In January 2016, I led and coordinated an educational delegation to Honduras organized by the Marin County Task Force on the America (MITF) and Cross Border Network for Justice and Solidarity. We focused on three important topics (that are linked): the drug war, land grabs, and the neoliberal global tourist industry.
One delegate, Rodney Mahaffey of Duck Head Photography is an amazing photographer. With his own photos, Rod has been putting together some amazing photo essays and short descriptions of various encounters during the delegation. Below are some of my favorite. More to come later.
“In the Aguán region, a fertile alluvial valley just south of the northern coast, large landowners have taken advantage of the current political climate to intensify attacks on peasant movements and expand plantations of African oil palm, a high value export crop with a growing global market for edible oil, processed foods, chemical and biodiesel fuels. Between September 2009 and August 2012, 53 recorded murders of Aguán peasants are attributed to guards and mercenaries hired by large oil palm growers, often acting in concert with state and military forces…In addition, the US military presence and military aid—heightened in recent years in the name of combating drug trafficking—have bolstered the Honduran security forces’ capacity for repression. The revival of 1980s-style counter-insurgency tactics against a non-violent resistance movement has led to mounting human rights atrocities felt most acutely in the countryside. This push also comes up against a movement of increasingly organized peasant communities who, after more than a century of displacement by capitalist agriculture, have nowhere left to go.
-Tanya M. Kerssen, “Grabbing Power: the New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras”
In the campesino community of La Lempira, our delegation met with representatives from the United Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), the Authentic Peasant Revindicative Movement of Aguán (MARCA), the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) and the Agrarian Platform of the Aguán.
Although the emphasis changed from speaker to speaker, the story was always the same:
• We are now living under a new form of dictatorship. The president is selling Honduras, creating a new form of slavery. We are worried we will be left without a country. Militarization is a threat to all Hondurans.
• We are living in crisis.
• The 2010 agreement promised us 11,000 hectares of land. Now there are 3000 families living on 4000 hectares.
• We are suffocating.
• To receive support we had to agree to plant African palm. The price of palm has fallen 54.3% since 2014. Families and members are living on less than $1 a day.
• Since the business plan there have been over 120 murders. That illegal process sold our own land back to us from people who aren’t even Honduran. Now the government wants to remove us from our land.
• We have demanded a revision of the 2010 agreement that promised education and health and housing…none of that has happened. A commission was formed, led by the vice-president of Congress. Every meeting has been cancelled and re-scheduled.
• We realized that they are bullshitting us (as we say in Honduras). We need help to apply pressure to negotiate a new plan.
• The is a long history of campesino struggle. So many comrades have been killed in this process. All we are asking as MARCA and MCA is to fulfill the promises of the agreement.
• They take advantage of hunger and poverty to overprice the land.
• North America…the Pentagon...Intelligence…the World Bank have reduced budgets and economic support to create a crisis. Honduras, after the conflicts in Central America, became a permanent military base. Now the whole country is militarized.
• They assassinate leaders and infiltrate the movements. Only 18 cooperatives have survived. (Note: there were 40 campesino cooperatives at the time of the coup in 2009.)
The meeting had to end because several of the people were going to the courthouse in Trujillo where a hearing was being held regarding the case of four campesinos who have been in jail for two years on bogus land, ammunition and gun charges. This would be their first hearing. (Someone seems to have a ready supply of guns and ammunition to plant as evidence. Ammunition and gun charges are common.) We were asked to “accompany” them to the hearing.
Accompaniment is widely practiced in Honduras. Local community members or organizations utilize individuals or groups (like us) partially as a shield against violence and also to demonstrate that there is international interest and support for issues and problems inside Honduras. The world is watching. Our presence for the hearing also potentially help protect the lawyer as well. More lawyers are murdered in Honduras than in any other country in the world. 22 legal professionals were victims of targeted killings in 2015. (Source: Peace Brigades International).
The hearing wasn’t heard while we waited. (The clock in the office at the courthouse had stopped at 10:05 and there was a 2014 calendar hanging on the wall. Justice grinds exceedingly slow down here.)
Later we learned that after listening to the defense arguments, the court decided that here were insufficient grounds for a hearing and the four campesinos remain in jail.
Campesinos, La Lempira.
Chachahuate is the largest Garifuna community within Cayos Cochinos. The island…shrank considerably as a result of hurricane Mitch in 1998 to around 150m by 50m depending on the tide. The sporadic layout of huts remarkably manages to fit forty houses into the crescent shaped island…during the time of the research (July 7th-August 20th, 2004(, the average sample population fluctuated around ninety-three people. The village seems overcrowded yet cozy with the vast expanse of water all around. The beach is covered with Cayucos (small boats), signifying fishing as the primary livelihood of the Garifuna of Cayos Cochinos. Chachahuate is far from sustainable. Their water supply is from a well, which is limited, and all the food and merchandise is brought in from the mainland. The island of Chachahuate is in every sense of the word, a desert island.”
-Alistair Russell, “Examining the Impact of Changing livelihood Strategies upon Garifuna Cultural Identity: a Case Study of Cayos Cochinos” (2005)
In the first photograph you have a boat’s-eye-view of almost the entire length of the island. There is another house and a Cayucos or two on the right.
BIRDS IN TRUJILLO
There are 914 species of birds found in North America (north of the Mexican border). Honduras (about the size and shape of Kentucky) has 722 bird species. Three species of vultures can be seen: Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures. The population of Honduras (2012) is 7,621, 000. 90% of that number is identified as Mestizo. There are six Amerindian groups (Lenca, Miskito, Ch’orti’, Toulpan, Pech or Paya and Sumo or Tawahka); two Afro-Honduran groups (Garifuna and Creaoles) and a smaller population of Palestinians (sometimes called “Turcos") and Chinese.
I thought of this first photograph (of Black Vultures with some Willets wading in the background) as an allegory of Honduras: the shorebirds would stand for the peoples of Honduras; the vultures would betoken the various entities scavenging and gorging themselves. (Fun vulture facts: a group of feeding vultures is called a wake; vultures vomit to lighten their stomach load to escape from predators; New World vultures urinate straight down their legs…the uric acid kills bacteria accumulated from walking through carcasses. Vultures are the perfect proxy for the Honduran bad guys.) But a strict allegory would also require 10 or so more species of shorebirds to represent the diverse ethnic peoples of Honduras. Plenty of shorebird species can be found in Honduras. No problema. However, there also would need to be many, many more species of vultures to align one-to-one with their human/corporate/government/military counterparts. Counting both Old World Vultures (16 species) and New World Vultures (7 species) there are only 23 species; not nearly enough.
Bummer. That would have been a tight little allegory. And an awesome bird photo.
Black Vultures and Willets, Trujillo Bay.