Please excuse the delay in completing my blog on the gathering, but between intermittent net access and the crazy heat, I decided to finish it up on my return to my gaff in Mexico. Tis hard going being a pseudo-journalist on the road….but it’s apt that I’ll get this blog entry finally finished after seeing a great documentary about James Nachtwey, a famous US war photojournalist who believes his pictures can really help to change the world for the better. Deadly documentary; I recommend it.
So, the second and concluding day of the Gathering I found to be the more interesting because in the afternoon we got to visit some of the local communities which are under continuous threat and repression. That was the big eye-openner. But Im getting ahead of myself….a quick recount of the morning first.
The morning took off with some key speakers taking the stage in the main auditorium. Camille Chalmers talked about the militarisation in Haiti (with many troops from all over Latin America hanging out there wierdly enough) and how it compares to Honduras. Not only are the Honduran heads of the military being trained in the School of the Americas, but highly suspect unmarked cars and trucks have been doing the rounds in Bajo Aguan with Colombian accented folk intimidating the communities. Colombian paramilitaries seem to be on the scene helping the Honduran army, and recently Israel has offered security assistance to Honduras. And once again it’s blatantly obvious that these corrupt governments cannot and never operate on their own. There’s a vast in-house network of thug governments at work here doing their damndest to keep the status quo of the rich and powerful. Chalmers also spoke of shock economics in Haiti since the earthquake with millions of squandered aid money, and how it’s operating in Honduras too, forcing through big neoliberal projects robbing from the poor to give to the rich (e.g. read about Charter Cities in prev. blog). Having recently read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, this struck a clear chord with me. He mentioned that Honduras was the country with the second-most developed REDD projects in the world. This highly criticised UN programme is one of the false green economy solutions being guinea-pigged in Latin America.
Many international organisation reps gave small speeches of solidarity to the community members present. At this point, the full registration count was at 1200 attendees, between internationals and Hondurans. Despite the dizzying heat in the main auditorium where most of the gathering was held, local people were full of energy and enthusiasm to see and hear such important messages of solidarity and support. Even though I should know by now, I always forget how significant these small acts are in giving strength to others in their struggles. Witnessing it firsthand brought it home to me. Knowing you are not alone brings great power to those struggling, and also makes the oppressors think twice.
I’ve never been involved with human rights groups, although I support these causes completely. As I’ve been more of a direct-action eco kinda person, either directly at demos or blockades, supporting these actions, or directly up-skilling and trying to change my life to more sustainable ways through veg. growing, wind turbine courses, composting etc. Im more hands-on so to speak. So when it comes to human rights, I feel very unfamiliar with what tactics work. I don’t believe in lobbying really….or am very cynical about it mostly. But pressuring governments, even the most corrupt ones, and exposing their crimes for the world to see, is a powerful tool. I’m not a petition-believer kinda woman, but I see I’ve a lot to learn from human rights campaigning tactics.
Which brings me nicely on to the afternoon….a mini internationalist peace-brigade visit to two nearby communities. There was supposed to be a 2-week-long international peace brigade organised for after the gathering for internationals who wanted to stay on, but as the Permanent International Observatory of Human Rights in Bajo Aguán is just getting off the ground, it became two short day trips, although peace brigades are being planned for the near future. I went on one of them and it was an eye-openner for me indeed. So on Sunday afternoon after the gathering ended, 6 trucks and cars set off packed with Hondurans and international participants to visit Rigores and Marañones, two nearby communities being persecuted. I was in the back of a pick-up truck with a few folks that had done the video workshop with us. We soon left Tocoa city and turned off onto a dirt road lined with endless kilometres of African Palm
which became a common occurence on the north coast of Honduras. The locals told us what big land-owner owned what bits and pointed out a cross on the road where one of their community members had been murdered. Despite the buckets of dust we were eating riding ‘bare-back’ in the pick-up, it was turning out to be a nice drive until up ahead a military check-point was spotted. Well, they soon had all our 6 vehicles pull-over and the 6 drivers lined up against one of the trucks, checking their IDs and demanding that one of them accompany them on their own to their commanding officer across the road. Obviously, we outnumbered the 10 odd soldiers there but their M-16s were very intimidating. We weren’t letting this man go alone anywhere, and the soldiers eventually gave up.
I have to say, I definitely felt nervous the first couple of seconds. The internationals pulled out their cameras of all sorts and starting filming and shooting, so I did likewise. The soldiers said no cameras and I thought I might get mine pulled off me, but luckily they made no grabs at any, during our 20 minute pull-over. Some soldiers proceeded to remove their identity badges as we photographed them. At no point would any of them identify themselves by name or tell us who their orders were coming from. Then, they let us pass.
At Rigores and Marañones, the community received us with watermelon and testimonies of more recent events and their unending plight to keep their small pieces of land for growing food and raising their families. Actually seeing these small towns/settlements again helped to paint the picture of the injustice being perpetrated by these mega-landlords with thousands of acres, compared to what these families were laying claim to. When we left the communities, all I kept thinking was how crazy the idea was that they felt and knew they were safer because we were there as internationals with the world watching, but tomorrow they would be back to the same threats and every-day persecutions (and they were see blog for latest arrests this week). After this experience I think I would consider going on a peace brigade sometime in the near future. I suppose, Im just not a paper-jammer type activist…..I need to be close to what I’m fighting against and fighting for.
I am no James Nachtwey, and I don’t want to be. That much witnessing of suffering by photographing wars and other great sufferings is too much for me. Instead I would like to think that by being there, and pointing my camera, I can prevent some injustices from happening and spread awareness to encourage others to act in whatever way they feel they can, to do likewise. Contacting the local Honduras embassy in your country via phone or email or post is a simple but important act. Check out the Mioaguan blog for more ideas on what you can do, or email them.