Land Ownership in Los Pinos

“Our particular moment in history has forced the issue of faith and land upon us in fresh ways. We are coming to see that the issues of freedom, justice, and peace are all linked to the problem of land. The great troubles in the world are in those places where land is denied some to the disproportionate benefit of others.”
– Walter Brueggemann

    Most systems that govern an urban poor community are based on power that serves a few.  A transforming community develops systems that serves those who cannot speak for themselves.  Transformed political systems seek to empower those who do not already have a voice. Transformed economic markets create opportunities for the poor entrepreneur who needs capital, materials, and good counsel. Transformed legal systems bring justice to those who cannot find it. As we have gone out to the community to learn more about it we had the opportunity to learn how some of these systems are at work.  To our surprise we have found a law whose spirit seems to want to benefit those on the margins. This law deals with land tenure.  We met with don Juan, the president of Plan de Los Pinos Community Council.  He migrated from a rural town to this community about 20 years ago seeking opportunities in an urban setting. One of the big issues with urban poor communities, as you may know, is land tenure.  Many urban poor settlements are illegal settlements. This is true for many urban communities in Tegucigalpa including Plan de Los Pinos.  In 2005, the Honduran government, in order to solve disputes over land tenure, expropriated the lands where squatter communities are located and gave the opportunity to residents of these communities to purchase the land at a very accessible price and become legitimate owners with a title issued by the Honduran State.  In 2007 Plan de Los Pinos through its Community Council signed an agreement with the Honduran State. In a nut shell, the agreement stated that the residents, in order to receive the land title, have to pay the land in a 15 year time frame. The money paid by the residents, which as a very cheap price that is accessible to the residents and that was agreed upon by both sides, is to be given to the original owner (once that issue is settled in court since at least three different people claim to be the legitimate owners of the lands where Los Pinos is located).  This agreement makes it possible for the residents to be the legitimate owners after they have paid for their land.  Among some benefits of owning the land and having the land title, the residents can now take out loans against it or sell it. As we had conversations with don Juan, however, we were able to notice that many people lacked knowledge and understanding of the law.  The lack of understanding was due to the inability to read and “translate” the agreement which is a legal document with legal jargon.  The lack of knowledge was due to the fact that there had not been a formal communication process.  There had not been a formal communication process because the leaders who signed the agreement had some understanding of the law but they didn’t feel with comfortable with enough level of understanding to communicate it to the whole community.  Clearly, there was a problem- one of the implications of people not knowing about the law and payment agreements is that they won’t start the payments. If they don’t pay in the 15 year time frame, the original owner could claim the land and oust those who have not paid.  In the past few weeks we have been working with don Juan and two other community leaders so that they can get a very good understanding of the law and of the agreement so that they can communicate what is going on the rest of the residents.  Don Juan, as president of the Community Council has called for a Community Assembly meeting this coming Sunday to share about the agreement and encourage residents to work towards purchasing their land.