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Defending Indigenous Lands And Waters In Honduras: The Case Of Rio Blanco

12:41 pm in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Beverly Bell and Tory Field

Part 29 of the Harvesting Justice series.

On September 12, Berta Caceres, Tomás Gomez, and Aureliano Molina, leaders of the indigenous Lenca organization Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) must appear in court. Their charges? Usurpation of land, coercion, and causing more than $3 million in damages to DESA, a hydroelectric dam company. Berta, the general coordinator of COPINH and an internationally recognized social movement leader, is also facing separate charges of illegally carrying arms “to the danger of the internal security of Honduras.”

The Honduran-owned and foreign-financed company has been attempting to build a dam on the sacred Gualcarque River in the Lenca community of Rio Blanco. Community members have blockaded the road against the company, thwarting the dam’s construction, for over five months.

The charges brought against the three indigenous rights defenders are part of a strategy of physical, legal, and political suppression by the Honduran government and industries to break indigenous resistance to mining, damming, logging, and drilling. The exploitation of indigenous lands, and the riches upon them, are being imposed without the communities’ consent. This is in violation of the Honduran constitution and of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization which requires free, prior, and informed consent by indigenous peoples before anything can be built on, or taken from, their lands.

Indigenous communities that are part of COPINH alone have well over a dozen extraction concessions upon them. Dozens more are advancing throughout the country. All were approved by laws passed by an unconstitutional congress that was voted in under an illegal government that took power in a 2009 coup d’etat. The US government was firmly behind the coup.

Everywhere in Honduras and the Americas, indigenous territories have a bull’s eye upon them. They are exploited for their agriculture, water, forests, oil, gas, genetic information, biodiversity, and so-called intellectual property rights, otherwise known as indigenous knowledge. The riches of nature that they have carefully guarded are now subject to theft, privatization, and sale on the stock market. As the Chilean political scientist Sandra Huenchuán Navarro said, “Though indigenous people don’t know it, the most powerful determining factor of their destiny is the New York Stock Exchange.”[i]

Beyond plunder of their territories, the physical, legal, and political attacks on COPINH members and other indigenous peoples in Honduras have been increasing rapidly. Assassinations, kidnapping, machete slashing, arrests, and threats are weekly events in the communities which are resisting. Just yesterday, September 5, at 3:00 in the morning, police stormed the home of Desiderio Méndez and his family. They threatened Desiderio with torture and then took him away.

Yet the communities are not ceding. If anything, they have become more committed to defending their territories. María Santos Domínguez, a member of the Indigenous Council of Rio Blanco, explained, “As Lenca people, these are our lands. Our ancestors fought to defend this land for us. We also have children and grandchildren and are going to defend this land for them.”

For several years, the community has repeatedly rejected the dam project in town hall meetings and community assemblies, protested against it, and filed complaints with government agencies.

As one community member explained, “They say this is development. This is not development. This is for the company’s benefit, for their profits.”

As the company moved forward with the project, it destroyed fields of corn, beans, coffee, and bananas, as well as a solar plant that generated electricity for the community. It brought in machinery and built installations, offices, and housing. Then it arrived with the Chinese-owned SINOHYDRO, the largest dam company in the world. At the end of March, community members suddenly found signs on their lands declaring “Do Not Enter,” “Swimming Prohibited,” and “Caution, Area Under Construction.”

So several days later, on April 1, the people of Rio Blanco began physically blocking construction of the dam, and they have been blocking it ever since. Like the dam, the access road is in their ancestral territory, surrounded by the fields and lush forests that the Lenca have carefully stewarded for hundreds of years. Community members show up, day in and day out, in the rain, in the heat, with or without food, to defend their territory.

On May 17, the zone was militarized and soldiers began intimidating and threatening community members. The US-funded soldiers eat, sleep, and live at the dam company’s installations. Berta Caceres of COPINH noted that they “have turned it into a military base” as they serve the interests of the dam companies.

As COPINH leaders face prison time for their defense of Rio Blanco, one might ask: who should really be on trial in Rio Blanco? Who has really usurped the land and caused damages?

The community’s resistance continues, despite having been evicted several times, despite the continual violence, and despite the men in ski masks who lurked outside the homes of community leaders. As the struggle over control of Rio Blanco continues, please add your voice to the Lenca’s request for international support.

* Join a protest outside a Honduran embassy or consulate near you on September 10, an international day of action to demand that 1) the charges against Berta, Tomás, Aureliano, and all others defending their lands be dropped, 2) the dam concession in Rio Blanco be cancelled and the project stopped, 3) ancestral territories be respected, and 4) the violence against indigenous communities stop. Click here to see if there is an action in your town, and if not, consider planning one.

* Send an e-mail to the Honduran government urging them to stop the judicial persecution of COPINH and to US officials urging them to end military aid to the Battalion stationed in Rio Blanco.

* Call the Honduran authorities on September 10 and urge them to stop the criminalization of COPINH.

* Have your organization co-sponsor an ad in a prominent Honduran newspaper, to run on September 10 before the trial against the three COPINH leaders, demanding that the charges be dropped. Write info.otherworlds@gmail.com by Monday, September 9 to add your organization’s name. (Click here for the ad text.)

 

  1. Huenchuán Navarro, Sandra. “Territorial Impacts of Economic Globalization in Latin American and Caribbean Indigenous Territories.” Statement presented in the XXII Latin American Congress of Sociology of the Latin American Sociology Association (ALAS). University of Concepción, Concepción, Chile, 1999.

 

You can order Harvesting Justice and find action items, resources, and a popular education curriculum on the Harvesting Justice website. Harvesting Justice was created for the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, check out their work here.

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The Ancestral Values We Inherited: Protecting Indigenous Water, Land, and Culture in Mexico

10:25 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

The following is from an interview with Saúl Atanasio Roque Morales, a Xoxocotla indigenous man from the state of Morelos, Mexico. He is a member of the Council of Peoples and the Xoxocotla Drinking Water Association.

Moreles landscape

Indigenous people are fighting for their land in Mexico.

Within our indigenous community of Xoxocotla, we continue to hold the ancestral values we inherited. It never crosses our mind to leave them behind. Because in daily life we are always in contact with nature, with our lands, with our water, with our air. We live in harmony with nature because we don’t like the way that modernity is advancing, destroying our territory and our environment. We believe technological modernity is better named a death threat.

We still watch our children chase the butterflies and the birds. We see the harmony between the crops and the land. Above all, we respect our water and we continue to perform ceremonies that give thanks for the water.

There is a ceremony we do together with a group of neighboring peoples at a sacred place. In this ceremony, we predict what the coming season will be like in order to predict the harvest, to know if it will be good or if it’s going to be bad. After, the participants return to the community and share what they observed, joyfully dancing with music, to let the community know about the weather predictions and what the water will be like. It never crosses our mind to leave this tradition behind. On the contrary, we believe that we should keep instilling these values in our children.

And so we have potable water that comes from a spring 12 kilometers away. During the time of the government of Lázaro Cárdenas [1934-1940] the community participated, with pick and shovel, in a 12-kilometer excavation to bring water to the community. The water is very good and very clean. Since that time, we have been the ones that administer and control our water system, without having to be responsible to government authorities.

In more recent times since the 80’s, in the state of Morelos, they wanted to privatize the water. We were not in agreement with this. Together with other communities, we organized and went before the lower house of the state congress in order to protest these laws. We occupied the buildings and the politicians agreed to change the law. In the new law, they included our demand that indigenous peoples can control and administer their water.

But in the past few years, industrial and housing projects have been growing and multiplying, invading crop lands. Crop lands normally serve as a buffer for filtration during the rainy season.  They filter water and replenish aquifers that give life to our springs. We’re witnessing an increase in devastation and paving-over of lands and that inhibits normal water filtration. We attribute the lowering of water levels to these activities.

We learned that there were to be construction projects erected, including ones to build [more than 37,000] houses, close to our spring. There are also plans to build a golf course. Other companies are opening up [plant] nurseries. There’s another company that’s devastating a mountain called Montenegro to extract material to produce cement.

[In 2005] we started to speak out against the government’s actions, and they didn’t pay attention. We blockaded the roads, but the government didn’t respect the agreements that resulted from those blockades. For this reason we organized 13 communities to defend the springs. We didn’t get much attention, so we decided to block highways. We did it to communicate our problem, but we were met with repression and some people got wounded. The people also fought back: they made the police run, they destroyed a couple patrol cars, they took arms from the cops and because of this, some of our people were detained.

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“They Fear Us Because We’re Fearless”: Reclaiming Indigenous Lands and Strength in Honduras

10:37 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

“Honduras has been known for two things only: being a military base for the [contra] attacks on the Nicaraguan revolution, and Hurricane Mitch.” So said Berta Caceres, co-founder and general coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH by its Spanish acronym). COPINH is an organization of hundreds of communities of Lenca indigenous peoples and small farmers.

A member of the Lenca people

Members of the Lenca people & small farmers fight for control of land in Honduras.

The rest of the story, of the resistance of land reform and indigenous movements, what is at stake, and the source of much of the violence, are largely unknown in the US.

Multinational corporations are moving into Central America to exploit gold and other minerals, rivers, forests, and agricultural lands. One area of high interest in the corporate feeding frenzy is the indigenous Lenca region in the southwest of Honduras. The government has given outside businesses concessions to dam, drill, and cut, in violation of national law and international treaties. More corporations have simply moved in on their own.

The most pressing issue now affecting Lenca lands is a series of large hydroelectric dams which are already under construction. They are part of 41 dam concessions which may soon come under active exploitation. The concessions came thanks to a mining law passed in January 2013 by a national congress that was voted in under an illegal government that took power in the 2009 coup d’etat. The law allows for open pit mining as well as mining in populated areas, which opens the door for large-scale displacement. It limits access to public information, and allows consultation with affected populations only after the concession has been granted.

COPINH is at the forefront of a life-or-death movement – literally – for respect for indigenous territories, meaning the right of the Lenca and others to control their ancestral lands, riches of nature, culture, and identity. COPINH is also fighting for the democracy and civil rights necessary for their members to protect what is theirs, and for greater justice overall.

COPINH is now in its fifth month of an occupation which has stalled construction of one hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River that runs through Lenca Territory in Rio Blanco.

With the backing of the oligarchy and other elite, the government has struck hard against the group. On July 15, soldiers assassinated Tomas García, one of COPINH’s leaders. Berta Caceres and two other members, Aureliano Molina and Tomas Gomez, are being brought to court under charges of being “intellectual authors” of the anti-dam movement. At a next hearing, set for September 12, a judge will decide if there is evidence to support the charges or if they should be dismissed. At their last hearing earlier in August, the three were given alternative measures to imprisonment while awaiting the next hearing. The measures including prohibiting them from going to the site of the supposed crime – the dam occupation – and requiring them to present themselves and sign in every two weeks.

For years, government forces and corporate-paid death squads have been imprisoning, threatening, terrorizing, following, and falsely accusing COPINH members and other social movement activists. The government has even used basic social services as a tool of expropriation, manipulating access to health care and education to pressure indigenous communities to allow extraction on their lands.

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Without Our Land, We Cease To Be a People: Defending Indigenous Territory and Resources in Honduras

7:45 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Flag of the Garifuna

Miriam Miranda is a leader of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), which works with the 46 communities of the Afro-indigenous Garífuna of Honduras, to defend their territories, natural resources, identity, and rights. Miriam’s narrative below is from an interview with Beverly Bell in Washington, D.C.

We live on the Atlantic coast of Honduras. We are a mix of African descendants and indigenous peoples who came about more than 200 years ago in the island of San Vicente. Without our land, we cease to be a people. Our lands and identities are critical to our lives, our waters, our forests, our culture, our global commons, our territories. For us, the struggle for our territories and our commons and our natural resources is of primary importance to preserve ourselves as a people.

The people, for their way of being, were declared part of the Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2004. We don’t know what that means exactly, but we suppose it implies that the state must take action to protect and preserve the Garífuna people’s identity.

What we Garífuna face is largely the same things faced by people all over Latin America, and in fact the world. Also, the problems of the South are not a problem just for us, but of all of us and the whole planet.

If you map out the conflicts that are threatening our country, you’ll see they reflect exactly where transnational capital is trying to take more resources from indigenous peoples. Maybe you believe that president Mel Zelaya was ousted in a coup d’état [in 2009] because he was a leftist. No. It was because [those with wealth] wanted to take land and resources, which they are now doing. Look at the search for so-called alternatives to oil – through mining, the mega-dams, the biofuels, the production of African palm oil. All these resources are being taken from indigenous areas. There is more pressure on us every day for our territories, our resources, and our global commons.

In Honduras, they’re taking land that we were using to grow beans and rice so they can grow African palm for bio-fuel. The intention is to stop the production of food that humans need so they can produce fuel that cars need. The more food scarcity that exists, the more expensive food will become. The mono-cultivation of some of these crops [for bio-fuel] requires thousands of millions of acres of land. Food sovereignty is being threatened everywhere.

Also we have a problem that is rarely spoken of: narco-trafficking. The Atlantic Coast of Honduras is the main trafficking route. A study showed that almost 90% of the drugs that are going to the North pass through Honduras. We’re exactly in the way of the trafficking and we’re so vulnerable. Honduras has one of the highest levels of crime and violence [per capita] of any country that is not actually at war. We have to fight not only for the permanence of our community, but also to not be kidnapped by traffickers.

Another of our main challenges is the tourism industry. We live almost on the sea, right on the beach. It’s a blessing but recently it’s also become a curse, because of course all those with power want to have a place on the beach. The Honduran government has started on some tourism mega-projects. The displacement of communities and the loss of cultures that come with the development of tourism [is increasing].

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BIRTHING JUSTICE: Without Firing an Arm, We Created a Revolution

10:52 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Beverly Bell
April 6, 2012

Welcome to Birthing Justice: Women Creating Economic and Social Alternatives. The series features twelve alternative social and economic models which expand the possibilities for justice, equity, and strong community. They are based in the US, Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Some are national-level, some global-level. Some are propelled by people’s movements, some forced or adopted into government policy. In first-hand narratives, women describe their role in having created the models and show us their unique perspectives and challenges in the movements.

Below is the second narrative of
Birthing Justice.


Without Firing an Arm, We Created a Revolution

“We take the land from one hand and put it in the hands of a thousand…landowners would only use this land for cattle, and now we produce beans, milk, food, for the entire population.” – Ilda Martines de Souza

Long before the Crusades, through centuries of colonization, to the oil-motivated wars of the present day, land has been the currency of religious, imperial, and national power. Farmers have been made landless by economic and political forces within their own countries, as well as those from far reaches of the globe. Spikes in food prices over recent years have triggered the latest wave of international land grabs, with investment firms snapping up agricultural land, hoping to turn a profit for their investors in the next food crisis. An estimated 50 to 80 million hectares of land have been a part of international investment deals in recent years—approximately two-thirds of them in Africa.

Land and development experts Shalmali Guttal, Maria Luisa Mendonça, and Peter Rosset write, “Fair and equitable access to land and other resources like water, forests, and biodiversity is perhaps the most fundamental prerequisite for… a decent standard of living and… ecologically sustainable management of natural resources.” Today, land access remains largely unfair and inequitable. Never has such a high percentage of the world’s population been displaced from their indigenous or ancestral lands, left without land, a secure home, or the ability to feed themselves.

As the consolidation of land as a private resource for profit-making is global, so is the movement to relate to land in an alternative way, one which meets everyone’s needs. Landless, peasant, family, and indigenous farmers worldwide have long been engaged in land reclamation and land reform movements—either seizing unfairly owned or consolidated land or winning laws mandating redistribution. (The same concepts often underlie the struggle for fair housing.) Examples range from Americans fighting foreclosures as a part of “Occupy Our Homes” to Indians lying down in rows to block corporate tractors encroaching on their villages, Haitians still living in tents since the earthquake two years ago marching for their right to housing, and indigenous Hondurans reclaiming their territories in the face of violent repression.

Newer movements have much to learn from groups that have been mobilizing for decades, such as the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST by its Portuguese acronym) in Brazil, a country with one of the highest levels of land and income inequality in the world. The MST’s response to poverty, hunger, and landlessness is to put fallow land back into production in the hands of small farmers. It does this by organizing landless, unemployed, and slum-dwelling people to gain legal title to the nation’s vast unused land. Roughly one and a half to two million MST members have created about 2,000 cooperatively-run, democratic communities on tens of thousands of reclaimed acres. On them, they have established their own models of self-government, restorative justice, self-produced media, ecologically sound agriculture, collective production, law, social relations, cultural expression, and education. Read the rest of this entry →

BIRTHING JUSTICE: Women in Peace-Building: Peace amidst War for Resource Control

8:51 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

Emem Okon Speakling at the True Cost of Chevron Press Conference (photo: rainforestactionnetwork, flickr)

Emem Okon Speakling at the True Cost of Chevron Press Conference (photo: rainforestactionnetwork, flickr)

Welcome to Birthing Justice: Women Creating Economic and Social Alternatives. The series features twelve alternative social and economic models which expand the possibilities for justice, equity, and strong community. They are based in the US, Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Some are national-level, some global-level. Some are propelled by people’s movements, some forced or adopted into government policy. In first-hand narratives, women describe their role in having created the models and show us their unique perspectives and challenges in the movements.

Below is the first narrative of Birthing Justice.

Women in Peace-Building: Peace amidst War for Resource Control

Accelerating commodification of water, oil, land, and nature over the past few decades has resulted in a global power play, wresting precious resources away from communities that have lived sustainably with them for centuries. Oil is one example where the domination of multinational companies has led to mass displacement, seeded social conflict, and fundamentally disrupted the relationship between indigenous communities and their environment.

Groups the world over are striving to defend an alternate understanding of the earth and how we should treat it, however. They view entities such as oil as part of the global commons – the set of natural resources, basic services, public spaces, and cultural traditions that should be part of a public trust to be enjoyed by all – rather than as commodities to be bought and sold. Another way to conceive of these assets is through the Spanish term for them: el bien común, the common good. Behind the commons is the fundamental idea that life, information, human relationships, popular culture, and the earth’s riches are sacrosanct and not for sale.

Everywhere, indigenous peoples are claiming their autonomy over their territories, which includes the right to self-government and control of everything over, on, and in their lands. At this moment, some 30,000 indigenous peoples from the Ecuadorian Amazon are embroiled in legal battles with Chevron for contaminating their water and destroying the health of entire villages. This past January, a broad-based coalition of US and Canadian groups stalled the Keystone X-L pipeline project and are working to uphold this decision. And for decades, indigenous people everywhere have been defending their lands and the earth’s resources in epic battles.

On top of this, communities are working to repair the divisions that corporate and governmental repression has wrought. Women have been central to these efforts. Throughout the world, women are working to make peace in areas torn by war and resource conflicts. Sometimes this means creating a peace zone, a space of safety in the midst of violence. In other places, women are at the forefront of efforts to end national or regional conflicts.

Emem Okon is part of one such endeavor in the Niger Delta, where oil companies and government have created a climate of violence and fear. We’re excited to kick off the Birthing Justice series with Emem’s story, and we hope it will inspire you to be a part of the movement to honor, share, and celebrate the earth’s resources. Read the rest of this entry →