives, and when I went to visit I took along the local Methodist pastor and his wife, as well as their district superintendent. We had a long interview with the cooperative leaders, and then I started photographing their daily life amidst the flimsy shelters they inhabit on the palm oil plantation. News arrived that one of their members had been found dead, reportedly shot six times by a guard from a nearby plantation. So I accompanied the coop leaders and the man’s family to where we found the body of 23-year old Carlos Martinez lying in wet ground amidst the palm oil trees. I documented the scene there, the transportation of the body in a truck back to the coop, the family’s grief and anger, and the arrival of the forensic medical personnel, who made a very cursory examination of the body and asked almost no questions—crimes against the poor aren’t really investigated in Honduras. (The coop has armed guards at the entrance who wouldn’t allow the police to enter; they see the police as agents of the wealthy landowners.) The Methodist superintendent, Juan Guerrero, prayed over the body, and the family and friends of Carlos then began to prepare his body for burial, putting clean pants and a clean shirt on him. Here they are buttoning the shirt; I took the photo by reaching over them to hold the camera directly above Carlos’ body. I spent the rest of the day there, photographing a bit and at times just sitting quietly with Carlos’ mother, sisters and cousins as they cried and shared their lives.

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