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People of Faith Root Causes Delegation

Honduras 2018

Month

January 2017

A Lie Ends Prosperity: Exposing the Fraud Called Alliance for Prosperity

by Francisco Herrera &  Phyllis Tierney

Honduras has been called one of the most dangerous and poorest countries in the western hemisphere. It is one of the three Northern Triangle Countries (El Salvador and Guatemala, being the other two) who continue to send thousands of people migrating north every year, many with the hope of getting to the United States.  Our trip to Honduras was sponsored by the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, a California based organization concerned with providing equal opportunities for those who are disenfranchised.  One of the many issues they deal with is immigration.  This particular trip focused on root causes of migration. Reverend Deborah Lee and Jose Artiga, Director of SHARE El Salvador were our group leaders.  We had been invited by a very well organized sector of the population that is faith-based, that crosses with labor, and interfaces environmental and women’s groups to work for a model that puts people first before profits. Our sponsoring host was Radio Progreso, an independeimg_6554nt, Jesuit sponsored radio station celebrating its sixtieth anniversary.

Each day we met with groups who shared their stories of repression and human rights abuses.

 

There is a  myth which need to be dispelled.  The myth is that people migrate because the country is poor.  Actually Honduras is a country rich in resources but its government has chosen to sell the development of these resources to other countries, multinational corporations who exploit both people and resources for their own benefit.

On Thursday we met with representatives of a workers’ union in one of the country’s maquilas which makes tee shirts.  As we listened to the stories some of the other testimonies that we heard during the week began to link together.

First, let us look at some of the background history which links the US to Honduras and influences its domestic and foreign policy. In 20014 the US announced a five year joint regional plan called the Alliance for Prosperity in Central America which was to assist the northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to improve their economic status, lower the crime rate and human rights abuses, and provide incentives for at-risk persons to remain in their own countries rather than migrate north to the US.

In 2016 our US Congress allocated $750 million dollars for development assistance to Central America under the Alliance for Prosperity.  According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs more than 60% of that money is going for security measures.  (Article posted on August 1, 2016 by Laura Iesue, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, The Alliance for Prosperity Plan: A Failed Effort for Stemming Migration). While Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson stated that migration enforcement in 2015 was down, the statistics for the last six months of that year showed that apprehensions by the border patrol increased by 171%.

Under CAFTA  the standard of living for citizens was supposed to increase, due to a free market economy.  Instead it has encouraged multinational companies to introduce sweatshops  where workers are forced to work long hours for little pay under horrific working conditions.  All of these factors contribute to the continuing flow of migrants toward the US and other countries.

The stories we heard from the union leaders in one maquila illustrate the point.  Their union is only one of nineteen unions in sweatshops around the country.  Multinational companies in Honduras are allowed to form Model Cities Corporations which create their own rules, basically making slaves out of the people who work for them.  These companies are not subject to the human rights laws of the country.  They create their own police forces.  The people who work in these factories are merchandise!

Several of the courageous nion leaders of garment workers we met in Honduras
Several of the courageous Sitrastar union leaders of garment workers we met in Honduras

The workers we met with were allowed to form a union but they are not allowed to meet during work time.  Their workday begins at 7 am and ends at 6:20 pm.  Workers are allowed a half hour for lunch, but most take no more than ten minutes in order to get back to work.  They go without water and bathroom breaks for the whole day in order to meet the production quota required of them.  The Canadian owned company which employees these workers requires workers to meet high production goals, achieving in four days what would be required in five.  In order to meet the minimum wage, called the seventh day, workers must often work on days off.  Workers can’t earn enough to meet their basic needs.  The repetitive work that is required of them often results in damage to their health.  Evening and day shifts alternate by weeks.  Sick workers are fired.  Pay averages at 6,121 lempiras, or $300 a month.  All workers want to go to the United States.  Many that leave, come back in body bags.  Workers believe that the American Dream is all they have left when they leave.  Factories will only hire workers between 18 and 30.  After that age, employees are fired if they can’t maintain their work load or get sick.  There are no other employment opportunities.

Union workers who are fired are black listed and unable to find employment in another shop.  The company presents itself as a supporter of human rights but verbal and physical abuse is common as well as sexual harassment of women.

After the 2009 coup, the idea of Model Cities and large industrial parks was introduced.  Since these are free trade zones companies don’t have to pay tariffs and follow labor laws.  This has led to privatization of the country’s resources.  Over a million young people are unemployed.

Labor violations have been presented in Washington, DC to the Labor Commission.   The unions have been attacked by the media for destroying investment.  Only nineteen plants in the country have any kind of union.  The Gildan Company employs 27,000 workers and has four unions. Three are “ghost unions.”

State policies calculate work by the hour and cuts benefits for workers including overtime pay.  The government’s social security pension fund is bankrupt so health and retirement benefits are lost.  The government permits the hire of temporary workers who receive no benefits.

The US is complicit by funding the Alliance for Prosperity and allowing the abuse of workers and human rights to occur.  It compounds the issue by returning to Honduras those who flee either under death threats or simply to find a means to support their families.

The people who have spoken to us rely on our presence as members of faith communities, to tell their stories and lobby the US Government to take action in cutting funding for the military which provides the highest rate of employment in Honduras. It is only with pressure that this government will take seriously its responsibility to protect the human rights of its people and put people before profit.

To learn more about our experiences go to https://rootcausesdelegation.wordpress.com/

To take action, contact your Congress person and ask them to reintroduce H.R. 5474 when the new Congress convenes in 2017.  This bill is known as the Berta Caceres Human Rights Act.

It calls for the protection of all human rights activists including union leaders and asks that the U.S. withdraw military aid until these rights have been protected.

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Government Supported Tourism Pushes out Garifuna

This article about our Honduras trip was printed in the SF Bay View, December 2016.

http://sfbayview.com/2016/12/honduras-government-supported-tourism-pushes-garifuna-maroons-off-their-land-of-200-years/

by Diana Bohn, member of the ‘Root Causes of Migration’ Pilgrimage to Honduras

In the early 1800s, the government of Honduras awarded 2,500 acres of ancestral land to the Garifuna, descendants of shipwrecked and/or escaped African slaves. The land titles given to the Garifuna communities on the coast of Honduras state that the collective lands cannot be transferred to an outsider, but many Garifuna territories suffer from multiple ownership claims. The Garifuna are struggling to maintain their land.

Canadian millionaire is developing a tourist paradise on Garifuna land

Randy Jorgensen, the “Canadian porn king” because he made a fortune with his chain of adult video stores in Canada, moved to Trujillo, Honduras, heart of Garifuna land, in 2007 to develop tourism in Trujillo. He began buying land for real estate development in gated communities that include beach club amenities and with the intention of building a cruise ship port, oceanfront commercial center and park with a zoo.

The Organizacion Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Garifuna communities in 2011. The case is continuing and was taken up again in May 2016.

Jorgensen has partnered with people who were close to the post-military coup administration of Porfirio Lobo and has enjoyed the unconditional support of the authorities of Trujillo Bay to commit a series of abuses in regard to the ownership of the communal lands. “Violence and physical force have been constantly used to threaten the livelihood of the Honduran Garifuna communities,” concluded a 2016 report by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Current President Juan Orlando Hernandez took office with the slogan: “Honduras is open for business.”

Barra Vieja community is fighting to retain their beautiful land on the coast of Honduras

Well east of Triunfo, near Tela, the Barra Vieja community is struggling to stay on the remainder of their land. Community members told our “Root Causes of Migration” delegation that this would be the third displacement for them as a people.

First, they were displaced from Africa as slaves. Next, they were expelled from St. Vincent, where they had tried to settle after escaping from slavery. Now, they face expulsion from the Honduran coast.

The Barra Vieja community has rights to their land under three provisions:

  1. Honduran law provides that after the community lives on the land for 10 years, they have the right to stay. The Garifuna have been on the land for 200 years but are called land invaders.
  2. The area is designated as a National Park, and the provision of a National Park designation is the people traditionally using the land have the right to remain on the land.
  3. The U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights protects them.

Nevertheless, the government took a large portion of Barra Vieja land and awarded it to developers for the construction of the 60-room Indura Beach and Golf Resort, part of the “Curio Collection” by Hilton. Now they want all the rest of the community land, including access to the beautiful, pristine lagoon.

The government of Honduras is using various means to force the people of Barra Vieja off their land

To force the Garifuna off their land, the Honduran government is not providing any basic services that are usually provided to communities. In Barra Vieja, their school was closed and torn down. The community can’t get a teacher for the school they themselves built.

Their road is not being maintained. There is no access to health care, no water, no electricity and no sources of employment. For example, a community member attended all the trainings for promised jobs at the Indura Hotel, which is on land taken from their community, but no employment was given. Jobs are, instead, given to Guatemalan and Salvadoran workers.

The government is putting restrictions on fishing so the community cannot fish in their traditional fishing areas, and fishing is their survival. The government is forbidding Barra Vieja residents from cutting forest materials to build their homes.

The government is forbidding them from using the bay and the lagoon for their own tourism. The Honduran government used government resources to build an airport for helicopters and small planes, but only the resort is using this resource.

The inhabitants of the area protect the environment. They do not over-fish. Sustainable “eco” tourism, the kind of tourism that the community wants to establish, could easily be supported in the area, but the government is freezing the people out in favor of environmentally destructive international tourism.

First, the whole community of 80 people, then the board of directors was legally charged as land invaders. The community won those battles in court, but the Honduran government doesn’t honor those decisions.

Two years ago, there were 130 families in Barra Vieja. Now there are only 75. Others have been forced out. The community of California was totally wiped out by the resort. Some of these displaced people will have no choice but to go north.

The ‘Alliance for Prosperity’ will help the rich get richer and the poor and Indigenous peoples get poorer and, in several important instances, loose their ancestral land

The U.S. “Alliance for Prosperity Plan” is the response to the humanitarian migratory crisis that ushered in an influx of more than 40,000 unaccompanied children from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) to the southern border of the U.S. The plan allocates military aid and funds for development to the government of Honduras.

Unfortunately, militarization of the police does not provide greater security on the streets, nor does providing “development” funds to international tourist businesses.

The Indura Hotel was the site of the first meeting of the heads of state for the Alliance for Prosperity thus showing that even the though Alliance for Prosperity is essentially a military aid plan modeled on “Plan Colombia.” Multinational tourism is definitely part of the plan!

How you can help

Readers are asked to call on their Congressional representatives to co-sponsor H.R.5474, the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act bill, which prohibits funds from being made available to Honduras for the police and military – including for equipment and training – and directs the Department of the Treasury to vote against multilateral loans to Honduras for its police and military until the Department of State certifies that the government of Honduras has:

  • prosecuted members of the military and police for human rights violations and ensured that such violations have ceased;
  • established the rule of law and guaranteed a judicial system capable of bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses;
  • established that it protects the rights of trade unionists, journalists, human rights defenders, government critics and civil society activists to operate without interference;
  • withdrawn the military from domestic policing; and
  • brought to trial and obtained verdicts against those who ordered and carried out the attack on Felix Molina and the killings of Berta Caceres, Joel Palacios Lino, Elvis Armando Garcia, and over 100 small-farmer activists in the Aguan Valley.

To contact your congressional representatives, visit these sites: U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives.

Diana Bohn is a member of the Root Causes of Migration delegation, a long time Berkeley resident, member of the City of Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, board member of the Marin Task force on the Americas, co-coordinator of the Nicaragua Center for Community Action; member of the Bay Area Latin America Solidarity Coalition. She can be reached at nicca@igc.org.

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