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    Ojos para la Paz

HONDURAS: OPEN FOR PLUNDER by Lisa Sullivan

Years from now when participants on the SOAW delegation toHonduraslook back on this visit, I´ll wager to bet that the ten of us will most remember one vivid moment: standing on a dusty road bordered by fields of African palm on a steaming hot tropical afternoon. Given all we experienced those nine days in travels from coast to coast –  jails, strikes, marches, land occupations, conversations with persecuted fishermen, farmers, teachers, journalists, union leaders, human rights workers, and more – this tiny memory bite sounds uneventful.   But on that road in the lower Aguan valley we personally experienced – for perhaps thirty minutes  – what many Hondurans face daily: the power of fear, the weight of decision.

*****

Lisa Sullivan and Manuel Zelaya 2009We came from ten different cities to stand in solidarity with the people ofHonduraswho had been resisting the June 2009 coup that toppled President Manuel Zelaya.  Two of us had been inHondurasin May 2009, just weeks before a referendum that would consult voters on whether to hold a constitutional assembly. The mood of the country then was electric.Honduras’s hour of hope seemed imminent and change just around the corner.

Change did arrive that June 28th.   Only not in the anticipated form but in one that was all too familiar – at the barrel of a gun and on the orders of School of theAmericas graduates.   President Manuel Zelaya was picked up from the presidential palace in his pajamas and deposited on the runway of San Jose,Costa Rica. What followed was familiar script:a swell of resistance brutally repressed, media voices of truth silenced, and an “election” conveniently held to whitewash a coup (never mind that there were few electors and no observers). End of the story, according to the State Department, time to move on.

Algunos de los Invitados a “Honduras is Open for Business” To what? To business as usual, albeit at a cost of some 80 deaths. As our delegation arrived inHonduras, so did 350 businesses from around the world, including some of the globe´s biggest billionaires. A conference convened by “President” Lobo called “Hondurasis Open for Business” was taking place at the same time. I couldn´t help but feel the contrast with another presidential conference in Hondurastwo years previous, that  Fr. Roy Bourgeois and I had attended.
***
El Presidente Zelaya hablando directamente con su Pueblo 2009

 Zelaya,  2009.

President Zelaya´s invitees were not international billionaires but Honduran peasants, teachers, indigenous, human rights workers, union leaders.

The discussion was also how to open up Honduras. But the answers were: to Hondurans! Its land to the landless, itsUSmilitary base to a civilian airport, its schools to the children, its waters to its fishermen.

The stark contrast between these two conventions graphically highlight the motives behind the coup, to no one´s surprise. Exhibit A:Hondurasfor Hondurans, and sovereignty over their natural resources, government, security forces. Exhibit B:Hondurasfor the world´s corporations: its  trees, oil, palms, fruits, fish, even people, auctioned out loudly and swallowed whole.

Though the conference was taking place in the northern city ofSan Pedro Sula, our delegation sampled the response by Hondurans as we sat under a thatched roof in a volcanic island at far south corner ofHonduras. Some fishermen were looking at a newspaper photo taken at the conference of a smiling “President” Lobo as he triumphantly embraced a group of international businessmen. “What a wolf!” they commented. Fittingly, the translation of President Lobo is President Wolf.

These fishermen of Zacate Grande understand, in their own skin, the meaning behind this exuberant embrace between president and businessmen. For Franklin Melendez it meant a bullet hole through his leg. For Ethel Corea Posadas, it meant a gash to her head. For both it meant being hauled to jail and facing possible prison time for for “land usurpation”. The bullets and billy club were delivered by hired hands of Honduras´s wealthiest man, Miguel Facusse. The violent arrest by Honduran security forces. But for these fishermen, the business mogul and government security forces are one and the same.

Their crime was building a tiny radio station on land that had been farmed and fished by generations of their families. Though the land seems almost inhospitable with rocks covering every imaginable spot, the view is stunning: beaches and coves of the Pacific Ocean bordered by green mountains and distant volcanoes in a corner of the country that converges withEl SalvadorandNicaragua. TheislandofZacate Grandehad become the playground of Honduras´s wealthiest families. Franklin and Ethel consider themselves lucky in some ways, though.

Ten journalists have been killed since the coup, earningHondurasthe undesirable title of most dangerous place on earth for journalists.

On the complete opposite end of Honduras, in the lower Aguan valley, the name Facusse punctuates almost every conversation.   Through years of complicity with a changing set of corrupt officials, Facusse has amassed titles to almost an entire valley that is able to produce five types of oil-rich African palm. The titles to some of this land are disputed by campesinos organizations who have been farming the same land for years. To these small farmers, Facusse and government security forces are not only connected, they often literally are often the same forces. They trade guns and ammunition, and sometimes uniforms and tasks. A combination of these two forces has killed at least 34 campesinos in the area since the coup.

This dynamic duo of government leaders and business moguls is using murder and repression to try to hold a growing resistance movement at bay with fear. All this, however, would not be possible without a third player: theU.S.government. Funds from our government´s coffers continue to train many of their military and police and provide them with helicopters, tanks, guns, tear gas and more. This point was made graphicially at a meeting that our delegation held with families of victims since the coup.

Dirigenta de COFADEH mostrando una lacrimogena Made in USA utilizada por la policía

Mery Agurcia, a human rights activist with COFADEH, held up a tear gas canister, “made in the USA”,  collected at the same site of where teacher Ilse Velasquez died after a a similar one hit struck her violently in the head. Ilse fell unconcious to the street where she was then run over by a vehicle escaping the police-produced frenzy.

This flow of U.S.military and police aid is quite literally fueling the horrific repression. Dana Frank states this with a compeling voice in a recent article in the Nation: Hondurans in the opposition are using one of the few remaining weapons they have: their own unarmed bodies, placing themselves in the path of the regime, quite literally. In response, the regime is now using lethal force over and over and over again, all over the country, hoping to tear gas its own citizens into submission. 


Reunión de SOAW con Comité de Familiares Detenidos y Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH).

Reunión de SOAW con Comité de Familiares Detenidos y Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH).

La maestra Ilsa Velásquez, PRESENTE

La maestra Ilsa Velásquez, PRESENTE

Ilse was one of 14 teachers killed since the coup. Her daughters –  also teachers –   explained to us that she didn´t have to be at the protest that morning. She had a good job as the director of a local school. But in the face of government efforts to privatize aspects of the education system, she made a decision to take a stand for an education system that was her children´s livelihood. And, the family´s inheritance was the struggle for justice. Ilse´s brother Manfred Velasquez had been murdered at the hands of the Honduran government 30 years previously, leading to a landmark international human rights case and the founding of COFADEH.

Thoughts of Ilse ran through our minds as we stood on that dirt road in the Aguan valley. We had been asked by a group of campesinos who heard about the presence of international human rights activists in the area, to accompany them to a recent land occupation in La Trinidad. Members of their community were being menaced by armed private security forces as they attempted to retake land that they claim title to under land reform agreements. Shooting had taken place the previous night. The campeinos had been there for three days, and none could come nor go. Water and food were being snuck in, at risk, via back paths and forests. The desperate campesinos in our car hoped that the presence of an international group would allow us to reach the group.

As we approached the area our driver indicated that he should stop the vehicle, as it would be shot at if it arrived unannounced. After a brief discussion, we decided that the Hondurans should remain in the vehicle and that we, the ten U.S. citizens, would approach the guards, some 300 meters ahead, armed and blocking the entrance to the disputed land.  We let each other know that it was fine for any one to stay behind, and gave some time for decisions. One by one each of us in the delegation announced that we had decided to go forward.. As we took our first steps down the road and towards the guards we knew that at this distance we were indistinguishable from Hondurans. But each of us felt a personal conviction to embark on this walk for justice.

At that moment, a cell phone call came from Bertha Olivia, the director of COFADEH. Learning about the tense situation and our decision to walk, she implored us to stop. “If you go forward, they will shoot. We don´t need heroes, we need people willing to do the long and hard and work that will bring us justice.”

I´m not sure if I should say there ended our brave stand for justice in Honduras, or there it began. We returned to the van, turned around, and headed back down the road. I do know that each of us had acquired – in an instant – an unerasable understanding of the implications of taking a stand, inHonduras, for justice.

I would like to say that the situation in La Trinidad came to a peaceful resolution. But, two days after we turned back down the road, Roney Díaz, a 34 year old father of two was killed by a combination of private guards and naval commandos. Just as I finished the first writing of this article, I received new of another death in the Aguan at the hands of private security guards. He was Pablo Lemus, from the Guadalupe Carney community where we visited five widows. Now, there are six.

The Road to La Trinidad

we are ready to go

all ten of us

having been called upon

to use our privilege

to accompany those with none

with the hope of offering some hint

of protection, of “the

 whole world is watching” kind

watching the old

yet again, still, right now

            story

of the poorest of the earth

driven off their ancestral land

by the insatiable barons

of plantation mentality

that allows

-no,  demands-

human sacrifice

in all of its forms

from hunger to homicide

 

we are willling to go

to be with those who have

“taken back” their own land

stealing in by night

to occupy, to resist

only to be encircled and trapped

by the hired guns of the

terratenientes

 

we want to go

but wait…word comes…

the heavily-armed, drugged up

men in black

have orders to shoot

and respect no “privilege”

not even that which we

suppose to possess

so we find ourselves

for a moment in time

running the same risk, facing the same fears

as those who resist

weighing our solidarity

against our own lives

 

we are willing, ready and wanting

to go

yet “reason” prevails

as  we turn our bewildered faces

drag our sorry hearts behind us

and we do not go

on the road to Trinidad                                   

 Mary Anne Perrone

 May 10, 2011

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