Interviewee: Berta Cáceres, leader of COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples of Honduras
Interviewers: Dominic McCann, Kerstin Hansen, Juliette Doman and Michael Farley
Location: Intibucá, Honduras
Date: March 2010
Theme: COPINH; resistance; indigenous knowledge.
Notes: The reader is referred to Chapter 4 of this website for news of the award of the Goldman Environmental Prize to Berta Cáceres for her leadership of COPINH’s struggle against hydro-electric power projects in Honduras, and in particular for a link to a video clip of her acceptance speech.
Interview Team (IT): It would be good if we could talk about the COPINH project regarding the arboretum – for example, what herbs are you thinking of sowing?
BC: Although it would seem like a small project, for us in COPINH it’s an important project. First, because it’s important to recover and reconstruct our ancestral knowledge from the communities, and that’s very valuable for us. It’s one of the reasons for being for COPINH; it’s like a pillar for us; it’s not an isolated thing; it’s the very basis of COPINH. You have to see knowledge in much the same way as culture, it’s under threat for sure, from the free trade treaties, from the association agreements between Central America and the European Union because it’s one of the strong issues leading to privatisation.
So the project also represents an opportunity for the communities to recover and strengthen themselves, because they already have it. For example, in Montaña Verde, Plan de Barrios, to have and strengthen the sowing of plants such as the palm of pacaya, which is one of their own foods of these communities – it’s very nutritious, it whets the appetite, it does loads of things. Indeed, in the central zone of Montaña Verde (which is a wildlife refuge) there are troops of spider monkeys, howler monkeys, white face monkeys – it’s very important because it’s also food for them. So, the pacayas and capucas are plants which are in danger of extinction. For us, it’s normal to eat them, they’re good, they’re bitter. They are also curative plants and they help the digestion. All the medicinal plants, like manzanilla, horse’s tail, el boldo, the snapdragon, the good grass, the valerian; roots, like for example the skunk plant which is used for sinusitis, and lots of other plants, for example for coughs, for intestinal infections, for diarrhoeas, for example, guayaba leaves which cure diarrhoea. In an emergency, where there is no doctor and no medicines, or maybe if there are doctors and medicines, the doctors don’t know these things.
So, that is to share amongst the communities of Montaña Verde, Plan de Barrios and the Utopia centre, which for us is a really important centre, where the idea is to develop sample species in the medicinal plot.
IT: So, the first project is going to develop in COPINH and then in Utopia?
BC: The project is going to develop in the communities. In Utopia, there is already an appointed part for this, but I think that the development is going to be simultaneous.
IT: What are the most common illnesses in the communities?
BC: When talking about this, it is necessary to mention the historical context in which the indigenous people have lived in Honduras, the Lenca people in particular. This was one of the communities where colonisation had the most disasters. The Lenca community was one of the communities where there were strong indigenous rebellions / uprisings during the Spanish invasion and the conquest; one of the biggest in Mesoamerica. The way that they resisted was to stay in the territory, which was different from the other communities who resisted by residing as nomads in the territory and the jungle. In other geographic regions, which long favoured them, for example, in the whole of the Mosquitia region where there were more than 4 indigenous communities. The Lenca community persisted, so the invasion, the conquering, the aggression from the Lenca village was more, because they stayed there, supporting and defending their territory. The marginalisation, exploitation, ransacking, killing, the aggression against their culture and against their cultural practices, for me, is one of the most serious human rights violations. Here we must also mention that apart from the structure of the colony and its institutions, so that they become republicans, they follow the pattern of subjugation against indigenous people, all of the institutions, all of the system, including the church. This church is a criminal against indigenous villages. The church demonised the cultural practices of the Lenca community in Honduras, which here in Honduras were very strong – there were tremendous cases. The church began to take away their language – the Lenca language was thought of as very difficult as it was a complex language. The Spanish and the mixed race people couldn’t learn it. It was a colonial policy to learn the colonial languages in order to conquer them, but in the case of the Lenca community they couldn’t. So, they wanted to impose the Nahuatl language, because this language dominated, but the Lenca community didn’t want to learn it. They were, however, forced to learn Spanish.
In a more recent context, a situation that we now have here, for example, is that of the Spanish and Italian bishops – these were disasters. One of the bishops is Lunardi, an Italian bishop that came here and undertook a tremendous ransacking, well, we don’t know, nor is there an inventory of everything that was here, but it is believed that he took Lenca scripts that we have not been able to find very easily. So, now the Italian government say that they are the heritage of the Italian community. All of the ceremonial, spiritual and healing practices of the Lenca community that above all were conceded and multiplied by the women and the elderly were criminalised. The church (not only the Catholic but also the Evangelical church), and until recently a few priests say that it is Satanism and witchcraft. They condemn the indigenous for practicing these ceremonies, which are very important as they are healing ceremonies. It is a complex concept of healing, not only physical but spiritual healing. It is healing of the Earth, of water, of the living forests, of the spirits. The Lenca community’s practice of healing the Earth is strong. And the practices not only cure the Earth, but thank it as well. All of this has to be seen with the body and with the health of the Earth.
So, as a result of all this subjugating here, the communities’ living conditions are some of the most critical in the country, and even the continent. Here, the Lencan indigenous municipalities, like San Marcos de la Sierra, are some of the poorest municipalities in the continent. This has been denounced by COPINH – a health authority has never said this. Communities such as San Francisco de Opalaca, Dolores, San Marcos de la Sierra, were decimated by Chiagas disease, and this is related to poor living conditions, housing etc.
Other diseases are respiratory (here these are tremendous); gastrointestinal diseases; and here there is another thing, malnutrition, which is the product of poor nutrition and poor living conditions. Also, here there are many skin diseases, in some communities there is still a lot of tuberculosis. There are cases of syphilis, cancer, many cases of skin cancer in some places, which is perhaps related to old mining. Some Cuban doctors told us that in some places they suspect that there is something in the water consumed by the community. There is blindness due to malnutrition, parasitism, and a terrible thing; infant and maternal mortality is very high in this region, it is one of the highest in Honduras, along with infant malnutrition.
So when we arrived in San Francisco de Opalaca as COPINH, it was called San Francisco de Opalaca because it was with the fight of COPINH that we managed to acknowledge it, there was not one child with a normal weight. When I ran these workshops I was shocked that there was no doctor there, even though a child was dying from diarrhea every two or three days. There were also fungal diseases, and plenty of skin fungus, which is very common. There are many plants, tree bark and leaves which are good for this, or for the lice. The mud, which is not a plant, but the mud here is used to heal, and for other common practices of the Lenca people.
IT: Who came to work on this project? To cultivate the plants?
BC: The members of COPINH; we wanted to involve the elderly and the young people as well – this combination is an important one. But it is going to be Pascualita Vazquez, an elderly woman, and a colleague of Montana Verde. She is an indigenous teacher; she graduated from a course in indigenous education, which was also an achievement of COPINH, so that she can work with school children. And also the whole of the community that want to be involved.
Also, Alba is going to help, because we need someone systematic, and in this we have problems. So Alba can help us a little, and Melisa who is another colleague, who has worked a lot with health issues. Alba is Italian, Melisa is a Honduran colleague, a feminist, who works with other organisations and with COPINH.
IT: It is good that there are so many women.
BC: Men are also involved in this community, and in Utopia as well. In the Lenca village in the past, it was normal for men to be involved in these roles, but as time has passed these roles have been left to the women. Although there are elderly people that know a lot about medicine, not only about the plants, but also how to handle, for example, if somebody breaks a bone – if it is not fractured, they can repair it. They also know about spiritual health.
IT: So, they are also going to teach about spiritual health?
BC: Yes, that cannot be detached, for us there cannot be one thing without the other, because they heal the houses in which people live.
IT: So, part of the project includes the elderly teaching the young people how to use these medicinal plants, and how to prepare the medicines?
BC: That is it. We have a small school for the young people, this has already been done. The idea is that the elderly give classes to the young people, they pass on the knowledge. This is one of COPINH’s more formal projects and it is very popular among the young people – it shows what can be done in the village, in Plan de Barrios. The young people have a lot of participation in COPINH, in all areas of our work.
IT: Why herbal medicines, why medicinal plants, instead of chemicals?
BC: Firstly, because it is an ancient practice of the Lenca people, it is ours; there is a lot of knowledge and a lot of wisdom and we know that the herbal medicines are effective in many cases – people have proved this over hundreds and hundreds of years. The majority of communities do not have a doctor, and it is the people in the community that heal and that are aware of health issues and how to cure them. Another thing is that plants are an integral part of life for us and using them to cure is natural, it is how it should be. The other thing is that we, as an organisation, fight against the neo-colonialism in which we live, and we know that health is a vital part. The issue of health is important in the communities. We as COPINH have had long struggles with this issue. We are against the systems of death that privatisation of health services impose. Public health services become more inaccessible in this country when they are privatised. There is logic behind neo-colonialism which imposes and makes a person believe that they cannot live without chemicals, that they must depend on them, which generates a large profit. The big pharmaceutical companies are stealing the genetic information of plants and animals, including genetic information from indigenous villages. The American ‘gringos’ have already done this to the Kunas in Panama and to the indigenous in La Mosquitia. Even here as well. The gringos come with medical brigades, they say, mixed with fundamentalist churches, and they bring practitioners to work on the indigenous. Often, they bring military gringos to do this, and to combine with the church. And once they are gone, then come the Yankee troops of Palmerola with military armies, they call themselves ‘New Horizons’. The last time that they came; they called themselves ‘Beyond new horizons’. After this, after the fundamentalist church, after the medical brigades had left – who brought with them a mountain of chemicals and drew blood samples, for example in Yamaranguila, they took blood samples from indigenous people without telling them what it was for, and they forced the indigenous from Azacualpa without telling them anything; ONGs, agencies like World Vision. World Vision has taken them to be sterilised, but they have not told them what sterilisation is. So, they will have been sterilised without consent. So, they have violated the right of indigenous women to decide what is right for their own bodies, if they do or do not want to have children. If they want to be operated on then that is their decision, they shouldn’t be taken for fools. After this happened, then came the transnational mining companies, hydroelectric dams and granting proposals for rivers, for territory, so it is a very unequal fight. For us these struggles against the free trade treaties are vital, the issue of health is vital, and it is an issue which has been put here by the biggest pharmaceutical companies and universities as well, because the gringos send people from universities to investigate why and how we use each plant, and they take this information back to the university, who then sells the information to the big pharmaceutical companies. This has happened in the case of La Mosquitia with Bayer, and the gringo universities have come to do studies. That’s why, for us, the recovery, the practice, the strengthening of natural medicine is not a thing of fashion, and it is not something we do to make Utopia look good. No, it is a fight of resistance, a political struggle that goes beyond sowing plants; it is something deeper and more profound.
IT: You said that genetic information has been extracted from the indigenous people of Central America, for example the Kunas in Panama and the Mosquitos in Nicaragua.
BC: The Mosquito in Honduras.
IT: So, could you talk a little more about this?
BC: Well, the Kuna reported this many years ago. They claimed that the US army had extracted DNA from the indigenous people and that they had a bank of genetic information in the USA. The Americans are saying that they use it to research why the Kuna people have more resistance to certain diseases than white people, or, I don’t know, why they are more vulnerable to these diseases. I don’t know, to know what further reason they keep them.
Again, the Mosquitos claimed that the US universities, and I think that also this claim went public, that they were drawing information to take to the universities in the USA. Now I can’t remember the name, but the pharmaceutical companies are selling it. They have taken it from here. For example, the allegations from Yamaranguila – they went to take blood from people; they were gringos from medical brigades, they said, and they were also military gringos. The indigenous didn’t know what the blood was being drawn for; they were never told anything; no examination to say that it was to find out if they had anaemia or something like that. They took blood from the children. And so, why do the gringos want this? Additionally, they didn’t do anything afterwards which was for the good of the health of the community. The theft that was undertaken in the indigenous villages by the transnational companies and the gringos, and worse now that they have put a military base in the Mosquitia region, in the Barra de Caratasca, which has been strengthened after the coup, they did business with a transnational oil company and they have put the military base there. For a few years we have been alleging this and they have said that it does not exist. Today they have installed a runway, a radar and everything. They say that it is to combat drug-trafficking, but we know that this is a lie; they want to invade and loot our villages. The threat is not only to Honduras, but also to Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba, because the location is very strategic; in geopolitics this is very important. But not only this, in Mosquitia, apart from the human and cultural richness that exists there, there is a lot of rich biodiversity; so they are threatened. It is like a small Amazon, and the richness that is there is amazing. There is also a lot of oil, and before nobody said that Honduras had oil. The gringos said that there was no oil, but a few years ago a crazy Russian was walking through here lost, and he passed through Mosquitia and then made remarks to the media to say that “there is oil in Honduras”. I don’t know who he was, or what studies he had done, but he said it. The next day the gringos left, saying that he was lying. In Honduras there is oil, and the indigenous have always known this, in the same way that we know which hills have gold, but here the people have never had such greed that they want to destroy the earth. But the gringos have to come to guzzle what they can and to say that they are going to exploit such a thing. So I believe that all of this is more related to the logic of death, of looting, and the huge threat to the biodiversity than it is to the health of the community.
IT: It would be good to talk a little about the coup and Honduran politics. How do you see the future of resistance in Honduras after the coup?
BC: The resistance is seen as a concept in the community, it has to do with a social and political movement which has a lot of credibility, a lot of confidence in the people. There is an extraordinary group of volunteers which has a number of treasures, one of which is diversity. I believe the diversity is what secures the unit, because we can say that the unit is united but this can be just words on a page, but in practice, or should it be in action, the practice maintains this unity, and this has been one of the Honduran achievements, that we recognise that we are diverse. Here in Honduras, long ago, no one dared to openly criticise the leadership: the religious elite, the powerful military leaders, or the religious practices. So, recognising all of these things and having the capacity to see that we are all indigenous, blacks, women, feminists, intellectuals, poets, artists, musicians, writers, people from urban areas, or from rural communities, farmers, workers, young people, gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, in the other ways that the village was organised and we didn’t realise, that is, from the traditional concept of organisation, for example, it didn’t look like the market ladies were organised, or that the women selling chewing gum and cigarettes were organised. I believe that this jump has been incredible, and I see the potential for resistance from here on. I also look at the challenges: one is to make sure that the resistance does not become an electioneering place, being a social and political movement. Politics is more than just elections, because what we have done is to make a historical political action plan. So, if the Front is reduced only to elections, then the resistance is going to die. But, if we conceive it as a political and social movement, in which one of the strategies, but not the only strategy, is an electoral political front, the people will warm to that. If this is done correctly, without losing sight of the social and political movement, then it will be a great strength. But not only this, another thing is the construction of the power of the people because we cannot continue saying that we are going to take the power. For us in the COPINH it is not that, it is to build power and to use it, because the power of the people does not win elections. To go to the Executive and to be in the government and have a colleague that is the president: this is not the power of the people, it is more than this, and it is built from the base up, from all of the bases of resistance. But each one of these constructions of concepts is diverse, in the same way that the resistance is diverse, and it is complex to articulate all of this. For example, the construction of the concept of community power in indigenous villages is different to the community power that exists in urban areas, and it is different to the community power of feminists or intellectuals or academics. The construction of power is rejection, for example what you saw in San Francisco de Opalaca, the position of communities deciding on their strategic natural resources and the autonomy to decide that they do not want a hydroelectric dam, this is the construction of community indigenous power, because it has to do with their identity, their culture and their world views. So, I see that with the resistance there is a challenge to articulate all of this and instead of this being a weakness, it is an asset.
The other element is the National Constituent Assembly. This people are determined to change; we may have ceased to be news in the world, but here we continue to work towards something. We are progressing and understanding that the fundamental objective is not the National Constituent Assembly. The fundamental strategic objective is to re-establish this country and one of these elements is the construction of popular power, which is the National Constituent Assembly. A community which is democratic, popular, characterised by its people, where the people provide the content, content that arises from their historical claims. What? For example, the water: the people here say that in this exercise that we had with the Constituent Assembly, in its texts, we wanted water to be a human right, a common good, an inalienable right, without limits for the Honduran people, and where privatisation and outsourcing are prohibited by the Assembly’s order. This content is a challenge to the structures: the political structure, the tax structure – they touch the foundations of the injustice in this country.
There are various elements to this reorganisation: the reorganisation has not been built with a good constituency, not a good constitution, because this can be pretty well written but the process of reorganisation is a process of profound economic, political and social transformation. It is an action against the dominant culture, for example, patriarchy. We have fought strongly as COPINH and as women, even within our own Front, above all in our organisation / structure because understanding it is to dismantle these forms of domination, not only capitalism but also patriarchy and racism. It is a serious thing, it is hard. But the Front has already positioned itself as a social and political movement which is willing to dismantle these forms of domination. This is an important breakthrough, but now we need to internalise this and put it into practice.
Here in Honduras everything was normalised, there is a Government of reconciliation and national unity. There is a Truth Commission: they are the same criminals that are there, amnesty and Porfirio Pepe Lobo’s projected vision for the country is a project of domination which in 2038 will be a strategy for the gringos, and that strategy will continue. For example, the strengthening of the gringo bases in Honduras is not accidental: it is no coincidence that they are distributing the country’s wealth to the transnational corporations, or they are complaining, as we popularly say, that today the transnational companies have more impunity than ever, to operate and do as they please. The gringo strategy of selective repression, assassination, murder, torture, surveillance, has been suffered by organisations like COPINH. In other words, they are the same people that took part in the coup; this regime of Pepe Lobo is an heir of the regime of the coup. The rulers of this country are the same people that took part in the original coop. Pepe Lobo is just a puppet who wants to present a smiley face to Obama, while massacring the people. Like Obama is massacring the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, or all of his policies against the Colombian people. More military bases in Panama, an invasion in Haiti.
I think that everything has to do with an imperialist annexation project across our continent which is at a historical moment of struggle for emancipation. The gringos know this and they want the resources that we have. They want our knowledge, our wealth, they want cheap labour, they want our forests, our water, oil, gold, silver … they want whatever they can take from here. They want … the latest technology, they want the oceans, and for this they send the fourth fleet in to the seas of this continent where they threaten all of the liberation processes of the continent. All of these alternative projects of the communities inconvenience ALBA. I believe that this continent is in crucial times, for life or for death.
IT: What is the question of the political left in quotation marks, like Cesar Ham?
BC: Oh my god. In the stage of maturity which the Honduran people have reached, to know and to recognise who are with the people and who are not and who act by pure opportunism. This faction of the UD (Democratic Unification), because we must make a difference, there are people from the base of UD who are very militant in the Resistance and who never shared what César Ham did in guaranteeing the regime as the heir to the coup, guaranteeing the idea of the coup, that’s what he did. And he is there as a puppet, as the Minister of the National Agrarian Institute because the oligarchy knows that the agrarian issue, the territorial and land issue
are hot issues in Honduras. Obviously they place there a figure who has a leftist image, and that is with the intention of dividing us, of tearing us apart.
But the Honduran people know who are with the people and I believe that he is already feeling the cost of having acted as he did. He’s finding it harder every day and, well, in the recent case of the Bajo Aguán and the colleagues of MUCA. The Honduran people are fed up with the traditional political parties. When I say traditional, that doesn’t just include those of the right, but also those who say they are of the left, because they act in the same way as those parties, exactly the same; there is no difference. They say that we are the electorable people; that’s not certain. In Honduras before the coup the level of abstentionism was growing because the people didn’t see any option, neither in the party of the left nor in the party of the right. They wanted to build their own thing and to feel it.
So, I think that now he’s there, I don’t think he’s a loss for the Resistance.
IT: What’s the situation been like here in La Esperanza during the coup d’état and as it is right now? Are there any repressive forces here?
BC: Since the coup, in fact since before the coup, since the day when COPINH first arose, we’ve suffered a lot of harassment and repression. We’ve had five of our colleagues assassinated for their defence of water, forest and land. We’ve had colleagues tortured, condemned to 30 years in jail, colleagues who have had their eyes taken out, who have had their legs beaten by groups of soldiers. Also, colleagues harassed. We’ve suffered campaigns to discredit us; they say that narco-trafficking finances us; those gringos from Palmerola have said that COPINH is an organisation with terrorist tendencies, that we are financed by the FARC, ETA, and who knows who else. If that were the case we’d be millionaires. With a delegation of gringo activists who came here and were at Palmerola, they even told them that COPINH was a threat not only to the security of Honduras, but also a threat to the security of the US government. That made us laugh – it’s so ridiculous – but at the same time it’s also worrying because it gives us an idea of what they are thinking.
Before the coup, for years COPINH had demanded that Honduras should be a member of ALBA, since ALBA was first created. In fact since before Mel Zelaya, and when Mel came to power and took the initiative we supported him. We backed Mel Zelaya in the initiatives which benefitted the Honduran people, but we didn’t stop being critical of him. We supported Petrocaribe, ALBA, the increase in the minimum salary, we mobilised against the Air Force to recover the ballot boxes, for the 4th vote, on the day of the Consultation – many COPINH people were active before the coup. We supported his veto of Congress’s decree to prohibit contraceptive pills, a clear violation of the rights of women, a decree promoted by Opus Dei. Mel Zelaya vetoed that law and didn’t allow it to pass. Opus Dei is one of the architects and financiers of the coup d’état.
For the Popular Consultation, from the start we knew that it was an action that could set the Honduran people off on a process of struggle for a National Constituent Assembly. We were conscious of that and we had a first meeting for the re-founding weeks before the coup d’état. It was labelled: First National Meeting for the Re-Founding of Honduras with more than 400 delegates. The people said what type of Constituent Assembly they wanted and what type of Constitution. Indigenous people, women, workers, youths, the agricultural sector; they discussed issues of justice, equality, dignity, sovereignty, self-determination, autonomy, independence, tons of things. After that meeting, as COPINH we held a mobilisation to Tegucigalpa, and there we took over the Public Ministry because they wanted to prohibit the Consultation. They did the usual things and we denounced the threat of the coup d’état. In our communication we called on the Honduran people to prepare themselves for a popular insurrection – we did that before the coup. Our colleague Salvador Zúñiga said to Mel various times, “watch out for the coup d’état”. He said about the Armed Forces, “they’re going to run a coup d’état,” and he didn’t believe him. He said it to him lots of times. Mel agrees now, when we saw him afterwards in Nicaragua and elsewhere, he agreed and referred back to it, “I remember when Salvador told me.”
With all that, in and around the coup, everything was militarised; they put out the Tenth Infantry Batallion and they surrounded Utopía. They threatened the radio stations, they threatened us that they would capture us; they went to take the ballot boxes away because we were in charge of them. They wanted to pick up the more than 100 colleagues from El Salvador who had come as international observers. We had split them up between eight different towns and cities, and they wanted to detain them, and they took away their bus. Those spoilers, the military, ‘chafarotes’ we called them, were on the streets with machine guns – it was like a war.
It was hard to get to Tegucigalpa to join the protests. Salvador and many colleagues left on foot from here for Tegucigalpa. Here the electricity was off, we didn’t know anything that was going on. You couldn’t hear Radio Globo. We didn’t hear what was happening in the morning, only what some colleagues told us by telephone. We didn’t hear about meetings from anyone, but we knew that we had to go to Tegucigalpa. So we went, and we kept ourselves there day and night for five months with a large contingent of colleagues. For months we defended the Venezuelan Embassy and we took part in all the daily marches and all the actions. We went to El Paraíso department, on the border with Nicaragua, where they arrested some of our colleagues, women, indigenous people, old people – the military took them off to prison and said they had to register them because they were hiding arms in their vaginas – a huge abuse, and very racist. The coup increased racism and abuse against women. We have denounced all this. Here, a young indigenous colleague who operated the radio at that time was threatened no less than 20 times. They told him they were going to cut out his tongue. To the radio station that we have in San Francisco Lempira, the colonel called threatening that they were going to set fire to it, but the communities provided a self-defence for it and looked after it.
For us here it’s been really hard, but we are fulfilling this historic role because we are in an historic moment in which the people call upon us to reconstruct and re-found this country. So, as COPINH, we’ve tried to be coherent with our objectives and principles, to dream of a more just and more human fatherland, people, country and society.
Here the coup supporters wanted to do a couple of marches, but they didn’t get more than 100; they couldn’t do it, they couldn’t walk more than three blocks because the people from the barrios and the markets came out and …???…, [maybe something like ‘blocked their headway’ as we say. Also, Micheletti and Romeo came here before the elections – the only public place that Micheletti went to was here. He chose La Esperanza and Romeo brought army reservists from all over the country – there were no more than 800. And they offered them money; many of them didn’t know why they had been summoned, they thought that it was to be paid their salaries that they hadn’t been paid for some time. They lied to them, they told them it was to pay their delayed salaries from their retirement; they were given 100 lempiras, which is like five dollars, and they gave them a white t-shirt and trousers which had been given by the maquila owners. They laid a large military siege. But for them it was a great failure because if it was a national meeting for all the reservists and only 800 came, to offer them pay and to lie to them was a failure.
The other thing is that presidential candidates were not able to carry out a normal campaign here the people didn’t let them; they followed them wherever they went. They did things from throwing eggs at them to occupying the places where they were going to have meetings, and they wouldn’t move themselves. Beforehand, there were gatherings here with no less than 5,000 people, up to 10,000, with no more than 200 in favour. Pepe Lobo came to talk at a school, and surrounded there, he talked about the danger which not just the Resistance represented, but also COPINH.
It’s hard. We’ve had to take everything out from COPINH, we’ve had to take out the radio and hide it. We know they are watching us. Before the coup, armed men with guns, cell phones, short-wave radios came to our houses to threaten us. They threatened our children and all the family. They spoke to us on the phone and by post to COPINH. They twice shot at Salvador in the apartment where he lives, and they have followed him. They’ve been to COPINH to interrogate our colleague, Felix, who looks after it. They went behind the radio transmitters. They wanted to find out about our colleagues from other countries who work in COPINH. One of them works here, he’s a journalist, and during the coup he covered it as a journalist, and they beat him up, splitting open his head, and they stole his camera. He’s Chilean. It’s been hard here.
One other thing, the role of the agencies. We note for example that in the coup, today you’re either with the coup or against it, and for the cooperation agencies it’s the same, they’re either with the coup or against it. So we’ve observed that the agencies have defined themselves [in these terms] and those that have been committed to the people and which are genuinely in solidarity with us have been with us and have not abandoned us. And that’s good – their presence. We’ve brought over colleagues from other countries, even from the US, so they’re put with Utopía as well because we had some gringo colleagues there, activists who helped us with the radio station and who dared to do this with us. The international presence has helped us. We know that this can cost you your life. Loads of colleagues have been killed, for example, Walter, Vanesa, they were very much in tune with us. The colleague from Aguán, the journalist, the other teacher colleague from San Pedro, came to COPINH’s activities. It’s not easy, but we will carry on.
IT: What do you think you’ll be doing over the next few months with the grassroots and campaigns?
BC: In COPINH we are in the middle of a period and in the middle of that coup, in December we have our General Assembly. We realize, and we hear from all our communities, that we need a time for a breather because we have not really rested at all, we’ve had no respite and this is reflected even in our bodies. Everybody’s ill, with gastritis, one of us has got facial paralysis, there are other consequences of the coup. We check the role of COPINH and the coup, and we realise that all our projects, the ones we were so keen to develop, have all fallen behind. It’s because we’ve concentrated on the struggle against the coup, on defending ourselves and on surviving. But we’re in a period of mending COPINH of reviewing everything. There’s been a lot of understanding of organisations that support COPINH. Some are from Norway, for example, APN or Rights in Action who accompanied the Honduran people during the coup, and organisations from Italy that accompanied us. We’ve spoken with them and they are aware of what has happened to us.
Now we have determined that we shall follow on with the struggle against the coup and what it represents and for the re-founding, for a National Constituent Popular and Democratic Assembly, debating issues on popular construction and promoting events like those we are developing. For this second meeting for the re-founding we have put forward the debate around the theme of anti-patriarchal, anti-racist and anti-neoliberal struggle. At the same time it falls to us to confront those shitty transnationals, those businessmen – we’re fighting against all that, but also it falls to us to confront those businessmen here on our own ground – that’s difficult, to be involved in all that. And at the same time to be in Opalaca, with Terra, Inversa and …???…, and again in the community of San Rafael, Inversa and Terra are again there – mining companies here, mining companies there, causing land conflicts. We have 20 land conflicts which are tense and we can’t find any solution for them.
To maintain our radio stations, to strengthen them, to provide follow-up for youth projects, the herbolarium, to carry out a diagnostic survey of the education of the Lenca people, with projects of indigenous professionalisation, with the issue of womens’ struggles, with the project of COPINH’s Womens’ Healing and Justice House, the Popular Womens’ Court – we have all this planned. And to work for the Resistance throughout this zone, to strengthen it, and moreover the international work that COPINH does, whilst at the same time we are driving the Convergence of the American Peoples’ Movements, which has six important axes and which clearly overlaps with COPINH. We are also involved in the anti-dam fight and in the struggle against the US military occupation in the continent. So we are coordinating the Third Hemispheric Meeting Against the Militarisation of Colombia. The Second was here – COPINH called it, we were the hosts. So, I don’t really know how we do it. We’ve lost even the dream. Those coup leaders have rid us of our dream even. It’s not easy. Those fuckers have changed our life, from family life to organised life as a people.
IT: Are you working with other organisations, like COFADEH?
BC: What happens is that since before we had a real affinity in our work, as with COFADEH on the issue of human rights for example, when Amnesty came they invited us. We then invited them to our events and we had an exchange. We support them in things like training and interchange of experiences. With OFRANEH the thing is that we have a common struggle with the indigenous and black people and their sister organisations, we have a political coincidence and very similar visiols, so that helps us all. After the coup, it was even more so, and here we have had to form one major bond – we’ve looked out for one another – there’s a wealth of human solidarity which we didn’t think about before. We didn’t think we were capable of it and so it was difficult for us, and now we are working all the time on the theme of the coup’s impact, we’re always monitoring it and making national and international denunciations.
IT: Regarding Zelaya, do you think that one day he’s going to return to Honduras and that he might have some influence on happenings in the future?
BC: It’s not that he’s going to have or has influence. Initially he was a folkloric person in this country, but he changed – the coup changed him and his family and you have to understand that he’s not a type that comes from the left, from a social movement. He comes from the rural land-owning sector, the large landowners. But he underwent a great change. Now he could be a very positive element for the Resistance, for the re-founding project, if he could de-link himself from the Liberal party, if he took another step to leave it and if he came closer to the Honduran people – that would be very good.
And I perceive that that’s what the Honduran people want, wherever he goes the people expect a lot of him. He’s going to come back, that man is going to return, and when he enters the country it will be through here, through this frontier with El Salvador. When he enters here for the embassy he’ll pass through here, through this frontier, and I feel that Mel has the perspective and the desire to carry on, to follow through. But if he does come in he will always be threatened and they are quite capable of killing him, or of putting him in prison, and of exhibiting him to humiliate him as they wanted to do from the first day when they got him out in his pyjamas, in fact they want to humiliate him, to make an exhibition of him in his humiliation – they are going to want to do that.
So, I think he has a great potential to influence matters. There are many people waiting for him to say whether he will be thrown out of the Liberal party or whether he will stay there. If only he would take a step to leave that oligarchic, oppressive and coup-minded party, that would be really good. Definitely that man still has great charisma, what he says and does carries a lot of weight.