Written by Stephen Bartlett, Ag Missions Delegation Coordinator (and Farmer).
Photos by Stephon Barbour
The yellow recycled school bus headed east from the Jesuit Training Center (La Fragua) in Progreso (the former national office of one of United Fruit company!) toward the wide and lush expanses of mountain, river and plain to the east. We were headed to the International Human Rights Gathering in Bajo Aguan to learn of and document the violations of human rights on lands planted in biofuel monocultures in the Bajo Aguan valley by extremely wealthy Honduran latifundistas involved in the 2009 Coup D’Etat against a democratically elected administration.
The passengers on the bus hailed from diverse origins: Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Italy, and various points in the United States but the diversity of the landscape we were traveling through was in grave peril despite its well-watered “green” color. For approximately five hours, we traveled through a coastal plain and foot hills planted mostly in a deceptively beautiful monoculture of African Palm trees planted in rows so straight they could have been planned by a technocrat of the 3rd Reich.
While those of us living in the U.S. may be familiar with the phenomenon of more and more of our maize/corn crop being turned into the gasoline substitute ethanol (at a subsidized and arguably break-even or overall loss of energy!), or the fact that the sugarcane fields without end in Brazil are being converted (more directly and efficiently) to ethanol production on a large scale, yet only recently have people of the global north begun to be aware of the new monoculture taking over more and more lands of the fertile humid tropics: AFRICAN PALM. Once used exclusively for making soap and wax products, the African Palm has become a new economic engine for corporations and governments seeking carbon credits, that reinforces the old “plantation” mentality of large expanses of MONOCULTURE. The planting of this “forest” mono-crop has multiplied worldwide, despite the bitter protests of social movements as regards “biofuels” or “agrofuels” who shout with righteous indignation: No full tanks with empty stomachs.
-Corporate African Palm Oil Refinery in Zona Guaymon, Honduras, where security forces are alleged to have committed violent acts of repression in the past in coordination with plantation security forces
Indeed, the wholesale conversion of lands from mixed forest and pasture, from small-scale family farms producing grains, fruits and meat along with some cash crops, from previous forest lands and preserves, into AFRICAN PALM PLANTATIONS, is a dangerous phenomenon in terms of eliminating the most fertile lands from the production of food, wood, medicines and fiber, which is what agriculture normally accomplishes.
If this were done by cooperatives of small-scale farmers this would be another ball of wax. For even the most ambitious small-scale farmers would not plant all of their lands in African Palm for one obvious reason: people cannot eat it. And it is no good for firewood or wood for construction either.
Even with the historic “company store” US-embassy supported monocultures of bananas, pineapples and cattle produced by landed elites or U.S. corporations like DOLE (see photo), at least you can say that the product is edible, though not obviously produced on a scale that would provide a balanced diet. With African Palm oil there is no DIET about it: this is an industrial product pure and simple, and has nothing to do with food.
In Bajo Aguan we learned that the landed elites who have attempted to take over formerly public lands eligible for agrarian reform measures, are now hell bent on the production of one crop and one crop alone: African Palm. The Honduran government cooperates with this plan, and even benefits by the international awarding of “carbon credits” for these African Palm “forests” under the pretext that they are helping humanity avoid fossil fuel burning and are “fixing carbon” in their biomass.
Carbon credits are themselves a highly controversial proposal rejected outright by social movements as a mere mechanism for turning all of nature into a commodity and allowing polluters mostly in the global north to continue to emit massive amounts of CO2 by simply financing what turns out to be a new corporate elite style gravy train of monocultures of biofuel/ agrofuel or wood pulp crops. Civil society from massive convergences at COP negotiations in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban and this coming June in Rio+ 20 reject this mechanism of coopting the environmental movement by corporations, calling it a form of “green” capitalism that is the color of dollars more than anything.
The land settlements in Bajo Aguan are bringing hope to the landpoor or landless underclass of Honduras, bringing economic livelihood and development to the most marginalized people of Central America. It is no wonder that African Palm trees are being knocked down by those peasants eager to grow food for themselves, their families and their communities. Common sense and decency would seem to ask all of us to do what we can to denounce this model of production.
As my Mapuche indigenous friend from what is today called Chile always reminds me: there is no good monoculture. Monoculture goes against the laws and harmony of nature that seeks always to have the greatest degree of diversity for its health. All the more so when that monoculture is being produced by people willing to overthrow governments and assassinate family farmers to expand their already enormous land holdings and profits. Once again we have to ask ourselves whether the industrialization of agriculture has not been among the most dangerous inventions by some humans at the expense of all of humanity and Mother Earth.
Pictures by Stephon Barbour
Tocoa, Bajo Aguán, Colón, Honduras – February 16th- 20th,
In Tocoa, under a sun foretelling a hot summer, with grief in our outraged hearts following the most recent events that took place in Comayagua and El Progreso, where fires have ended the lives and means of subsistence of hundreds of people, which makes us think of a premeditated planned terror against the people, we have gathered. Amidst the tireless joy of rebellion and solidarity, more than one thousand people from North to South, which includes many people from Our America and activists from Europe, the USA and Australia, hundreds of greetings from people and organizations from the entire continent arrived to this gathering to express their solidarity.
With the presence of a great diversity of social movements, and organizational, cultural, artistic and politic initiatives, mobilized from several parts around the country to support the call and the goals of the International Gathering for Human Rights in Solidarity with Honduras, for four days discussions, denunciations, exchanges, debates and proposals occured, made public through this Declaration.
We begin our words opening the way to the living MEMORY of the women and men who fought and gave their lives, who are now part of our struggle towards justice… To them, we pay homage. To their families, friends and comrades we let them know we won’t forget them, that their words live in our battles, that they’re still there in all our voices and in all of our hands.
The assembly embraces every child from the campesino settlements of this zone, who in their own workshop expressed that they wanted to live without fear, in safe houses with plenty of food, painted schools and to play and play, a lot. We make a COMMITMENT to keep on fighting for the childhood of this country and the world.
From the workshop “Bodies, Struggles and the Resistance of Women,” there came a strong demand to support the growing movement of women in this zone, in this country and throughout the whole world against all forms of violence and aggression against women for being women, within and outside organizations and homes, and we encourage their participation in all of the spaces and movements as protagonists, with financial resources and the power to make decisions and not just as cooks and mothers.
Once again, with a powerful collective voice we DENOUNCE to the world the growing and unceasing violations of Human Rights in Honduras, a denunciation which expresses itself with all bluntness through the speakers of a large number of organizations that work to defend life and justice. Particularly we listened to multiple women’s, men’s, girl’s and boy’s testimonies from the Bajo Aguán. The ongoing war against the people of Honduras carried out with savagery after the Coup is manifested in murders, persecutions, criminalization of organizational activities, kidnappings, sexual aggressions towards women, a climate of intentional terror against the children who live in campesino settlements and communities in struggle, attacks against popular media, imprisonment, exile and lately attacks with fire against different populations in the country. In a particular way we want to DENOUNCE and send an alert of the enormous peril due to direct eviction threats against the community of Rigores, and the growing and strengthened militarization going on in the community of Guadalupe Carney.
We declare ourselves in ACTIVE SOLIDARITY with the victims of repression in this country, and we understand that they are victims and that the harm inflicted against their lives has authors, people who are responsible; therefore we demand JUSTICE in Bajo Aguán and many other places in Honduras. One of those who is responsible is called Miguel Facussé Barjum.
WE UNDERSTAND that this situation that deteriorates each day can only be explained due to the interests of the capitalist, patriarchal and racist system, a system that seeks to subjugate the people, expropriate their natural and cultural resources and place them at the service of Northern nationals and their transnational businesses. To make this expropriation possible a process of militarization is utilized which is growing in Honduras through the foreign military occupation that guarantees colonization and the violation of Human Rights, which we experience in Honduras with great crudity and brutality.
We REAFFIRM our local, national and international will to keep on fighting against domination and colonization, through every organizational form that we promote to re-found this Motherland. In this fight we are propelled forward by the indigenous and black peoples of the country, with their profound understanding and strength to stop the plundering of lands, territories, water, forests, and with the theft of cultural and other common goods of nature.
WE HOLD RESPONSIBLE those international financial organisms allied with the coup-supporting oligarchy for promoting the plundering and privatization of the lifeways of our people.
The Assembly at this event is challenged to keep on fighting, and to demand:
- The definitive solution to the agrarian conflict in the Bajo Aguán without the outrageous sale and purchase negotiations, for this land belongs to the campesinos and campesinas.
- The immediate release of our brother José Isabel Morales, unjustly imprisoned in the penal farm of La Ceiba.
- The dismissal of more than 500 warrants on people for being in the land struggle.
- The total and immediate de-militarization of the Aguán region and of the entire national territory.
- Jail and punishment for the aggressors of the Honduran people who fight for life, justice and freedom for all.
-We support the consolidation of the Permanent Human Rights Observatory of the Aguan so that all of the proposals arising from this encounter will be pursued in the struggle for a dignified life in this area.
- The immediate investigation and punishment for the massacres against the inmates of Comayagua.
Those Assembled here return home, with equal measures of strength and commitment, to resist the death that capitalism is trying to impose everywhere, and in particular we manifest:
- The demand for freedom for the Cuban anti-terrorists imprisoned in the jails of the empire.
- We demand the exit of the military troops in Haiti.
- We express our solidarity with the indigenous people of Panamá in their struggle for the autonomy of their people and territories.
- We support the struggle for the land of the indigenous people in all of Mesoamerica and Abya Yala.
- We repudiate so-called “green” capitalism and demand climate justice in the world.
- We greet the peoples of the world, that with their outraged cries from within the guts of the capitalist “First” World, this day denounce a predatory system that condemns majorities to misery.
- As Honduran people we continue to call ourselves to this re-foundational process that strengthens with events where the words and solidarity reign above the silence of death.
-We call for strong solidarity with all peoples supporting the international events to be carried out in Haiti in the month of July of this year, where our journeys will continue.
The agreements approved in the plenary of the encounter are:
- To create solidarity committees with the Honduran people in countries, cities and communities of those who participated in the encounter.
- To create the international day of solidarity with the Honduran people, to be set for June 28th. Activities will be carried out in front of embassies…
- To create communal, national and international networks for Human Rights.
- To promote a communal, national and international campaign for Human Rights framed within a practice of active non-violence.
- To create a network of community radios to denounce violations of Human Rights.
- To create a committee of Hondurans to be ambassadors to denounce violations of Human Rights in other countries who might be victims of repression and militarization.
- To create an informative dossier with violations of Human Rights (translated in every language)
- To have the alternative media gather all possible testimonies from the victims of violations to Human Rights and spread them through the world.
- To create a gender-equitable popular school of Human Rights.
- To provide national and international follow-up to these agreements.
- To support the Human Rights Observatory in the Bajo Aguán and the Human Rights Observatory of the Indigenous and Black peoples of Honduras.
- To carry out a campaign of international mobilization for the release of Isabel Morales.
- To create conditions in each country for the reception of Honduran refugees.
- To spread materials on the security measures for people who defend Human Rights.
- To create networks of safety and community protection.
- To strengthen the Permanent Human Rights Observatory in the Aguán.
- Contribution with the establishment of community radios in the territories of the Aguán.
THE PEOPLE UNITED, WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED
TO SILENCE THE WEAPONS, THE PEOPLES SPEAK
Tocoa, Colón, February 19th of 2012.
Following the Massive Gathering for Human Rights in Aguan, part of the Ag Missions delegation headed back to El Salvador. The other half took part in an afternoon and morning as part of a Solidarity Brigades visiting the land settlements of our hosts in Bajo Aguan (see posts on confronting the militarized zone and the well being of land settlements), and then traveled on to visit Garifuna communities, closer to the coast.
As was related to us by female and male Garifuna leaders in La Ceiba, Sambo Creek and Triunfo de la Cruz, the Garifuna have a heroic and unique history. They are a people descended from Africans kidnapped but not yet enslaved due to a shipwreck (or possibly a slave revolt on board ship) in the Lesser Antilles, who were rescued from a barren nearby island and then embraced by the inhabitants of what is today called St. Vincent who were a combination of Carib and Taino (or Arawak) peoples. In fact when the first European colonists from France arrived on St. Vincent to settle, the Garifuna people or “Black Caribs” as they became known, had already established themselves. The British likewise arrived on the island to find the Garifuna people living there, and soon “invited” them to return to the “protection of slavery.”
The Garifuna were having none of it, of course, and ended up in many decades of conflict and war against especially the British colonialists arriving on the island, who also fought against the French small land holders there. The upshot of this was a defeat at the hands of the British, the imprisonment of the Garifuna on yet another barren island as a de facto concentration camp, and then a maritime trail of tears experience whereby only 2,400 or so survivors were basically dumped on Roatan island off the Honduran mainland. The ever resourceful Garifuna people, with their cultural “hybrid vigor”, gradually settled the region ranging from Belize, the Guatemalan Caribbean coast, and across the northern coast of Honduras. In Honduras alone some 300,000 Garifuna people live in dozens of coastal settlements, and another group perhaps even larger, live in a Garifuna diaspora in the United States, from the Bronx, NYC to New Orleans, and points in between.
Like their Afro Indigenous ancestors, Garifunas today still live from fishing and agriculture. The staple foods are a trademark kind of cassava bread, Casabe, and other tropical root crops from taro to yams to the ubiquitous plantains and, especially, coconuts. While the men are responsible for the fishing, the women are famous for their farming. The lands of the Garifuna settlements have been treated lightly and host some of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in the world today, with plentiful water, fertile soils, forests and teeming fisheries. For this reason, their lands are coveted by the majority latino populations and especially the corporations who would make enormous profits from tourism, oil drilling, timber cutting, and mining on Garifuna lands.
As a matriarcal society the Garifuna have strong and healthy local patronatos and advocacy organizations. The local community councils of patronatos hold collective title to their lands, which are under International ILO Convention 169 to which Honduras is a signatory, Non-Transferrable. Honduran jurisprudence, however, is riddled with contradictions and many cases of lands being sold are in the courts. The Garifuna under the leadership of OFRANEH have had several precedent setting legal victories that hold back the floodgates for the wholesale privatization of their lands and communities.
Alfredo Lopez, a former political prisoner who was held in jail for six years, coordinates the Sweet Coconut radio station of Triunfo de la Cruz. Through this and other community radio stations like the one we visited in Sambo Creek, the Garifuna culture, language, music and heritage is constantly reinforced. Community-wide assemblies are where the important decisions are taken and where leadership is chosen, or “unchosen.”
Both Alfredo and another OFRANEH leader from Trujillo Carla Garcia spoke in great detail of a variety of land grabs taking place, involving corrupted municipal governments, sleazy politicians, self-interested members of Garifuna communities, and a general confusion about the meaning and legal status of “non-transferrable collective land holding.” What OFRANEH really needs is a dozen lawyers working full time to level the judicial playing field occupied by the lawyers of the elite with great economic ambitions on Garifuna ancestral lands they have now been inhabiting for the last two centuries.
The four pm soccer game that takes place Tuesday through Friday afternoons on the uneven ground of the Sambo Creek soccer field was high entertainment. The level of play was that of a top notch university in the U.S. or Europe, though the players were just the young men of Sambo Creek, a town of some 6,000 residents. Our host and young leader of OFRANEH scored early in the game on a long bouncing left footed line drive from 25 meters from the left edge of the field. By the end of the game he had a finger and toe bandaged up from rough handling, and the score was about even. Such is the state of the Garifuna struggle today, undaunted by injury and erosive land expropriations, enduring in their presence, courageous in their resistance, and joyful in their fleet feet, their big homemade drums, their self-sufficiency in the sea and on the land, and their rich heritage. May they continue to thrive and recover territory. The Taino and Carib languages, virtually vanished in the mouths of the original speakers who have themselves been “disappeared” as an ethnicity or tribe, are now carried forward linguistically and culturally by the impressive and inspirational Garifuna people! Viva la lucha del Pueblo Garifuna! Long live the Indigenous Cosmovision that teaches a light touch upon the Mother Earth! Viva!
At the settlement called La Confianza 15 minutes outside of Tocoa, Bajo Aguan, in Honduras children in grades Kinder, 1, 2, 5 and 6 sit on long boards perched atop concrete blocks, organized by grade cordoned off by large tarps. The open sided “school” building was really a large ramada. Dry chalk boards are nailed to upright posts at the end of each “classroom.” About 400 meters away in another ramada one large class of grades 4 and 5 is being taught by a distinguished man who we later learn is also one of the prime movers and organizers of this large settlement. Combining the original settlement of La Confianza with the settlement of Aurora where low ground was threatening life and limb in the case of heavy rains, some 680 families now reside in this sprawling settlement. African Palm tree trunks littered the ground, knocked down to make way for homes and food gardens.
Photo: Stephon Barbour
In the distance a concrete block structure painted white awaited doctors, nurses and medicines… the new health clinic building also erected by the residents of this settlement. ”We have not been payed this year yet. Last year we waited until the end of the year, and finally got paid.” said the 2nd grade teacher. ”We had about 80 students by the end of last semester and now we have nearly 250. We need more teachers. We need books. We need recognition by the governmental institutions that we are teaching here.”
The fourth and fifth grade teacher did not imagine he would be returning to his profession as a teacher when he joined MUCA and helped organize this settlement, but says that having education for the children of the kind that will empower them is absolutely necessary. ”We will not accept any teacher to come here. We want teachers who understand the value of agriculture and cooperation, who make education relevant to the realities of the students.”
How are you managing with such a large class? I asked. ”Well, this is like a lot of people eating from a small pot. It is not possible to provide a top quality education to 50 or more students in two grades with one teacher only. But we are doing the best we can.”
He carried a pile of old looking science, social studies and math subject work books to a nearby “home” covered in plastic and tarps, for safe keeping until the following day.
picture by Jen Jewell
Picture by: Stephon Barbour
Showing us around the grounds we see the following: the beginning of a construction of a school with several classrooms, but only waist high. ”We ran out of materials. but this will be the new school. We used it to train house builders with a new block making machine one of our agricultural cooperatives. A large vegetable plot with tomatoes, peppers, veggies. Various community gathering structures.
The peasant farmers of La Confianza are on their way to creating a life of community and well-being, without any help from the government, on the basis of hard work. We are very hopeful that such a movement capable of these advances is going to flourish in the future.
More on our visits to La Lempira and to Garifuna communities on the coast in future blog contributions.
Stephen Bartlett, Ag Missions Delegation Coordinator
International Human Rights Observatory Confronts Militarized Zone
Approximately 40 international human rights observers and international press were detained on Sunday afternoon February 19 during a tense confrontation en route to the Rigores and Maranion settlements of formerly landless family farmers in the Bajo Aguan valley of Honduras.
“If it had not been for the presence of the international delegates at this military checkpoint,” the campesino leaders from Maranion for interrogation would today be either dead, or in jail. We fear what will happen the next time they are stopped going to their homes in the settlement.” said an experienced Honduran campesino leader from another region of the country.
The young and confused soldiers were on edge from the very first moments as our caravan of five pickup trucks came up to the check point they were manning.
For many of the international observers, the experience of being harassed by young nervous soldiers with their hands tightly gripping their rifles, of having our Honduran hosts threatened despite our high profile presence with them, was a further confirmation of the many, many documented human rights abuses reiterated throughout the International Human Rights Gathering. Witnessing the security measures employed by our hosts, with rapid alert calls on cell phones, and groups of solidarity farmers speeding in their vehicles to the scene of the detention, brought home the life and death nature of this struggle for land and justice.
Another deep impression shared during the visits was the extreme marginalization and impoverishment among the campesino sector of society, as evidenced by the living conditions at the settlements. Honduras has a vast underside of chronic and grinding poverty that makes people of good will consider what they might be forced to do, if confronted by hunger, humiliation and repression of the kind meted out by the military and police forces of Honduras at the behest of the rich families who have ruled the nation for decades. We are talking about people who are desperate, but also people who know what solidarity means, who pull together for mutual protection and well-being.
The Agrarian Reform process as mediated by the Honduran governmental department has today resorted to ridiculous schemes whereby farmers who have paid with the blood of their fathers, husbands and sons, and the trauma of their mothers, wives and daughters to hold the ground they need and love, are told they can remain on lands they have lived and farmed on for years only if they sign collective agreements that set a price for land as high as 186,000 lempiras per hectare at interest rates that guarantee failure from the start. As one leader put it: if you ask a family earning $8 per day to pay $3 per day to finance a debt, just to pay the interest, you are asking them to be hungry and desperate, and to fail as farmers and as parents. The government has used this strategem to divide the campesino movement, whereby some groups have signed these agreements out of confusion and fear and others have not.
In the settlement of Maranion, a woman leader (name withheld for her safety) told how women leaders were now rising up in the community, demanding equal standing in leadership and equal voice in the decisions affecting the community. One of the slogans during the encuentro was; No to Coup D’Etats, Not to Blows against Women! This gender equity basis for moving ahead with the work cannot be underestimated in importance.
We are extremely glad to have come to this place of incredible natural beauty, courageous and generous rural peoples, to witness their acts of resistance and the multipronged organizing they have engaged in to push back against forces that would obliterate them from the face of society, for the sake of ever greater profits and concentrated wealth by a few “untouchables” protected by their private security forces. There is great joy to have been among such fine men and women champions for what is true and right, and we felt that joy, even amidst the tension and fear and the courage that breaks all of that apart, leading to laughter and agape.
The goals of the Permanent International Human Rights Observatory, to host international volunteers who will accompany and witness the violations of human rights in the Bajo Aguan region as part of on-going solidarity brigades, have become a prime goal for those of us soon to leave Honduras and return to our homes in the U.S., Europe, Latin America or Asia.
The Honduran government’s complicity in the repression of the family farmers of Bajo Aguan has been laid bare here on the outskirts of Tocoa, Honduras, there among the monocropped African Palm plantations on the dusty backroads of a very fertile Honduras, where un-identified soliders, their name tags hidden, await campesinos just trying to get by.
Pictures By: Jen Jewell
This is the original blog post I worked on that is longer than the previous one, I wanted to include because it brought together a few other pieces I was reflecting on...
Transforming the struggle with a collective vision for all…
By Hierald Kane-Osorto
I write this entry with a heavy heart, one full of deep sadness but also filled with a mixture of hope and the dream that we can indeed create the world we urgently need. I have seen the faces of my people in the crowds. I see the years of struggle, the tense feeling that demands action, that demands a strength like no other. In the mist of these realities I also see a people at a loss because they have been able to only simply survive, to survive the atrocities that they face on daily basis, to survive the demands of our impoverishment, to survive the deaths of those who persecute them, only surviving without being able to freely live. My heart wants to live so that my people can LIVE and not just survive, not to struggle but to live the life we have all been called to freely live. This has been at the forefront of my experience: from hearing the repression of the campesinos, to the survivors of terror, and the realities impoverished marginalized people daily live in the mist of these realities.
I spent three days in Baja Aguan. Day one was filled with a six hour bus ride to Baja Aguan from El Progresso to join hundreds of other delegates from around the world including Brazil, Haiti, Argentina, Uruguay, Germany, Italy, Norway, the US, Canada and others from the Central American region. The opening of the evening as hundreds gathered from around the world was to move forward a vision of solidarity and accompaniment for the people in Honduras and to provide concrete proposal for action. The intentionality of having people from across the region connects the realities that many are suffering back home a feeling that demands peace with justice because its about taking hold of our collective future.
There is something powerful when you are in a room full with the people who experience the direct suffering the interconnectedness, the system – I think that we are all called to discern in such a manner that not only moves us to continually be resisting but to also be transforming the systems. We also had the opportunity to hear from the former President Manuel Zelaya who was taken from his in home in the coup in 2009; the result the current state the Honduran people are living today. A powerful statement from him was “They could bust the doors open of my presidential palace to drag me out but they couldn’t find the keys to free the prisoners caught in the fire a few years ago.” I then was able to interview and asked him some questions on his call for those of us living in the global north. These will be posted later when the video is edited.
Day two we open with a spiritual garifuna opening but were quickly informed of two young men who were imprisoned the previous night a microcosm of the realities and criminalization faced by youth, everyday victims of human rights, unable to hold of their own future. The most powerful piece was the procession by the family members of the victims from Baja Aguan, peasant farmers demanding their right to their land and the struggle against the armed forces coupled with the greedy transnational corporations. The faces of pain and suffering was unbearable and yet we held proudly the memory of those who have died before clearly recognizing that they were still present with us in the room. And so the conversation has continued to be about working for liberation, working for our collective freedom, working for the consciousness of intentionality and for the manifesting of a culture of peace.
On the third day we closed with a declaration that was written by all the participants you can view it here and we then went to two communities being impacted directly by human rights abuses. Sitting behind the truck I kept thinking there is so much beauty here so much land to produce and yet the struggle for food sovereignty, the struggle of the land is salient throughout these lands. We then were confronted a military checkpoint and there was an attempt by the forces to hold us back due to three individuals they claimed could not go through. A stark reality of the day experiences of these campesinos. Yet, there was something I saw in the faces of the soldiers and that was that they too were victims to the same system that had created this mess. They too probably came from impoverished backgrounds and saw there position as a means to “make it.” Their faces just brought a deep sadness to me as I saw brother against a fellow brother. Without words to express what I then saw, pictures can only detail to emotion but they will be posted later by our wonderful videographer and photographer Stephon who was a part of our delegation.
I’m full with questions, a heavy weight to continually ask: What does it mean to be in solidarity as oppose to be reactive? How do we consciously live out our call and our intentionality to be about a calling that loves and sees beyond our current realities that believes that world we leave behind must be different for our grandchildren’s grandchildren?
One of the most compelling observation is the ability for people to be able to mobilize, when people are subjects of repression and struggle they know how to mobilize their internal resources, they don’t think about conference halls and hotel rooms with all accommodations that they need to ensure the comfort of people. They organize even if it means sleeping on the floor, collectively cooking food for 1000 representatives and everyone has a place to stay and eat; a lesson that we must continue to learn from as we move forward in solidarious action in the global north.
I end today with one thing that has remained consistently a key aspect of each of these sessions has been the power of music, the ability to inspire and bring forth a voice of hope. The drumming, the songs, the dance play such a crucial part in the fabric of a struggle; the cultural dimensions incorporated with speaking truth to power remain so prevalent. From South Africa, Kenya, and now Honduras something consistently remains the same when everything is taking away we can still sing the songs that will take us home, that will allow us to reclaim our collective right to live the abundant life and to celebrate and care for creation. The work ahead continues to remain as urgent as it was yesterday but there is something drastically different about the era we are in.
We can no longer remain silent, we can no longer watch the continued realities that for hundreds of years have remained to simply sustain a standard that benefits some and disenfranchised the rest of the world. This moment is crucial not only for Honduras but for thousands around the world in the struggle for freedom. We must remain conscious of the connections of how one piece is connected with the other. I am left without words to fully express what I am feeling but I am also feeling the burden of taking this back of connecting with the larger framework.
I’ll end with a phrase that I can’t forget that was shared with us on the first night, an inspiration for what is ahead: “The can take everything but not our happiness”….they can’t take our song.
The struggle has always been inner, and is played out in outer terrains. Awareness of our situation must come before inner changes, which in turn come before changes in society. Nothing happens in the “real” world unless it first happens in the images in our heads.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa
It’s been three days now here in Baja Aguan, Honduras the epicenter to the extreme violence, human rights violations, and fear tactics as campesinos continue in the struggle to live a dignified life on the lands that belong to them, demanding their rights against the private transnational corporations who continue to repress them. Each image, each word is moved by a sense of self-determination, a powerful statement that their/our voices cannot be silenced even if it means death. This struggle for justice, for freedom is a story that resonates throughout the Latin American region and globally a struggle that our people have been moving forward for more than 500 years. The question is when will it come to an end. Then we start connecting the dots, explicitly seeing that the reasons these conditions remain is because of a larger context, a larger paradigm that has manifested itself to the point of even occupying the minds of the most well-intentioned individuals. There is a manifestation of oppression that has taken over our ability to think critically, to discern how to move forward a vision that is drastically different one that transforms and creates the world urgently needed to day and for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.
I’ve read about these stories before arriving but hearing them the stories of communities being burned down, of men violently killed on their way to work and not returning home, single mothers left to raise their children on their own, and youth caught in the mist of this turmoil with no future in sight and simple acceptance of things as they are have moved me beyond words. Honduras is now deemed the most violent country in the world, a country so entrenched in a system that is part of a globalized reality of economics, political power, social and cultural subjugation and the list can go on and on. Why is it that a country capable of producing its own food subject to this repression? Who is behind the consumption that directly creates these processes of repression? What is our role in responding? One of the most important lessons I’ve seen actualized during this time is the concept of solidarious: “the attitude and practice of being one with the “other”, recognizing that everyone comes from the same Creator mother/father, and that every personal or collective action affects all of humanity and the planet, for these reasons we are called to a conscious practice” this practice will continue to guide my work forward and I hope we can all resonate with this understanding as we move forward in our collective work.
I’ll close with a quote by Gloria Anzaldua because it reminded me of the self work that needs to happen, our need to be objective but not create objects out of the marginalized, to begin creating critical consciousness and to be about a love that changes all things and brings the hope that is necessary. The internal images of the world that we carry must be changed and this experience is a confirmation of that necessity. I close with a reverence and honor for the people in Syria who have suffered 16 straight days of attacks where residents of the Syrian city of Homs are becoming inured to the attacks, as food, medicine, water, and electricity supplies dwindle. This reality can no longer be we must wake up to discern the signs of the times. In the words chanted throughout this weekend Adelante, Adelante La Lucha Sigue Sigue!
Me with Sofio from Siglo 23 an indigenous man I work with in El Salvador, love his smile it gives me inspiration!
For more background information on Honduras:
Sofio (one of the Salvadoran delegates from Siglo XXIII (23rd Century) in El Salvador and part of the Agricultural Missions’ delegation to the International Human Rights Gathering), reflecting on the testimonies we heard yesterday under large mango trees from the surviving members of Bajo Aguan families victimized by assassinations of their loved ones, said the situation here in Bajo Aguan made him think of 1932 and 1981 in El Salvador, two moments (among others) when major massacres and repressions were unleashed upon campesinos over the course of Salvadoran history. Edwar, another Siglo XXIII delegate said he was struck by the body language of those giving testimony, a body language that demonstrated the speakers were overcoming tremendous fear to be there at all. Most of those providing testimony of beatings, razed hamlets, detentions, interrogations, torture and outright disappearances and murders, evoked the sense of powerlessness and chronic fear of the speakers. This painful emotional mixture was tangible and was named directly by several of the speakers.
”I am afraid all the time I go out of my house since the murder of my brother just four paces from me by an AK 17,” said one member of the MCA in this fertile valley. Palacio of Rigores said that though their hamlet had been destroyed by bull dozers and fire, since that time the military had withdrawn and the 120 families had rebuilt makeshift shelters there. ”We will not be driven off” he said with unmistakable conviction.
This mixture of fear and courage (is there any courage without fear?) is incredibly moving. The procession of the photos of the martyrs during the afternoon plenary on February 18 with a description of how each of the 50 some victims were murdered was beyond moving: it was devastating. Several of the solidarity allies, myself included, had tears rolling down their faces. Knots in our stomachs and an indignant anger and grief filled the hall. Long practiced suppressed rage and despair in equal measure pulsed from eye to eye in the steamy hall.
The Concert held in the Central Park of Tocoa last evening was the joyful and empowering counterpoint to the grief of the afternoon. Revolutionary music of my styles was performed, with high energy and defiance and pride by the multitude of human rights advocates gathered there. Ending late, those still massed there gathered in large groups for mutual security to walk the mile back to the training center.
The need to connect the struggles of communities in the global north and the global south was another challenge the Ag Missions delegation focused upon. How to make those strong relationships and understand the fundamental systemic nature of the system that oppresses us all was a point we all agreed upon in our day’s reflection.
We welcome readers of this blog to consider participating in the Human Rights Observatory, which has been and will be welcoming accompaniment visitors to be present for periods of time with the farmer organizations of Bajo Aguan, as a means of protecting those organizations and their members. In a country that relies on an illusion of capitalistic openness and “free enterprise” the presence of international solidarity volunteers with the organizations under fire in Bajo Aguan is an excellent and much needed action that can decisively help the cause of agrarian reform and food sovereignty. We will be talking more about this opportunity to make history in rural Honduras, and make thousands of unforgettable friends in the process. We already feel enriched by the camaraderie and friendships with the people with whom we are gathered. Life is indeed very rich!! Love can and will overcome the hatred and greed that drives this repression! A culture of peace is in urgent need of construction, based on respect, equality, inclusion, cooperation and empowerment.
Stephen (Esteban) Bartlett
Yesterday evening Feb 17 in the Froylan Turcios Training Center in Tocoa, Honduras approximately 1,000 delegates from around the Americas, Europe and even Asia converged for the International Gathering for Human Rights in Honduras. Delegates were in solidarity trim, traveling light and carrying plates, spoons, cups, sheets, towels… in a spirit of collective will to overcome the injustices in this world. Sleeping wall to wall on classroom floors has not dampened the high energy of this gathering of humanity.
At the opening cultural event, we had a chance to hear and meet the ex-President of Honduras Mel Zelaya. A highpoint of his speech to the gathering was the following, paraphrased: ”What kind of country are we living in today, where a blood thirsty elite kills and represses people for the simple face of wanting to live, to make a living. And what kind of government do we have today, an impotent government in the fact of the impunity and chaos in this country. The same people who could not open the doors of the prison in Comayagua to save the lives of the hundreds of prisoners there, had no trouble breaking down the door of the Presidential palace to kidnap me and send me into forced exile. At least 75% of the prisoners in Comayagua had not even been sentenced! Innocent blood spilled in our suffering country.
The host organizations of this Encuentro, especially COPINH, the Lenca organization from the western mountainous highlands, and OFRANEH of the Garifuna communities, were in strong solidarity with the campesino organizations of Bajo Aguan, namely MUCA (Unified Campesino Movement of Aguan) and other campesino organizations, were in incredible form. They had organized a Cultural Event that featured the likes of the Nueva Trobador from Cuba the Feliu brothers, great Honduran campesino and youth performers including Nelson Pagon, and an entire village of villagers of Garifuna peoples who drummed and danced the entire auditorium into an ecstasy of radical inclusion and love, metered by the syncopated bass beat deep in the gut.
This morning we will be hearing testimonies from farming families of the 52+ assassinations of mostly young farmer leaders of MUCA and MCA, the local campesino organizations fighting for access to land to feed their families and gain an honest livelihood on the fertile lands of the Aguan Valley.
Stay tuned for more transformative events here at Ground Zero of the struggle for life in Honduras, Bajo Aguan!
The day before our delegation was to leave for Honduras, a headline hit the global corporate/mainstream media, about a massive prison fire in an overcrowded prison in Comayagua, a city I have visited north of Tegucigalpa, where the large US military base Palmerola is also located.