By: Tom Webb
From March 18-25 an international, interfaith delegation of more than 75 people visited several areas in northern Honduras to listen and learn more about the root causes driving Honduran migration from that country. The largest contingents of the delegation included members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and various members of faith communities from the San Francisco Bay Area. Other delegation members included partners of what Hondurans describe as the “historical Protestant churches,” several U.S. rabbis, and religious sisters from Peru and Argentina.
The large number of participants allowed our delegation to fan out across northern Honduras. One group drove northeast of Progreso (our home base) to visit the Bajo Aguan region. There they encountered campesinos who had previously formed a very successful and prosperous fruit and vegetable collective. However, their success collided with the wantonness of African palm plantation owners who desire their land to expand their harvests. After a systematic campaign of harassment of the cooperative and its leaders by private security guards, a crisis was provoked with the assassination of one of the founders of the cooperative (see the film “La Restancia” for more background). Members of our delegation visited members of the coop. Following their meetings a press release was issued by one of the palm oil manufacturers claiming the delegation was associated with the Palestinian terrorist organization, Hezbollah.
A second group visited the Department of Santa Barbara southwest of San Pedro Sula. There they listened to members of communities who had resisted efforts by the government and private companies to forcibly displace them to construct hydroelectric dams. While the electricity produced by the dams is much needed, the means by which the 25 Honduran companies who have been granted concessions, have sought to implement their plans have disregarded legitimate concerns of the longtime campesinos who have resided on the land. Furthermore, a loosely-organized group of private security companies and national military have waged an intimidation campaign against those who live in this region. In fact, members of our delegation reported a tense standoff on the banks of a river when national police armed with automatic weapons suddenly appeared.
Aggravating the problems created by the imposition of the dam system on the water supply is the fact that gold mining is concurrent with dam construction. Several international companies, including those from the United States, Canada and China, are among those who use arsenic in their search for gold. Arsenic drains into the water supply system, essentially poisoning it for both drinking and bathing purposes.
Our third delegation met with several groups in or around San Pedro Sula and El Progreso. We visited three struggling colonias: San Isidro, Alemana and La Ceiba, which had become home for hundreds of families.
The colonia of San Isidro had been founded on a garbage dump. After ten years the colonia had begun to flourish, with modest homes constructed from thatched sticks, corrugated tin, and cinder block. While Honduran law guaranteed land ownership, a fake corporation had sought to expel members of the colonia. A process of police harassment, intimidation and persecution had steadily increased with the consent of the local mayor. The mayor’s aide even claimed he owned the land.
The colonia of Almeana had been deeded the property by the former settler, a native of Germany who moved to Honduras following World War II. Though families had settled on the land around 2011, and in fact had a title for it, a retired military officer desired to construct a home for himself and his family. The same local mayor the residents of San Isidro had complained about also had colluded with the military officer and was supporting a similar campaign of intimidation, harassment and persecution. Of the original 250 families only 45-50 families had continued banding together to resist efforts to expel them.
The third colonia we visited existed on the border of San Pedro Sula. Over 100,000 people lived on the city borders. This particular colonia consisted of a rag-tag assemblage of simple shelters on a river bank inhabited by 125 families. Directly across a small river was a modern, mammoth business building with sheer walls made of glass of approximately 15 stories, glistening in the morning sun. Next to it was an equally large condominium complex. An effort to forcibly displace the community members and build new condominiums was underway.
Journalists from Radio Progreso, the Jesuit-owned radio station in El Progreso, emphasized it is people like those we visited in Bajo Aquan, the Department of Santa Barbara and the colonias who often join the large caravans which travel to Honduras on their way to the US-Mexico border.
PHOTOS:Images from the Honduran countryside.
Tom Webb is a former resident of Pittsburgh, PA, a member of the Thomas Merton Center, a free-lance journalist and a member of the Oakland Catholic Worker community. This was his third visit to Honduras since August 2015 as a member of similar delegations.