Last night the International Human Rights Gathering here in Tocoa Honduras was officially launched with a lively cultural evening with music, motivational speeches and dancing. We had folk musicians and dancers take to the stage. But my favourite was always going to be the Garifuna drums and dancing. There’s just no denying it…Africa just owns planetary rhythm, and their more recent descendents have the fab physique to pull off those ass-shaking manouvers!
But all was not rosy. When ex-President Zelaya walked into the the auditorium last night there was definitely a mixed reaction from folk. Many of the anti-coup organisations support their x-president and his party, but some definitely don’t. You gotta remember that Zelaya used to belong to a right-wing party so it’s not so long ago that his ways of thinking were quite different. But it also serves to highlight just how radically right the right-wingers here are, with ample support from their pals up north in Washinton. Just an inkling of lefty-ness from Zelaya was enough to merit a swift coup in 2009. He took to the stage and gave a speech in solidarity with all the communities that have been struggling for their lands and against repression. I actually missed that part, so I can’t say exactly how well received it was.
This morning things kicked off with a homage paid to the victims of the repression with many family members coming up on stage with large printed photos of their murdered loved ones. They were mostly men murdered, which burdens so many women left behind to mourn them, and raise families alone. I took some photos and then stopped. Seeing the tears in their eyes, brought tears to mine and I just wanted to stand their in silence in sympathy with their terrible losses, some of them being children holding placards. I couldn’t be a proper photographer I don’t think….despite the power of an image to bring the world’s attention to something, it doesn’t always feel right to take a photo or video….not sure. I suppose just remembering not to loose your humanity along the way is important.
With over 600 present delegates from all over the world including El Salvador, Argentina, Germany, the USA, Mexico, Australia, Brazil and others, we gathered this morning in the main auditorium to hear some openning speeches from international and national participants. One of speakers was Camille Charlmers a Haitian activist, economist and intelectual, from the organisation PAPDA-Haiti (Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif), and from the coordinating committee of the COMPA (Foundation for the Convergence of Movements of American Peoples), Jubilee South and other continental movements. Camille gave us a brief synopsis of the general world crisis we’re in from the obvious world recession, to climate change, peak oil, and food crises, all pointing to one big fat blatant fact….that capitalism is not only in crisis, but all of humanity is facing the biggest challenges of this era. And as capitalism bases itself on destruction, then it cannot offer any solutions from within its framework. He warned us not to buy into any green capitalism false solutions, but to create our own alternatives and spaces of hope.
Camille spoke passionately about Haiti’s solidarity with the people of Honduras, as they too have suffered two coups over the past number of decades and are still fighting for their basic human rights. With many new US military bases all over the Caribbean, it’s easy to see that the US has no immediate plans to allow these peoples to live peacefully without their interference to help out the local oligarchies to take over the maximum number of lands. He warned that the G20, in trying to bring in the new emerging leading economies like Brazil into the big boy’s club, will change nothing because they are still pushing the same neoliberal accords which aren’t really accords but more imposed upon the poorer countries and peoples.
I liked Camillle’s suggestions to move forward towards building the world we want ,citing practical examples to look into. He applauded the Ecuadorian process towards carrying out full environmental audits of ecological debt owed to that country for damages incurred by oil companies etc, as well as them being the first country in the world to champion the concept of “Leave it in the Ground” in terms of fossil fuels, arguing that they should be paid to not pollute and conserve the Amazon. Another example he mentioned was participating and studying “El Banco del Sur” (Bank of the South), an alternative global bank managed by Latin American countries which is trying out a different basis of operation to the World Bank and IMF.
Next Miriam Miranda, National Director of the Garifuna people told us about the national situation in Honduras at the moment. She spoke about the latest crazy plans to try out ‘charter cities’ in Honduras which I explain below. She also spoke of the high levels of corruption in the national media and in the police as well, making it impossible to even report any crimes for fear of it getting back to the perpatrators.
Miranda also spoke about local farmers in the Aguán region, that are being murdered, tortured and forcefully evicted from their lands, which large land owners want to plant with African Palm (among other things) to sell palm oil to the developed world so the ‘white folk’ can pretend to be eco-saints and preach to those in the developing world about how they should be saving the planet, and solve the problems that the first world created. But it’s not a new struggle for these farmers. These lands are some of the most fertile lands in Central America and have been highly coveted for over 200 years by various foreign companies, notoriously the fruit companies, such as Chiquita.
It’s definitely giving me a much better perspective of how all these ridiculous supposed eco-solutions proposed by the technologified First World just don’t work, and in principle are completely unjust from their inception. The first thing is that it’s still focused on the developing world picking up the pieces of the developed world which doesn’t want to stop consuming. Very much like Irish banks saying “Woops, shit, we fucked up…eh, would you mind paying our huge debts small tax-payers? “. And just like people are starting to speak out in Ireland and Europe saying “How dumb do you think I am?”, people here have been saying it for decades…well, in terms of general exploitation of an entire continent, some would argue it’s been over 500 years.
But the dastardly neoliberal project doesn’t end with biofuels. Why aim only to pillage the land when you can have it all? The craziest thing I’ve heard in ages has been the idea of Charter Cities (‘Ciudades Modelos’ in Spanish), or “How to live the American Dream in Honduras” as one article I read, referred to them. Once again, a third world country could fall prey to being the latest guinea pig to a whole new level of Western capitalist imperialism. In a nutshell, massive expanses of territory within Honduras would function like independent territories, where they can create their own labour laws (no workers rights Im sure!), have their own security forces and courts, their own financial regulations such as tax-exceptions, and any other neoliberal policies they want. Hondurans would even need passports to enter these territories. This might sound something similar to the extensive tax-free zones created in Asia with dire consequences for workers slaving in the infamous Nike sweatshops among many other well-known brands. However, it ain’t. It takes things to a whole new horrific level. Team up charter cities with plans to build a private inter-oceanic new train link (not useable by locals) totting up at 14 billion US dollars, and you start getting the picture about how determined the powers-that-be are about overriding any democratic processes whatsoever to get their hands on what they like best…múla (as we say in Ireland…money).
The afternoon sessions at the gathering consisted of 3 split groups baring witness to individual testimonies of Hondurans from around the country and their stories of what they’ve had to bare in defending their lands and basic human rights. Some spoke of their loved ones who have been murdered, tortured, disappeared or up for trial and facing sentences of up to 250 years in prison with no hard evidence against them for supposed killings or property damage. Others won’t leave their houses during the day for fear for the landowner’s private security who have already shot at them. Some spoke of eternally watching their backs, even while at this gathering not knowing when they may become the next statistic. And many, it seems, were too afraid even to come here. Two locals were already picked up last night after they left the gathering by the police, but luckily they were let go this afternoon. But we’ve all be asked to be careful and not leave the gathering alone or without telling someone where we are going and when we’ll be back as the Lobo Government and their eyes are watching this gathering closely.
An exiled priest Fausto Milla, from Santa Rosa de Copán, who has openly spoken against the atrocities concluded the testimonials with a captivating short speech pleading all the internationals present to distribute all the testimonials and stories as far and wide as possible and to continue participating in the International Observatory to accompany local communities with peace brigades in Honduras. A man of the cloth who inspired me. That doesn’t happen often. I don’t believe that the Church does any good really….I think people do. And here, there’s an incredible gathering of such admirable simple people of valour with spirit and determination that give me the courage to be a little braver every day.