One of the people we met while we were in Honduras, was Fr.Rafael Moreno- SJ, head of the Jesuit Commission Redes Migracrion (CRM) for Central America and North America who lives in Mexico. He gave us a very important analysis of the impact of the Trump election on migration and also the changing role of Mexico. Mexico has become an exterior southern border of the US financed by US tax dollars. The money Mexico receives from the US is supposed to be with HR conditions attached and US State Department Certification. But despite hundreds of thousands dead in Mexico, both Mexico and the Honduras government keep getting certified. According to Fr. Rafael, the only ones who are benefiting from the increased enforcement are the traffickers and coyotes, as the price has increased per head to $10-12,000.
The Trump election is a “State of emergency for civil society,” but is is also an important opportunity – transfronterizo – across borders.
He told us that FAITH COMMUNITIES in the US and Mexico have a very important role to play in this particular moment:
Role of documentation, analysis and communication to help people better understand issues
Priority of Hospitality and a support network of accompaniment to migrants, both for Receiving countries but also for Sending countries who are receiving deported migrants.
We are part of the same family – brothers and sisters – behind nation states that seek to divide and create borders. Our priority is fraternity and humanity – over national borders
Help mobilize national populations to pressure our governments in Advocacy
Faith communities and immigrants are a key counterweight to Trump and the Mexican government
So as we return to the US, we will be organizing to do our part in this cross-border emergency/opportunity. Organizing sanctuary congregations, support and accompaniment for migrants and strengthening our connections across borders to uplift the humanity and dignity of each person.
Reflections from Julie who, after our pilgrimage to Honduras, went to Belize.
Perfect break after Honduras most intense nine days ever – all so rich, cumulative effect is overwhelming:
– Highway toll booth protest first day. Privatization another form of extraction from the poor.
– Hike to Gualcarque river ritual (swim too) with Rio Blanco community of indigenous Lenca fighting the hydroelectric company dam project. The lucha (struggle) leading to the government assassination last March 3rd of Berta Caceres, internationally recognized (Goldman Environmental Prize Winner 2015). Now the country’s number one martyr (“Viva Berta!” seen all over)
– Visiting Berta’s mother in her home, herself a former mayor and congresswoman, midwife delivering over 10,000 children.
– Meeting with Bajo Aguan campesino organization fighting land usurpation by African Palm plantation owners, hearing of the 150 assassinations in the Bajo Aguan, of presidents and leaders of local organizations. Feeling their reeling from the assassination of another two key leaders on Oct 18th, and another Oct. 31st,. Witnessing the tears of his mother now in hiding herself.
– Meeting with African slave-descended Garifuna community whose land and water are being usurped by a Canadian porn king owned resort.
Noticing a theme here?
– Hearing from four union leaders of t-shirt maquilas (assembly factories) about their heroic efforts to withstand and improve near-slave-like conditions and abuses. (Totally belied by the Gildan company website’s PR puffery, I see.)
– Meeting with two señora leaders of La Patrona, Veracruz México group organized to give food bags and water bottles to migrants riding the tops of the northbound train (“La Bestia“- the beast)
– At the airport, meeting an ICE contracted plane from Virginia depositing 123 deportees. USAID funded. US immigration policy sponsored.
– Hearing from three young returnees at Mennonite Service Committee project about social development re-integration and vocational training programs (cell phone repair hot! Collections to ensue…)
– Celebrated 60th anniversary of our hosts Radio Progreso the Jesuit-sponsored beyond-Pacifica voice of the people, with gala dinner one night, two days of forums on human rights and migration, street mobilization march (last use of our street banners to remain there), including “Rio Gualcarque y Standing Rock: Agua es vida! TIerra es Vida!”), Saturday night balloon- and fireworks-studded international music festival preceded by mass in the park led by Padre Melo, Radio Progresso’s director, also internationally laureled, by the Rafto Prize, the Norwegian human rights award.
Padre Melo’s radical call for liberty, solidarity and justice permeated his homily – and was exemplified by his inclusion on stage, next to the three other priests, of two women – including our own leader Rev. Deborah Lee. She was also given the honor of being able to pass out the Communion wafers. Co-pilgrim Sister Phyllis, in her own amazement, explained how truly leading edge is such inclusiveness.
We’d brought an array of “solidarity gifts” for the various groups we met. A last one in my bag that night was still seeking a home – a roll of large prayer flags from Tibet. In the beer and wine reception room for international guests during the concert, I was inspired to give it to Padre Melo, then sitting with a Norwegian from the Rafto Foundation who helped unfurl the string of flags – and explained what they were. A balding teddy bear of all heart and twinkle (AND the subject of repeated death threats who travels with a security team of seven), Padre Melo immediately said he’d hang them in the yard at Radio Progresso. I told him I thought they were particularly fitting because I think of him as the Dalai Lama of Honduras. His brief nod was serious, his hug and smile warm.
In Honduras every day we had bananas or plantains at almost every meal. Today in Belize in the three small neighborhood markets found on my morning walk, only a few green, hard bananas were available. Thus my amplified delight to discover at the poolside palapa bar-restaurant a smoothie, a la banana! Did I want it with coconut milk? Oh, yessssss!
Ocean on the horizon.
More fotos and fuller Honduras stories by travelmate contributors at pilgrimage blog
Our experience in Honduras is ending soon. Yesterday we visited a center for migrants who are deported from the US. We arrived at the center near the airport just before the flight arrived. We were greeted by a Sister from an Italian missionary order, the Scalabrini’s who are dedicated to ministry with migrants all over the world. She is assisted by a group of volunteers from local colleges and others. Two medical students and a social worker were there to assist with health issues. A pile of US AID bags with the words “from the American people” were on the floor. They contained only a small pack of personal care items- like a toothbrush,toothpaste, and hair gel. When the bus pulled up to the door, volunteers handed out belts and shoe laces (because these items are not allowed in the immigration prisons where they were previously held), a white tshirt, the US AID bags, as well as a cup of coffee and a baleada (Honduran typical food- made of tortilla and beans). Luggage arrived separately. Bags contained whatever personal items the person had when they were picked up. Most people’s personal items things were in mesh bags with only 3-5 items. Others had a suitcase. Some had been detained at the border. Others had been in detention or prison for much longer periods of time. They hadn’t seen their belongings since they were detained, and for some that might have been a lengthy time in detention. People were excited to see their cell phones again. One man looked lovingly through a stack of photos. Someone told us that the men had been shackled at their hands, waist and feet during the plane ride. In total 123 people were in the group. The plane had embarked from Virginia. Almost all were men. I saw only four or five women. I really wanted to cry when I saw them coming in. Most were young. A few had actually lived in the US for a number of years! At the center they are given a bus ticket back to their homes. Most leave Honduras in the first place because they can’t find work or are escaping violence! One of the men we spoke to outside was nicely dressed. He had lived in the US for 12 years. He had a suitcase -his whole life in a bag.
The Center is called the “Center for Returned Migrants.” The Honduran government doesn’t use term “deported.” The US government doesn’t either, calling deportations “removals.” So far this year, 21,800 have been received at the Center. This number is already higher than last year. (19,000). There are 2-3 flights a day, Monday- Friday. This just counts those who are adults who have been deported from the United States, there are many more children and adults deported from Mexico who come in at a different center.
One young man we met at a vocational training center run by the Mennonite Central Committee shared about his experience migrating North, being caught after walking 3 days in the desert in Arizona, then being forced to sign his voluntary departure without knowing what it was while he was in detention, before he could get in contact with a lawyer or his brother living in the US. For many youth, once they are deported, their families often push them to leave and try again. This, in a country where there is no social security for the aged, and the factories won’t hire you if you are older than 30.
Carlos, was one of our security guards at the Catholic Retreat Center where we have been staying. He was deported 6 years ago. He is delightful, friendly, and a terrific English speaker. Living in New York for 14 years, he worked in a bakery and then in scrap metal. When he was deported, he left behind 3 children, a wife and grandchildren. He is denied entry for 20 years. It was sad to talk to him about Christmas coming up and him being so far away from his family.
One of the purposes for our journey to Honduras Dec.9-19, was to coincide with numerous events surrounding the momentous 60th Anniversary of Radio Progreso’s and ERIC (the Research and Communications Team’s) existence as one of the only independent, progressive and critical sources of information in Honduras. We brought with us a Commendation from the City of Berkeley that we presented at the Anniversary dinner. Alongside the 60th Anniversary there were a number of key events for visitors like us from 8 different countries as well as many Honduran movement organizations and people participating:
Forum on Human Rights
Forum on Migration
Forum on Freedom of Press
Anniversary Dinner for Guests
Mass Mobilization March in Progreso
Popular Mass – Service
Anniversary Concert featuring international musical artists from Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela(Guaraguao)
The Radio Progreso/ERIC birthday party was a lively, festive affair. The Radio Progreso conference room was decked out with decorations including a spectacular birthday cake
that was our contribution to the party. Marvelous music accompanied the guests gathering to renew acquaintances and to meet new people and to sit down to a lovely banquet. The party was to celebrate the 60+ staff and collaborators who help to produce the dynamic work of Radio Progreso/ERIC- which is not just radio programming, but also leadership and formation, research, films and educational resources and campaigns, and social movement building. They have been taking the lead on the campaign against the privatization of the roads. Invited guests included the Women, las Patronas, from Veracruz who give water and food to migrants riding on “La Bestia,” the train through Mexico, Fr. Rafael Moreno, head of the Jesuit Migration Network, and others whose amazing life stories we have heard since coming here. Also in attendance were the Representative from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which has just opened an office in Honduras, and the former Representative from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Our group contributed various wines including local fruit wines here in sold in the red COMAL store. All were in a very festive mood.
There was a short program with introductions and greetings. Then the MC asked if other people had something to say. On that cue, I presented the Proclamation of congratulations on the celebration of the 60 year anniversary from the Berkeley City Council with the official Berkeley seal and the signature of our new Mayor Jesse Arreguin. I read an abbreviated version, but Father Melo, was so touched by the text of the proclamation, that he wanted the whole proclamation read out loud. The proclamation honors and celebrates Radio Progreso’s “60 years as a radio station being a voice for the poor in Honduras and building a more just society through its programs of research, communications and incubation of social movement organizations, such as women, youth, farmers and indigenous communities”
The week’s Anniversary ended with a spectacular popular mass and outdoor music concert with over 1000-2000 people in attendance. The Bay Area’s very own, Francisco Herrera – playing the original song written by Sylvia Brandon-Perez: Para Berta, presente!
The dirt road into the Garifuna community of Barra Vieja are muddy from the water which collects in the massive potholes, which grow ever larger as the road and the community it leads to are ever more neglected and abandoned by the Honduran government for the “crime” of refusing to leave the land their families have called home for more than 200 years. The response from the Garifuna community was not violent, but it was resolute: simply to do what they have always done, ban together, roll up their sleeves and fill the holes the best they can and refuse to leave their homes.
Government reprisals do not end with neglected roads. The community school has been closed, health services withdrawn, requests for access to electricity, water and sanitation. The Garifuna people’s response is once again one of peaceful resistance. They use what little resources they have to purchase water, they treat their sick with what medications they can find, walk miles to bury their dead and have even built their own school, but cannot find a teacher.
What they cannot overcome, no matter how determined or industrious they might be is blocked access to the life blood of their people, the sea and surrounding mangroves. Their tiny boats and make-shift fishing gear cannot travel more than a few hundred feet off shore, and their equipment is completely unsuitable for deep water fishing. This leaves these proud fishermen unable to provide for their families. Already the community of Barra Vieja which was once 125 families is now only 75. Many forced to leave.
Unlike my fellow pilgrims, I am a business woman, and understand the importance of governments fostering a business friendly environment in developing a strong economy and a prosperous nation. However, a government, especially one representing a decidedly vulnerable population must use their strength and power to level the playing field and ensure that any and all private corporations, especially foreign corporations understand that all business conducted within their borders must be in the best interest of all its citizens and contribute to the greater good.
The government of Honduras has not only failed to advocate for its most vulnerable, they are active participants in the degradation of the people and communities who refuse to allow the land they have depended on for generations, land guaranteed to them under Honduran law, and reaffirmed by judgement in the Honduran courts be destroyed along with their communities. This is not simply a violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, it is a violation of human decency and morality.
I wish I could simply point my finger and lay blame solely at the doorstep of the current Honduran administration, but alas, I also have blood on my hands, as do each of us. The Directors, owners and stockholders of the companies engaged in these stealing these lands, the ambassadors and governments of origin for these companies including my own (Canada) who refuse to denounce these activities, those who purchase these “cheap” vacation homes, and each of us who choose to do nothing.
Perhaps, if we could all meet, as our group did these peaceful people who fill the pot holes, scrounge for medicine, live without electricity or running water and who build a school but cannot pay a teacher, we might find inspiration to make their fight, out fight, their struggle our struggle and their future, our future.
The lush beauty of the mountains, valleys, and rivers of Honduras belie the human tragedy taking place on the land. I was unaware that the people of Honduras are on the front lines of our fight for the survival of a habitable planet, protecting it from a corrupt government selling its resources to powerful corporations depleting the land, contaminating the water, and driving climate change. They are willing to die for the land. They believe they have no other choice.
I am traveling with a diverse group of faith leaders wanting to learn about the root causes of migration from Honduras. I feel blessed by their sensitivity, insight, and kindness.
The first community we visited, the Lenca of Rio Blanco, live high in the mountains near the source of the river that sustains them. They have rolled rocks across a road built by a government-contracted hydroelectric company to prevent the building of a dam on the river, the life blood of their existence. They’ve camped there for 3 years to prevent the dam and have suffered violent consequences.
It’s against the International Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People to seize and use their land without consultation. The leader of their struggle, Berta Caceras, cofounder of COPINH, was assassinated last March. She had received the prestigious Goldman Prize for the Environment and had represented her people in Rome at the invitation of the Pope. She was a fearless advocate for her people’s rights. Employees of the company building the dam and military officers have been charged, but those who ordered it will likely remain unknown in this corrupt country of impunity. Berta was the hope and inspiration of the country. Hondurans expressed the belief that she could have been president. We met with her mother, one of the few women who had been elected to the national Congress. She received us in her home with dignity and poise, hiding tears behind a grief-stricken face.
The Lenca greeted us cautiously, but shared passionate testimonies expressing their willingness to die for Madre Tierra.
We hiked down to the river, an hour down a steep hill accompanied by members of the community. We waded in the cool river and sprinkled drops of water we had brought from as far away as the Ganges to show solidarity with their struggle. We returned to their encampment to a meal they cooked for us over open fires with fresh vegetables we had purchased in the market on the way.
More later on about those living in the Bajo Aguan Valley, the most fertile and productive land in the country, now victim to the African palm oil industry.
The delegation met with a number of organizations in the Bajo Aguan including the Regional Agrarian Platform of the Bajo Aguan, Popular Organizations of the Bajo Aguan (COPA) and the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA). This region is often described as one of the most conflictive areas in a country within one of the most violent countries in the world. Yet, it is not for the lack of armed security, and in fact, they have become part of the problem, guarding the property of wealthy and politically powerful landowners.
Members of these organizations expressed how their communities have been living in a context of incredible violence and crimes against them that remain in impunity. Their precarious situation seemed to be reaching near hopelessness for peace in their communities. We met with Orbelina Flores (picutwho witnessed the brutal assassination of her son in law, who was the President of MUCA, José Ángel Flores, and Silmer Dionisio George, on October 18, 2016. At the time, MUCA was in a negotiation period with the government about their land. Orbelina and her family have been in hiding since and her other son has had to leave the country. She cried about the terror she is living along with other campesino members around the table who shared that the assassins were walking freely in public. It is believed that death squads operate in the Bajo Aguan controlled by the economic forces using Honduran and military police to secure their power in the region.
We also met with Esly Emperatriz Banegas, President of COPA, whose son Fernando Alemán Banegas was assassinated a few short days following the assassinations of Jose and Silmer. Esly is a highly visible political actor with the opposition party and thus a target for this type of heinous violence. In fact, the same day an unknown man killed her son as he entered his vehicle, an election was happening in which she was a pre-candidate.
Around the table we had campesino brothers and sisters who had family members disappeared and/or assassinated, were under protective measures–an international scheme meant to protect –, which in a country like Honduras often lacks to fulfill its purpose– under constant persecution for their work to recuperate stolen land and build resistance to the land grabbing.
In the latest attack against campesino organizations, infamous Dinant Corporation, published a dangerous press release claiming that armed campesino “15 armed invaders” had entered their property and opened fire on Dinant security guards. Strangely, they claim that Dinant is grateful to the public security forces for responding quickly and peacefully to the armed invasion, and to the Attorney General’s office for recognizing that Dinant is the rightful owner of the lands in question.
Campesino organizations consider this one more act of criminalization. The Agrarian Platform strongly denounced Dinant’s press release that they told us was full of lies; they pointed to the contradiction of armed men shooting at the company’s security guards that left no injuries and who were escorted peacefully off of the properties.
The campesino organizations we met asked our support on three concrete actions:
1) Investigate and prosecute the assassins of campesinos in the Bajo Aguan
2) International observation
3) Psychological support for their organizations and family’s who have suffered trauma due to the past and ongoing violence they face
For more information about the Regional Agrarian Platform of the Bajo Aguan can be found here. Pasted below is the Platform’s communique in response to Dinant’s press release in Spanish.
Plataforma Agraria se pronuncia ante declaraciones falsas del vocero de Corporación
Dinant con el afán de limpiar su imagen
Ante las últimas declaraciones falsas y equivocas vertidas por el señor Roger Pineda vocero de la Corporación Dinant, la Plataforma Agraria Regional del Valle del Aguán se pronuncia de la siguiente Mañana Que el día sábado 10 de Diciembre del presente año, se realizó un Foro informativo en la comunidad de Panamá municipio de Trujillo, departamento de Colón, liderado por la Empresa Asociativa Campesina Gregorio Chávez en el marco del Día Internacional de los
derechos Humanos, con el objetivo de denunciar los constantes asesinatos y las graves violaciones a los derechos humanos ocasionados por los guardias de seguridad de Corporación Dinant.
Al evento asistieron representantes de las autoridades locales, policiales, militares, organizaciones populares, defensoras de Derechos Humanos, medios de comunicación y miembros de los diferentes movimientos y empresas campesinas de la región del Aguán. A través de este Foro las organizaciones campesinas exigieron una investigación clara y expedita para el esclarecimiento de los más de 160 asesinatos de campesinos en el marco del conflicto agrario, de igual manera castigo para los actores materiales e intelectuales de los asesinatos
En el marco de este evento, un grupo de jóvenes miembros de la Empresa Asociativa Campesina Gregorio Chávez hicieron uso de su legítimo derecho al acceso a la tierra, a eso de las 2:00 de la tarde entraron a la Finca Paso Aguán de forma pacífica, misma que está siendo cuidada y protegida por guardias de seguridad de Corporación Dinant y un campamento militar desde hace más de tres años, luego de un convenio firmado entre Dinant y la Fuerza de Tarea Conjunta Xatruch.
Cabe mencionar que en el año 2012 fue secuestrado y posteriormente asesinado el líder Gregorio Chávez, dos días después fue encontrado soterrado en la Finca Paso Aguán misma que estaba en posesión de los guardias de seguridad de Corporación Dinant, en abril del 2013 fue exhumado los restos del campesino José López Lara por integrantes de la Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala y Médicos Forenses del país, de una fosa clandestina encontrada en la finca Paso Aguán, por lo que la comunidad consideran una amenaza para su integridad la presencia de guardias de seguridad y el ejército en la Finca.( Durante el evento se presentaron los videos de ambas exhumaciones Gregorio Chávez y José López Lara).
El 19 de junio del presente dos líderes campesinos (Allan Reyneri Martínez Pérez (19) y Manuel Milla (25), miembros del movimiento campesino “Gregorio Chávez fueron asesinados en un campo de futboll y en presencia de varios testigos por Denis Mejía quien luego de cometer
el doble asesinato huyo a internarse a la Finca Paso Aguán donde se encuentran los guardias de seguridad y el campamento militar.
Por todo lo antes expuesto desmentimos categóricamente las declaraciones falsas y mal intencionadas del señor Roger Pineda vocero de Corporación Dinant, las que carecen de objetividad al manifestar que un grupo armado había entrado disparando a sus guardias de seguridad, cuando evidentemente está instalado a los interno de la Finca un campamiento militar.
Monday, December 12, we began our day with a visit to Berta Caceres’ mother, whose name is also Berta. I was immediately impressed with this strong woman who passed on to her daughter the passion for organization and resistance against oppression for which she herself has always fought. She married young and lost her first husband to an assassination. She later became mayor of Esperanza and later served in the Assembly. She was known on national and international levels for her work. In her community she is a midwife assisting many women to give birth. Berta inherited her mother’s drive for justice.
Today as we sit with her she tells again the story of Berta. The entrance of her home is a shrine to her daughter whose picture is portrayed in many places. She spoke again of Berta’s role in COPINH organizing for the Lenca people to stand against the transnational company seeking to build a road through Lenca property to build a hydroelectric dam at Rio Blanca on the side of the river owned by the Lenca people. The road was stopped but a high price was paid…Berta’s own life.
Several years ago Berta brought a delegation of indigenous people representing COPINH to visit Pope Francis. She presented a list of demands of the indigenous people for the violation of their human rights. Pope Francis sent a personal note of condolence at the time of Berta’s funeral.
Berta’s mother stressed the importance of faith communities in this struggle to maintain the human rights of the people. That is why our presence is important. We need to mobilize to encourage the U.S. Government to cut off military aid to Honduras until the human rights of the people are recognized and the government ceases to support the privatization of public facilities and lands belonging to indigenous populations, especially the Lenca.
We spent the night at EcoSol – the beautiful training and hospitality center for a Solidarity Economy, a center of Red COMAL, the Network of Community Marketing Alternatives. Red COMAL provides training for worker-owned agricultural, women-run and other small business enterprises of agricultural and artisan products to create an economy so young people and women will be able to get their products to market, make a living and stay in the country. There we learned about their incredible trade organization which promotes food sovereignty, solidarity, marketing of products, and improvement in the quality of life of families and a more just Honduras. We got to try some of the products: coffee, fruit wine, natural soap, shampoo, honey.
After the beautiful presentation about their work, we asked our presenter what obstacles farmers face. 350,000 Hondurans are landless. Farmers in many areas face danger in marketing their products. For example, if they have a beautiful piece of land, they may be relentlessly pursued and threatened by gangs to give it up. Or robbers watch them as they prepare their crops for market and follow them in order to rob them when they have money from their sales. We asked if Red COMAL works in the Aguan Valley. He responded that they are unable to work there because of the terrible security situation there. It would be too dangerous, both for the Red COMAL organizers and the people of that region for them to carry out their alternative marketing and other organizational activities.
They shared with us the concept of a solidarity economy, which is an economy based on values and principles and the concept that the development of humans is more valuable than profit.
They also made a distinction between Food Sovereignty vs Food Security. Food sovereignty means that farmers can decide what to plant and what to consume. It means not needing to buy seeds. It creates both belonging and autonomy.
Each day of our journey we have been accompanied by the staff of Radio Progreso who have helped to interpret the reality of Honduras. Thank you to Jose Mario, Mercy, Osman and Marguerita who have been such wonderful guides to us. Several of us were treated with the recounting of an amazing life of activism and repression experience by Marguerita, who provides training for women’s empowerment through the social programs of ERIC. Marguerita has been in the struggle for human rights in Honduras since the repressive military regime sponsored by the US Government in the ’80s when she was kidnapped.
We will end with a quote from Dionisio from Red COMAL who thanked us for being here and providing hope. “Only if we are organized, will we move forward.”