Rights Action> Honduras: Indigenous Resistance


Richard Moore

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Subject: Honduras: Indigenous Resistance
Date: Sat, 31 Aug 2002 11:24:09 -0400
Organization: Rights Action
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“Indigenous of Honduras Protest, Pledge to Continue Resisting

(This article was written by Mateo Ginsberg-Jaeckle and Della Moran,
Rights Action collaborators working with COPINH in Honduras.  E:
•••@••.•••; •••@••.•••)

Close to a thousand fists gripped polls, raising burning Pepsi cans
filled with gasoline high into the darkness of the Tegucigalpa night. As
descendants of the Lenca indigenous people of Honduras marched past the
U.S. and Spanish embassies, on August 2nd, the eve of the anniversary of
Columbus’s arrival to Honduras, their burning Pepsi torches served as a
reminder that colonialism has not ended. “They tell us that colonialism
is over, but they try to control us now as much as ever, through an
economic model they call ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘globalization’.  But that,
we know, is neo-colonialism,” said Salvador Zúniga, member of COPINH,
the Civil Counsel of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.
This was the final night of three days of protest by COPINH and its

COPINH, an organization that unites campesino and indigenous peoples in
struggle from around Honduras, has its base in La Esperanza, Intibucá.
Its primary constituents are descendants of the Lenca people that
populate this mountainous western region of Honduras. Though COPINH was
initially founded during the struggle in the early 90’s against loggers
in the region, members will tell you that resistance has been running
through their blood since the days of Lempira, the famed
anti-colonialist combatant, national hero, and a Lenca himself. Many of
the members of COPINH have long been organizers in the struggle for land
and Agrarian Reform that became famous in the 1970’s and 80’s. 

In the face of corporate globalization, however, problems such as loss
of land, lack of health care and education, destruction of the
environment, and repression of popular organizations have increased both
in severity and complexity. Along with the local and national elite who
have long been in conflict with the indigenous and poor throughout
Central America, international financial institutions, banks, and
multinational corporations have been launched into the brawl between
popular and elite control.

“With the ancestral force of Lempira, Iselaca and Etempica (Lenca
gods/heroes), we raise our voices for life, justice, liberty, dignity,
and peace,” opens the list of demands from the recent COPINH
demonstration, which lasted from July 31st to August 3rd.  The document
makes demands regarding land, the environment, protection of culture,
health care, education, infrastructure, and agriculture. The specific
demands include, among others, the granting of land titles, the
non-construction of the El Tigre, Susuma and Chaparral dams, the end of
logging in their region, the liberation of Lenca political prisoners,
the non-enactment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and a
national consultation on the controversial Plan Puebla-Panamá (PPP).

Corporate globalization, based on the neoliberal model of development,
is a process through which development is placed in the hands of
corporations, national and international investors, and international
financial institutions, reducing trade barriers and social and
environmental restrictions. It involves processes such as privatization
of health and education services, liberalization of trade, reduction of
government services, increased power for investors, and devaluation of
national currency. While investment and growth sometimes increase in
certain sectors of the economy, for poor and indigenous communities, the
results can range from loss of legal control over their lands and
environment, threats to their culture, reduction of funds for
community-based projects, and economic pressure to move to cities to
work in sweatshops built by multinational corporations. 

Perhaps the most important element to understand regarding
globalization, however, is the secrecy and non-participatory methods
through which its various projects are imposed. As the former Chief
Economist of the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, once wrote, “Secrecy
provides some insulation against being accused of making a mistake. ...
Secrecy provides the opportunity for special interests to have greater

The El Tigre dam is a good example of such secrecy. Though initial plans
for the dam were made many years ago, communities have not been
consulted or informed about it and very little information has been made
public. The dam, which, if completed, will provide electricity that will
flow into El Salvador, would force the relocation of thousands of
campesinos and Lenca descendants who live in the flood zone. The
non-consultation of indigenous peoples around an issue that so directly
affects them is a clear violation of Covenant 169 of the International
Labor Organization, to which Honduras and El Salvador are signatories. 

The government has tried to justify the project, however, using the
rhetoric of globalization, saying that increasing energy production for
industrial zones will attract investment to the area.  While repeated
protest has thus far stalled the project, the emphasis on energy
generation in Plan Puebla-Panamá, which is being imposed throughout the
region, makes many community members fearful that it will be implemented
in the future.

Refusing to let such lack of information about plans that affect its
peoples keep them in the dark, COPINH has conducted workshops with its
over 250 base communities on the threat that corporate globalization
represents for their communities and strategies for organizing to
protect indigenous society and fight systematic poverty. They have
achieved the support of not just Lenca communities, but indigenous and
ladino communities around Honduras. A statement from the Confederation
of Aboriginal Peoples of Honduras from the beginning of the recent
protest says, “we express as indigenous and black peoples our
unconditional support for the struggle of our partners from COPINH.” 

As a result of three days of pressure, marches, sleeping underneath the
congress, and protests in front of the congress, the presidential
palace, and the United Nations, COPINH received a meeting with the
president and achieved several of their demands. During the meeting,
President Ricardo Maduro finally gave COPINH its long overdue (after 7
years of petitions and protests) legal recognition (personeria
juridical), promised to resolve several of their land conflicts, and
promised to arrange encounters with their communities regarding the
problems faced by the indigenous in Honduras and the position of the
communities on corporate globalization. 

While COPINH members at the meeting agree that the initial attitude
seemed conciliatory and open, they are approaching negotiations with a
reasonable skepticism. After all, President Maduro’s government, in its
initial six months, has already been characterized by increasing levels
of repression, particularly against the teacher’s movement in Honduras.
Furthermore, as former president of the Honduran branch of the
Inter-American Development Bank, Maduro is a well-known neoliberal and
supporter of corporate globalization. Some speculate that his initial
openness may be a tactic for postponing conflict since he is already
under fire by protests, road closures, and strikes from the teacher’s

Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations with the president,
however, the struggle continues to expand, as more communities continue
to integrate into COPINH. As a representative from a newly-integrated
COPINH base community said at a recent meeting of the General
Coordination, “Our community knows that the little aid we receive from
aid agencies will not lead to development; we need to organize and
struggle to reclaim our rights.” 

Calling out to all of the peoples of the world, Bertha Caceres, founding
member of COPINH said, “instead of capital, we need to globalize
solidarity, only then will the peoples of the world be able to regain
control over our lives.”


RIGHTS ACTION:  With offices in Guatemala City, Washington DC and
Toronto, Rights Action is a multi-faceted development and human rights
organization that raises funds for community rights-based development
work in Southern Mexico, Central America (mainly Guatemala & Honduras)
and Peru, and educating and advocating about global “development” and
human rights issues.

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