Tuesday, November 1, 2016

How Does One Explain the Murder of a Child in the Middle of Such Pain and Fear? Also at a Time When Nests are Being Woven to Shelter the Children of Peace?

How does one explain the murder of a child in the middle of such pain and fear? Also at a time when nests are being woven to shelter the children of peace?

By Marino Córdoba
Translation from the original Spanish by Gimena Sanchez 

With the deep pain of a father and with the sadness of an infinite void that leaves one in the death of a son, I write about the death of my son Wilmar Cordoba Forero, who passed on October 19.
I would like to begin by thanking all the people who send messages of condolences, solidarity and support. I express my most sincere thanks for all the many voices that offer help. I ask that all of you help me by urging the correspondent authorities that they investigate and identify those responsible for this crime. My silence these days corresponds to the deep pain I feel as a Father. Also a feeling of impotence when I think of the persons that continue in that area without any guarantees of protection.

Wilmar was killed while he was tending to his mother in law’s store. He had fled to Belén de Bajirá due to paramilitary death threats after the killing of his younger brother on his mother’s side in Riosucio Choco. He was staying at his girlfriend’s mother’s house. There he lived with his girlfriend and their 5 month old girl. Wilmar was finishing his bachillerato and in his free time worked with his mother in law selling plantains. He was 21 years old. A calm youth that avoided problems who was very dedicated to this work, study and family. With his daughter he felt his responsibility as a father. On that day while he was working in order to meet his obligations to his daughter his assassins were plotting his death. There were four men who ended his life. One of them came from Riosucio. The other three from Turbo. I was informed that the formed part of a criminal band of paramilitaries who are known for the delinquent actions in Riosucio and Turbo. The day of the incident they waiting for Wilmar to be alone at this job in order to attack him with a machete. This is a new way of killing someone that has become common practice in this region in order to hide responsibility and not cause anxiety within the residents. Wilmar knew his aggressor because they had a fight earlier in the day. However, he never thought that this aggressor would have the intention of killing him. Also because he had done nothing wrong.

With Wilmar’s death that makes a total of three persons murdered in his family on his mother’s side in recent years. His mother’s husband was killed 7 years ago. Only three months ago his younger brother who was 17 was killed. Both were murdered in Riosucio and Wilmar killed in Belén de Bajira, all at the hands of paramilitaries. Belén de Bajirá is a municipality in the Choco that Antioquia claims as its own and where paramilitaries exert control.

His family has not wanted to criminally denounce the incident because these groups because of these illegal armed groups have with some of the civilian authorities and the police in this part of the country. They are afraid of continued persecution but at the same time feel impotent because they see how the war is eliminating their relatives. They have information that the authorities, despite knowing the incidents and material authors, have not acted to identify and punish those responsible.

Wilmar was buried in Turbo, Antioquia on Saturday, October 22. At dawn on that day I traveled from Bogota with the purpose of getting to his funeral. The first leg of the flight stopped in Medellin and the second leg went to Carepa airport. From there I took a taxi to get to Turbo by road. On that road I passed Apartado, a city that I had not visited since 1994. How could I not remember this region where I lived and worked during the most difficult time for Uraba. I was a trade unionist and here my first two children were born. This is where I was miraculously saved from assassination due to the simple fact that I was a trade unionist. For this reason my relatives could not believe that I was back in Uraba. My parents warned me that for security reasons I should not travel. I decided to go to his funeral despite the security situation. I told my parents only once I was in Turbo.

Prior to the funeral I met with some relatives who became displaced due to the war that live in that city. With them we remembered the cruelty of war and the family members that we’ve lost. Wilmar had told one of them a few days prior that he knew that men had reached Bajira from Riosucio looking for him. For this reason he felt fear. He remained locked inside his mother in law’s house. But on the 19th he left to cover the basic necessities his small daughter needed due to health problems. At the moment his mother in law left is when the four men came to the store and wounded hi with a machete. Some neighbors informed his mother in law but by the time she got there Wilmar was unconscious on the floor. She and the neighbors immediately lifted him into a car with the purpose of taking him to Apartado hospital. He died on the way to the hospital due to the severity of his wounds.

Wilmar was born in Riosucio in 1995. A year later due to military and paramilitary operation, Operation Genesis, that took place in that municipality I had to flee the area to save my life. Operation Genesis marked my life forever. It distanced me from Wilmar, mi parents, brothers and other relatives. It led me to live in the United States for the past 14 years. Despite this I am back in my country with constant death threats and risks due to my job. The lives of riosuceños also changed. According to reports more than 20,000 were forced to flee that municipality to different parts of the country in 1996 and 1997 in order to save their lives. They remain dispersed and under their own destiny while they dream of returning someday. Those that live in Turbo say that there are no security conditions and guarantees from the State to guarantee their returns. As displaced they do not receive any economic assistance and live off of whatever they can find.

The pain of the riosuceño is deep because of the historic poverty, abandonment of the state and for the armed actors’ control of the civilian population. War was utilized to impose an extractive economic model that was not consulted with them. This model has altered the traditional economy and culture of the ethnic groups adn rural farmers. It has destroyed its comunal leadership and created a dynamic of subjegation, fear, death and terror. Riosucio is the cradel of Maderas del Atrato, Pizano S.A, Maderas del Darién and other companies. The later remains in the region dedicated to extracting forest species like the Cativa, which is at risk of extinction. They benefit from forestry concessions and are protected by armed groups. Paramilitaries arrived in Riosucio in 1996 pushed by the 17th Brigade of the Army under the command of General Rito Alejo del Rio and under the approval of Alvaro Uribe Velez, the then Governor of Antioquia. Their purpose was to protect that company from threats that according to them were present after the ajudication of collective titles to the black and indigenous communities. These rights are recognized under the Political Constitution of Colombia, law 70 and 1993 and indigenous legislation.

The paramilitaries in association with the companies took over the territories of the communities in the region. During the Uribe government the companies received financial credits to cultivate oil palm (African palm). Today the communities report that during past years there is a significant increase of public forces in the region. Yet the paramilitaries transit freely without any control by the military who could stop their criminal actions. At the beginning of this year, it was denounced that at least 1,000 armed men who form part of the paramilitary structure of the gaitanistas. Under this reality there are few civilian deaths denounced. When they are it’s done by persons who are not inhabitants of the zones. Under this world of impunity Wilmar’s family lives which is why they do not want to legally denounce the situation. This repeats itself in many other families.

“The war has been and will continue to be painful for fathers and mothers, for poor families that have no other option but to live in the middle of it. Their children are either victims or victimizers. In the meantime millions of Colombians work tirelessly for it to end. Others persist in their intentions to maintain alive as a way to protect their political and economic interests without this pain affecing their lives in any way.”

We live in times when the country seeks peace to get out of the nightmare of war and pain. Millions of us dream with a better country capable of overcoming fear to get to the truth. Truth and justice are more powerful than terror and impunity. The peace dialogue between the government and the insurgents should take us to that country of tranquility and respect. But most of all a country where victims find justice to find out the truth. I am resistant of losing hope, I will always follow that path despite its adversities.

What do I ask for? Justice is clarifying the truth about the crime committed against Wilmar. Security measures are needed to guarantee that his mother and relatives, my relatives do not remain at risk. For this it is necessary that the authorities including police and army cut their criminal relationships with the paramilitaries and that justice authorities guarantee that justice for victims is guaranteed. This would facilitate victims of human rights violations from coming forward and facilitate their clarification of the facts.

To everyone that asks how they can help, they can do so by helping to solicit the authorities for results in efficient and swift investigations. I call on the competent authorities so they take investigative actions to clarify the facts that led to Wilmar’s death and the other deaths. Relatives informed me that Wilmar’s principal aggressor was wounded. Wilmar wounded him when he was defending himself. This information has not been totally corroborated by the Inspector General. The act of confirming this would be a step towards finding the full truth.

Last week with a prominent group of afro, indigenous and rural farmers’ leaders, I met with President Juan Manuel Santos. There he stated: “victims should always be assured that I am not going to fail tem with the peace accord.” Those words remain in my heart and mind. I add that we the victims are not going to defraud the President and the guerillas in their commitment for peace in Colombia. Wilmar will give me strength to continue to dream in this path.

From Afrodes we work convinced that we the victims deserve a country without war in order to have a more just society. We teach young victims to not respond with the same pain but to give their love to art and culture, to learn about their rights and appropriate them. Those who only live in war in order to maintain their power, maintain innocent youths who exert terror and death. They should think that they are also fathers and that the same as their children those who assassinate have fathers and children.

Bogotá, Octubre 27 de 2016

Marino Córdoba B.
Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados-AFRODES cordoba.afrodes@gmail.com

Monday, October 31, 2016

Comunicado de Acción Permanente por la Paz sobre el Plebiscito en Colombia

El 2 de octubre, por un margen muy pequeño, la mayoría de los colombianos y colombianas que participaron en un plebiscito para ratificar los recién firmados acuerdos de paz, votaron “NO.” El plebiscito hubiera hecho que fuera legalmente vinculante el acuerdo entre las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) y el Estado colombiano. Durante este momento de incertidumbre sobre el futuro de esta iniciativa de paz que ha sido apoyado internacionalmente, Acción Permanente por la Paz celebra el trabajo de nuestros compañeros y compañeras acompañados en terreno, los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y los miembros de los movimientos sociales, personas que muchas veces han trabajado toda la vida para construir paz en sus comunidades e imaginar una Colombia nueva. Un análisis sobre el voto esclarece que muchas de las regiones más golpeadas por el conflicto armado votaron en una manera decisiva por el “SI” en los acuerdos de paz. Son regiones donde trabajan y viven nuestros compañeros y compañeras acompañados.
Mientras el resultado del plebiscito ha generado cierta incertidumbre sobre el proceso de paz en Colombia, no cabe duda que éste es un momento crucial para que la comunidad internacional sea solidaria con los colombianos y colombianas que anhelan el fin definitivo del conflicto armado interno. Necesitamos apoyar sus esfuerzos para construir una paz verdadera con justicia socio-ambiental.
Desde que Acción Permanente por la Paz abrió la oficina en el año 2000, apoyando a nuestros compañeros y compañeras en terreno durante los días más oscuros de la ayuda militar patrocinada por EE.UU. bajo el Plan Colombia, hemos acompañado y hemos estado en solidaridad con los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y los movimientos sociales. Estos defensores y defensoras siempre han abogado por una salida negociada al conflicto armado en Colombia mientras se enfrentaban con probabilidades de largo, estigmatización tremenda, muchas amenazas y violencia. Han hecho su trabajo, aunque no fuera popular tanto en Colombia como en Estados Unidos. Encontramos una esperanza inspiradora en los esfuerzos de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y de los movimientos sociales para desarrollar iniciativas de paz verdadera de la base en Colombia.
Recientemente, nuestro equipo entrevistó a Enrique Chimonja, un defensor de derechos humanos vinculado con la Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz, una organización acompañada por Acción Permanente por la Paz en varias regiones del país. Como una persona que ha vivido la desaparición forzada de su papa y que también ha sido desplazado forzadamente, Enrique tiene una perspectiva única sobre el papel del monitoreo y acompañamiento internacional. Defiende la importancia del apoyo internacional porque “hay una incertidumbre de qué va a pasar o cuáles son las garantías reales que el Estado colombiano va a ofrecer a quiénes en este momento han tomado la decisión de dejar las armas.”
Acción Permanente por la Paz está comprometida con su trabajo de acompañar a los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos como Enrique y monitorear el proceso de paz que sigue adelante. Creemos que el acompañamiento internacional sigue siendo esencial, especialmente porque la violencia contra los líderes y lideresas del movimiento por la defensa de los derechos humanos ha continuado durante toda la mesa de negociaciones y es probable que vaya a seguir aumentando en este momento de incertidumbre.
Aunque el proceso de paz entre el gobierno colombiano y las FARC ha sido un paso importante para adelante, hay otros grupos armados incluyendo la guerrilla del Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) y varios grupos paramilitares que siguen operando y representan una amenaza a la paz verdadera y sostenible en Colombia. Aunque el gobierno colombiano niega oficialmente la existencia de los paramilitares, eligiendo el nombre “bandas criminales” o grupos delincuentes, estos grupos paramilitares siguen atacando a las comunidades, especialmente en zonas del desarrollo que son estratégicamente e económicamente importantes como Buenaventura, e incluso han paralizado regiones en el país por varios días con paros armados. La desmovilización real de estos grupos paramilitares va a ser una clave para la seguridad de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos y sus esfuerzos para construir paz.
Expresamos también nuestra preocupación grave sobre el aumento proyectado de la inversión extranjera en Colombia. Aunque apoyamos iniciativas de desarrollo propuestas y lideradas por las propias comunidades en su territorio, hemos visto que tanto empresas internacionales, incluyendo algunas con base en Estados Unidos, como megaproyectos por el supuesto “desarrollo” en el territorio colombiano, siguen violando los derechos de las comunidades en terreno. Han sido acusados por sus vínculos con grupos paramilitares y constantemente violan los derechos laborales en un país con unos de los niveles más altos de violencia contra los sindicalistas. Como dice Enrique, “mientras se mantenga ese modelo neoliberal, privatizador, extractivo – que significa desplazamiento forzado, despojo territorial, daños ambientales y sociales a comunidades indígenas, afrodescendientes y campesinas – mientras ese modelo económico se mantenga, la paz va a demorar mucho más.”
Apoyamos el análisis de nuestros acompañados en el movimiento laboral, y creemos que el Plan de Acción Laboral (pasado en 2011 como precondición al Tratado de Libre Comercio entre EE.UU y Colombia) ha fracasado totalmente en cuanto a su capacidad para generar condiciones laborales aceptables y proteger a los y las sindicalistas, y requiere una reevaluación por el Congreso estadounidense y el ramo ejecutivo.
También estamos comprometidos con el monitoreo del Plan “Paz Colombia,” una ayuda de $450 millones de dólares que el Presidente Obama ha solicitado del Congreso para el año 2017. Estamos preocupados por la cantidad significativa de ayuda militar proyectada en el presupuesto para esta ayuda durante un momento cuando Colombia necesita dinero para la implementación de los acuerdos de paz. Creemos que ahora es el momento para acabar con la ayuda militar al gobierno colombiano y, en vez de la ayuda militar, mandar la ayuda a la sociedad civil colombiana para propósitos sociales e económicos. Creemos que la ayuda debe ser para los aspectos de los acuerdos de paz que defienden los derechos de las víctimas y las comunidades étnicas. El gobierno estadounidense también necesita animar al gobierno colombiano a sentarse con el ELN y desmovilizar los grupos paramilitares activos en varias regiones del país.
Como solicitado por nuestros acompañados en Colombia, nosotros como Acción Permanente por la Paz estamos comprometidos con mantener nuestra presencia en el país y seguir acompañando a los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos. Estamos comprometidos con cambiar las políticas estadounidenses que, año tras años, sólo han traído más guerra y más violencia a las comunidades. Estamos comprometidos con nuestros proyectos de desarrollar esfuerzos reales de solidaridad entre Estados Unidos y Colombia, promover la protección de los derechos humanos y laborales y trabajar por un mundo en el cual toda persona pueda llevar a cabo su proyecto de vida y de comunidad sin tener que ser sometida a la violencia.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

WFP Fact Sheet: The Armed Conflict and the Peace Process in Colombia

 Developed by the Witness for Peace Colombia team, October 2016.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Witness for Peace Statement on the Plebiscite Vote in Colombia

On October 2nd, in a very close vote, a majority of Colombians who participated in a plebiscite on the recently signed peace accords voted “NO”.  The plebiscite would have made the accords between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the Colombian state legally binding. At a moment of doubt about the future of this internationally-supported peace initiative, Witness for Peace applauds the tremendous work of our partners on the ground, human rights defenders and social movements, who have often spent their entire lives building peace in their communities and advocating for a new Colombia. An analysis of the vote makes it clear that most of the areas hit hardest by the armed conflict voted decisively for the peace accords, areas where our partners live and work.
While the outcome of the plebiscite creates some uncertainty about Colombia’s peace process, there is no doubt that this is a crucial time for the international community to stand with Colombians yearning for a definitive end to internal armed conflict. We need to support their efforts to build true peace with social and environmental justice.
Since Witness for Peace opened our Colombia office in 2000, supporting our partners on the ground through the darkest days of U.S.-sponsored military aid under Plan Colombia, we have accompanied and stood with human rights defenders and social movements. These advocates have constantly pushed for a negotiated solution to Colombia’s armed conflict, even as they bravely confronted long odds, tremendous stigmatization, threats, and violence. They did this even when it was not popular either in Colombia or in the United States. We find a tremendous amount of hope in human rights defenders’ and social movements’ efforts to develop real, grassroots level community peace initiatives in Colombia.
Recently, our team interviewed Enrique Chimonja, a human rights defender with the Interchurch Commission for Justice and Peace, an organization that Witness for Peace accompanies in various regions of the country. As someone whose father was disappeared and who was himself forcibly displaced, Enrique has a unique perspective on the role of international monitoring and accompaniment. He argues for the continued importance of international support “because there is uncertainty about what is going to happen or what the real guarantees are for those who have made the decision to lay down their weapons.”
Witness for Peace remains committed to accompanying human rights defenders such as Enrique and monitoring the peace process moving forward. We believe that continued international accompaniment is vital, as violence against movement leaders and human rights advocates has continued throughout the peace negotiations and is likely to increase in this period of uncertainty.
Although the peace process between the Colombian government and the FARC has been an important step forward, other armed groups including the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group and a number of paramilitary groups remain active and a threat to real, sustainable peace in Colombia.  Although the Colombian government officially denies the existence of paramilitaries, choosing to call them “criminal bands” or delinquent groups, these paramilitary groups continue to attack communities--especially in strategic economic development zones such as Buenaventura--and have even paralyzed regions in the country for several days with armed strikes. The real dismantling of paramilitary groups will be key for the safety of human rights defenders and their peacebuilding efforts.
We also express our grave concern about the projected increase in international investment in Colombia. While we support inclusive development initiatives proposed and led by communities, we have seen that international companies, including some based in the U.S., as well as “development” megaprojects throughout Colombian territory, consistently violate the rights of communities on the ground. They have been accused of working with right-wing paramilitary groups, and consistently violate labor rights in a country with some of the highest levels of violence against trade unionists. As Enrique says, “While this neoliberal, privatizing, extractive model is maintained - which translates into forced displacement, land eviction, environmental and social damage to indigenous, Afro-Colombian and campesino communities - while this model is maintained, peace will take a lot longer.”
Supporting the analysis of our partners from the labor movement, we believe that the Labor Action Plan (passed in 2011 as a precursor to the 2012 U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement) has completely failed to generate acceptable working conditions or effectively protect trade unionists and must be re-examined by the U.S. Congress and executive branch.
We are also committed to monitoring Plan “Peace Colombia”, a $450 million dollar aid package that President Obama has requested from Congress for 2017.  We are disturbed by the significant amount of military aid that is projected to be included in this aid package at a time when Colombia needs money for the implementation of its peace accords.  We believe that now is the time to completely end military aid to the Colombian government and rather send aid to Colombian civil society to be used for social and economic purposes. We believe that aid should be principally directed to the aspects of the peace accords that defend victims’ rights and ethnic communities. The US government also needs to be actively encouraging the Colombian government to engage in talks with the ELN and dismantle remaining paramilitary groups active in various regions of the country.

As requested by our partners in Colombia, we as Witness for Peace remain committed to maintaining our presence in country and continuing protective accompaniment of human rights defenders. We are committed to changing U.S. policies that for years have only brought more war and violence to communities. We are committed to developing real solidarity efforts between the United States and Colombia, promoting the protection of human and labor rights and working for a world in which each and every person can carry out their life and community projects without being subject to violence.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Padre Guadalupe Presente!

On the approximate anniversary of the disappearance of US-born Jesuit priest James Carney in Honduras, civil society organizations sustain the memories of the disappeared.

On Saturday, September 17th, the Witness for Peace Honduras International Team attended an event in the town of El Progreso commemorating the 1983 disappearance of Father James Carney, a Jesuit priest better known locally as Padre Guadalupe. The event was co-hosted by the Equipo Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC, or the Reflection, Investigation and Communication Team in English), a Jesuit social justice organization dedicated to intensive research projects, and Radio Progreso. Speakers included Padre Ismael Moreno, director of Radio Progreso and ERIC, and Berta Oliva, the director of COFADEH (The Committee of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras).

Padre Guadalupe and the Agrarian Struggle: Permanent Effect

The exact date of Padre Guadalupe’s death is not known, but the commemorations are held around September 16th every year to approximate the day of his murder. Thirty-three years after his death, the facts surrounding it are still shrouded in official secrecy. What we do know is that, during his time in Honduras, the Chicago-born Padre Guadalupe was increasingly radicalized and, by extension, increasingly viewed as an enemy of the state, leading to his exile without trial in 1979. He re-entered the country as an unarmed chaplain for a guerrilla unit, and was disappeared shortly thereafter, with the most likely outcome being execution by Honduran state security forces.

Padre Guadalupe’s legacy in Honduras is profound - one local community named itself after him, and his passionate dedication to social justice through faith reverberates in the Honduran left to this day. His autobiography, available for free download in English and Spanish at the link above, is a must-read for anyone interested in social justice, revolutionary movements, or the history of Honduras.

The event, while focused on Padre Guadalupe, also served as a reminder that his death, while unthinkably tragic, was not unique - COFADEH has documented the cases of more than 200 disappeared in Honduras over the course of decades, and in spite of changing governments and constitutions. In the popular imagination, disappearances are more commonly associated with the right-wing military regimes of Chile and Argentina, but as COFADEH shows, Honduras has its own tragic tradition of disappearances, beginning in the 1970s and continuing until the years following the 2009 coup.

The singular tragedy of disappearances is highlighted by the approximate anniversary that commemorates Padre Guadalupe’s. It is the lack of knowing - for the families of the disappeared, especially, and for the community and country at large - that compounds the tragedy of a presumed execution. It is families who do not have an exact date to put on headstones, who do not have remains to bury, who do not have even the cold comfort of knowing when, where, and how their loved ones died (or whether they died at all) that makes disappearances such a profoundly and deeply tragic crime. And beyond this, the lack of knowledge in the forensic sense lends itself to official deniability that only decades of deeply intensive investigations can undo. In a country where impunity for crimes committed in broad daylight reigns as the norm, the crimes buried in a shroud of darkness take on an ominousness nearly impossible to describe.

The Future Is In Our Hands

But at the event, the few hundred attendees stood in stark and moving resistance. During Berta Oliva’s speech, she started a call-and-response with, “Padre Guadalupe, presente!” Padre Guadalupe is here. She built to a crescendo, saying the names of the disappeared, with the crowd affirming their presence. “Presente! Presente! Presente!”

As long as people like Oliva and Padre Melo, and organizations like ERIC, Radio Progreso, and COFADEH, continue to speak the names of the disappeared, and to investigate the causes and dates and times of their deaths, US-trained and funded Honduran security forces can never truly disappear them. As the crowd affirmed, through their words and through the unbelievable courage of their very presence in a country where protests are increasingly criminalized, the disappeared are, through their works, their deeds, and their memories, still here. We must say their names.

Bryan & Ryan

Monday, September 12, 2016

Los sonidos del silencio

Al conmemorarse los seis meses del asesinato de Berta Cáceres, los y las hondureñas exigen justicia.


En la mañana del 2 de septiembre, 2016, el equipo internacional de Acción Permanente por la Paz en Honduras subimos la escarpada escalera de La Gruta, una iglesia contemplando el pueblo rural de montaña de La Esperanza, Intibucá, donde hace seis meses Berta Cáceres fue asesinada en su recámara.

En medio de serias amenazas e intimidaciones, la organización que ella co-fundó, El Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), arregló una serie de eventos para conmemorar el aniversario de su asesinato. Lo más prominente, realizó una movilización por las calles de La Esperanza lo cual comenzó en los meros escalones donde centenares de líderes y enlutados habían congregado el día en que su comunidad la enterraron.

Cuando llegamos, vimos solamente un puñado de lo que se convertiría en cientos de manifestantes provenientes de diversas organizaciones de la sociedad civil de todo Honduras. Al principio, sin embargo, fuimos recibidos por una banda de marcha compuesta de alumnos y alumnas locales, acariciando una melodía que, flotando encima la percusión polirítmica, nos parecía vagamente conocida. Después un momentico, la identificamos como la inconfundible y pertinente gran éxito de Simon & Garfunkel, “El Sonido del Silencio.”

Aunque dudamos que la banda había tenido la intención, nos parecía una forma particularmente apropiada para iniciar una manifestación nacida de la frustración acumulada de un pueblo enfrentando una chusma de silencios: desde el sistema de justicia hondureña; a los arquitectos de la política exterior estadounidense; hasta las corporaciones transnacionales, las cuales muchas consideran cómplices en el asesinato de Cáceres.

“Después de seis meses del asesinato de Berta Cáceres,” gritaron los jóvenes integrantes del Paso a Paso, un programa socio-educativo con sede en San Pedro Sula para adolescentes en riesgo, “¡Exigimos justicia!”


Paso a Paso representó una de las varias organizaciones que participaron en la movilización. El COPINH también fue acompañado por otro socio asociado de Acción Permanente por la Paz, la Organización Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH), una organización de base de justicia social para la defensa de los derechos de las indígenas negras garífuna de la costa norte de Honduras. Sosteniendo una gran pancarta anunciando, “¡OFRANEH está presente!” el grupo desempeñó un papel eminente durante las acciones, reafirmando su compromiso solidario, que ya lleva décadas, con el COPINH.

Todos y todas de los representantes de una delegación considerable de Casa del Pueblo, un creciente movimiento populista sampedrano, llevaban camisetas blasonadas con la letra de una canción que reemplazaría el silencio en nuestra mente: “Berta no se murió, Berta se hizo millones, Berta soy Yo...!”


“¡Exigimos justicia!”

Después de las organizaciones antes mencionadas se habían reunido en La Gruta, los y las manifestantes iniciaron su marcha por las calles de La Esperanza. A ellos se unieron allí - y cada vez más a medida que la movilización se avanzaba - por los residentes locales y otras. En la parte delantera de la línea era una camioneta pick-up que lleva un micrófono y altavoces, a través del cual los miembros del COPINH levantaban consignas y canciones, así como reproducía clips - todavía profundos y oportunos - de los discursos de la bienamada Berta.
Un canto recurrente que resonó fuertemente con los manifestantes, así como los espectadores asumieron una llamada y respuesta:

“¿Están cansadas?”
“¿Tiene miedo?
“¡Adelante! ¡Adelante! ¡Que la lucha es constante!”

La marcha se detuvo por algún tiempo en frente del edificio municipal, donde los y las integrantes de la OFRANEH se reunieron en la entrada del predio y condujeron una ceremonia invocando a los espíritus de sus antepasados a través de los tambores y el humo. Los miembros de la policía y el ejército llegaron, pero la manifestación continuó con toda tranquilidad y sin incidentes, y el COPINH tuvo la oportunidad de compartir un extracto de Cáceres reconociendo que la policía rasos son los "hermanas y hermanos" del movimiento.

De allí, la marcha se vertía por el pasillo principal de la ciudad hacia las afueras de Intibucá parando en el palacio de justicia, donde los sonidos del silencio judicial fueron interrumpidos por los gritos para la justicia desde una multitud unificada. Las y los manifestantes se aglutinaron en frente del juzgado, algunas sentadas alrededor del perímetro, para escuchar los discursos de los y las representantes de las diversas organizaciones presentes. Llegaron las patrullas de la policía y el ejército, armadas y en espera de una confrontación que nunca arribó.

A pesar de que los altavoces representaban una amplia y diversa sección transversal de la sociedad civil hondureña, el mensaje resonaba bien claro: justicia para Berta Cáceres, el fin de la impunidad, el fin de la militarización, y el respeto de los derechos humanos y para quienes que los defienden.

“Entonces, adelante!”

Una pregunta recurrente durante las delegaciones en Honduras y los eventos continentales en los EEUU, se va de siguiente manera: ¿Qué es lo que yo puedo hacer para ayudar? Este fin de semana pasada, el COPINH y varios miembros de la comunidad de Río Blanco nos hablaban sobre la alta importancia del proyecto de ley HR 5474 "La ley Berta Cáceres de los derechos humanos en Honduras," que suspendería de forma inmediata la ayuda militar para el gobierno de Honduras hasta que, entre varios estipulaciones, se esclarezca el caso de Berta. Por lo tanto, sugerimos encarecidamente que llame a su representante ahora a instar a él o ella que co-patrocine la ley.

Una vez que haya hecho eso, suscríbete a este blog, síganos a Witness for Peace en Twitter y Facebook para actualizaciones oportunas, considere acompañarnos en una próxima delegación (o el patrocinio para alguien más), y considere convertirse en un/a donante sostenible para ayudarnos a mantener nuestra presencia en Honduras, y todos nuestros otros sitios.

Bryan y Ryan
Equipo Internacional de Honduras
Acción Permanente por la Paz

The Sounds of Silence
Commemorating the six-month anniversary of the assassination of Berta Cáceres, Hondurans demand justice.


On the morning of September 2nd, 2016 the Witness for Peace Honduras International Team climbed the steep staircase of La Gruta, the church overlooking the rural mountain town of La Esperanza, where six months earlier Berta Cáceres was assassinated in her home. Amidst ongoing threats and intimidations, the organization she co-founded, The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH). organized a series of events to commemorate the six month anniversary of her assassination. Most prominently, they held a march through the streets of La Esperanza which began on the very steps where hundreds of leaders and mourners gathered on the day her community buried her body.

When we arrived, we saw only a smattering of what would become hundreds of protesters from various civil society organizations throughout Honduras. We were greeted, however, by a marching band of local schoolchildren playing a melody that, piercing through polyrhythmic percussion, struck us as vaguely familiar. After a moment, we identified the melody as the unmistakable and apropos Simon and Garfunkel classic, “The Sound of Silence.”

While we doubt that the youth band intended it, it struck us a particularly appropriate way to commence a march born from the compounded frustration of a people confronted by a multitude of silences: from the Honduran justice system, U.S. foreign policymakers, and the transnational corporations which many view as complicit in Cáceres’ murder.

“After six months since the assassination of Berta Cáceres,” chanted young participants from Paso a Paso 1, a San Pedro Sula-based educational program for at-risk youth, “we demand justice!”


Paso a Paso represented one of many organizations present for the demonstration. COPINH was also joined by another Witness for Peace partner, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH,) the grassroots social justice organization defending the rights of the Black Indigenous Garífuna from the north coast of Honduras. Bearing a large banner declaring “OFRANEH is Present!” the group played a prominent role throughout the demonstration, reaffirming its decades-long solidarity with COPINH.   

The members of a substantial delegation from Casa del Pueblo2, a growing populist movement also based in San Pedro Sula, all wore t-shirts emblazoned with the lyrics of a song that would replace the sound of silence in our minds: “Berta hasn’t died, she’s become millions. Berta is me!”


“Exigimos justicia”3

After the above-mentioned organizations had gathered at La Gruta, the demonstrators began their march through the streets of La Esperanza. They were joined there - and increasingly as the march went on - by local residents and others. At the front of the line was a pick-up truck carrying a microphone and speakers, through which COPINH members led chants and songs, and played clips of Berta’s still profound and timely speeches.

One recurring chant that resonated strongly with the demonstrators as well as onlookers took on a call-and-response:

“Are you tired?”
“Are you afraid?
“And so…?”
“Onward! Onward! The struggle is ongoing!”

The march stopped for some time at the municipal building, where members of OFRANEH gathered at the building’s entrance and led a ceremony invoking the spirits of their ancestors through drums and smoke. Members of the police and army arrived, but the demonstration continued peacefully and without incident, and COPINH took the opportunity to play an excerpt of Cáceres acknowledging that the rank and file police are the “hermanas y hermanos4 of the movement.

From there, the march poured down the main corridor of town to the outskirts of Intibucá stopping at the local courthouse, where the sounds of judicial silence were disrupted by the crowd’s unified cries for justice. The protesters gathered in front of the building, some taking seats around the perimeter, to listen to speeches from representatives of the various organizations present. Police and military patrols pulled up, armed and awaiting a confrontation that never came. Although the speakers represented a broad and diverse cross-section of Honduran civil society, the message was clear throughout: justice for Berta Cáceres, an end to impunity, an end to militarization, and respect for human rights and those who defend them.

“Entonces, adelante!”5

A recurring question at Witness for Peace speaker’s events, and on Witness for Peace delegations, is “what can I do to help?” Some time during the events this past weekend was spent discussing the importance to COPINH and others of HR 5474, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act. We encourage you to call your representative now to ask him or her to co-sponsor the act.

Once you’ve done that, subscribe to this blog, follow Witness for Peace on Twitter and Facebook for updates, think about coming on an upcoming delegation (or sponsoring someone else’s visit), and consider donating to help us maintain our presence in Honduras, and all of our other sites.

Bryan and Ryan
Witness for Peace Honduras IT

1 "Step by Step" in English
2 "The People's House" in English
3 "We demand justice!" in English
4 "sisters and brothers" in English
5 "And so...onward!" in English