Luchar para Proteger el Bosque en Honduras

This article first appeared online in English on The Progressive’s website

Muchos en los EEUU están inconscientes de la conexión entre los y las refugiados huyendo de Honduras y la lucha allá por justicia ambiental.

Por Meghan Krausch

En un grupo de casas aisladas en un bosque de pino en las montañas de San Francisco de Locomapa, Honduras, en el territorio ancestral del pueblo Tolupán, asisto a la ceremonia para  levantar los espíritus de Juan Samael Matute y José Salomón Matute. El evento es cuarenta días después de su doble asesinato.

Samael y Salomón fueron asesinados el 25 de febrero en el bosque de pino que defendían ellos junto con unos otras y otros miembros de la comunidad Tolupán.  Como parte del Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia, ellos y ellas se han opuesto a la tala desmesurada por empresas privadas, quienes reciben asistencia directa de la agencia hondureña el Instituto de Conservación Forestal (ICF).

Samael y Salomón son el séptimo y el octavo asesinato de esta comunidad extremamente empobrecida históricamente, la cual está profundamente dividida por la lucha por el derecho a la tierra y por la intervención del dinero empresarial en la política local. Líderes del Movimiento han sido amenazados y judicializados por sus esfuerzos a defender el bosque. Al mismo tiempo, sus asesinos caminan sueltos por la comunidad, y el Ministerio Público sigue declarando que “no hay novedades” en el proceso judicial de los asesinatos.

Ahora que caravana tras caravana de refugiados salen de Honduras, muchas personas también quedan, enganchado en una resistencia fuerte contra los proyectos extractivistas. Estas están apoyadas acá en los Estados Unidos por militantes que llaman la atención al papel de los Estados Unidos en hacer crecer la crisis hondureña.

La Ley Berta Cáceres, originalmente presentada en 2016 por el Congresista Hank Johnson, Demócrata del estado de Georgia, subraya el papel de la policía hondureña en la corrupción y los abusos de los derechos humanos. La ley reclama la suspensión en la “asistencia en materia de seguridad de Estados Unidos a Honduras hasta que cesen las violaciones de los derechos humanos por parte de las fuerzas de seguridad de Honduras y hasta que los responsables de estas violaciones  sean llevados ante la justicia.” Cáceres, una hondureña destacada por su trabajo con el Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas Nacional de Honduras (COPINH), fue asesinada en 2016 por hombres contratados por una empresa que pretende construir una represa en el territorio de la puebla Indígena Lenca.

Las y los participantes hicieron esfuerzos extraordinarios para asistir a la ceremonia de dos días en honor a Samael y Salomón, viajando por horas a pie o abarrotados en camionetas. Había vecinos, miembros del Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia de San Pedro Sula, dos observadoras internacionales, y el Consejo de los Ancianos del Pueblo Lenca, quienes vinieron de sus propias tierras en Intibucá, Honduras, para compartir el liderazgo de la ceremonia con una delegación cristiana local.

En el centro de la reunión estuvo Ramón Matute, un familiar de las víctimas. Él reporta que recibe regularmente amenazas de muerte desde las mismas personas que mataron a su padre y a su hermano. Muchos en la comunidad dicen que la policía hondureña son poca asistencia, aunque Ramón es uno de los 38 miembros de la comunidad que fueron otorgados “medidas cautelares” en 2013 por la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, debido a sus altos niveles de riesgo como defensores de derechos humanos.

Samael y Salomón están enterrados uno al lado del otro en una sola colina, adornada por una pequeña palmera y flores decoran las nuevas cruces. Hay banderas y pancartas señalando la continuidad de la lucha por los derechos humanos y la justicia ambiental, y un anciano se balancea una olla de barro llena de incienso.

En la ceremonia, Ramón habla del martirio de su padre y su hermano, y de la lucha para defender el bosque, el agua, y el territorio ancestral del gobierno y las empresas privadas que los quieren explotar. Compromete con Pascualita Vásquez, la líder espiritual del COPINH quien guía esta ceremonia, para fortalecer la relación entre sus pueblos y trabajar conjuntos para recuperar y proteger sus tradiciones, su dignidad, y importantemente, su autonomía.

La violencia y la represión han crecido en Honduras desde un golpe en 2009, pero las cosas se empeoraron después del fraude electoral del Presidente Juan Orlando Hernández en Noviembre 2017, donde más de treinta personas fueron asesinadas por las fuerzas del estado, sin asumir responsabilidad.

El gobierno de los EEUU reconoció a Juan Orlando oficialmente como ganador de la elección disputada, cuando aún no terminaron es escrutinio, así mismo, EEUU  ayuda con entrenar y financiar las fuerzas de seguridad en Honduras. El efecto desalentador de esta violencia se nota por toda la sociedad hondureña en donde, como me comentó una persona: “No tenemos la oportunidad de salir de un luto antes de que estamos entrando en otro.”

Respondiendo de cómo defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y del medioambiente logran seguir, enfrentado con tanta violencia, la cantautora y periodista Karla Lara, quien era amiga cercana de Berta Cáceres, me cuenta que ella ve la espiritualidad como “una estrategia de lucha, porque la cultura dominante es la cultura de la muerte.”

“Tengo estos pequeños altares de Berta,” dice Karla. “No había hecho los altares antes. No sólo yo, sino muchas personas, estamos buscando una espiritualidad que nos protege. Hay un entendimiento político de la espiritualidad, de la necesidad de protegernos.” Ella describe un rito cotidiano de pasar el humo del palo santo por toda la casa, y especialmente de “pedir a Berta que nos de la capacidad de lectura estratégica política, porque eso es la ausencia más grande de Berta: su capacidad de analizar todo.”

“Tenemos que hacer un compromiso de hacer bella esta lucha y reivindicar la alegría,” dice Karla.

Hay bastantes razones para estar triste mientras soltamos los espíritus de Samael y Salomón, quienes en vida fueron tomadas simplemente por avaricia. Sin embargo el énfasis está en las flores, en las comunidades juntándose a través de distancias grandes, y sobre todo en la posibilidad de una vida con dignidad.

What Terror Looks Like

More than one year after the post electoral crisis, the terror created by the murders of protestors is still palpable here. Many readers of this blog will be familiar with these killings because you participated last year in an open letter to the families of the victims.

A few days ago Karen Spring wrote this excellent essay on the continued impunity for the killings.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the events of December 2017 & January 2018 are hardly in the past for many Hondurans. These killings were mentioned to me without prompting at some of our site visits, and my general impression both from these weeks on the ground and following social media is of a people where terror has genuinely taken root. I keep thinking of the many histories I’ve read or watched about societies existing under terroristic regimes, and realizing that in this moment I’m visiting one of those societies. And knowing that my friends and others live in it every day.

Nor are these impressions and facts far removed from the United States. Impunity for murdering protestors and the terror it spreads is creating an exodus of people arriving everyday at our border. To say nothing of the direct and indirect support for this terror provided by the US government itself. One example: the US provides funding, training, and “vetting” for various police and military forces implicated in human rights abuses including murder. We are funding terror.

The Songs of the Grandmothers

On Saturday I had the honor of hearing the songs of the grandmothers of COFAMIPRO, the Committee of Families of Disappeared Migrants of El Progreso. These women told us the stories of looking for their lost daughters and sons, who have been lost along the dangerous migrant trail between the US and Honduras or who lost contact with their families once arriving in the US. Rosa Nelly Santos told us about the heartbreaking work of repatriating remains, and how since 2000 she has walked with other mothers along the path wearing pictures of their children and asking around, hoping to find clues of where they were last seen. About the caravans, Rosa Nelly told us that they do not celebrate or agree with the migrant exodus because they would prefer to have people be able to stay in Honduras, but the most important thing is that no one disappears on an exodus. They may still die; but they will not disappear .

The women sang two songs they have written themselves: one for standing outside public offices demanding rights and recognition, and the second for when a person is found. It said “we don’t get tired of waiting.”

Together in a small circle, our Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective delegation cried with these women. We saw their pain, and held it with them for a few moments . We left them reluctantly in a flurry of hugs and smiles, always promising to share their stories.

accompaniment at the graveside

Over the last several days I have been in Honduras with Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, meeting with the Movimiento Amplio por Dignidad y Justicia (MADJ, Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice) in several different sites and contexts.

It is not an exaggeration to say that many or maybe even all the folks we have met with have been through hell. We visited the Dignified Encampment for Water and for Life at Pajuiles, where participants became choked up telling us about how they were attacked brutally in August 2017 by members of the community further up the hill, who believe they will benefit from the dam project and who have been paid by the company . These water protectors, members of MADJ, also pointed to the nearby home of Geovanny Diaz Carcamo, who was brutally assassinated in front of his mother in the street in the post electoral conflict, January 2018.

From there we met with Magdalena, the widow of Ramón Fiallos, and other members of the Dignified Encampment in Defense of the Jilamito River. Ramón Fiallos was killed when he was shot with live ammunition at a protest and left without medical treatment. Magdalena told us how three days before his death, Ramón told her “If we have to die, I will die for a better Honduras with pride.” She told us that his words inspire her, and that through his death she has learned to lose her fear.

In the Tolupán community of San Francisco de Locomapa, we stood in solidarity alongside a fresh grave. Just one month ago two members of MADJ were murdered defending their pine forest, to which they have territorial rights recognized internationally as an indigenous tribe. The mountainside was burning all around us, an act of aggression against those resisting deforestation and looting, as we stood together. Here in this heavy place we were told by survivors that the struggle is very hard, but no one is crying. Everyone participating understands the risks and is ready to pay it. Words are hard to find in describing this moment standing with a small tribal community that has had 7 of its loved ones murdered over a struggle for natural resources since 2013.

Through these places we have been guided often by Martín Fernández who, as the effective longtime General Coordinator of MADJ, lives his life under ever present death threats. Everytime I say goodbye to Martín, I worry it will be the last.

As a group we have accompanied and met with these communities, humbly trying to offer some comfort through listening attentively to their stories and sharing in their pain as human beings. We have committed to share these stories with an often indifferent public in the United States who knowingly or unknowingly benefit from this theft of resources and life. None of it has ever seemed like enough. But I have written before about the small powerful webs of solidarity and continue to hope that although it is not, and can never be, enough, solidarity with others is the most powerful tool we have.

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How to take action in solidarity with the Honduran people

Ongoing assassinations and violence in Honduras: Carlos Hernández

A selfie of Carlos Hernandez wearing a white Oxford shirt.

Carlos Hernández, killed in his law office in Tela, Honduras, on April 10, 2018.

Last week, another person two degrees of separation from me was assassinated in Honduras. His name was Carlos Hernández, and he was killed in his law office in the municipality of Tela. He was the lawyer of one of five people who have been criminalized for defending the water in their community as part of an encampment they have sustained since May 2017 against intense persecution. I have met all five of them.

 

I have visited their encampment.

He is not the first person to die in relationship to their small community’s struggle.

It is unlikely we will ever know exactly who his killer is, and even less likely that person will face any judicial process because rates of impunity in Honduras for homicide are estimated at over 90%.

It is heavy to feel so surrounded by death. I cannot imagine how it would feel if I were actually living among it daily, breathing in its possibility at every turn. The violence is so frequent even among the people to whom I am directly connected that I fear that my friends and family are becoming tired of hearing about the deaths and death threats to my compañerxs in Honduras, and will stop being willing to act. I do not wish to center myself, but rather hope to connect myself personally as an act of solidarity, enabling others to also feel personally connected and invested in the lives of others.

Carlos Hernández was young. He was the lawyer for the mayor of Arizona, Arnoldo Chacón. Chacón is one of 5 members of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ – Movimiento Amplio por Dignidad y Justicia) who have been formally accused of “usurpation” for stopping the state of Honduras and the company INGELSA from developing a hydroelectric dam on the Río Jilamito.

These community members have sustained “Camp Dignity in Defense of the Río Jilamito” since May 2017, defending their water and community from attack by a foreign company. All 5 of the accused, along with the many other members of the community who have participated in the encampment, have been subject to threats and attacks over this time period. Yet they persist. They arrive, daily, in shifts, making sure the camp is tended at all times. They make food for each other, take care of each other, make decisions together, and they confront the alliance of government and private capital which not only criminalizes this care-taking activity but dares to call it usurpation.

I first met these community members after they had completed just a few weeks of their encampment, at the end of May 2017. The camp is humble but cozy, and the reception they gave to our large Witness for Peace delegation of 22 U.S. citizens was deeply welcoming. We ate soup together, we chatted, we played games, and took pictures. They found enough chairs for all of us and hardly a chair for anyone else, and we could not manage to convince anyone to swap places and take a seat in our places. Of course. It would be rude to sit while an honored guest was standing.

Picture is of a banner, sign, and Honduran flag that cover barbed wire and make up a barricade

Barricade at Camp Dignity in Defense of Water and Life at Rio Jilamito

The people who spoke that day to us are the very same people who have been criminalized and whose lives have been threatened since then. I would like to use their names and to show their faces to humanize these every day rural people who have decided to take such enormous risks to protect the water in their community, but I am afraid that it may put them in more risk. I would like to humanize them, to counter the implicit suggestion that they are terrorists for impeding economic development – to which they did not consent and from which they will not benefit – but the very act of doing so may harm them further.

The assassination of Carlos Hernández can only be understood as part of a larger system of structural and political violence which runs deep. He was killed in a country which has recently inaugurated a fraudulent President, and this presidency and regime (and the support it receives from the United States) is inseparably related to the skyrocketing rates of violence. (I plan to write more about exactly how all of this is connected but have linked to some excellent existing analysis above by Radio Progreso, Jesse Freeston, Sandra Cuffe, and Ryan Morgan to get that conversation started here.)

Even in the face of incredible odds and almost unthinkable danger, the community at Jilamito continues to maintain their active resistance to INGELSA and its hydroelectric dam project. Their resistance shows us all that it is possible.

 

Click here for a list of concrete actions you can take in solidarity with people in Honduras.

How to Take Action in Solidarity with the Honduran People

image is of the altar for Berta Caceres at Utopia in Honduras
  1. Ask your Congressional Representative to Co-sponsor the Berta Cáceres Act or thank them for already doing so. The bill asks that the United States suspend all “…security assistance to Honduran military and police until such time as human rights violations by Honduran state security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.” It is widely and strongly supported by Hondurans working for justice.
  2. Donate money or time (however small the amount) to an organization like Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective or Honduras Solidarity Network that works in solidarity with social movements on the ground so they can continue to do their work throughout this crisis, including accompaniment work. Avoid giving money to charity-focused organizations that do not seek to empower Hondurans to have autonomy over their own institutions.
  3. Organize a fundraiser for an organization like those above.
  4. Write an email to the US embassy telling them how disappointed you are in their position after informing yourself on the position of the US government in Honduras.
    US Embassy in Honduras Charges D’Affaires Heide Fulton: BronkeHM (at) state.gov
  5. Find and support local justice work in your community because these struggles are about more than just Honduras.
  6. Find ways to publicly let Hondurans know you support them in their struggles. This increases theur visibility by letting the Honduran government know there may be international pressure for certain humsn rughts abuses, and it is simply encouraging for people who have been marginalized to know that others are thinking of them and taking public actions (even pictures) on their behalf.
  7. Pay attention to what is happening in Honduras and tell people you know about it as well. Help others around you understand the connection between US foreign policy and the crisis in Honduras – this is a crisis created and perpetuated, in reality, on US soil, and we can change it by organizing on US soil as well. A few good resources are the Honduras Solidarity Network, Democracy Now!, NACLA, and the Upside Down World.

Last updated April 9, 2019.