You are browsing the archive for social movements.

The Global Disability Rights Movement: Winning Power, Participation and Access

8:57 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

An Interview with Diana Samarasan, Disability Rights Fund
By Beverly Bell

Diana Samarasan is founder and director of the Disability Rights Fund, a path-breaking advocacy and grantmaking organization. The Fund’s motto is “Building community capacity to achieve the human rights of all persons with disabilities.”

“Nothing about us without us” is the global slogan for the disability rights movement. It means that nothing should be decided about people with disabilities without their presence, their participation, and their inclusion.

The disability rights movement has been evolving for a long time, but in the US, it really gained momentum from the civil rights movement. There were people with disabilities who used the tactics of the civil rights movement: sit-ins, protests, and marches to bring disability rights to everyone’s attention. Eventually, that led to the Americans with Disabilities Act [passed in 1990].

Globally, there is a relatively new international human rights treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [CRPD, passed in 2006]. The process of negotiating the treaty at the UN — only three years, short as treaties go — was unique. Never before, when treaties were drafted, had there been so many civil society representatives participating in the actual drafting of the treaty text. One-third of the seats in the working group that drafted the treaty were reserved for people with disabilities. That process brought together people with disabilities from around the world and from different impairment groups: deaf people, blind people, people with intellectual disabilities, people with psychosocial disabilities, people with physical disabilities, little people. For the first time, they had a platform and a target for joint advocacy.

Like any resource-poor movement, the disability rights movement prior to the convention was disjointed. There were blind people negotiating for their rights or services, there were people with physical disabilities negotiating for their rights or services. There was not a way to talk about rights across the spectrum of disability. Of course, people with disabilities are heterogeneous, and there are hierarchies in the movement just as in other movements. What the treaty has done is put a common language to the rights deprivations that people with disabilities face.

The development of an International Disability Caucus to negotiate the wording of the treaty helped to build a movement that is now international. Out of the Caucus evolved the International Disability Alliance [IDA], comprised of membership organizations like the World Blind Union, World Federation of the Deaf, World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, the International Federation of Hard of Hearing, and also regional networks of organizations, like the Arab Organization of People with Disabilities and the Latin American Disabled Person Organization. IDA now has a secretariat in New York and in Geneva, which negotiates not only with the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but all of the treaty bodies and the universal periodic review, and all of the UN development organizations for inclusion of people of disabilities. They help organizations at national levels present alternative reports to the UN, and be present during the review processes and during development negotiations. It’s really a huge step forward from where things were just a few years back.

Many innovations in human rights are in the treaty. The convention demands that all state parties to the Convention have legal protections for rights of persons with disabilities. Prior to the convention, among the member states of the UN, there were maybe 45 that had any national law that addressed people with disabilities. The Convention is also the only international human rights treaty that establishes national, in addition to international, monitoring mechanisms. This brings the treaty much closer to home, to people on the ground. Because they don’t have to only go to Geneva, they can go to national human rights institutions and national focal points on the treaty within their own countries. The more that people with disabilities know about the treaty, the more able they are to demand that their governments implement the rights within it.

Read the rest of this entry →

The Riches Of Nature V. Private Property: An Interview With Gerardo Cerdas

10:10 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Beverly Bell

Read Part 1 of this interview here.

Gerardo Cerdas is coordinator of the Latin American- and Caribbean-wide social movement Grito de los Excluidos, Cry of the Excluded. He is also a sociologist and researcher. A native of Costa Rica, Cerdas lives in Brazil.

Primeval forest surrounds a waterfall

Can humanity thrive by reclaiming the commons?

All the peoples of the world, without exception – except for modern culture – have always based their material culture on the concept that property is communally owned. Property – land, food, etc. – was always shared. This has been the case for tribal, nomadic societies and for other, more politically developed societies in different parts of the world. Private property, as something natural and inviolable, is a product of history, and as such can be stripped down to its roots, and more importantly, can be modified within a utopian vision integrated into our political practice.

I’m not romanticizing history; I’m not saying that everything was better in the past. Obviously, there was violence. Obviously, the accumulation of wealth has always existed in different forms, especially since the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years back. This accumulation gave certain people, like kings, priests, and warriors, more power and privilege than other members of society.

But the notion of one person or a group of persons having exclusive, sovereign rights to property: this did not exist. Property was collectively held. And the excessive ownership of this property by a group of people brought about the collapse of a society.

The concept of private property is something relatively new in human history, no more than five or six centuries in gestation. It’s been affirmed progressively during the violent expropriation of communal rights to the land and its fruits, first in Europe and later in areas that fell under its colonial dominion, from the Sixteenth Century until today. The industrial revolution and the [French] revolution of the Eighteenth Century helped concretize the exclusive and inalienable concept.

Our society needs to move towards a new understanding that our way of creating and destroying wealth needs to be based on other principles. Collective wealth, as in the concept of the global commons, belongs to all of us, not just to those of us who are alive today, nor even those who will come after us in the future, nor just to human beings. We need to do what we can to have a sustainable life, to have a quality, dignified life that also allows all other living beings to have a quality, dignified life, now and in the future.

The dominant, hegemonic civilization that exists today is an anthropocentric civilization. In this civilization, human beings, “man,” take center stage. We act as if the natural world were nothing more than a series of reserves that are there for us to exploit and use indiscriminately and irrationally. But the riches of nature are there for all of us.

Perhaps a metaphor that I could use to illustrate this is sunlight. The light that the sun gives off doesn’t belong to anyone. It can’t be captured, sold or bought, even though it can be stored in solar cells. The same goes for the air, and for the plants, and so on. Nothing belongs to anyone specifically; everything belongs to us all. Ancestral indigenous communities always understood this very clearly. There is a great book that has helped me to understand this, called The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi. It makes very clear how the development of capitalism and the notion of private property were imposed over the concept of the communal ownership of the earth, of nature.

Read the rest of this entry →

Raising Hope Across Borders: Transnational Social Movements & Power

9:07 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

An interview with Gerardo Cerdas by Beverly Bell

Gerardo Cerdas is coordinator of the Latin American- and Caribbean-wide social movement Grito de los Excluidos, Cry of the Excluded. He is also a sociologist and researcher. A native of Costa Rica, Cerdas lives in Brazil.

A protestor in an Anonymous mask and Brazilian flag bandana

Can international solidarity help the people find a voice?

Q: Why is it important to build transnational social movements?

Of course, there are specific issues and power structures in each country, but it’s important to overcome borders and make a transnational movement because the root causes of injustices, of exclusion, of the violence and discrimination we face are the same. They are systemic issues. They are global issues.

As social organizations and movements, we need to move forward beyond merely the national level and see the big picture. And to understand how the specific reality we live in is related to the reality of other countries and other communities. Inasmuch as we’re able to realize that, we’ll also be able to raise peoples’ hopes, to strengthen the struggles of each other and bring about transformation, on a much bigger scale than anything we could do at a merely national level.

It would do no good or very little good to bring about some great transformation in just one country if things remain exactly the same in other countries. Because that would just mean that exclusion, injustices and exploitation would keep taking place as usual in all those other places. And that would be a continuous threat to any progress that’s been made in one specific country. So we need to move beyond the local and national level. The sort of transformation we need can only be achieved if we unite our efforts and join forces together.

Q: So talk to us a little bit about Grito, please, and what it works on.

Grito de los Excluidos has this vision of connecting forces, connecting agendas, creating spaces for unity amidst the diversity of movements and peoples’ organizations across the continent. The organization was established in 1995 in Brazil, and we have several different focus areas. We’re working on everything related to the defense of the common good and of nature, on militarization, and on the criminalization of protest. We do a lot of political education. We also do a lot of work on the rights of migrants. For instance, we established the World Social Forum for Migration, along with other organizations, in 2004. This has been a very enriching experience for us; it’s allowed us to work with organizations from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Q: For folks in the US who know nothing about this, what does it mean to have a continental social movement?

When we say “continental,” we’re primarily talking about Latin America and the Caribbean. But we’re aware that there is social, economic, and cultural exclusion in the US, even though there isn’t a group of people who are part of Grito de los Excluidos there.

Q: Gerardo, when you said “raise peoples’ hopes,” what did you mean by that?

I meant to really believe that transformation is possible. We are in a very tight spot – we’re screwed, you could say. There’s a great deal of poverty, a lot of exclusion, a lot of violence, a lot of injustice in our countries. Working people and our natural resources are being terribly exploited. We’re up against a huge monster, an economic, political machine of monstrous proportions. It would be very easy for us to lose hope, to lose heart, to just give up the struggle entirely and say “To hell with it. There’s no way we can overcome these massive forces, so let’s just go about our lives and forget about it.”

But we know that if we’re here today, it’s because our grandparents, our ancestors, didn’t give up the fight. They raised our hopes.

And we know that, sooner or later, things will start to change. Not just for us, but for humanity as a whole. This system that we all live in may continue to dominate us for a couple more centuries — who knows how long — but we believe in the transformative power that humans possess. Things weren’t always how they are today and things won’t always be this way in the future. Things change, they transform. Empires are born and they eventually die. Political and economic systems eventually fade away.

For now, we’re the ones in the thick of it. But then it will be up to our children, including those who aren’t born yet, to continue in the struggle. And if we don’t raise their hopes, give them hope, then what will happen in the future? Are we all just going to give up this struggle? No, we have to keep fighting, even if we aren’t the ones who are able to see the dawn break through the darkness. Economic systems take a lot longer to be transformed [than our lifespans]. It might be our children’s children who see it come about – who knows? But it will happen. We have to keep struggling and wait.

Q: But the powers that be, like the United States, are enormous. Why do you believe that people with no money, without institutionalized power of any sort, can change all of this?

Read the rest of this entry →

Gender Equity For Rural Haitian Women: Kettly Alexandre & The Peasant Movement Of Papay

1:36 pm in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

Interviewed by Beverly Bell, Edited by Jessica Hsu

April 22, 2014

The Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) is one of the largest small-farmer associations in Haiti with 70,000 members, of whom close to half are women. MPP was founded in 1973 to improve the living conditions of small farmers while working for social and economic justice. Here, Kettly Alexandre of the MPP Women’s Committee speaks to advances made over 40 years for women’s rights, equity, and an end to violence.

Three smiling Haitian women

A “Peasant Movement” is making Haiti safer for women.

Even though the road has been long, we are seeing successes. We are leading a huge battle and hoping for victory. Our approach in the Women’s Committee is to meet problems head-on to promote social justice – combating violence against women, advocating for gender equity, providing scholarships for women, promoting reforestation, and working for personal health. Our programs allow women to lift up their heads, and give peasants a viable future.

One of our largest programs is a safe house for women who’ve been victims of violence. We’re the only group in the Central Plateau that offers women a supervised safe house, which also includes medical assistance or referrals, psychological support groups, and legal support. We have organizers in different zones, and if they hear of an instance of violence against a woman, they identify the victim and send them to our centers. All victims are welcome.

One of the most personally satisfying stories involves a woman who was being beaten by her husband. She told him if he didn’t stop, she was going to go tell MPP. He stopped immediately.

Although many people say the violence is on the rise in the Central Plateau, it is not true. What’s changing is that more and more people are standing up and denouncing the violence that has always been present. Not very long ago, it was hard to find people to speak out against this type of violence. Often even the peasant women who are the victims of rape, beatings, etc. feel ashamed [to say anything].

Prior to the earthquake, our legal support helped women in about 50 court cases. Following the earthquake, we’ve been able to help almost 300 cases, with the assistance of a Canadian organization that helped train more women to support victims of violence. Of those 300, there’ve been about 100 rulings handed down; close to 50 men found guilty, with the women being compensated; and many others awaiting judgment behind bars. These are victories for women. It’s encouraging.

We sponsor radio broadcasts concerning violence against women. We also hold workshops with leaders of the community, including houngans [vodou priests], pastors, and priests, to build awareness around the problem so they can in turn make others aware. We invite police officers, judges and lawyers. Their reactions are all over the place. Some say, “Aha! You’re the ones who are making women think they have all this power!” But for every negative reaction, we see more positive reactions. These efforts have made it easier for women to come to our offices, report and act.

But even though we’re working diligently and have taken big strides in making the population aware of violence against women and its consequences, the authorities need to be involved. If we really want to eradicate the problem, it needs to be dealt with on a national level.

We also do a lot of advocacy that involves both men and women, not just in the area of violence against women, but also for gender equity and women’s rights. There’s a lot of respect for women in MPP. We involve a lot of people in discussions around these issues.

One of our biggest successes is that peasant women are no longer ashamed to identify as peasant woman. We’re putting value in our culture and saying proudly that we are farmers and producers.

Read the rest of this entry →

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.

Read more from Other Worlds here, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Copyleft Other Worlds. You may reprint this article in whole or in part.  Please credit any text or original research you use to Tory Field and Beverly Bell, Other Worlds.

 

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.

Read the rest of this entry →

“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.

Read the rest of this entry →

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].

Read the rest of this entry →

We Don’t Have Life without Land: Holding Ground in Honduras

11:10 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell. Co-authored by Lauren Elliott

Part 25 of the Harvesting Justice series 

Honduras coffee plantation

Land reform is desperately needed in Honduras.

For the next three articles, we will pause to linger on Honduras. On vivid display there is the search for solutions to the problems addressed in this Harvesting Justice series: the piracy of land, indigenous territories, agriculture, food systems, and the global commons.

We also focus on Honduras because it is home to the highest homicide rate of any country in the world that is not at war. A lot of that violence is directed against communities trying to defend what is theirs. One of our colleagues there, Tomás Garcia, a leader of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was assassinated on July 15. Many more live under continual threat of death.

We at Other Worlds hold a great concern for Honduras for a third reason. We are based in New Orleans, a city with the one of the highest populations of Hondurans outside of Tegucigalpa. More than 80,000 Hondurans now reside in New Orleans in large part because of global policies, including those of the U.S. government, that have resulted in high levels of poverty, landlessness, and violence. Challenging the root causes of the migration, in the hopes that Hondurans may one day be able to live with peace and well-being in their homeland, is part of our definition of being good neighbors.

Bajo Aguán, a fertile agricultural region in the north of Honduras, might at first glance look like a bucolic paradise. In fact, it is part of a historic land struggle. It is also the site of a war – a strange war, undeclared and largely invisible, where only one side has arms.

Consuelo Castillo, a community organizer in Lempira, a land reform settlement in Bajo Aguán, said, “Our goal is for everyone who is part of the land occupations to have access to land. Land is our first mother. For us farmers, we don’t have life without land.”

“We’re fighting for our kids. We’ve started this movement for our children so they can have their basic needs met, live in dignity, and have access to education. The political assassinations have left some children without mothers, without brothers. The kids are the ones that are impacted the most.”

Consuelo and her neighbors live in homes made of blue tarps, surrounded by patches of corn and rows of African oil palms. The 3,000 residents of Lempira and five other settlements have been peacefully occupying land for three years. They insist the land has been taken from them, mainly by wealthy landowners and palm oil companies who are making money off the global craze for biofuel. In the Lempira settlement, the families have reclaimed the area from the country’s largest and most infamous landowner, Miguel Facussé.

In response to the occupation, Facussé and other land owners, together with palm oil companies and the backing of government forces and the World Bank, are waging their war. In Bajo Aguán alone, between January 2010 and February 2013, 89 small farmers – many of them also leaders in the land movement – have been murdered. Facussé and the others also use arrests and death threats among their arsenal of weapons to try to eject the settlers.

While the communities fight for legal right to the land, they also pursue their long-term vision. Lempira, for example, has created homes, turned the plantation into a working cooperative, laid the concrete foundation for a school, and created a collectively owned store. Residents are working towards food sovereignty, liberatory education systems, and collectively run media.

The History and the Stakes in Land Reform

Read the rest of this entry →

Inherit the Earth: Land Reform in Brazil

11:32 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell
Part 24 of the Harvesting Justice series

As a key determinant of who has power and who doesn’t, battles over land have been fought from time immemorial. One of the earliest may have been led by Adam and Eve as they attempted to reclaim their garden after having been evicted. Even before the Crusades, through centuries of colonization, to the oil- and water-motivated wars of the present day, land has long been the currency of religious, national, and imperial power.

In the 1950s and 1960s, struggles for land reform throughout the global South had some success. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, economic policies, development ideology, and military crackdowns quashed government-reform advances and the social movements that drove them.[1]

In recent years, the voice and visibility of movements opposing land grabs and displacement, and demanding land reform, are increasing. Though relatively little land has been redistributed, organized movements of small farmers, indigenous peoples, and landless people are developing in size, strength, and organization. They are uniting across borders to break the nexus between land, agriculture, power, and profit.

The Landless Workers Movement

Brazil is home to one of the most powerful land reform movements in the world. Its work has both changed the lives and fates of millions of people within the country, and inspired land and housing struggles everywhere, including here in the US.

Brazil’s land reform has roots in the 1800s, as a response to unequal land distribution that began with the arrival of European colonists more than 500 years ago. Brazil has one of the world’s highest levels of unequal land distribution. Vast properties over 1,000 hectares (2,472 acres) – many of them owned by multinational corporations – have taken over 46% of all farmland. Small and family farms are still producing much of the country’s food needs, only on less land and with more labor. Unable to compete with agribusiness, an estimated 90,000 of them disappear each year.[2]

The 1988 constitution gave Brazilians the right to challenge ownership of tracts over a certain size in two ways: by going after the title’s authenticity or by claiming that the land is not fulfilling its “social function.” Social function means that at least 80% of the land is used effectively, environmental and labor standards are respected, and both owners and workers benefit.

Many rural organizations form the land reform movement, with the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST by its Portuguese acronym) leading the way. The MST’s solution to ending the country’s poverty and hunger is to put agriculturally rich land back into the hands of small farmers. Since the mid-1980s, the MST has won title to 7.5 million hectares of land, on which 370,000 families now live.  An additional 150,000 families live in approximately 900 squatter communities on land that is being contested.

João Pedro Stédile, MST co-founder and co-coordinator, said, “Before, the line had been: ‘No need to worry, you’ll have your land in heaven.’ Now it was: ‘Since you’ve already got your land in heaven, let’s struggle for it here as well.’”

Redistribution of land works this way: The organization researches large holdings that meet the legal criteria for redistribution. When they find one, word goes out and interested families – often totaling up to 100, both landless people and unemployed city-dwellers – take up residence there. They wait it out in tents, on average for two to five years. Meanwhile, MST lawyers battle with the courts to gain collective title to the property. If the MST loses, those in the camp move to another plot of land and, together with the lawyers, start over. If the court orders the tract redistributed, settlers begin creating their collectively owned communities.

In the communities, MST members engage in collective agro-ecological farming and other cooperative ventures, like a honey business or a tractor repair shop. They run their own education systems, resolve conflicts using restorative justice, and develop their own media and cultural empowerment programs. They also run experiments in participatory democracy, equitable social relations, and self-governance.

Brazil’s land reform movement is united with other social movements in challenging the root cause of the problem, which resides in unequal distribution of power and resources. Without deep structural change and the creation of a more just and equitable nation, land distribution will simply revert to the status quo, as struggling farmers lose their land again.

Of course, much work remains, yet the MST shows that solutions to landlessness, homelessness, and social exclusion are available, even without an overhaul of the Brazilian state or political economy. The MST has created living, breathing examples of these solutions thousands of times over.

Women and Land Reform in Brazil

“Back in the early days, most women on land reform settlements didn’t have a vote. It wasn’t until after you’d been part of the movement that you realized you’d had an invisible role.” said Neneide Eliane, an organizer with Deciding to Win, one of many organizations dedicated to obtaining rights, benefits, and power for rural and landless women. In those days, some women were handed the age-old line that their problems would be resolved when rural workers as a whole won justice. Women in the MST reported that for a long time, the group was so focused on unity among its members that it ploughed under the need to specifically address gender.

An organized women’s movement evolved in Brazil in the 1970s, aiming not only for women’s rights but also for an end to the dictatorship. A decade later, a rural women’s movement was born to address gender inequity. In the MST, women formed a national women’s collective in 1995. They have pushed the organization to prioritize gender equality. “Gender” is now an official department of the MST, with a range of programs and policies. Of the leaders that are elected to coordinate each local, regional, and national committee, at least half must be women. Other goals include an end to gender-based violence, access to free birth control, promotion of women’s micro-enterprises and cooperatives, the establishment of childcare centers, and help for women in getting the social benefits they deserve from the state. Gender analysis is a formal part of the MST’s training.

In addition to their ascending integration and leadership into landless organizations, rural women have won legal right to land and social protections – on paper, at least. The 1988 constitution enshrined women’s ability to gain land rights and benefit from land reform directly, not as dependents of their husbands. The constitution also accorded women new labor rights, including unemployment and disability insurance, retirement benefits, and maternity leave.

In practice, today women still account for only a small percentage of all beneficiaries of land redistribution, and overall receive far less revenue than their male counterparts. Many women farmers receive no salary at all, or only a symbolic income.[2]

Rural women still have a long row to hoe. Yet their intensive mobilizing is winning them, slowly but surely, more land titles and greater benefits. They are also advancing toward more just distribution of labor, reduced violence by men, the right to contraception, and the right to education.

Speaking from her land reform settlement in the state of São Paulo, MST organizer Ilda Martines de Souza said, “Without firing a shot, we’ve brought a revolution.” Read the rest of this entry →