International Human Rights Conference of Aguan, Feb. 17-20, 2012
By Margaret Thompson
February 25, 2012
Attacks on women are attacks on their families and children, declared Miriam Miranda, an indigenous Garifuna leader who attended the International Human Rights Conference in Aguan in northern Honduras, February 17-20, 2012.
And women face greater rage from military, policy and private security forces with their resistance to the violent siege in the Aguan region over land rights, but also throughout the country since the military coup in 2009.
“They want to stop us from denouncing the violence, but women will keep fighting and filing complaints,” said Elsi Banegas, a leader in the Aguan land rights movement, in an interview with ESCRIBANA.
Over 1,200 people from Honduras and several other countries attended the human rights event to organize and design strategies to resist the violent repression in the region against campesinos (small farmers) struggling to recover their lands. Particpants also paid tribute to and listened to the testimonies of families of the estimated 58 activists who have been killed in the Aguan region in the last two years in land rights disputes with large palm oil agribusinesses who have illegally confiscated land from campesino cooperatives.
Berta Carceres of COPINH (Civic Council of Popular & Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) told ESCRIBANA that “an important moment in the meeting was the word of the surviving victims of repression, the word of solidarity and reflection of the relationship between systems of oppression with militarization and violation of human rights.”
Carceres was one of several women at the event who made connections to ongoing human rights violations throughout Honduras that escalated after the coup, calling it a new form of colonization and imperialism perpetrated by patriarchy.
“There is this triple oppression of women, especially if they are farmers, if they are indigenous or black, because there is also a condition of class, gender, culture, and spiritualities, “ said Carceres. “So for us women to have a presence here is essential if our words are going to be heard…we face the challenge of colonization which must be deconstructed to reveal the patriarchy that we carry.”
“The repression is strong, and there is greater rage aimed at women and children,” explained Esli Banegas in an interview with ESCRIBANA. Banegas, who is coordinator of COPA-Aguan (Committee of Popular Organizations of Aguan), said that there is a deliberate intention by the government and private security forces of large landowners to “eliminate the participation of women in all ways…through more sadistic repression by police.”
Banega herself was forcefully arrested by 15 police who raided her office and dragged her off to jail, but she was later released. She says she is constantly followed and strange vehicles are parked and pass by her house. “I feel afraid, but this fight is a just cause.”
Banega is not an isolated case. Annie Bird of Rights Action who attended the event told ESCRIBANA that there is “a pattern of continued threats of violence against family members of victims who lost loved ones, to discourage them from organizing for justice or seeking justice.” She noted that many of the security guards are from the same community, “so it makes for very volatile and difficult community life.”
Bird talked about a woman she met whose brother was disappeared by security forces, so she is constantly searching for him whenever she hears about another body being dumped in the area. She has had to move three times because the security forces break into her home at any time of the day or night. Other families receive constant threats by phone and many were unable to come to the human rights event in this extremely tense situation, said Bird.
The international presence at the human rights conference was very important in order to demonstrate solidarity with Honduras, but also to let the world know what has been happening in Aguan, which Bird says is part of a strategy for regional control of the region by US military, political and economic interests. “Ever since the coup, Aguan people have reported seeing people who clearly look like North Americans traveling in cars, in convoys around the area,” said Bird. These foreigners have also been observed conducting training of military and police, and monitoring checkpoints that have been set up in the area.
Participants at the event hope that greater international solidarity efforts including participation in human rights observatories will bring more public scrutiny to the repression of the region. The world needs to learn that “it’s not just local conflict but a growing regional strategy by the US for control of Central America in the name of fighting ‘terrorism’ and the drug war, which is really a way to assert regional control,” said Bird.
Miriam Miranda talked to ESCRIBANA about the violent repression against indigenous peoples including the Garifuna for their lands along the northern Honduran coast. She said that indigenous women are determined to play a leading role in the resistance movement, and have held two major events during this past year with this in mind. One was the Self Convened Assembly of Indigenous and Blacks held in February, 2011 in San Juan Durugubuty where women also met, and the other was the Constituent Assembly of Indigenous and Black Women held in Copán July 10-14, 2011.
Miranda talked about the numerous mega-tourism development projects proposed for the northern coast along with a plan to build “model cities” that would illegally force the Garifuna communities from their lands with devastating results. Women are the primary producers of small crops (the men fish for food), so losing their land would make it extremely difficult for women to feed their families and also sell the produce at local markets.
The model city plan is a dream of US economist Paul Romer (son of Roy Romer, former governor of Colorado), and has been developed in great secrecy between the Lobo administration and US development corporations without notifying the Garifuna or other peoples whose lands are affected until the plan was well underway. The 30+ square-kilometer tracts would be governed by foreign governments or investors with their own constitution and not subject to Honduran laws.
Delegates concluded the event with a Final declaration that calls for establishment of solidarity committees with the Honduran people in countries, cities and communities around the world who participated in the conference. Also included was a plan to establish an international day of solidarity with Honduras on June 28, with actions planned outside Honduran embassies throughout the world.
And the women are determined to keep up the resistance as part of the human rights struggle, including land rights in Aguan. “They want us to shut up and I’m not willing to not allow that,” declared Banegas. Although sometimes the fear becomes overwhelming, making it hard to keep motivated, “we must continue, because we believe that this country must change.”