Witness for Peace in Honduras
Analisa E. DeGrave
Earlier this year I spent a number of weeks in Honduras as a member of a Witness for Peace delegation and to visit Farmer to Farmer coffee producers and friends. My husband, Jeff, and I participated in our first Farmer to Farmer trip in 2010 and in two later occasions under the sage leadership of Andy Gaetner. Through these trips we have made some wonderful friends, and, of course, drank lots of coffee. Over these past six years we have also witnessed a steady deterioration of the reality in which many Hondurans live. In addition to my observations from my time with Farmer to Farmer producers and friends, what follows in a selection of stories, direct quotes and statistics gathered by the Witness for Peace (WFP) February delegation to Honduras (especially Betty Lotterman, our delegation secretary).
Foro de Muejeres One of the first groups that our WFP delegation met was Foro de Mujeres por la Vida (Women’s Forum for Life). El Foro was formed in 2003 “in response to rising violence, especially in the north and northeast of the country [which] are the most violent areas of the country.” El Foro leaders explained to us that since the 2009 coup d’etat “women’s conditions are more precarious.” There are more cases of femicide, more impunity (over 90%), and women don’t denounce the violence against them because that would put their lives at even more risk. Women’s Forum leaders noted that “[with increased militarization and more weapons, women especially young women, are afraid to leave their homes.” They add that, facing this reality, the only solutions are internal displacement or emigration. The women that chose to take the dangerous journey north even though there is a significant chance they will be raped along the way: “According to a stunning Fusion investigation, 80 percent of women and girls crossing into the U.S. by way of Mexico are raped during their journey. That’s up from a previous estimate of 60 percent, according to an Amnesty International report” (Huffington Post 2014). Nelly del Cid, Coordinator of Women’s Forum for Life, explains the connection between the prevalence of violence, militarization and the coup:
This violence is the result of systematic economic and political disorder connected to globalization and the control of big corporations. These conditions are not a result of coincidence. The purpose of the Coup was to permit the great transnational corporations to come, privatizing everything. They take away the productive capacity of the lower class. Twenty years ago we were the Bread Basket of Central America. Now we are filled with assembly factories with high levels of abuse. Mining laws are allowing open pit mines. They promote tourism by taking away land of indigenous communities. Our labor is less and less valuable every day. Cheap labor is what they want. The violence goes with the poverty. We have a country with no hope. The answer is more money for arms. The biggest part of the budget is for the military while education, healthcare and social security are in chaos. More weapons for whom? Sell our land to whom? Anyone who wants to do business has to pay bribes and taxes. We have no hope. So we organize. Organizing is a risk, but we will be killed anyway. So it doesn’t surprise us that each day we see more and more people leaving. (WFP 2016)
Garífuna Witness for Peace also visited Garífuna communities on the northern coast. The Garífuna are an Afro-Indigenous people that live on the northern coast of Honduras, as well as other Central American countries on the Atlantic. They have suffered and resisted a long history of discrimination and repression in trying to maintain their cultural identity and ancestral lands. One of the greatest threats to the economic and cultural survival of the Garífuna is the loss of these territorial lands. According to Alfredo López, vice president of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), as of October of 2015, they had lost around 40% of Garífuna ancestral lands since the coup d’état. A significant portion of their lands has been lost or is threatened by the mega-tourism industry. OFRANEH has taken up the charge to protect Garífuna lands on an international level and in December 2015 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) issued a verdict in two separate case which found that the State of Honduras violated the Garifuna's collective and indigenous land rights and that Garifuna communities in question had not been afforded their right to free, prior informed consent. This was a landmark victory for OFRANEH, the Garífuna, and all indigenous peoples in Honduras who celebrated alongside the Garífuna. OFRANEH also recognize these victories as significant for indigenous peoples across the world. Nonetheless, the Garífuna face a long legacy of discrimination, and, like other marginalized groups, they continue to face threats to their lives. An increasing number of Garífuna people risk their lives trying to arrive in the U.S. due to the stark economic conditions of Honduras. Emigration leads to a visible absence of community members as schools and homes are depopulated. The loss of land, population and communities, López explains, threaten the very cohesion and continuity of the Garífuna into the future.
The LGBTQ community The violence against the LGBTQ community in Honduras has also reached a critical state. The urgency of their situation was explained to our WFP delegation by ARCOIRIS, the Honduran LGBT Rainbow Association. Similar to other organizations that observe gaps and silences in statistics processed by the government—if statistics are produced, at all—ARCOIRIS maintains records on human rights abuses experienced by the LGBTI community. According to Donny Reyes, technical director of ARCOIRIS, Honduras has seen a recent spike in murders of LGBTI citizens: “Before 2009 there used to be 3 to 5 murders a year of LGBTI folks. Now we have 20 to 30 murders a year. 2015 was the most dangerous year ever for LGBTI folks.” The assassination of Lenca and environmental leader Berta Cáceres in March of this year reminded the world of the perilous reality of individuals that defend human and environmental rights in the public sphere. This danger is ever-present for leaders of LGBTI organizations who have come to expect to suffer some form of violence. One ACROIRIS leader states that “[E]very month they expect a new victim. In the first two months of 2016, 3 members of ARCOIRIS were killed.” She explains this reality noting:
We are doing research in different cities and with different allies. So we can give statistics. We are victims because we are the pioneers. Our opposition knows this. … We are reaching out to other organizations for accompaniers and for funds to help us relocate. Sometimes we just need to leave the country. (WFP 2016)
According to their statistics, Reyes notes that in 2014, “[of] 171 hate crimes, 51% were committed by military and security forces” (WFP 2016).
Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared Founder and coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared (COFADEH) Berta Oliva sheds light on another facet of impunity and violence in Honduras. She notes that “[since] the coup, Honduras has not been the same” and explains that the government “eliminated the public prosecutor’s office […] So we don’t have a place to go with new cases.” Echoing what we had heard in other meetings, government statistics do not reflect reality. In fact, numbers and statistics themselves seem to have suffered a sad case of intentional inflation or deflation. Oliva describes how statistics on massacres and how the concept of a massacre is defined:
A massacre is classified as a crime when there are more than 5 victims. In the last two months of 2015 we had 7 massacres. So we have more killings and more massacres. But the country is also increasingly militarized. The level of violence is used to justify militarization, but the truth is that the more militarization, the more violence. Last week 5 children, 13-14 years old, were massacred. There were more than 125 shots fired. This is an unofficial war. The killings are political deaths. When we go to denounce, they say we are defaming. (WFP 2016)
As Oliva further explained, one of the guiding principles in the establishment of COFADEH in 1982 was the notion of “Nunca jamás” (“Never again”) to demand justice for the victims of violence and write truth to public memory. The “never again,” she added, has happened again, and the situation in Honduras is worse than it was 30 years ago (Polo “Entrevista con Berta Oliva”)
I caught up with Farmer to Farmer partners following the WFP delegation. Coffee farmers and friends updated me on the impact of coffee rust (la roya) on coffee production. Avilio Valázquez walked us through some of his fields and explained that there is a variety of coffee that is resistant to coffee rust and that when possible, farmers have planted or are planting the variety. This particular variety is not shade grown, and consequently, these farmers are not able to produce shade grown coffee and the preservation of Honduras’ beautiful trees faces an additional challenge. In general, and from my limited knowledge on the subject, it seems that farmers are slowly recovering from the coffee rust emergency. Nonetheless, the economic consequences of the blight continue to have an impact. When visiting Río Negro I stayed in one of the eco-huts owned by Ana Alicia and Lucío Yanes who noted that they “haven’t made any money in the last three coffee harvests” due to the coffee rust.
Riding in the back of a truck to Río Negro, Hector Oviedos pointed to the brown swaths of trees in the mountains where the pine beetle (el gorgojo) has killed the forest. Honduras has declared a national emergency due to the infestation and the government recently stated that 35% of the pines in Honduras would be harmed. Individuals and the government have tried to contain the spread of the beetle by cutting down, spraying, burning and, where possible, removing the damaged trees. As was reported in F2F’s last newsletter, one of F2F’s producers Alexis Lorenz Gonzales, died trying containing the spread of the Gorgojo. In addition to human consequences of the beetle, the beetle is an environmental crisis.
Ever trying to avoid the trap of the “white savior,” more than ever, Honduras calls on our solidarity.
Goldberg, Eleanor. “80% Of Central American Women, Girls Are Raped Crossing Into The U.S.” Huffinton Post. 12 Sept. 2014. Web 9 June 2016
Polo, Yolanda. “Honduras se encuentra en estado de S.O.S. internacional en materia de derechos humanos.” Coordinadora de ONGD España. 6 June 2013. Web 9 June 2016.
Witness for Peace. “Women Leading the Way to Justice.” Delegation notes by Betty Lotterman. 12-22 Feb. 2016.
A special thanks for Jeanette Charles and Bryon Rogers from Witness for Peace for reviewing this story and to Betty Lotterman for her hard work as the official WFP delegation secretary.