Thursday, October 20, 2011

"We can neither eat bullets nor guns": the impact of U.S. military aid on Garifuna communities in Honduras

By Riahl O´Malley and Brooke Denmark
Witness for for Peace International Team - Nicaragua

Driving into Triunfo de la Cruz, a Garifuna community on Honduras´ northern coast, things seem normal. Children of all ages are dressed in uniform, making their way to school. Women sit in front of their homes chatting with their neighbors. When we arrive at Teresa Reyes´ house, the secretary of the Community Board, she and her husband, Alfredo, are fixing the roof.

As we begin speaking with her and two other community representatives, it becomes apparent things aren´t as they seem. Teresa and Alfredo are fixing their roof because someone had tried to burn their house down with them and their children inside. Why?

Because Triunfo de la Cruz, like many Garifuna communities living throughout Northern Honduras, is in a constant struggle to maintain their ancestral land and the culture it sustains. This land is being taken by large landowners and international big business. Teresa and Alfredo are part of the peaceful struggle to maintain their traditions and livelihood, which is met with constant repression.

Speaking for only a short while we begin to see the diversity of problems they face. From neoliberal mega projects such as “model cities” and hydroelectric dams, to multi-million dollar tourism projects supported by international development banks, to the threat of large landowners like Miguel Facusse.

Another threat to the community´s safety and autonomy is the spread of narco-trafficking throughout the region “like a cancer that is difficult to rid.” Tied to that spread is increased militarization to fight the “drug war." Today, 60% of cocaine enters the U.S. through Central America. An estimated 9 tons of cocaine were seized in Honduras in 2010. This is how the United States has justified providing over $24 million dollars in aid to the Honduran police and military between 2009-2011. But instead of solving the many issues Garifuna communities face, it is making it worse.

“When we hear of the help that the U.S. and other countries give to the military and police it scares us,” José Angel, member of the Community Board, explains. “I think Obama and Hillary Clinton need to revise how they apply this funding in these countries. Instead of improving the social situation, it is a huge step backwards. It actually creates fear. It is destroying our communities.” He adds, “The U.S. is trying to cure the effect rather than the cause: U.S. demand.”

The community leaders expressed little confidence in the police and military. Teresa states, “The police are obligated to give us protection, but we don´t see the police anywhere. It's an illusion, it´s false. Security doesn´t exist. Protection doesn´t exist. But if someone comes from the outside and wants to take over our land and we defend ourselves, if we take down the fences or knock down whatever they put up, they accuse us and the police come to arrest us. It´s completely backwards.”

She continues, “We don´t want other countries to continue financing the military…the military and police have attacked us, have repressed us, they have criminalized protest. We don´t need more military or police. Our culture has always been one of peace. Why are we spending so much on security but there isn´t any security? …We don´t need more of this policy. What we need is that those who are in the military go plant crops instead. What we need is food."

Jose Angel adds, “We haven´t learned how to eat neither bullets nor guns….What we need is to participate in and to be a part of the plans they make to improve our community.”

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