By Caitlin Roberts (She attended the AFGJ delegation to Honduras earlier this month. This piece was originally published in Works in Progress.)
U.S. imperialism is alive and well, this much we know. Here in Honduras, rifle-bearing soldiers and cops, or perhaps police dressed in military garb, or perhaps private security guards borrowing police uniforms – it’s never easy to tell – are vigilant at grocery stores, Dunkin Donuts, and banks, as well as rural communities. Where do these armed forces get their funding? You guessed it, your wallet.
Of all security funds pouring into Central America from Washington, 52% go to Honduras’ highly corrupt and repressive post-coup military outfit. Since the military coup d’etat on June 28, 2009, which was condoned and forgotten by the U.S. government, over 400 Hondurans have been targeted and killed in acts of state repression, whether for violating curfew, for being a feminist or for working in alternative media. Thousands more have been detained, wounded and tortured, and countless Hondurans are harassed daily specifically for their political views and actions.
Land use is the main struggle in this country. Peasants, or campesinos, are fighting for their right to land for subsistence farming. Thirty percent of the land in Honduras was recently promised to foreign mining corporations. Hydroelectric dams, coastal tourism projects and
monoculture mega-projects are all threats to Honduran campesinos. As indigenous, Garifuna (communities of African descent), and campesino resistance movements gain momentum, repression against them also grows stronger.
Honduras was reintegrated into the Organization of American States on June 1, 2011, after the celebrated return of ousted president Manuel Zelaya Rosales. The National Front of Popular Resistance, or FNRP, welcomed his return with the largest gathering in Honduran history but find that the reintegration of the country into the OAS is a huge step back for the resistance. The FNRP had proposed 4 requirements for reintegration – Zelaya’s return, along with all other exiles; the recognition of the FNRP as a political party; the improvement of the human rights situation in the country; and a national assembly for a new constitution. None of these requirements have been fulfilled, and of these four, only one has even been touched. Just a handful of exiles have returned to the country, one of which, Enrique Flores Lanza, is under house arrest.
Clearly human rights violations in Honduras continue. The justice system is worse than broken and democracy is no more than a fanciful dream or a word thrown around for diplomacy’s sake. Twelve families run the country. The oligarchy owns a vast proportion of fertile land, controls legislation, business, the military and all other state institutions. One example of this twisted web is the fact that former president Carlos Flores Facussé, the nephew of the richest man in Honduras, landlord Miguel Facussé, founded La Tribuna, the largest newspaper in Honduras, and his daughter Lizzy Flores is the country’s new United Nations ambassador.
Facussé’s scope is enormous. He fits the image of a classic feudalistic colonial king. He controls an army of 200 private security guards, who are ruthless in their oppression of peasants that live on his illegally claimed territory. Facussé bought up the hill of Zacate Grande little-by-little from families who had worked their land for generations, both through
threatening them and by offering more-and-more money until the campesinos sold their ancestral land. The hill is now home to this oligarch’s private hunting grounds, to which he has imported exotic animals such as white deer for the sole purpose of the sport of killing.
Campesinos across the country are organizing fervently against the reign of Facussé and several other underhanded landlords. The Aguán valley, located in northern Honduras, is an incredibly militarized region where curfew is still in place in some regions. This valley is extraordinarily
fertile, attracting foreign investors in African palm cultivation for export as biodiesel and palm oil. Some farming communities have been displaced for over a decade, migrating from one palm plantation occupation to the next in violent eviction processes. The author was present during an attempted eviction of a community from the land it had been holding for 11 years.
Scorched Earth in Rigores, Cortez, Honduras
On July 1, 2011, a group of 18 U.S. and Canadian citizens traveling as human rights delegates with Alliance for Global Justice and Rights Action arrived to the community of Rigores, as a response to an alert that police were scheduled to evict these campesinos from their land. Upon arriving, delegates learned that about 120 families had already been evicted on Sunday, June 26 and that the police were on their way to remove them from the community center in which they were taking refuge so that the campesinos would not return to the land where their homes had stood a week earlier.
Shortly after the delegates arrived, around 9am, they received word that the police were approaching Rigores via a side street, burning houses along the way. The delegation traveled along with community members to the site and stood in a line facing the police, who were slowly
approaching. Some took position by hiding behind vegetation. One sniper hid behind a tree throughout the encounter. This highly militant disposition contrasted with the respectful attitude presented by these heavily armed men. Community leaders, local human rights activists and delegates spoke to the police chief for around 45 minutes about the legality of the eviction. When asked for the eviction order, the chief presented a document of complaint that cited an event involving ”heavily armed campesinos” which had supposedly occurred on June 30th, though it was signed by a judge on June 11th. No eviction order was presented. After about three hours the police finally left; however, the risk that they could return remains.
The delegation members collected testimony from the campesinos about the violence perpetrated by police forces on June 26th. One woman’s account detailed the brutality with which the police tore these campesinos away from their land. The police entered her home with guns drawn and pointed menacingly at her family members. They pulled a mattress out from under her four small children, who rolled onto the floor, treated ”like little rats.” A cop asked for her identification card and promptly burned it. These police, including a special forces COBRA unit, known for decades of human rights violations, poured gasoline around her house and set it on
fire, leaving no time to collect any belongings. After this violent process, several women either gave birth or miscarried due to the physical and emotional stress of these events.
Animals such as dogs, cats, and chickens were set on fire or left to burn. Acres of community corn fields were scorched. These shameless police forces reportedly walked through the orange tree fields cutting branches off the plants and eating the fruit. They also confiscated a pig and other livestock, as well as a tractor given to the community by ALBA, the Latin American trade alliance. The brutality with which this eviction was carried out is clearly an illegal violation of human rights as part of the heavily escalated violence that still penetrates Honduran police and military forces. The United States government is pouring taxpayer dollars
into this militarization, as it has been doing in Honduras for decades. One example of this horrible waste of money is the U.S. air force base of Palmerola.
Protest at Palmerola Air Base
On the morning of June 28th, around 200 people gathered a few miles away from the entrance to Palmerola Air Base, which is located in Honduras but used by the United States Air Force. The marchers proceeded towards the main gate to denounce the US’s military presence and its role in the overthrow of Honduras’ democratically elected government on June 28th, 2009. The plane that sent Honduras’ president Manuel Zelaya into exile on that day flew from the capital, Tegucigalpa, to Palmerola before continuing in the opposite direction to Costa Rica.
The protest was organized by COPINH, the Civic Counsel of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, which works to oppose multinational mining, agricultural, tourism and hydroelectric energy projects. These projects, which have been fast-tracked under the post-coup government, work the current system to cheat Garifuna, Lenca, and other Honduran people out of their farms and land.
Also attending the march were about 25 citizens of the United States, who were present to monitor police behavior, to support COPINH’s anti-exploitation struggle, and to protest the misuse of taxpayer money on militarization in Honduras.
Traffic on the highway was blocked for over an hour. At one point, a young Honduran activist got too close to the wall of the air base, bearing a large stencil and a can of spraypaint, and a police officer (dressed in military garb) pulled him to the ground in a stranglehold. As other
marchers, including an elderly Lenca woman, approached the scene, the police pointed rifles at them menacingly. Without warning, at least 2 tear gas canisters were fired and the marchers fled down a nearby street, then promptly continued the march. No one was detained or severely injured,
although some emerged with bruises and cuts sustained from baton strikes.
Upon reaching Palmerola’s main gate, there was a rally in the driveway in which the people chanted, “Yankee trash out of Honduras!” and “More food, zero weapons!” The crowd also remembered the hundreds of activists that were shot and killed by the police in the 2 years since the coup, chanting, “Present with us today, tomorrow, and always, they keep on living through our struggle!”
A Call to Action
The attitude of the Obama Administration towards the Honduran government is one of acceptance and encouragement. As U.S. citizens we have, albeit limited, power to influence our representatives to cut the flow of money into the hands of the corrupt and violent Honduran oligarchy. The cash set for militarization in Honduras would much better serve the public interest paying for education and healthcare domestically.
The transnational economic and military forces that are violently oppressing the creative and youthful resistance in Honduras are the sames forces which are working against the personal and collective freedoms of North Americans. There are thousands of ways in which we can each fight
these giants, and of course, together we are stronger. To debilitate the Honduran oligarchy, international and Honduran activists are needed in both countries. One very needed role for international activists is that of accompanier or human rights observer. Local organizations are calling for Spanish-speaking activists to join long-term international accompaniment teams here which monitor human rights violations and live in communities in which militarization is escalating, such as Zacate Grande and in the Aguan valley. International accompaniment allows local organizers to continue with their work with a highly decreased risk of violence.