by WILPFer Jack Herbert
August 2014: 10 days in Honduras with Witness for Peace Southwest:
We started in the north, on the south side of San Pedro Sula, then went east along the coast to and through the Aguan River valley and to the Garifuna (African and local indigenous blend) community on the Caribbean coast, then south up into the hills, visiting the Lenca indigenous community of Rio Blanco resisting a hydroelectric dam the national government plans for their valley, then south to the capital, Tegucigalpa. The communities are part of a nationwide coalition of resistance, the National Front for Popular Resistance (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular, FNRP), organized since the coup in 2009 by the military, that set up elected governments complying with the policies of development pushed by the US government.
I believe that only people in the US can change US government policy in in a way that will enable people in other countries to determine their own government, once the US government and wealthy and military/police/paramilitary elites are dominating. The cost of the resistance is oppression, terrorism, huge suffering and numbers of killings to support the development and profiting demanded by multinational corporations and their enforcers—the US government and the local elites, using force and fraud.
We met with several communities and with journalists, politicians with the party formed by the National Popular Front, LIBRE, human rights workers and organizations, a judge fired for being just, who joined with other such judges, and at the US Embassy with the human rights officer, her boss, the former human rights officer in Colombia, and for a handshake for a few moments, the new US ambassador.
In the Aguan valley, the main development is to grow and harvest African palm. The indigenous communities would not grow it because, they said, it was bad for the soil. The other campesinos did. One group of campensinos had a contract to buy back their land at a huge rate of payments, believed by many outsiders to be impossible to meet, so they were making as much as they could from African palm harvesting. The wealthy in Honduras control the processing and sale of the palm oil, so the small, independent producers are on a financially risky course, while always at risk of violence, killing, and being driven off their land. [For a documentary about the fight for the Aguan valley, see http://jessefreeston.com/resistencia/ ]
We visited a campesino leader, Chabelo, who had been falsely convicted of murder. He was recently freed by a court and a couple weeks ago found not guilty in the third trial, which seems amazing in this country. He could always be murdered at any time, which is what has happened to so many leaders and other individuals. We stayed with his family. One member of our delegation, Greg McCain, has been living with his family, supporting Chabelo's case for years. Greg and Karen Spring are part of the Honduras Solidarity Network, which any of us can support, learn from, or join. The HSN staff in Honduras supports resistance, documenting and exposing oppression. Karen accompanied us part of the time. These folks are really worth donating to support. If you get on HSN's email list, you will get ongoing, daily descriptions of the oppression. The situation soon becomes very clear.
http://www.hondurassolidarity.org/about-us/ tells how this US-Canadian Honduras Solidarity Network was set up to support the Honduran resistance. It was formed after the June 28, 2009 military coup against President Manuel Zelaya as the Honduran social movement (the National Front of Popular Resistance, FNRP) denounced the murders, disappearances, threatens, and human rights violations of the Honduran post-coup regime, supported and financed by the US and Canadian governments. Over 5 years after the coup, the struggle of the Honduran social movement continues as further militarization and neoliberalism create ongoing crises in the country.
The rich landowners in Honduras are running drugs, and they're not getting stopped by the US; they make lots of money in the development that the US government is pushing for the multinational corporations. The Legislature since the coup has passed a law providing for setting up "Model Cities". Corporations are to be granted areas that they will rule, that they will govern.
As people in Honduras say, Honduras is a US experiment. We can see the direction. First, politicians are bought, elected with money from the wealthy class, the government works to serve the wealthy, more and more of the public resources are sold off to the wealthy and our public services privatized to them, then eventually, they get to run the local governments in the areas they are assigned to own and control. Maybe they will simply buy or take over the national governments by contract or whatever. It's an ever-increasing trend.
Businesses then legally conduct the government. That's what fascism was supposed to be or one step beyond it, as I recall.
July 16-Sept 2, 2015: about 7 weeks in Colombia:
July 16-29 with Colombia Support Network, http://colombiasupport.net/. The national government has decided to replace small, artisan gold and silver miners using small, individual tunnels, with multinational mining corporations, vastly expanding the land disturbance, polluted runoff of cyanide into the streams that are public sources of drinking water. Gold mining is prohibited in the upper watersheds where condensation from clouds occurs, called paramos, but the government plans to redefine the paramos, raising the lower limit from an elevation of 3,000 meters to 3,400 meters, allowing the large mines to come in and pollute the water on a much larger scale and directly in part of the water source.
Visited Bucamaranga, a city of 1 or 2 million, its watershed, the artisan miners below the watershed, and their local town, California (named to advertise themselves as a great gold-mining area). A Canadian mining company permitted by the national government there has renamed itself Eco Oro, claiming it would operate in an ecologically sound way, treating the water runoff to prevent pollution, but its large tunnels would produce large polluted runoffs into the streams. City people are organizing to protect their water purity, others organize to protect the natural areas of the mountains, and the miners have organized to protect their rights to mine, since the national government is not renewing their permits. We also visited another town, Marmato, where artisans in gold and silver have organized, and their leader came to California to advise them.
We visited the Putamayo River valley where local indigenous people are resisting a highway that the government is having built along the river in a steep-walled canyon above the valley they live in, causing landslides and a lot of sediment in the river, polluting their drinking water. The government is required by law to consult with indigenous people, but it declared that there were none there, so went ahead with the project with no consultation. The indigenous people were suing for the consultation. A dike directs the river around their valley, allowing them to farm it, but the road builders have taken rock from the river alongside the dike so that some of it has fallen into the river and it threatens to break, which would flood out the people, threatening to drown those who could not escape in time.
July 29-~Aug 2 with ASOTRECOL*, asotrecol.org, in Bogota with the General Motors workers there, illegally fired for being injured on the job. I was there with Paige Shell-Spurling, who met them on a Witness for Peace trip and has brought their leader to Portland and Detroit. After getting nowhere trying to negotiate with management, still getting nowhere with them after they demonstrated publicly asking GM top execs from the US to help and being told that Colombian management would now negotiate with them, the members of ASOTRECOL set up tents across the street from the US embassy ~ August 1, 2011. Workers from another city, Huile, also fired after being injured on the job, were staying with them while in Bogota applying to the Labor Ministry for the compensation they are legally entitled to for their injuries. The law requires the employer to rehabilitate their injured workers, keep them employed, and give them work that they can do. We attended ASOTRECOL's 4th anniversary meeting with other labor rights and human rights workers and accompanied their leader in meetings with a Senator at their tents, another Senator's staff, and a Representative, with the mayor's office several times, with other labor unions, with an environmental and human rights institute,...
Two of the ASOTRECOL members and their families faced foreclosure because of fraud by their bank, Scotia Bank from Canada. One family had been evicted. The other, not yet. Foreclosure fraud is rampant there. Victimas de Bankeros, Victims of Banksters, is an organization of these victims. A leader in this has learned the relevant law and helps others fight foreclosure; we stayed in his apartment. The courts are corrupt. The judges award the apartments (condominiums, I guess, since they are sold: people there call them their casas, which we translate as houses) to the banks, then show up with 100 to 200 riot police to evict the residents.
There are huge numbers of injured ex-workers fired from their jobs, in Colombia, we learned. Coca Cola injured, fired workers were organizing, too; there are other injured, fired workers associations in Colombia they are networking with. Shortly before we got there, Jorge Parra, the leader of ASOTRECOL was inadvertently invited to a meeting of corporations with the Labor Ministry at which they were to work on a law the Labor Ministry would propose to legalize firing workers injured on the job without compensation or rehabilitation. Jorge spread this news to labor unions and Legislators and they publicized the proposed law. So there was a lot of push back from workers, unions, and Legislators. Some Legislators held a hearing with the Minister of Labor, denouncing this proposed law.
*Asociacion de Trabajadores Enfermes de Colmotores, the Association of Injured Workers and Ex-Workers of General Motors of Colombia.