By Gloria Jiménez, Honduras and Nicaragua International Team Member, Witness for Peace
|Photo: Ivy Vainio, University of Wisconsin|
In October, Witness for Peace’s Midwest Region hosted Alfredo López, the Vice President of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, for the region’s annual Speakers Tour. The tour included presentations in 5 states and a panel event entitled “Sacred Soil: A Conversation on Forced Displacement and Police Militarization” which connected issues of race, state violence and displacement in Honduras, Palestine, and St. Louis. Alfredo was especially excited to connect with Indigenous and Black communities in the US, and he was eager to collaborate with US colleagues who work on the radio.
Alfredo’s talk focused on the impacts of the U.S. led drug war and militarization generally in Honduras and specifically on his indigenous group━the Garífuna. In case you missed it, we’ve compiled 10 of the most frequently asked questions! Also, you can watch a short video of Alfredo here and for a first hand experience with social movements on the ground, you can join our Honduras: Women Leading the Way to Justice delegation in February.
Tell us about OFRANEH?
We, OFRANEH (The Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras), accompany Garifuna communities by providing legal assistance, implementing communications projects and through food sovereignty projects. We also serve youth, women and accompany communities in the defense of their human rights, especially related to collectively held land. We also work to build solidarity with different organizations all over the world.
What is your vision for the development of your community?
We want a cultural and educational revolution—not a revolution that uses arms—but one that leads to real structural changes and leverage our cultural values. If we are better educated we can not only improve our own living conditions, but we can better appreciate and evaluate proposals for development—which should increase the capacity of people to participate in development and improve people’s lives in their communities. Development should begin with the people and this should be evident in any development project.
How has the Garifuna community used the International Court system to defend their rights?
This system is slow and bureaucratic but it is the only recourse we have however, in the face of our great needs we need to utilize this resource but for to for it to be effective we need to build our capacity to use the system effectively.
The first lawsuit we had was my own—Alfredo Lopez vs. Honduras—and now we have two others that we will receive a ruling on very soon; Triunfo de la Cruz vs. Honduras and Punta Piedra vs. Honduras, that have to do with the violation of our right to our ancestral land. We have three other lawsuits we are working on that are being reviewed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Are you afraid of your safety as a Garifuna leader?
As leaders, we face constant persecution; our phones are tapped, our movements are watched and we are constantly threatened. However, I have to keep working and doing what I need to do. We work with a lot of passion and determination. I, myself, have paid a high price having been jailed for 6 years and 6 months, accused of being a drug trafficker and this motivates me to continue to denounce injustices and assaults against our people and usurpation of our lands disguised as development projects.
Does OFRANEH know about and support the Black Lives Matter movement?
Our brothers and sisters in this struggle can count on our solidarity and support. We hope to work more together. We had the opportunity to meet with the Black Lives Matter Minneapolis chapter on October 18th and we will continue to build solidarity between one another with the objective of trying to unite our actions so we can reach our objectives and to make concrete joint proposals to support one another and share experiences.
What forces are leading to undocumented migration?
Aggressive public policies that prioritize profit and the market over people and the common good. Undocumented immigration also happens because of the lack of adequate living conditions that create hopelessness especially in Central America and the Caribbean, corruption and insecurity that leads to impunity, extortion and money laundering, increasing militarization, organized crime, inadequate health and education system, lack of housing and opportunities for employment. There are many factors. If we address these factors we could improve living conditions and people would not leave their communities.
How is the Drug War affecting your community?
First, the fight to end drug trafficking is not being seriously addressed. Secondly, because it violates our peaceful existence everywhere because it is based on a strategy of using our communities as scapegoats when drug traffickers use our land to do these illegal activities. Our communal land is also expropriated illegally to launder money. Drug traffickers illegally buy and/or steal our land in complicity with corrupt politicians and mayors in the municipalities and grow African Palm—this is how they go from drug traffickers to legitimate businessmen. Mega-tourism projects are also used to cover illegal activities and many times are used to launder money. Meanwhile our leaders and organizations are defamed with the objective to criminalize or de-legitimize our work.
What can the U.S. do to decrease undocumented immigration?
First, the U.S. must support, and pressure Honduras to have the conditions to hold free and fair elections. They should also promote real educational projects in Honduras, combat corruption and support food sovereignty and health systems. They should also pressure our government to respect international treaties and agreements to respect human rights, especially indigenous peoples and their rights to land and self determination.
Are you saying is that the U.S. government is supporting the corrupt Honduran government?
What can U.S. citizens do?
I would say the same thing I told to a Senator in Rome who asked me the same question—many of the terrible things that happen in our country are financed with taxpayers’ money—and many of them do not know this. Americans should monitor this aid that they are often told is going to “help” us in Hondurans and this is not true, instead, it does us a lot of harm. The American public should organize and pressure their senators and other decision makers to review these policies to ensure that this funding is going to meet the real needs of the community, that are surely not arms and militarization.