AJS Defends Family Homes with Index, Lawyer Partnership

  • October 30, 2015

AJS’s land rights work is advancing in new ways through an index to measure reforms in the government property agency and a partnership with lawyers from the U.S.

The Honduran government agency in charge of titling properties is failing at its job, dramatically.

To get a sense of the situation, take a look at the infographics at the bottom of this page.

AJS has been working on land rights in Honduras since our early days as an organization. Many poor families in Honduras lack the proper titles for the land that their families have lived on, in some cases, for decades. Without these titles, poor families run the risk of being forced off their land by unscrupulous individuals who assert unjust claims of ownership.

That’s what happened to Mariana Izaguirre. We’ll get to her case a bit later, though.

In September, AJS launched a new initiative in our fight for land rights for poor Honduran families.

The Property Institute Oversight Index (PIO Index) is a tool developed by AJS to measure improvements in the Property Institute — Honduras’ property titling agency.

The Property Institute has become fraught with corruption and ineptitude, as AJS helped reveal through investigations earlier this year. But the government has shown initiative in reforming the Property Institute, including firing its board of directors. The PIO Index was developed so that AJS can monitor the government’s reform efforts against a set of indicators, thus providing important public accountability.

To throw some extra weight behind this effort, AJS is working with a group of lawyers who are volunteering their efforts through Partners Worldwide. In English, they’re known as the International Property Rights Observatory (IPIO).

The group traveled to Honduras in September, to help launch the index.

During their visit, the IPIO met with Honduran officials, business leaders, lawyers, development experts, and U.S. embassy officials. But most importantly, they went to a community threatened by land seizures.

Escaping the strong Central American sun in the shade of a local church sanctuary, the IPIO met with community members to understand how the Property Institute’s ineffectiveness impacted them.

That’s where they met Mariana Izaguirre.

Mariana is a mother of five children, who lived in her home in a poor neighborhood for 30 years. She received an official document from the government for her home, and she paid taxes for it. But that didn’t protect Mariana and her physically-disabled daughter from being forced off their land and having their house destroyed when a powerful landowner, who also wanted Mariana’s land, decided to make some money by selling it. Five years since then, all that’s left of Mariana’s home is an empty lot in a poor neighborhood.

AJS also invited journalists and public officials to come to meet with Mariana and the community members. The media came and shared Mariana’s story; the public officials were nowhere to be seen.

What happened to Mariana occurred, in part, because of numerous errors done by government officials.

AJS has long helped people like Mariana and has trained others on how to secure the rights to their land. Right now, given the dysfunctional state of the Property Institute, it’s particularly important for AJS to provide healthy pressure and proper assistance to the government in order to reform the Property Institute and protect the homes of poor families in Honduras.

With the PIO Index and the IPIO team — which will visit again in six months — we are strengthening our efforts to battle the corruption and incompetency that threatens to force poor families from their homes.

Together, with Honduran families, we are speaking up for justice.

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Extra Resources

A further coverage (in Spanish) of Mariana’s story by Revistazo.com.

Below: an English-subtitled video produced by AJS’s journalism project, Revistazo.com, which includes Mariana’s story.

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