Those Fighting to Stay Home

by Rev. Deborah Lee, delegation member

You may have heard stories of Central American migrants trying to flee. But have you heard the stories of those who are fighting to stay home?

I met Delia recently in Honduras as I traveled with 75 religious leaders exploring the root causes that compel 9000 Hondurans to leave every month.

Delia lives in a rural village in the Valley of the Aguan. Her home, framed by mountains and rivers, lies in the most fertile agricultural region in Honduras. Her simple home and garden are neatly swept. Her 7 year old daughter, Melissa, plays under the fruit trees with cousins and neighbors. Delia offers me a cup of coffee they produce themselves and her father proudly shows me sacks of bright-yellow corn from this year’s harvest. It’s clear they love their home and community.

Running through the heart of the community is the River Guapinol, a source of leisure and basic necessity for the community. Last year, due to mining exploration in the mountains above their village, the river turned black. They couldn’t bathe or swim; they couldn’t wash their clothes; they couldn’t water their crops, they couldn’t drink.

“We can’t afford to buy bottled water,” Delia explained.

“Water is Life,” the villagers repeated to us over and over.

In 2013, the Honduran government approved a law to allow mining companies to mine within the original boundaries of the National Park in the mountains above Delia’s village. There are 58 mining concessions in process for this Valley. With the Honduran government giving away protected common lands to large-scale mining companies, villagers like Delia took matters into their own hands.

400 members of the community set up a nonviolent encampment in defense of their water for 88 days. The encampment stopped mining vehicles from entering the mountain, and the river ran clear once again. On the 88th day, 1300 military soldiers, trained and armed by US military aid, broke up the camp with violent force and an incendiary of tear gas. Delia and her daughter had to walk for five hours over three mountains to get away from the choking air. She gave me a tear gas canister which read: “Made in Pennsylvania, USA.”

Now there are attacks, intimidation, criminal charges, and smear campaigns against community members like Delia. Military checkpoints surround the village. I witnessed the military along the banks of the river, effectively depriving the villagers access to the river they depend on. Multiple families, threatened, have had to leave for the US, including inhabitants of a home that was burned down by the military.

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a defender of the environment. 7000 indigenous and other land defenders in Honduras have been criminally charged for defending their ancestral homes and common lands from major projects such as tourism, mining, palm oil and hydro-electric dams.

In rural Honduras the issue of violence is not the gangs or cartels. It is the unholy triple alliance between multinational extractive industries, the Honduran government who enables them, and the military who uses force to impose projects.

Last week, the US signed a misguided security pact which will send more US security aid to Honduras to supposedly prevent migration through border enforcement. Nothing addresses the fact that 68% of Hondurans live in poverty and Honduras is the most unequal country in Latin America.

“We don’t need more military weapons,” said Delia ”We need education, health and clean water.”

The US must end its support for a Honduran government implicated in corruption, fraud and human rights violations. According to the UN Office of High Commission on Human Rights, organized crime has infiltrated government agencies and the broader political arena.

What happens in Honduras should be of concern to us in California. 90% of those on the Migrant Caravan which arrived at the Tijuana-California border are from Honduras. Unless we allow the people of Honduras like Delia to stay home, have clean water, fair elections, and a viable future for their children, we can only expect more caravans.

On our last day, Delia whispered to me that, sadly, she may have to leave for the US: “My life is not safe here.” “

What about your daughter,“ I asked? She sadly shook her head.

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