June 24-25th La Paz
We left Progreso early on Friday and took a bus to San Jose, La Paz. Walking down the road towards the regional center I could see their new radio antenna tower rising up behind the building. La Voz de los de Abajo and Chicago’s Radios Populares have worked with the campesino radio project with the CNTC in La Paz for more than 8 years and we always check in with the local communities in La Paz.
When we arrived a workshop was in progress with a lawyer from Via Campesina on the topic of the “law and the campesino movement”. This is a timely topic for the campesinos and campesinas in La Paz where the criminalization of the campesinos is ferocious. There are 18 local CNTC campesinos with arrest warrants currently, including the regional General Secretary, and many more on probation — all for their participation in the agrarian movement to recuperate land for the small landless farmers. 8 members of one La Paz CNTC campesino group named after Honduran human rights defender Juan Almendares, spent three months in prison last year under very difficult conditions that affected their health. This included 3 members of the regional leadership committee of the organization. Nationally, the CNTC has 5 members in jail now and thousands more who have been charged.
When we sat down and talked to the campesinos and campesinas they told us that the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez is not only arresting more campesinos but also charging them with more serious crimes. A few years ago they would be charged with usurpation of land or theft and now for the same actions of recuperating land, they are being charged with terrorism, weapons charges (for having work tools like machetes) also, the penalties for things like deforestation (for cutting down one tree) used to be minor but now can mean 4-7 years imprisonment.
In early May of this year I accompanied a recently evicted La Paz campesino group called “9th de Julio” whose members had their houses destroyed and their crops burnt out, and two of their members wounded when police opened fire against them. On Saturday we were invited by the regional CNTC to visit the “9th de Julio” again. We found that the campesino families have rebuilt all their houses and replanted some of their crops despite being under threat of another eviction and despite the existence of arrest warrants against their members. The men and women in the community explained that they had taken land that was fallow and turned it into land that provided food, not only for their families, but enough to take to the local markets and sell. The community has more than 20 children and the families talked about the trauma for the children of having seen police and military come into their homes, destroying everything and firing weapons. They explained that they have to teach their children the importance and necessity of what they are doing and why they are organized. The president of the coop told us that they know that this struggle for the land is necessary for their survival; if they loose the land and homes they have worked so hard for they will have absolutely nothing and will be living on the side of the road.
In the evening on Saturday we joined two of the compañeros who were on the air on Radio Suyuguare (a Lenca indigenous word that means land of hills and valleys). The communities in La Paz are overwhelmingly Lencan and the CNTC region embraces their cultural and traditions. The radio project has applied for a community radio license and broadcasts 7 days a week from 1 to 9pm. There is a team of mostly young campesinos and campesinas who take turns broadcasting and they have shows that talk about indigenous rights, the campesino movement, news, environmental issues and also play music and take dedications. It was impressive to see and hear all the calls and messages coming in during the broadcast, showing us that they have a strong audience in the region. Samuel and Orlando explained to us the importance of the radio project for their work in organizing and educating the communities, for making alliances with other community members who are not in the campesino movement and finally for them as young campesinos as an activity that has opened up new knowledge and opportunities to participate in national and regional networks and events.
Environmental issues are extremely important in La Paz. The ruling party leader and Vice President of the National Congress is from La Paz: Gladys Aurora and her husband are strong supporters and business partners with many of the big hydroelectric and mining projects already begun in the beautiful mountainous region. In fact there are projects named Aurora 1, Aurora 2, Aurora 3. The campesino communities strongly oppose the destruction of the indigenous territories and of the agricultural land that these projects bring but they told us that the government in partnership with the construction companies and international companies are waging a war against the opposition with bribery, false promises to bring positive development to the poor communities, threats and finally with assassinations like that of indigenous leader Berta Caceres of COPINH in the nearby province of Intibuca.
On Sunday we will head to La Esperanza, Intíbuca to express our solidarity with COPINH and to talk to COPINH and to Berta Caceres’ family about their struggle for justice.