For Indigenous Lenca People in Honduras, Rebellion Is a Centuries-Old Story
The assassination of one of the world’s most celebrated activists earlier this year is a reminder that indigenous peoples in Honduras and other parts of Latin America face the same sort of plutocracy they faced hundreds of years ago
THOMAS HEDGES: On October 9th, two leaders of the Honduran indigenous group COPINH survived assassination attempts, just months after the founder of the activist group Berta Caceres was herself assassinated. The violence comes one month after Honduras celebrated 1905 years of independence from its old colonial overseer, Spain and a few days after it also celebrated the Central American revolutionary who led that fight for independence. But Sunday’s attack was a reminder that the country still faces the sort of plutocracy it tried 2 centuries ago to rid itself of. One that’s composed not of a king and his royal emissaries but of wealthy land owners, multinational corporations, and the sweeping influence of American imperialism on the continent.
JESSE FREESTON: September 15th marks 195 years since the declaration of independence of the Republic of Central America. Before it split up into the 5 different countries that there are today. One of which being Honduras.
HEDGES: Canadian filmmaker Jesse Freeston released a documentary in 2014 called Resistencia: The Fight For the Aguan Valley about the struggle in Honduras for democracy centering around the 2009 military coup which plunged the already impoverished country into a state of persistent violence and militarization.
SPEAKER: Taking the land and affecting the economic interest of the plantation owners is the only way we are heard.
HEDGES: Freeston says that despite being 200 years apart, the revolution of 1821 echoes many of the problems Honduras still faces.
FREESTON: The person who led that revolt is actually from the area that is today Honduras. A man named Francisco Morazán and he saw the Republic as being not just for its own sake an independent thing and that being the importance of it. The importance of the republic was that it was going to guarantee a better life for people in the country. So one of the ideas that was basic to his revolution was that there would be quality public secular education for everybody. This is one of the many dreams of Morazán that still hasn’t been achieved in Honduras or in most of the countries of Central America. This is one of the things that is behind the movement to refound Honduras through a new constitution which led to the 2009 coup which took place on the day that there was supposed to be that referendum on whether or not to rewrite the constitution. Today on September 15th for the last 7 years since the coup, we’ve seen these two different Honduras’s in the streets. So one official march with military in the front, with police in the front, all about order and celebrating the symbols of that revolution 195 years ago, celebrating the face of Morazán. The other march is one for the Honduras that is still to be the Honduras that Morazán envisioned. It still hasn’t been born yet and that is the vision of refounding Honduras with a new constitution, with participation from all the sectors of the country.
HEDGES: According to the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime, Honduras is the most homicidal country in the world and the state plays an important role in fomenting that violence. In a report that came out last month in September, Amnesty International found that Honduras was one of the most dangerous places to be an activist.
An astounding 65%, that’s 122 out of 185 of the murders of human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory, or the environment registered across the world in 2015 were from Latin America, the report reads. 8 took place in Honduras and 10 in Guatemala. alone, making them the highest rate per capita in the region. But again, the risks of being an activist today only reflect what’s always been true for Hondurans.
SPEAKER: The two kind of founders of the Honduran state or whatever, are mentioned by the leaders of Honduras when they talk on September 15th, they’re mentioned by [Juan Olan Hernandez] the president, on September 15th this year are Lempira and Morazán. Lempira was a Lenca leader, indigenous Lenca leader, who led a revolt against the Spanish and was killed by the Spanish. Morazán was killed years after the revolution because he wouldn’t stop fighting for this more egalitarian republic that he saw. He was killed by the local oligarchs that were born in Central America. So now two centuries later we have a woman like Berta Caceres who like Lempira is from the indigenous Lenca group in western Honduras and like Morazán was fighting for a national dream of refounding the country with a new constitution, a new republic that would actually guarantee the equal participation of everybody in the country and certain basic rights like the right to a decent dignified education.
So just like Lempira and just like Morazán, we see here assassinated and like those two men, it’s very likely that it was a plot. We don’t know the details because we still haven’t had the independent international investigation that the family’s been calling for, for the last 6 months, along with many others. But it’s probably likely that the people that made the decision to kill Berta Caceres was some sort of collaboration between local oligarchs born in Honduras and people with interests from Northside Honduras. So Berta, not many people are aware of this but Berta was one of the first people to suggest rewriting the constitution back when the Honduras signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement. She said, listen the people in charge of this country are handing over this country to foreign investors. We need to refound this country and reestablish this republic on new terms and now 195 years later after Morazán, Berta’s no longer with us.
HEDGES: At last month’s world social forum in Montreal, Canada the Real News spoke to a survivor of Honduras’s war on journalists. Felix Molina survived two assassination attempts in the span of one day earlier this year in May.
FELIX MOLINA: I had never encountered gun violence the way I did the day of May 2nd. I have four wounds in my body, I can’t say if it was the police or the military but I did ask the police and the military: ‘who shot me?’ And it’s been two months and they still won’t say who shot me. That’s typical for the majority of crimes in Honduras. 95% of cases are not resolved by the state, and over 40 journalists have been murdered.
HEDGES: The Real News caught up with Molina at the unveiling of a mural in downtown Montreal honoring Berta Caceres for her activism. Especially her efforts to prevent the world’s largest dam construction company from building on the Rio Gualcarque in the western part of the country. But at last month’s event in Montreal, 5 months after the assassination of one of the nation’s most celebrated activists in the world, the mood was a mix of hopeful and despondent. Hopeful that the Caceres legacy would live on and despondent after seeing how brazen the power elite in Honduras could really be when it came to silencing decent.
SPEAKER: My mother along with her organization confronted large economic powers, from the Honduran government and its militarization to all the big corporations that advance the mining of raw materials in Honduras and in Latin America.
MOLINA: Facing the current reality in the country, I’m in fear like the rest of the Honduran people, of the authoritarianism, of the Narco-traffickers, and the of the collusion between politics and organized crime.
HEDGES: The military coup of 2009 not only toppled the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya but annulled any real reform of the country’s constitution which many had hoped might turn the country around. The coup was denounced universally by the international community, including the United States. But it was later discovered from Hillary Clinton’s emails that unofficially, the US had taken actions to solidify Zelaya’s overthrow in favor of those who carried out the coup.
MOLINA: It’s evident that Hillary Clinton would increase [US] military and police cooperation with Honduras. We have to be very clear about it, and frankly I find it very disappointing.
HEDGES: What Freeston and Molina see in a Clinton presidency is more of the same deceitfulness. Mainly the use of progressive language in the regards to Latin America while supporting controversial measures known as the plan for prosperity.
MOLINA: There’s no doubt that her current ‘pro Hispanic’ and ‘pro Latino’ campaign language will soon be replaced by military forces in Mexico, in Guatemala, I have no doubt that the ‘Alliance for Prosperity” or “Biden Plan” is in reality a military plan to stop immigration for Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
FREESTON: We saw on September 15th, the day of supposed independence of Central America, we saw the big offer, the big thing that the President of Honduras was offering for his people was this plan for prosperity which was written by first proposed by Joe Bidden in an op-ed in the New York Times. Then is an official plan that comes out of the US embassy and financed by the US. So this is what’s on offer on the day of independence is a plan written and developed by the US government and that plan is not really about prosperity. There’s nothing new in this plan that would provide that that any reasonable person that’s seen what’s happened in central America in recent history is going to think that would provide prosperity for Central American people. What it’s more about is strengthening recent military and trying to lessen the flow of Central Americans fleeing their economic realities and the violent realities of central America towards their northern neighbors. Towards the United States and Canada.
HEDGES: A Clinton presidency wouldn’t be anything new for Honduras says Freeston. The truth he says, is that Hondurans are still a shackled people free from outdated colonial rule. But today subjected to something else, albeit just as odious.
FREESTON: We wouldn’t be talking about monarchy necessarily as being the institution that needs to be fought against in a country like Hondurans or that Honduras are fighting against. Today it’s sometimes a [neglence] but no less powerful in terms of maintaining a certain low standard of living for Honduras keeping their wages down, keeping their life expectations down, their access to healthcare, their access to education. So I think for people on the ground in Honduras, they’ve seen for example in the last 30 plus years of the electoral democracy they’ve seen their lives not get any better in terms of their access to any of these things and their life has gotten a lot more violent and a lot more difficult for many people in Honduras.
MORLINA: I’m afraid that we’ve already lost our democratic institutions. There is no possible justice, for anyone. Impunity is the characteristic of the nation. The police and the military are the only answer this government seems to have for our people’s problems. Such is the environment that’s around me now.
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