Saturday, November 24, 2012

Re-founding Honduras from below: an indigenous perspective from COPINH's Berta Cáceres

Members of re-foundational space prioritizing building of social movement bases

What prompted the Honduran military to break down the doors of the presidential palace on June 28th, 2009 and kidnap President Manuel Zelaya first to the U.S. military base Palmerola and then to exile in Costa Rica was not the right's fear of President Zelaya himself. What the Honduran oligarchy and U.S. State Department truly feared was that Zelaya had opened the doors of the presidential palace to a grassroots social movement with a radical vision for re-founding Honduras from below. The day of the coup Hondurans were to vote on an advisory referendum about convening a constitutional assembly as a first step in "re-founding" Honduras and taking away power from the oligarchy and the transnational corporations who currently run the country. Though the referendum was non-binding, subject to congressional approval and Zelaya's term would be long over before any such constitutional assembly, just the idea of the excluded segments of Honduran society (which, together are the great majority of Honduras) being consulted scared the oligarchy enough for them to carry out a violent military coup d'etat and subsequently unleash three years of brutal repression against the Honduran resistance that continue to the present day.
While many in the resistance are hopeful that their recently formed LIBRE ("Freedom and Re-foundation" in English) party will bring Zelaya's wife Xiomara into the presidency next November and re-open the possibility of a constitutional assembly, a common worry also circulates - will the oligarchy and their military let got at the polls of what they took by force with arms during the coup? 

There is ample reason to worry. Many instances of fraud in last week's primaries have already been exposed, particularly in manipulation of numbers during the transmission of results from polling stations to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (run entirely by coup supporters). Accusations of people being paid to vote have been particularly widespread within the National Party, where there was a hotly contested primary race between two right-wing candidates. Questions are also being raised about the inflation of numbers who supposedly voted for the Liberal party, which, as numerous election observers saw first hand, had an extremely weak showing almost everywhere since a large part of its former base is now in the resistance's LIBRE party. Additionally, there were reports throughout the country of voters being unable to get their ID cards from authorities to vote and several people from the two major parties were caught the day of the elections with large numbers of ID cards. Even more worrying, several dozen LIBRE candidates have already been killed and many more have received death threats. The already severe climate of repression and terror is widely expected to worsen as next year's elections get closer.

Despite this, many people in the resistance are throwing their all into the political process against all odds. There is no doubt that many people are excited to go to the polls next November and see people on the ballot with whom they have been shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets since the coup. In its first appearance on ballots the resistance drew about half a million people to vote in the primaries last week. This despite the fact that there was already unity on the presidential candidacy of Xiomara and that many public and private sector workers were threatened with losing their jobs if seen voting for LIBRE (in the Honduran primaries any observer can see which party you are voting for because voters for each party line up separately outside different rooms). 

But there are also others who are concerned about all the energy going into the electoral process. A group of some of the most marginalized groups in Honduras - indigenous, peasant, Afro-descendant, feminist, artist and other organizations -  form what they call the "re-foundational space" within the Honduran resistance. While opinions vary and some groups in the re-foundational space are still actively working on getting LIBRE elected or have bases that will turn out to vote for LIBRE in the elections, there is a common belief that the growth of the social movement must be the priority in order to build enough power from below to truly re-found Honduras. Those in the re-foundational space believe power must be built from below first and foremost. They are demonstrating their approach by strengthening struggles in their respective sectors and creating spaces to jointly articulate their struggles, including recent gatherings such as the "Summit of Black and Indigenous Women," the "Summit of Fighters," and others.

Berta Cáceres, of the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), is one strong voice within the re-foundational space. "We don't believe that democracy and power are just practiced when people go to vote," she explains. She speaks of "building a movement from below to take on patriarchy, racism and capitalism" that must be based on a vision that reflects the realities of Hondurans in all of their diversity - indigenous, Afro-Hondurans, LGBT, feminists, peasants, artists, etc.. In the above video-recorded interview, Berta speaks of the urgent need to continue building the social movements and forging "our projects of life, which are contrary to the project of death and domination."

Prominent groups within the re-foundational space like COPINH and the Fraternal Organization of Black Hondurans (OFRANEH) have gained tremendous respect within the resistance for the energy, vision and large bases they have contributed through the most intense moments of the resistance struggle. Together they made their way all the way to the Nicaraguan border to greet Zelaya when he tried to re-enter the country, facing intense repression and death threats along the way. Coming out of communities that have been in resistance for hundreds of years, they have a long-range view of the struggle that goes well beyond the November elections. 

At the end of the day, both those who are putting all of their energy into the LIBRE party and the 2013 elections and those who are prioritizing building the social movements are committed to the goal of a constitutional assembly as a first step to re-founding Honduras. All of them are dreaming of a Honduras that sets an example for Latin America and the world of what justice and equality can look like. While they may differ on how to get there, one thing is clear. When the military broke down the doors of the presidential palace they got Zelaya out of Honduras, but could never get the dream of re-founding their country out of the hearts of Hondurans.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Family fleeing persecution: "The struggle continues"

Family in hiding after assassination attempt in Aguán speaks out
This family, who requested to remain nameless for their security, like many other Hondurans after the U.S.-backed coup d'etat of June 28th, 2009, has been forced to flee their land. They are from the Aguán region of Honduras, where the richest oligarch in Honduras, Miguel Facussé, a good friend to many U.S. diplomats, politicians and businesspeople, controls most of the land. Thousands of families have taken back part of the land he stole from them in order to work the land and produce for their own survival. 

They were making progress in obtaining title to the land under ousted President Manuel Zelaya but since he was removed by a U.S.-backed coup they have faced a reign of terror from the private guards of Facussé and other large land-owners as well as the police and army. Peasants are being killed regularly and brutally in the Aguán region. This family was forced to flee after the father (who gave this interview alongside his family from an undisclosed location) was shot by an AK-47 numerous times and narrowly escaped death. He still has a bullet inside him and wounds on his body.

There are killings and death threats almost every week in the Aguán valley carried out by large landowners who were the intellectual  authors of the June 28th, 2009 coup d'etat with U.S. backing. The World Bank continues to fund the worst killer amongst these oligarchs, Miguel Facussé and his Dinant Corporation.

Write your congressional representatives and the World Bank and ask them to cut off funds to Miguel Facussé & the Dinant Corporation:

President Jim Yong Kim
The World Bank Group
1818 H Street NW
Washington, DC 20433

Monday, November 19, 2012

Finding each other through the struggle - Feminism and the resistance

Sara Avilés Tomé and Liana Funes from Feminists in Resistance speak out

The 2009 U.S.-backed coup d'etat and resistance movement it has sparked has dramatically impacted the feminist struggle in Honduras. Sara Avilés Tomé and Liana Funes of the Center for Women's studies in Honduras are both members of Feminists in Resistance who outlined for the Honduras Solidarity Network human rights observation delegation the history and current challenges of the feminist struggle in Honduras.

Though women have been present in all struggles throughout Honduran history, a movement of self-identified feminists emerged from the struggle in the 50's for women’s right to vote. The movement has grown throughout the latter part of the 20th century, taking on an important role in educating people on women’s rights and fighting for protection from violence against women, for sexual and reproductive rights and for representation within state institutions and political offices.

“This earlier liberal conception of what it meant to be feminist was interrupted when we found the government institutions we had achieved for protecting women to be completely useless in the face of the 2009 coup d’etat and the wave of repression that was unleashed, repression which took a particularly harsh toll on the many women who were killed, assaulted, raped and beaten as a result of the coup d’etat,” explains Tomé.

Feminists in the urban areas who had been focusing on battles for representation within the state found themselves in the streets battling an illegitimate state and their conception of feminism began to expand.

“We found ourselves encountering other feminists and other more diverse realities in the streets during the resistance. We began to come together with indigenous feminists, afro-descendant feminists, feminists from the rural areas, to articulate our struggles together. Being together days on end in the streets allowed us to re-think what it means to be a feminist and re-define ourselves, making connections between the struggle against patriarchy and the struggle against capitalism and racism,” says Tomé.

Feminists in Resistance played a key part in getting the National Front of Popular Resistance to take up an explicit anti-patriarchy position, which they have so far been disappointed to see lacking in the LIBRE political party, the resistance’s political arm. While Feminists in Resistance continue to struggle alongside other sectors of the resistance for the re-founding of Honduras, they also continue to struggle internally to defeat patriarchy within the movement and ensure that the gains made within the National Front of Popular Resistance are not sacrificed for the purposes of politics as the resistance enters the electoral arena. They want to see LIBRE and the FNRP active in the struggle against the recent outlawing of emergency contraception and the battle against the dramatic levels of violence and abuse faced by Honduran women.

Feminists in Resistance is part of a sector of the resistance called the “Re-foundational Space,” which believes the resistance’s priority should be to build the social movements and has an understanding of the struggle for power that goes beyond anything achievable just through electoral politics.

These debates in and of themselves show how alive the political imagination is within Honduras right now. The debate is not whether or not to fundamentally change Honduras but how to do so. The dreams that were awoken in the process of resisting the coup, dreams of a country and world based on human rights and satisfaction of social needs rather than privatization, greed and militarization, will be difficult for the Honduran oligarchy, the Latin American right wing and the U.S. government to stamp out, try as they will.

"Today I vote in the name of our martyrs"

Nephew of murdered teacher first in line to vote for LIBRE
Nestor López made sure he was the first person in line at the Escuela Instituto Técnico in the Kennedy neighborhood in Tegucigalpa for today's primary elections in Honduras.

"I have to be here because my family has suffered losses from this coup with our own flesh," he says, standing in front of the polling station for the Honduran resistance's LIBRE party.

Nestor's uncle was Roger Vallejo, a Honduran teacher and member of COPEMH, the country's largest teacher's association, who was gunned down in cold blood by the Honduran coup regime at a protest on July 30th, 2009. As with so many of the hundreds of other deaths since the U.S.-backed military coup in Honduras on June 28th, 2009, the death just solidified Vallejo's family's commitment to continue fighting for a new constitution and the re-foundation of the country. 

One of the most recent developments in the ongoing resistance struggle has been the formation of a political arm of the resistance that will contend with the two traditional parties for power in the general elections of 2013. The party has agreed on ousted President Manuel Zelaya's wife Xiomara Castro de Zelaya as the consensus presidential candidate and hundreds of LIBRE candidates from four different currents within the resistance competed in today's Honduran primaries to represent the party in races for mayor, congress and also competed for positions in party leadership.

Though there were not many major complaints about the actual election process in today's primaries, these elections are taking place amidst a climate of terror and fear throughout the country. Dozens of candidates have been assassinated, peasants in the Aguán region are being killed off steadily by the guards of large land-owners like Miguel Facussé, politically-motivated femicides and targeting of the LGBTQ community continue to be rampant, threats against members of the resistance are commonplace and Honduras has become the murder capital of the world. Meanwhile nobody has been brought to justice for the deaths of hundreds of members of the resistance despite normalization of relations between Honduras and most of the rest of the world and a general media blackout about the ongoing human rights crisis in the country.

Despite this, millions of Hondurans came out to vote in today's primaries and the grassroots movements within the resistance have continued to escalate their struggles throughout the country to demand the re-foundation of the country from below. While there are important concerns within the resistance about the electoral process, today was historic for being the first Honduran election to break the two-party system. Once the winners of today's primary become clear and campaigning begins, everybody expects an intense year of campaigning and repression.

People will be especially watching the candidacy of the woman they affectionately call by her first name - Xiomara. She captured the popular imagination by not leaving the country after the coup and marching with the resistance throughout the last three years despite the risk to her own life. While the electoral struggle is just one amongst many arenas of the resistance struggle, it is one that will likely dominate national headlines in the year ahead.

For Hondurans like Nestor López, the inspiration of family members and friends who have given their lives for the dream of a new Honduras will continue to wake them early for the many long days of struggle between now and the election and beyond, illustrating the meaning to the oft-heard chant, "blood of martyrs, seeds of freedom!"

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"Despite the attempts on my life, I will struggle until the last day I live" - Resistance candidate for Tegucigalpa Mayor

"Despite the attempts on my life, I will struggle until my last day" - Resistance Mayoral candidate Maria Luisa Borjas 

If the fact that people are actively trying to kill her is at the forefront of Maria Luisa Borjas's mind, she doesn't let it show. The constant threats on the life of this former police officer turned resistance activist and now candidate for Mayor of Tegucigalpa appear secondary to her passion for the transformation of Honduras. She forgot to even mention recent attempts on her life until asked about them after an hour of talking about her history fighting corruption, the struggle against the coup d'etat and the dream of re-founding Honduras from below.

Maria Luisa Borjas, who is a pre-candidate for Mayor of Tegucigalpa as part of the Force of Popular Re-foundation (FRP) current within the resistance's LIBRE party, was forced out of the national police in 2002. At the time she was in charge of internal affairs, a job that she - unlike so many others before her - actually took seriously, aggressively going after corrupt police officers. After she sent four police to jail for involvement in extra-judicial killings and three others for obstruction of justice, she was forced out of the police department, had her two sons sent to jail and almost lost her husband during an assassination attempt. Ever since she has been a tireless fighter for human rights.

In a country that is plagued by crime and is the murder capital of the world, Maria Luisa Borjas is a strong voice pointing out the root causes of the violence. She calls the militarized police response nothing more than, "a process of social cleansing aimed at the youth of the country, who have been denied education, food, housing, work, recreation and then also denied the right to life. One of our main tasks needs to be to rehabilitate these young people and re-insert them into society, but above all to carry out activities of prevention. A young person who has food, who has education, housing, work, will not need to join a gang," explains Borjas. Part of why she is in the resistance is to fight for a society that provides human rights to youth as the anecdote to violence rather than continuing to militarize a corrupt police force that has just fueled the problem.

The militarization of the police force is a grave concern in Honduras right now, especially for the resistance. Borjas, who was instrumental in investigating controversial current Tegucigalpa police chief Tigre Bonilla, points out that the government is currently proposing the creation of a police force called the "Tigers" that would be under military command. "What they are trying to impose in our country is the national security policy which is what they implemented in the 80’s to disappear and kill people with progressive and revolutionary ideas. To me, what they are talking about doing with the creation of the ‘tigre’ force is nothing more than the re-creation of the famous Batallion-316, which was in charge of persecuting, torturing and kidnapping the social leaders of that decade," explains Borjas.

Given her uncompromising criticism of police corruption, her commitment to the re-foundation of Honduras and her high profile candidacy to become Mayor of the capital of Honduras, it is no wonder that Borjas is being threatened. Recently a friend who had her same make and model car in the same color was leaving the house of prayer they both attend when she was intercepted by a tinted window car without license plates. Several men with high-caliber guns jumped out and pointed them at her, but then got back in their car and moved on when they saw her friend's face and indicated it was the "wrong person." They were wearing masks, black clothing and bullet-proof vests that said "police." As if that wasn't enough, a former colleague from the police department in San Pedro Sula recently knocked on Borjas's door at 7 in the morning, begging her to leave the country "before it is too late." He said that he found out a large sum of money has been paid to have her killed. The government has still not responded to her denunciation of the situation.

When asked how she continues to fight despite this level of repression, Borjas simply says, "I have no other choice. I will continue struggling until the last day of my life to leave to the next generation a better country, a country where people are respected, where the human being comes before all else, having all the rights we deserve. That is what I want for my kids and my grandkids.”

Teachers on the move: from the classroom to the streets... to power?

From the classroom, to the streets... to power?
La Voz de los de Abajo report from Honduras Solidarity Network delegation 11/16

Yanina Parada is not your typical congressional candidate. Her stump speech isn't about vague promises or political endorsements or romanticized childhood stories. She talks about other teachers who have been shot down next to her in the streets during protests. She talks about the hard-fought gains of the Honduran public education movement over decades of struggle. She talks about her experience on hunger strike for over 40 days. She talks about teachers who died unable to pay for medicines after losing their jobs due to participation in the resistance. She talks about a global struggle against the neoliberal economic model that seeks to wipe out teacher's unions and public education and privatize everything. Yanina, who is running to be a congressional candidate for the LIBRE party (“Freedom and Re-foundation,” the political party created by the Honduran resistance against the coup d’etat), is one example among many of why some Hondurans are more interested in these primary elections than they ever have been before. During Sunday’s primaries Hondurans will have a chance to vote for people they have been shoulder-to-shoulder with in the struggle rather than those who visit them only when elections come around. 

The public education struggle goes back almost six decades in Honduras to the historic 1954 strike of workers on the banana plantations along Honduras’s north coast. During that epic strike committees of teachers formed in support of the strikers, sewing the seeds for the formation of the first teachers’ associations. Through decades of struggle Honduran teachers were able to achieve an expansion of public education, the professionalization of teaching, a law to regulate the teaching profession and protect public education and another law protecting their pension and retirement funds. These achievements were amongst the first to come under attack after the U.S.-backed military coup of June 28th, 2009. The coup government has stopped at nothing to break the teachers association’s power, privatize public education and hand its pension funds over to the private sector.

But teachers have fought back at every step of the way. They have poured into the streets at every single resistance protest, including over 100 days of daily protests in the immediate aftermath of the coup and numerous national strikes in support of the resistance. But they have paid dearly for their participation. 303 teachers were suspended for their political activity, prompting numerous to go on a hunger strike of over 40 days. Another wave of teachers was sanctioned for political reasons just days ago. Worse still, dozens of teachers have been killed, beaten and raped for their participation in the resistance. Yanina told us one story of a teacher shot in front of his students by an assassin outside the school who fired into the window of his classroom, killing him in the middle of class. Another teacher was shot by a bullet from a military helicopter above. Yet the teachers have continued their participation in the resistance undeterred and now many of them are candidates for election in the resistance's newly constituted political party LIBRE. Yanina is one of the teachers who will be running in the primary elections this Sunday to become a LIBRE congressional candidate in next year's elections.

Regardless of the outcome of the primaries this Sunday and the elections next year, Yanina and other teachers see the fight they are engaged in as a long-term and global struggle. As Yanina said today, "Our struggle is part of a global fight to defend public education against the neoliberal economic model that wants to privatize everything and do away with us. We can't stop no matter what."

Below is a message Yanina wanted to send to Chicago teachers in the wake of their historic strike and in the midst of their battle to stop the closure of over 100 schools:

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Report from Honduras 11/15/2012 - The Run-up to the Primary Elections

Report from Honduras 11/15/2012
Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle of La Voz de los de Abajo will be reporting daily from Honduras this week from the Honduras Solidarity Network delegation doing human rights / election observation at the request of the Honduran resistance.

Honduras is buzzing with talk of the primary elections this weekend, but there's something distinctly different than the normal election buzz. This is the first ever election that a party constituted by the array of social movements that is the Honduran resistance will participate. Though skepticism abounds, it has more to do with whether the military and the oligarchy will respect the election results next November during the general elections than whether there are candidates worth voting for. When Hondurans go to the polls this Sunday, those voting in the primary for candidates of the LIBRE party (which stands for "Freedom and Re-foundation") will be voting for people that for the last two years have walked along side of them under clouds of tear gas, gone to funerals together for compañeros killed for resisting the coup, shared intense and difficult moments and debates but never lost sight of the dream of re-founding Honduras. These candidates of the resistance fall into five currents within the LIBRE party but are all united behind the presidential candidacy of Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, wife of President Mel Zelaya who was ousted three years ago by a U.S.-backed military coup after instituting a series of policies to respond to the demands of Honduran social movements to address the dire needs of poor Hondurans. These candidates are drawn from the millions of Hondurans who have refused to give up on the dream of re-founding Honduras from below, of creating a new constitution that recognizes the human rights of all, that wrests power from the ten families who control Honduras, that breaks the chains of U.S. domination and manipulation and that begins the historic task of building a Honduras run by and for all Hondurans, the Afro-descendants, the indigenous, women, peasants, youth, all of the sectors who together are the great majority of this small Central American nation.

As elections observers, the several dozen of us from the Honduras Solidarity Network will be observing for irregularities during the primary elections on Sunday and responding to denunciations of violations of human rights. Numerous LIBRE candidates have already been killed but the resistance has been undeterred and is in high gear preparing for Sunday's primaries. Already there is word that known members of the LIBRE party are having trouble getting their voter identification cards from the responsible government agencies. This is still a country, it is important to remember, run completely by those who supported, helped orchestrate and inherited the legacy of a military coup that took place just three years ago. Many within the resistance question whether a fair electoral fight is possible under these conditions, especially with the ongoing murders of peasants, resistance candidates and journalists, but despite this skepticism, there is clearly a lot of energy being put into the electoral process by many in the resistance. Though these are just the primaries and the actual election is still a year away, the excitement amongst the bases of the resistance appears to be rising.

When I arrived this evening at the house of my good friend's aunt in San Lorenzo, I was surprised to hear her excitement. She was never an overtly political person, always so caught up in trying to survive and eek out an existence for her kids and grandkids that she never even listened to the news. But now she is glued to the news and has been going on all evening about the massive crowds that have greeted Xiomara everywhere she's gone in the country, about all she's learned since I saw her last three years ago, about the World Bank, about the Honduran oligarchy, about privatization, about the reasons behind the coup, about U.S. backing of the coup and more.

When I ask her how she thinks people in her neighborhood, one of the poorest on the outskirts of San Lorenzo, Valle, feel about the elections, she says, "Before creating the LIBRE party, people didn't believe in the political parties, it was just promises and promises and no follow-through. But now we get to vote for people we know, people from our communities who have been with us in the resistance."

Tomorrow I travel to Tegucigalpa to link up with the rest of the Honduras Solidarity Network delegation and I'll be posting daily reports. On Sunday Martha and millions like her will add to the millions of steps that have been taken in resistance marches and funeral processions a few more steps as they walk to the polls to vote. Regardless of the primary outcome, one thing is sure. Hondurans know their enemy and are not giving up on their dreams.
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