Berta Oliva

Interviewee: Berta Oliva De Nativi, Founder of COFADEH, the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: COFADEH offices in Tegucigalpa
Date: 14th October 2016

Key Words: Human rights defenders, Land rights, Corruption, Impunity, Criminalisation, CICIH [International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras], CICIG [International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala], MACCIH [Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras]

Martin Mowforth (MM): …. Some thoughts of Berta Oliva de Nativi about the case of the 35 high-placed government officials, including those from the Honduran Armed Forces. My question is: do you believe that the resolution of these 35 cases would clean up the situation in Honduras, or is it simply the tip of the iceberg? Do you follow?

Berta OlivaO: Look, yes, I think that the issue of the detentions following on from the extraditions of people from our country is not going to resolve any problem. What it’s reflecting is the inexistence of a system of justice in our country – the incapacity of those who administer justice in Honduras. What it also shows is the complexity of the degraded state of affairs that our country has unfortunately fallen into after the military coup.

It becomes more and more worrying because one sees the human rights organisations have been accompanying not [specific] cases but processes in the country in order to document, help and position themselves with respect to the different petitions which are legally recognised in our country. This gives the chance to the same authorities which claim that they are conducting investigations to bring prosecutions to the courts in Honduras.

Why [do the human rights organisations do this]? To return hope to the Honduran people who are eager to see justice. But we have constantly seen that there is manipulation covering up technical knowledge in human rights, throughout the whole justice system, cleaning up everything as regards human rights. But what we see every time is the strengthening of impunity in Honduras. And impunity then allows aggression towards human rights defenders in general. Also we see the complicity of those who are charged with imparting justice in the corruption that our country generates, a country full of impunity.

So the extraditions reflect that, that we do not have a system of law, we do not have a system of justice that is capable of carrying out an investigation and of applying sanctions. And we don’t have such a system because when extradition charges are brought or when we mention the extradition of members of the National Council or Deputies or even Congress members, some local authorities, such as Mayors or Deputies – these are the authorities which represent the different legal structures established in our country, and they are the ones on the list or who have been charged [with extradition].

So we have a lot to do to understand why there is no justice in Honduras and why it’s going to be so hard to return to this position of building the hope that Honduras can change in terms of the application of justice. For one, because it’s interesting to see that it is these same authorities who are linked to organised crime and who are part of the structures of terror which are part of the phenomenon of narco-trafficking. So when they are charged, when they are accused in the courts, we have a complex situation in the country. It is the authorities which are part of the problem of organised crime, of narco-trafficking and of the serious and constant violations of human rights. We have a country so degraded that every time fewer Hondurans get angry in our own country. Why? Because we don’t have anyone to turn to, an authority which can solve the problem. You have to come from abroad to see how to help resolve such an acute crisis in Honduras. With sorrow, with concern and with indignation, I can tell you today it is a country that suffers serious intervention. We are under complete control. Here we have, for example, the presence of the Southern Command of the United States [which] is more than evident. Here one can see how the international organisation MACCIH [Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras] operates; it says it aims to combat corruption in Honduras or at least helps to combat corruption.

But also all the time the International Red Cross is being strengthened in Honduras. Why? Because something serious is happening here. We also have the presence of the offices of the High Commission [UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency]; although this doesn’t work for the defenders, but the reason that there is a presence and offices of the High Commission in any country is because it is a country in crisis, and it also suffers a high degree of outside intervention. And there is a strong presence of the UNHCR in Honduras. And simply we have the presence of PBI [Peace Brigades International], which although it helps the defenders is here because they are aware of the crisis and the agony that we have in Honduras.

So, I make these remarks because I always see a tendency from central authorities, from the government, to believe that militarising the country, re-militarising Honduran society and the state’s institutions is going to resolve the problem which it’s been incapable of resolving because that [militarisation] is part of the strategy. From within the state they create a culture of fear through violence: public insecurity, legal insecurity, the student crisis, the education system that we have in the country; it is so worrying because in a country where the education system is permanently in crisis, it’s logical that the results are going to be so mediocre that we are going to have a population with much more illiteracy than we currently have.

So I believe, I’m absolutely convinced, that the situation in the country is deteriorating, and it’s becoming increasingly debased. And the human rights defenders, especially those with human rights organisations, that we have worked with accompanying processes and the victims – we are at permanent risk. And that costs us dearly because personally I work for the promotion of life, the promotion of liberties, for the strengthening of a state of law so that we can have those rights, to see how we can recover our rights. So we’re aware of the risks that face us, but we’re not going to recommend saying “I’m at risk”, because then we would dedicate ourselves to protecting ourselves and that would generate tension which they would see in us. And I’m concerned, really concerned, that the people in the communities, in the interior of the country, those who are unseen, that they are not protected.

I believe that it’s important that the international organisations must understand that to protect human rights defenders and organisations you have to be part of a chain. You protect me because I carry out a function of accompaniment, of follow-up, of exposure and of action on the ground.

MM: Yes.

BO: So it’s a game of chess, like moving a chess piece, but we also have to be aware of it. First, I think that to understand the logic of what we are living through, you have to have a class consciousness.

MM: Yes, I understand. OK. Many thanks.

One las question please. Do you think that a CICIH [International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras], like the CICIG in Guatemala, would be a route out of the Honduran problems? I imagine that that won’t be very realistic because the government is blocking the possibility of creating a CICIH. But they’ve already created their own investigative organisation. But do you think that a CICIH would be a possibility? And would it be a serious path out of the Honduran problems?

Berta Oliva: Look, with the levels of breakdown of the country, I believe that we have to begin to re-establish our participation as citizens. The government has done all it can to create the culture of fear, to keep us in silence so that we say nothing and are unable to join together. But it’s also doing everything it can to impose its own structures and mechanisms, making use of its international alliances and also taking advantage of international treaties and conventions to put in place its own spaces which certify its actions. Far from calling for the government and the authorities for a non-continuation along this route, what we have in the country is a process of certification of violations of human rights and of citizen rights.

So at the present moment I don’t see that a CICIH in the Guatemalan style can be installed in our country. Why? Because it has to have the approval of the government in order for it to function well. And it’s not convenient for the government to have a CICIH because there is already the example of what happened in Guatemala. So it’s not going to want to create a space of that kind so that within one, or ten, or five, or four years, it brings to life what the government in Guatemala is experiencing.

So, I think that at first what must be done is the empowerment of Hondurans, to begin to speak, to begin to articulate, what we are left with to adjust, to juggle with the necessities really. Because I’m going to say: the government also has a strategy to submit the majority of the Honduran people to hunger. Through unemployment we get the buying and selling of people at a local level, and those who can’t buy are submitted to fear. There is a strategy to place us, for example human rights defenders, against the majority of the population. We can’t continue to remain silent about the levels of criminalisation which we face in the country. I can tell you that lately, whilst the government has been working on international lobbying to say that it has advanced on human rights, here they continue criminalising people. On Friday last week, six campesinos from the ‘El Paraíso’ ranch were criminalised for defending a piece of land on which they could live and eat. Amongst the six campesinos is a human rights defender who has been a beneficiary of our training programme for empowerment and who represented human rights defenders locally. And on this we can say that he is a member of the ‘El Paraíso’ network; that is, a defender found guilty today. But likewise another defender of the South network, who has also benefitted from our programmes and who even managed to create networks of human rights defenders, has been arrested and convicted. We’ve managed to get him liberated, this human rights defender from the south of the country, but conditionally.

So, what to say?

MM: The ‘El Paraíso’ ranch is in the south?

BO: No. The southern network is in the south of the country, and it’s there that Abel Pérez was convicted. He was arrested, we managed to get him out, but his freedom is only conditional. And he has to present himself to the Judicial Power, saying that he is there, that he’s not doing anything bad, prohibited from going near the land he was defending and where he was accompanying those who were recovering a bit of land.

And the ‘El Paraíso’ network is in the north-west and has a border with [the department of] Olancho.

MM: Ah with Olancho.

BO: With Olancho and with Nicaragua.

MM: Yes. OK.

BO: So there we are, we have to denounce this type of deed. That is to say, feel for the defenders, they are imprisoned because they accompany those who recover a little piece of land which they have worked on for years. And they are submitted to an unjust system of justice, but they say “No!” so they’re submitted to the law, and the law is what it says. And so it becomes clear in this sense that not all the law is just because they are committing injustices not only against the campesinos, but as much against the human rights defenders. Apart from this burden that affects us, there is a campaign of permanent criminalisation. Today the government sees the human rights defenders as the enemy, like before they saw us as those who were accused and who were then disappeared as terrorists. Now they look upon the defenders in the same way as if we give a bad image of the country; so they declare us to be bad Hondurans because we speak and say what is happening in Honduras.

MM: Yes, I follow. OK.

BO: So, as far as the MACCIH is concerned, I don’t believe that it can be installed in our country at this moment. Sorry, I don’t believe that a CICIH can be established here. What we do have is a MACCIH which has already been here for two months, and we have seen that it is largely silenced; and whilst everything happens, nothing happens. They don’t notice the danger.

MM: Yes. OK. Very many thanks Berta.



Interviewee: Marta (This is a pseudonym used for protection of the interviewee’s identity).
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: San Martín, El Salvador
Date: 19 January 2019
Themes: Interview with Marta about her experience as a migrant on one of the migrant caravans from El Salvador heading for the United States during 2018. Interview conducted  in a car surrounded by much traffic noise.

Key words: migration; human caravan; ‘coyotes’/traffickers; gangs.


Marta: Where do you want me to start?

Martin: From your departure from El Salvador, on the first caravan.

Marta: I went on the first caravan where there were a lot of Hondurans. I left from here in El Salvador on Friday 20th October [2018] and I arrived on Sunday [uncertain date] at 2 in the morning where we were crossing the Río Hietucumbando [?]. I was incorporated into the throng in the Ciudad Hidalgo Park where there were all the people from a caravan who still hadn’t made it. I was with my grandson and a neighbour who had also come with me, and we were waiting for them to get up at 4 in the morning. They got up at 3:30 in the morning and we began to walk to get to Tapachula.

Our aim was to make it along the whole road and I’m not sure if it’s about 38 or 40 kilometres from Ciudad Hidalgo to Tapachula; but we arrived at 6 pm, or around 5:30 pm at Tapachula. That was the first section that we walked in the journey. There were masses of people, going carefully because there were migration patrols and police too.

Martin: Were there coyotes as well?

Marta: Well the coyotes I found out when we were there … Yes, I did a lot to get to Guadalajara. We were there for two days and I saw this man who seemed suspicious to me, and we began to talk.

“What do you do,” I asked.

“Right now there are many coyotes with your people. Because I know that with the same situation of the caravan they couldn’t pass themselves off as mere people.” And then, “Yes, I’m one of them,” he told me. “I brought eight people here.”

“Really? And it was no problem?”

I said to him, “Because you’re charging a fee to get these people and to bring them here. And México is giving them food, and you bring them here.”

“Yes, but only to get them to this point. There’s a zone where they won’t let them pass, where they have to pay; and I fear that they’ll get rid of me too.”

I don’t know, perhaps it’s the narcos, I don’t know. He didn’t explain it to me very well. “They won’t let you pass through this zone and you could be kidnapped. So here I’m going to be with you and everything is relaxed, and I’m here to go with you if you want to go onto another state.”

When we got to México City, I saw him twice, but I never got to know the people that he brought. I saw him because he’s from here, a Salvadoran, and I had seen him in México.

Martin: And what did you do in Tijuana?

Marta: In Tijuana?

Martin: Yes.

Marta: Well, when we reached México City, they sent us to Tijuana. There they received us in the Benito Juárez Auditorium. There they told us where we were, all of arrived, and they put us up. Well, in my case, I didn’t go in because I was carrying a child, and I hadn’t registered in the caravan. I always tried to avoid it whenever they were passing lists around. Because I didn’t want him to be recorded as being on the caravan to the United States; firstly because I didn’t take him with me because I wanted to, rather because the pandillas (gangs) wanted him to join them. Because he was a child of 15 years old, so here in El Salvador when they become young adolescents, young men, they are obliged to join the gangs; and I was fearful of that. I’d already told his mum and she told me, “look, mum, you’ve got the have a chance to join the caravan.” And thank God it happened and I brought him with me; I felt that I was saving his life because if he got roped into the gangs he would have only three options: prison, hospital or the cemetery. So, I brought him with me, thank God.

From the time when we began to enter México, as we were arriving in the streets there were lorries with water, fruit, food. And where we got to sleep there were medics who spent the whole night with us. For me it was a good experience and I thank God because at least we didn’t suffer like others had done.

We didn’t know if on an event like this – I went on the caravan – I didn’t know if we were going to be able to eat or if there would be nothing to eat, where to sleep, or if anyone would give me water. You go ready for everything.

Also on the caravan you have two aims: one is to incorporate yourself into the caravan and to get through México without problems. There are organisers who talk with the authorities so that they allow safe passage, to go and not to have to spend anything, thank God. The other is the final point at whichever frontier. In our case we got to Tijuana and there, as we say in our country, “Snub, snub, each to their own house.” So, once there, there were those who had relatives who came to collect them, others who stayed there waiting for documents, and others who wanted to enter the United States. And my aim was to get there to Tijuana, and to find out how this child could enter the United States, and with God’s help my daughter also had contacts there, and so I managed to deliver him into the hands of some lawyers who had a house in Tijuana. We went there and I managed to leave him and he was there for fifteen days. Afterwards he had the bad luck, on the day that I came back to El Salvador, and when he was to get into the United States, the Mexican migration got him and he spent five days in jail at the frontier. But the same lawyers were able to get him out. But he was there for another 15 days because by chance a congressional representative arrived – he was a friend of a reporter who was a friend of my daughter, of the boy’s mother. So she told him, “look, you’re going to México to see the emigrants, aren’t you? I’m not going to go because I’m going to Casa Venta; so you go and bring Vladimir back to me,” she said (because Vladimir is Veronica’s son). It’s a case where they see the caravan and all of a sudden he says to me “they’re going to interview me mum.” And I was interviewed a lot too by reporters who came from Los Angeles to Tijuana. And that’s how it was with the congressional representative who came and got him through, passing by migration. So he’s in Florida hoping that one day I’ll take a plane and he’ll say I’ve left.

I’m still not completely happy; I wanted to see my son who also left because he’s still in immigration. But I have faith in God that our walk and the sacrifice, the effort that we made – because we put up with storms, we got exhausted, we slept in the street, but …..

Martin: And how did you get back?

Marta: I came back when I’d already delivered the child and I said to my daughter “Daughter, I have nothing more to do here; the child is in the hands of the authorities who will look after him, who will deliver him to the North American immigration authorities. I’m going back to my country. So I bought a direct ticket, from Tijuana to Tapachula; from Tapachula to Guatemala; and from Guatemala to El Salvador. And that’s how I’m here, thanking God.

Martin: By bus?

Marta: By bus. What a journey in the caravan and nobody is going to say I’m lying. I know that’s how it was. Also I know that’s a good caravan.

Martin: An adventure.

Marta: Certainly an adventure.

Martin: But do you want to do it again, or not? To try it another time?

Marta: Well I would say if in the case for example, I have two grandchildren and they said to me that they have problems and wanted to join a caravan, yes, I would do it again. Because a mother tries to help her sons in whatever way is possible for her. And I saw that whilst you go with God in the caravan, I always put myself as near as possible to the organisers and close to the reporters and the authorities – it’s always best to be near them. And I used to get upon the trucks which migration had sent to give us rides. One lorry I didn’t get up on was one that lost a lot of people – sadly they lost 100 people – we didn’t notice because we were many thousands of people. There were rumours, but I didn’t see them and so I’m not going to say that it’s certain, but I did hear the rumours. They told us that they wanted to steal children too, there were rumours, but again I didn’t see it so I’m not going to talk about it. There was an accusation that some people were stealing children in the night, but I can’t be certain because I didn’t see it. There were loads of people. But thank God, everything worked out OK for me.

Martin: Many thanks and good luck in the future. 

Marta: Yes, like I said, I’m an adventurous woman.

Martin : OK, thanks.

Interview with Manuel Zelaya, deposed President of Honduras

Interviewee: Manuel Zelaya
Interviewer: Anya Parampil
Date: 20 October 2019
Theme: In the interview Manuel Zelaya discusses the extreme violence, drug trafficking, economic depression, migration crisis, Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), WikiLeaks, Venezuela, and more.

In August 2019 The Grayzone’s Anya Parampil held an exclusive interview with Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, on the 10th anniversary of the US-backed right-wing military coup that overthrew him. We are grateful to Max Blumenthal of The Grayzone for permission to reproduce the interview in The Violence of Development website.

The Grayzone is an independent news website dedicated to original investigative journalism and analysis on politics and empire. It was founded and is edited by award-winning journalist and author Max Blumenthal

AP is a journalist based in Washington, DC. She previously hosted a daily progressive afternoon news program called In Question on RT America. She has produced and reported several documentaries, including on-the-ground reports from the Korean peninsula and Palestine.

Anya Parampil  (AP): Thank you for your time, Mr. President. It has been 10 years since you were removed in a US-backed coup from your position as the democratically elected president of Honduras. What has the United States accomplished since then, what has changed in your country?

Manuel Zelaya (MZ): The rupture of a social contract, which we call the constitution of the republic, in the constitution of the state, when a social contract is broken, what logically comes next is the law of the stronger (survival of the fittest). Crimes, killings, torture. Always the winning side against the opposition.

That has been a sacrifice for the Honduran people, because the side that took power had the support of the United States. The US is the major beneficiary of the coup. And there is a principle in penal law that says the beneficiary of a crime is the principal suspect.

How has it been the beneficiary? The US has almost complete control over Honduras. Control over justice through the OAS (Organisation of American States). It controls security through US Southern Command. It controls the economy through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and IDB (Inter-American Development Bank).

It controls the main media networks in Honduras; it has a big influence over the opinion of the main media outlets. It funds many churches, which receive donations from North American NGOs. And it finances Honduran NGOs. That is, it controls public opinion. It controls the powers of the state.

And in this way, it has a high interference in the decisions of states like Honduras, poor states, weak states, where their rulers, to receive protection, give up everything to the North Americans.

AP: What has been the impact on the average Hondurans throughout these years?

MZ: Poverty increased. There are more poor people. The poverty level already surpasses almost 70 percent of the population. Crime increased. Drug-trafficking increased. According to a report from the US State Department, drug trafficking in Honduras after the coup increased by almost double. And the report says that Honduras became “the drug-trafficking paradise.”

External debt increased. When they took me out at gunpoint, we owed $3 billion. Today, in 10 years, we owe $14 billion. That is four times more. So this means the country has serious problems with a lack of economic growth, a lack of investment, human rights violations.

And I will present you with only one piece of proof: The [migrant] caravans heading to the US are from Honduras. Because the [US-backed] coup d’etat turned Honduras into hell.

AP: How has this situation, what has happened over the last 10 years, contributed to the development of your party, Libre?

MZ: We are a party of opposition to the coup d’etat. And for 10 years those who carried out the coup have governed. They are the spawn of the coup. And the more errors they commit, the more they oppress, the more the opposition grows.

AP: And this has led to the strengthening of the social movements here?

MZ: Well, social movements don’t grow for a sectarian political reason; they grow because electricity was privatized and they can’t pay for light. Many social services have been privatized. They have been given to private companies. And the problem is not just that they leave it to private enterprise. Private enterprise is efficient, but it’s expensive.

The most comfortable thing for a ruler is to say, “Security will be managed for me by US Southern Command.” “The economy will be managed for me by the IMF.” “The soldiers will manage internal security for me.” “And private enterprise will manage the money for me.” So, what does the ruler do? Nothing. Simply give benefits to his followers.

AP: Who is Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) and why are we seeing now, 10 years after the coup, a re-ignition of unrest in the streets and a demand that JOH leave office?

MZ: He (JOH) is a son of the coup. He has serious personality problems. For example, I was president. And I walked in the streets. And people greeted me. And they told me, “Hi Mel! Hi President!” He (JOH) travels with armoured cars, with helicopters. He travels with a huge security team.

In my opinion, he has a problem with mental illness. He believes that being president is a big deal. And the pastors come and tell him he is chosen by God. So it becomes even worse. And he begins to act like a person who is not in touch with reality.

The people are protesting because of hunger. And he thinks they’re protesting because of politics. And he tells to the United States a speech that the US, its right-wing, conservative governing class wants to hear. He says, “In Honduras there is terrorism. [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez’s people are there in Honduras. And they are affecting me, the drug traffickers.”

I think he is suffering from psychopathy.

AP: And what about the accusations of corruption? Some Hondurans I spoke to today told me how JOH is one of the richest men in the region.

MZ: The corruption is public. They broke the social security system. Look, how do you sustain an illegal government? Paying people off. If they are legal, they don’t need to pay. Because they are the product of a social pact.

But when there is a coup d’etat, there is fraud. So they need to corrupt the institutions to sustain themselves. The fact that the United States supports a coup d’etat makes them support a dictator. And that is why corruption is surging. The corruption is the result of the dictatorship.

AP: Hondurans have also told me that a small group of families control much of the country in terms of industry and specifically the media. Can you talk about the media’s role in the coup and also in sustaining the dictatorship, which you describe?

MZ: That is how capitalism works. In the US, France, anywhere. Capitalism is based on just one principle: accumulation of wealth. That is how it functions here and in the rest of the world.

A small elite of transnational [corporations] associated with people in countries who clean up for them. They do business, and that business creates the need to set up security for themselves.

They don’t tolerate competition. I brought in oil from Venezuela, with Hugo Chávez, and they insisted that they had to maintain their agreements. And they did not accept Venezuela. And that was one of the motives behind the coup.

AP: And I believe the US ambassador at the time, Charles Ford, told you you’re not allowed to do this, as though he had the right to do this as a foreign ambassador.

MZ: The US gives advice that if you don’t follow, they act with reprisals. US President George W. Bush told it to me. John Negroponte told it to me. Ambassador Ford told it to me. And other government officials.

Bush said it to me in these words: “You cannot have relations with Hugo Chávez.” John Negroponte, his deputy secretary of state, told me, “If you sign the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance), you are going to have problems with the US.”

And I signed the ALBA. And I would sign it again if I had the chance. Because it is to help Honduras progress.

I needed the support from Brazil, the support from Venezuela, the support from the US, the support from Europe. We are not able to depend solely on the US, because the US has its own interests. It’s another nation.

AP: I would like you to comment on the significance of Wikileaks in the history of your country but also the region, and what you think about what is currently happening to Julian Assange with the with the help of the government in Ecuador?

MZ: Julian Assange is a symbol of freedom in the world today, tomorrow, and forever. He will be one of the people, in the future, like one of the great prophets. In their day, they are repressed. And later they become a symbol. That’s what Julian Assange will become.

Julian Assange proclaimed a world without secrets, an open world, a free world. Of course he affects the [powerful] interests of today. But in the future, I, and others in other generations, will follow the example of Assange.

AP: We were speaking about Ambassador Ford, I believe after he finished his work in the embassy here he went to work for SOUTHCOM, the military. Can you talk about how central the interests of the US military are to what happened with you and how its presence in the country has grown since you were ousted?

MZ: [Honduran] soldiers are trained at the [US] School of the Americas. All of their drills they do with the US. For the soldiers, the ideal of their life is to be like the US Marines, like US soldiers.

And here, the US controls the armed forces and the police. They do what the US wants them to do. They are occupation forces.

AP: I want to talk a little bit about the region, specifically Nicaragua. What do you think about the US-backed coup attempt he (Daniel Ortega) has faced over this last year? This month, I believe, is the one year anniversary since the government there defeated a US backed regime change operation.

MZ: When I returned [after the coup], I made several attempts to return to Honduras. In the return from Washington to Honduras, I was not able to land, because the military blocked me. So I had to come back through the Las Manos border crossing in Nicaragua. Then I secretly entered the Brazilian embassy. Two years later I returned from the Dominican Republic, from the Dominican Republic to Nicaragua, and from Nicaragua to Honduras.

In relation to the US trying to overthrow [Nicaraguan President] Daniel Ortega, I believe it already did it before, in the 1980s. The US armed Contras here in Honduras to fight against Nicaraguans. Since that time, I have always protested against this US occupation of Honduras to invade Nicaragua. And the people


voted for the Ortega government. He was elected.

Now, the US has been unable to overthrow him. Now, he is strong. Now Ortega has a lot of popular support. And I don’t think they are able to overthrow him, as they did in the past, from Honduras.

AP: Can you compare your party, Libre, to the Sandinista Movement and what lessons you took from them?

MZ: They are two different historical moments. Sandinismo was developed by a military sergeant, who went to the mountains at the beginning of the 20th century, and he created an anti-imperialist force that created a party called the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN). This party won a war, overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, and now organises democratically to stay in power.

We (in Honduras’ Libre Party) are a party that did not come out of the armed struggle. We did not come out of a war. We were born out of a movement that is revolutionary and democratic, but peaceful. Against the coup d’etat. And against those who support the coup. The US supported the coup.

AP: I want to talk about your personal political development because when you were elected you were considered part of a more centre-left party and movement, and now you are speaking about socialism. Why did you change and how would you characterize yourself now?

MZ: Centre-right actually. (Not centre-left.) It has been an evolution. Because the right wing is done for. It sustains itself with weapons, with coups, with fraud, with deceptions.

The future of humanity has to be social. You are a social being. You. Aristotle says that we are rational beings. The human is a rational animal. But we think that the human being, today, is a totally social being. Without society, men and women can’t survive. Everything that we think and perceive is related to our social environment.

So where should humanity walk to? To individualism, to egoism? To individual interests, or social interests? It’s to social interests.

The future of humanity is socialist. We might have to struggle for 10,000 years or more. But in the future, if humanity does not advance to be social, we would be living in caves, according to the survival of the fittest. Human beings are advancing, progressing to become social.

I was raised in a liberal political philosophy. But now I evolved to a new politics: first liberal and pro-socialist, but now democratic socialist.

AP: How were you influenced by other governments of the Pink Tide, specifically Hugo Chavez of Venezuela?

MZ: Well you would have to ask how Chávez, a soldier, became a socialist. If you find this explanation, then you will find an explanation for how I, a land-owner, went from being a capitalist to a socialist. It is a heightening of the spirit. It is the conviction of a human being.

Capitalism is so barbaric. It is not the future of humanity. If capitalism is the future of humanity, humanity is destroyed. It is defeated. It is doomed to fail. The same for the planet.

The future of humanity has to be social. It’s simple. It’s not money. It’s not commerce. It’s not simply economic activities that should lead humanity. No, those should be subject to the social.

It’s fine that private enterprise exists, private initiative. It’s fine that capital exists. But it is not ok for capital to direct the world. No, it is the world that should direct capital. This is an upside-down world.

And when you reach the highest governmental position in a country, which I reached, even in a small nation like Honduras, I learned then that there is no way to deal with capital other than subjecting it to popular sovereignty. Capital should continue to exist, but subjected to a plan of popular sovereignty that is the people.

The voice of the people is the voice of God. You have to have faith.

AP: Like Chávez, you were pursuing the process of a Constituent Assembly in your country the day of the coup, to change the character of the state here. Why do you think that specifically was so threatening to the oligarchy here and the US government?

MZ: The question is not well formulated. Do you know who Thomas Jefferson is? Do you know who George Washington is? They created the United States, with a constitution.

Why mention Chávez? Chávez is simply from the 21st century. Jefferson and Washington were from 1776. The American Revolution was anti-imperialist, against the British Empire. They developed a constitutional assembly. And you have your constitution in the US. It’s not Chávez who invented the constituent assembly; it’s Jefferson and Washington. So why be afraid of the way in which nations are formed?

When the social pact is broken, because there is a lot of poverty, there is a lot of hunger, many people in need, and the majority does not resist the economic and social situation, you have to return to the constituent dialogue. This is basic in a society.

Inside the US, there are no coups. No, there presidents have to be ready in case in any moment they are killed. Here, there are coups. And in these countries in Latin America there have been 170 coups. And the great majority of them were sponsored by the US.

And what do you do when the pact is broken? You start over with a constituent assembly.

AP: When you were facing the coup, Maduro was the Foreign Minister of Venezuela and you worked very closely with him at that time. What did you think about him, what was your impression of Nicolas Maduro, and what do you think about what’s happening now with Venezuela?

MZ: Two things: One, Chávez did not seek me out. Chávez was never going to look for a far-right country like Honduras, almost totally governed by the US. And now more than ever. And me, a president who arrived with the centre-right. Chávez would never have sought me out.

I reached out to Chávez. I have to clarify that. Chávez never had an interest in Honduras. This is an invention of right-wing activists in the US, like Otto Reich, Robert Carmona, and Roger Noriega. I had to convince him [Chávez] to come here to help us, with oil, with the ALBA alliance, with Petrocaribe.

Two: Nicolás Maduro, yes he is a socialist from birth. He is a worker, from the working class, from the class that is exploited by capital, from the class that sells its labour force, and that is denied the rights that capitalists enjoy. He is a socialist, like Chávez.

And moreover, the Bolivarian Revolution, that was initiated by Chávez, with his socialist convictions, was inherited by Nicolás [Maduro]. And he has led with a great capacity, sensibility, and conscience.

They don’t want you to recognize it, but Nicolás [Maduro] is a Latin American leader of great international stature.

AP: We’re 10 years since the coup, since then, one by one other progressive governments have been picked off and changed back into pawns of the United States. What gives you hope that one day we will see progressive governments return to power in Latin America?

MZ: No empire is eternal. With the exception of God eternal. Since the end of World War II, the US has ruled over much of the world. But it has serious contradictions. It is a country with high levels of poverty. There are serious internal contradictions.

And sometime soon, the North American ruling class will learn that to survive in the world, it will have to reduce military spending, to give medicine, healthcare, education and a good quality of life to its people. Someday they are going to understand that being the soldiers of the world, that being the police of the world, does not bring them as many benefits as they think.

And one day they are going to understand that it is better to have democratic countries than military dictatorships. When they come around, let’s hope it’s not too late.

The world is going to applaud, and meanwhile they continue giving fascist and imperialist orders installing dictators in our countries, setting up multinational corporations that exploit our rivers, our seas, our forests, our lands, and our working class. Then they will be pointed at and called practices that do not suit our countries.

I don’t have anything against the North American people. Nor do I have anything against the North American society. I’m an admirer of Lincoln, Kennedy, Jefferson, Washington, of what the US had signified. But I condemn its imperialist practices toward small countries like ours.

Instead of strengthening democracies, it strengthens military dictatorships. And that impoverishes our nation, and immigrants move there. And when immigrants move there, they start to complain.

The original source of this article is The Grayzone.

Copyright © MZ and APThe Grayzone, 2019

Carlos Flores

Interviewee: Carlos Flores of the Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: UNES office, San Salvador, El Salvador
Date: 30 July 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC


Martin Mowforth (MM): I have more specific questions about this topic, with reference to Coca Cola and the use of the Lempa river, but first I would like you to tell me your thoughts about the water supply in this country.

Carlos Flores (CF): Perhaps it is best to begin by saying that the problem of privatisation in El Salvador is present, lying dormant, but it is not the main problem.  Already, water is in crisis and still supply systems are not privatised.  I am not saying that they will improve if they are privatised, nor that the actual scheme is the best that there is to manage the water.

MM: But still there is a crisis­?

CF: Yes, there is. The water problem in El Salvador is the main socio-environmental problem; there are conflicts between communities, municipalities, commercial communities, and governmental ministries and communities.

MM: What is ANDA’s role?

CF: ANDA is an autonomous institution that is responsible for providing the water supply service.  ANDA holds part of the responsibility for the water problem in this country.  The law of creation says that ANDAs role is to supply water to all citizens and provide systems of sanitation.  We must check whether this has been achieved or not, this is a test that we must do.  This is enough analysis on this matter.

MM: With regard to water supply in the capital area, what is the current status of water quality?

CF: I agree with ANDA that the water is of good quality.

MM: The ‘quality’ includes more than just the quality of water.  I was also thinking of the quality of the service.

CF: The problem of water supply is a complex one.  If we focus on San Salvador, access is almost 95% of the capital area.  The people that live in the metropolitan area of San Salvador, mainly in the heavily populated and poor areas, have access to a stream, a pipe, but this does not automatically guarantee that they have water.  For example, Soyapango, the communities of Ilopango in San Marcos.  Almost all of these colonies have access to a pipe, but they have frequently had prolonged water cuts.  It is also very common to have a periodic water supply, sometimes once a week.  There are communities that have water once every two weeks, and some once a month.  Thus, the quality of water service is quite periodic.  This is the first element.

The quality of water is not guaranteed.  ANDA takes samples at the source, or where it is sent, or where the water arrives and where it is distributed, but we must check the quality of the transport mechanisms, as they are basically pipe systems, which, being quite old (30 or 40 years) leak in parts.  So, the problem with systems so obsolete is that they do not guarantee the quality of the water.

When there are long periods without water supply, the problem is that the systems generate a reverse pressure, so that the water goes out instead of into the pipe.  When this occurs, the pipes tend to leak and pipes rupture, so anything from earth and organic matter to raw sewage can enter into the water.  Thus, the quality of water reaching the family homes could be guaranteed under current conditions.

We are talking about a service that is unprofitable, since we are talking about communities that do not have a regular service.  This can be explained and I will try to give a technical explanation, but it is not too technical.  Technical in the sense of hydraulic solutions, to seek more wells or to extend the pipes, the problem is that the water nearby, i.e. the aquifer in San Salvador always produces less water.  This has forced ANDA to implement different projects, there is one in particular that is called The Pavas Plant (la Planta de las Pavas) that provides San Salvador with almost 40% of the water used, which is a large quantity of water.  The water is transported almost 40 kilometres which is very costly for ANDA.   And there is a problem, because in San Salvador ANDA produces close to 5 cubic meters per second, and loses almost 50% (2.5 cubic meters).  This is a large quantity of resources to lose and it is directly impacting the service that is received by the people that live in the capital.  It is not possible to achieve zero leakage, there is no system that is perfect, but we cannot continue maintaining a scheme like the one we have now.  This has its origin in a system of neglect, an attitude that has given little importance to water in general and the service of supply and sanitation.  This lack of interest is translated into little public investment by the San Salvadorian state in this area.  The people that make the decisions are not interested in how to fully resolve the problem, because suddenly a loan is obtained to put a patch on the problem, to make another supply plant or to construct a sporadic sanitation plant.  There is not a state policy which tells us or which can send us an increasing or sustained level of investment which would help us to resolve this problem.  There is no planning system that they can tell us, well, this pipe is 40 years old, and it has to be changed.  This leads to an additional problem – the sewage pipes of San Salvador.  The sewage system in San Salvador already is between 40 and 50 years old.  This puts us in a very serious position because when we are talking about sewage sanitation, we are talking about sewage pipes of a larger diameter.  If these pipes start to fail …  The same applies for rain water pipes, because they already have the same life.  The problem is that these pipes are beginning to collapse which leads us to the problem that we are facing right now in San Salvador – the appearance of gullies, large-scale holes in the middle of the city, that are becoming more frequent.  We dedicate state resources to, literally, cover these holes, without even really planning to make this investment.  We should plan it better but we have to plan it now, and still it is not planned.  At present we are making a diagnosis to see which pipes should be changed.  We are beginning to make the diagnosis, even though we do not have resources reserved.  We think that it is necessary to give it our full attention: we talk of leaks in pipes that are obsolete; we talk of the collapse of pipes for sewage and rainwater.  This is the system in San Salvador.  We are talking about the scarcity or the deepening of water tables, mainly because the aquifer of San Salvador is going down very quickly.  This is forcing us to make plans to transfer water from other basins.  And thus is San Salvador, the Salvadoran territory is the space where the most users are connected to the supply system and to the sewage system, but in practical terms the concentration of population receives the least water per capita and gives the least treatment of waste water.

MM: Do you know if the water table has been affected by pesticides or residues of any other chemical, fertilizers perhaps?

CF: There are no studies about the quality of the water at this level.  At the beginning of this year, as part of World Water Day, the Environmental Minister made an announcement that all of the surface water in El Salvador is contaminated, i.e. there is no safe water in El Salvador, and some water is prohibited, even for bathing.  This was the announcement, which was very worrying.  I could give indicators that could tell us that there are problems with sewage.

MM: I have been told that there is a study by the university, but also by UNES about water pollution.

CF: No, we haven’t done a study on pollution.  But there is a study about the quality of El Salvadoran water by the Ministry of the Environment.  In El Salvador, there is the capacity for sewage treatment, although only for 14% of sewage, but what really is purified is 10% of the water.  This indicates that there are problems with sewage.  In the case of the industries it is more difficult, because there are more or less 1,600 companies in El Salvador, and if we manage to get 300 to treat their sewage then that it good enough.  So, we are very far from achieving the treatment of sewage and the control of sewage.

In the case of pesticides, in El Salvador prohibited pesticides are still sold.  This can be taken as an indicator of what we can find.  There are many water boards – the water board is a community organisation that manages a supply system – that are faced with doing the chemical analysis of water parameters that are found to be very high in lead, boron, cadmium.  These chemicals appear suddenly, and just as suddenly have disappeared from the water supply.  It is not a systematic analysis but we receive these types of complaints and we see them as precise indicators of what we can find.  In this country, this type of study is very expensive, they could be done by the Ministry of the Environment, but they are not.

MM:  As for the access to drinking water in rural areas, could you give me some sources of data for this, apart from the United Nations?

CF: We recently did an investigation, and in March we held the second regional meeting for organisations that work in the field of water, it is called Towards the construction of a new public institution for the management of water and sanitation.  So, we have an investigation in El Salvador which highlights the problems of water in terms of supply.  Broadly, this is a form of community management of water in El Salvador which is supplying close to 19% of the population.  This shows that there is a serious problem in this country, because ANDA, which is the public institution that is ordered by law to do this, is supplying only 40% of the Salvadoran population with its supply service.  The remainder are supplied by water management boards, between municipalities and a system known as the self-sufficiency system, which is a system run by construction companies that implement water supply systems to make their own projects seem attractive.

MM:  This type of exchange is like a planning benefit because the company can have permission to do what it wants to do, and in exchange they supply water to a percentage of houses.

CF:  Exactly. And there emerges a problem.  The problem is that legally they are only taking part, the supply systems are only directly regulated by ANDA, legally.  There are the municipalities, the water boards and there are the self-sufficient systems that would be the will of God.  In the case of the water board systems, it is the people from rural communities, who are very poor, that often have to pay five or six times more than they would pay for urban systems, such as the one supplied by ANDA.  It is like a paradox, because ANDA has a water subsidy, which applies to users, which until recently were all users of ANDA, including the people that have the means to pay and that have had a great capacity for squandering water.  So, we have ended up subsidising the middle class and rich people, and we have been forcing people to pay, first the bill, but after the bill, for the cost of the construction of the supply system.

When we speak of supply we leave the most profound issue that the supply, the final supply that indicates to us how the state can break its promises, … (missing transcription) … the obligation to guarantee the right to water and committing injustices, like the issue of the subsidies.  But the water problem in El Salvador is much more severe than the supply, because the water problem is expressed in drought, floods and landslides. In El Salvador we go from periods of drought to flooding.  This has, without any doubt, to do with the effects of climate change, which is an external phenomenon.

Undoubtedly, there is another important component here which is the development model that has been implemented in this country and the rest of this region, which makes us more vulnerable to these impacts.  So, the water problem that I mentioned is drought, flooding, pollution and water shortages.  We see it as it is, but there are underlying structural causes.

MM: You can also link the problem to deforestation during the years of the war and afterwards?

CF:  It is the historic process of the implementation of different types of agro-export models, of the implementation of monocultures.  The 700’s began with the cultivation of indigo, and for this, crops were destroyed to the quantity of … (missing translation) … Deforestation has its origin in this: indigo, coffee, after the coffee it changed the land use to the mountains, after came the sugar cane, cotton and after all this, the processes that come associated with the neoliberal model, the intention to turn El Salvador into a ‘service-hub’.

MM: To make our clothes in the West.

CF: Yes, Singapore style.  It has cost us what we had.

MM:  I do not know much about the problems caused by Coca-Cola in Nejapa or near to Nejapa.  Do you know anything about this?

CF: Not so much, but I can make approximations.  Coca-Cola has not been in Nejapa for very long.  It was in Soyapango for ten years.  Soyapango was one of the zones with the richest aquifer in San Salvador.  Coca Cola dried up around 40 wells in the aquifer and when there were no wells left nearby, they packed their bags and left for Nejapa, which is another area that supplies San Salvador with water.  Competition is needed to supply San Salvador or to give water to the companies.  The previous administration of ANDA had a pretty good arrangement to save water for businesses, it was to open wells, to do research, and to find out if there was enough water to save for investments, sacrificing the need for water in San Salvador.  There were 15 or 20 open wells that had a good supply capacity, but they were not used for this … So, Coca-Cola is doing global research about its impact on the neighbouring communities.  For this report they have chosen three countries and one of them is El Salvador.  The organisation that is developing this report is called Offam America, and they invited me to listen to the progress of the investigation in El Salvador.

MM:  This was recently?

CF:  It was last November, it still isn’t finished.  If they finish it, they will not return to invite me, but it was supposed to be finished in April.  The progress was until November, we were invited to listen to everything that they had achieved so that from what we said, they could explore other elements.   To me it seemed peculiar, first because in the report they still took it that water is an indispensible material for production, they did not put it in the costs of production.  They said that the chemicals of Coca-Cola were the first input, the production plant was the second input and that the labour that they took from Nejapa and Quetzaltepeque was the third input.  Water was not yet there.  I made this comment.  Another thing that interested me is that they had quite an emphasis on the fact that they respect the laws of the country, i.e. that they pay the amount that the law states and that the tariff s that ANDA charge them are 6 centavos and they pay the 6 centavos for the 149,000 cubic meters that they use per year (149,000 m³).  It is interesting because in El Salvador we do not have a General Water Law and it is peculiar because between 1998 and 2005 they discussed ten draft bills, they constructed them, and they paid for them with loans. Then, consultants came from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, Spain, each one to make their proposal for the law, from their vision and emphasis etc. Some proposals involved privatisation, others did not, but in general they were all very loose about the issue of regulation.  What is interesting is that nothing was approved by the private sector (they were only consulted) so nothing was official and therefore nothing was passed at the Legislative Assembly.  So, I made this comment as a joke: that it is so easy to comply with the law when the law permits me to do anything I want and it is so easy to obey the law when I determine whether or not there is a law.  And here lies the problem.  We can analyse what Coca Cola does.  And because they have already complied with ANDA’s 6 centavos, which is almost $20,000 per year, mission accomplished.  They say that they go there because they have two basin management projects with those who spend maybe $10,000 per year and they go to give bottles of water to the communities that do not have them.  With this issue addressed in the current conditions, we say very little.  If there were more restrictive laws and if there were institutions that had the ability to monitor and to regulate, then we could see how to confront them.  Under the current conditions, however, they give us a sweet and we are happy and we feel that we have won.

MM:  One last thing.  Could you give me a few words about free trade in this country, and specifically the working conditions within the factories? I know that these are different issues, but they are also linked and I wonder if the free trade treaties (CAFTA-RD and the Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union) have clauses and articles about the conditions in the factories.

CF:  I am going to respond firstly to the environmental issue and afterwards to the topic of the factories.  The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States (US) already causes us a problem.  At present, we are faced with two international demands on the issue of mining: Pacific RIM and Commerce Group Corp.  They have each demanded $100 million from us respectively, covered in the FTA.  At the moment this impact is more severe than it looks, not for the $100 million each, but because there are 29 exploration permits that have been given, so there could be 29 demands for $100 million for the FTA with the US.  Here there is another problem which is the present government’s necessity to continue negotiating free trade treaties, because they are also negotiating under the table an FTA with Canada.  We do not trade anything with Canada, maybe some pupusas (typical El Salvadorian tortilla).  Canada’s interest in El Salvador is in gold and silver, so the FTA is gold and silver, and we are still determined to negotiate this treaty, despite the implications that it could have.  With the European Union (EU) we have more or less the same history.  In the AA we begin with everything that has been negotiated with the US, that the EU’s AA already has, and we negotiate from there up.  And this is not a good thing.  With the EU, what is it that runs a risk? The environmental issue.  1) Biodiversity, 2) The agrochemicals business, i.e. the pollution from agriculture, there is Monsanto, Merck, etc, and 3) medicine.  These are the biggest businesses that the EU has. In addition, the telephone, but that is another issue … Here are the impacts that we see and the impacts that are not so far away because already some are beginning to occur.  When we speak of biodiversity, we mean the threat of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) which would become almost an obligation in this treaty.

MM:  This is a part of the treaties.

CF:  Of course.  On the issue of the factories, here there is not too much to regulate, the factories in El Salvador are a branch of Europe in the 1700’s, still since the times of slavery.  Various studies have shown the serious breaches of human rights in the factories.  Here there is not too much to regulate, because nothing is regulated, apart from the minimum wage which is being pushed very strongly in El Salvador in order to make the working hours more flexible, to hire by the hour and provide no overtime pay.  The treaty has not gone into much depth on this issue because it has not been necessary.  Already the conditions are fairly good within the companies, and also El Salvador is not one of the main strengths, it is not a very attractive country for businesses.  It does not have the water supply system that it needs and electricity is very expensive.  So, between China and El Salvador, companies go to China or Asia, where the conditions are much worse than here.

MM: The two M’s are terrible for El Salvador, Migration and Maquilas (factories).


Dr Juan Almendares

Interviewee: Dr Juan Almendares
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: 23rd August 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC



Juan Almendares (JA): I’m going to tell you more or less the areas in which I work, both as a person and with organisations, because I work with organisations. We’re associated with the Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Families (CPTRT) – the web page is . In this we work on the most difficult issue of human rights, that is torture, because in general the army and the police do not want to be accused of it.

The other area in which we work is community work, so we have the Action Committee for Peace (COAPAZ), for which we work in 26 communities, where most of the participants are women from very poor barrios. That movement forms part of the Mother Earth Movement (MMT), which is part of Friends of the Earth International.

At the same time, we have this clinic which is for humanitarian services. We’re not welfare assistants, we work with the grassroots in social organisation. Also we’ve done a lot of work on mines, studies in mines, clinical studies in difficult cases of displacements of campesinos and indigenous peoples, and of police and military brutality.

On a personal level, we write a lot on the environment, human rights, political history, and our activity is very intense.

The question of human rights we see from the human and politico-social perspectives. Personally, I hold an ideological position which is anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, and we are fighting against what can be called the military agro-industrial complex.

We have worked in the area of knowledge and the area of practice. We work in prison, a tough and historic work in the prisons because they are cauldrons of injustice. There’s a team, there are materials, there’s a whole series of things produced. That’s through CPTRT. The CPTRT has a big team of people, thirty people at full time, it’s an institutional work in which we have to follow an institutional mandate. Our central work theme is torture, medical attention and psychological care, but we also make denunciations, do case monitoring, and there’s an interdisciplinary team: lawyers, sociologists, social workers, medics, psychologists and social communicators. At the beginning it had a medical and psychological focus, but now it has a community focus. We are based here but we work in rural communities.

We have two types of work: first, you have to see work with the most violent communities of Tegucigalpa; we are in Nueva Suyapa where we have a really strong programme in the community – we’ve been there for several years. Second, we’ve serviced MUCA (the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán) where there is a social project. We were in almost all the fincas taken by the MUCA. The hardest movement is the problem of how to respond to them – it’s the fundamental campesino problem right now and the riskiest problem. In fact, they nominated us as the representatives of MUCA for the Verification Commission of the Human Rights Committee.

We are also in the SARA Movement – that is the Movement for Food Sovereignty and Agrarian Reform. We are part of that movement which is a campesino movement. It’s a part of Vía Campesina and other organisations. We’re in the Political Commission of the Let’s Go With Grains Campaign in which there are a number of organisations making up an agrarian platform. We’ve also contributed to the organisation of human rights in Honduras, the platform which has promoted the Truth Commission. There are six of these organisations and the work is collective – there’s no one organisation which represents it, rather it’s a uniting of organisations.

In the Centre we have been the object of several attacks. We have had to move and change office, and right now we are in another place, partly because of the rain and also because we’ve had some personal threats. We try to keep a low profile and in the reports we try to be as objective as possible and as close to the truth as possible, with the aims of satisfying the responsibility ethic and of not losing institutional credibility. More or less that is the CPTRT.

As for the Mother Earth Movement, here in 2008 Friends of the Earth organised its world meeting in recognition of the work done by the Mother Earth Movement, and the theme was sovereignty and climate change. It was in Tegucigalpa. There were 800 delegates at that meeting and the organisation was really popular. We did it in the mountains in …???… and women from the barrios did it all. They won an international prize for the work.

We’ve worked on mining for more than ten years and are in contact with the Environmental Committee of the Valle de Siria and we’re also part of the Civic Alliance for Democracy which is another organisation which has protested against mining. The anti-mining protest here has been very strong. At the moment it’s changed a bit because of the coup.

We have also worked against the transgenics. With Monsanto our work is to mobilise marches and participation, to denounce and also to research. Mother Earth is forest, water, a whole series of things, and it’s a campesino issue.

In COAPAZ we have …???… relatives. There’s community social work and in the clinic we use alternative medicine. I’m a medical doctor, a physiologist. I studied in the University of California and in the University of Pennsylvania. I’ve been a professor, a rector, a dean, various things, so we are very absorbed in this. And now with the coup we are very much into the Resistance. We also try to keep a low profile, not for any particular problem, but because of security. We’ve had a lot of threats and attacks.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Have the threats increased since the coup?

JA: Perhaps in some circumstances. What happens is that we are well-known in the country and we have many international links. But, yes, it has happened to us. For example, we had to cancel the telephone for four months, four months without a telephone. They had got into all our systems. For example, at the moment they have tapped my whole system. I’ve lost all my contacts, I’ve changed my email, I’m rather isolated, the telephones I have are tapped. They cut our water for almost a month, and it’s not a question of not paying. They’ve loosed off some shots at us and they’ve threatened all the team. Well, at least I can send what I write which are strong statements against the army and we try to promote the Resistance. But I’m not really on the scene because when I am on the scene I’m in danger because they see me as an ideologue. So we try to keep a relatively low profile.

MM: What’s your analysis of the current situation of the Resistance and the movement to promote the new Constitution?

JA: I think that there’s no doubt that the Resistance is the strongest and most popular political movement in the country. It’s not been easy from below, there have been a lot of repression, threats and assassinations. Not just the leaders have been assassinated, but also their families and relatives. For example I don’t have any contact with my family, and if I do it’s very limited, very short. It’s a very tense situation. But despite that, the Resistance is very strong in rural communities and with the campesinos.

I’ve been involved in the whole process since the Resistance first arose. The Resistance was formed almost the same day as the coup took place, when we were facing the army troops. Under that tension the Resistance was formed by various organisations. It’s a very plural movement that involves all sectors of society; it’s a movement which dialectically engages the coup and helps to unify the people; it’s a positive thing that has come from the coup. The coup gives us many negative things, but the positive side was that it has facilitated the organisation and unity of the people, and not solely those people on the left, but all sectors. So the Resistance was formed as a plural movement which takes a non-violent line.

So it included people of every tendency: Marxists, liberals, even conservatives. There were also the supporters of ex-President Zelaya, people from popular social movements, christian grassroots organisations, the LGBT which is a group which has become acceptable because here there was a terrible discrimination against them because of the prejudices influenced by religion; feminists in resistance, artists in resistance, human rights organisations. There is everywhere a coming together of organisations which managed to constitute a type of front, a front which at the beginning didn’t have a very clear form, but which after a while became well defined. Since the start it has had good leaders, straightforward people who have had more than a year of taking part in marches and protests.

In the process it has pulled down many of the country’s plans: for example, the church hierarchy has been broken by the demonstration of its corruption of the rejection of the Cardinal who is a figurehead who is representative of religious values. The same occurred in the evangelical church which has had leaders who have been strongly in touch with the class struggle – that is to say, the unity of capital with work.

That situation also takes us to broach the media question. The media have had an extraordinary influence on an uneducated people. But come the coup and the people realise who is on their side and who is against them because throughout the whole process we’ve been seeing that the oligarchy is brutal, through the alliance between the oligarchy and the church and the alliance of the oligarchy with the military. All that has brought about a unity amongst the people.

At the beginning there was a lot of excitement. We were opposed to President Zelaya because I was the presidential candidate for the left. At that time, we didn’t think that Zelaya could get to the point where he would take a very progressive stance. So we had differences, but in the process we prepared ourselves for the coup. The Resistance nominated me as delegate to go to the State Department, to take part in dialogue and in September we had a trip of condemnation of the coup.

We’ve been asked: What is the ideological principle of the Resistance? What’s the Resistance’s strategy? What is the future of the Resistance? How are you going to create a National Constituent Assembly?

At the beginning, we only saw police brutality, the use of terror, mass torture. Our information reveals that before the coup there were around three torture victims per month, but immediately after the coup there were 119 torture victims. I’m saying it’s only our information because it has been medically and psychologically certified, based on the Istambul Protocol – that is to say, very rigorously. There has even been torture taking place in the parking lot of the Congress building, in the military grounds, and in various other places.

What I want to say is that the Resistance has formed itself in response to the people, not just because it’s a political crisis but also because it’s a social crisis. There is not only a difference in the traditional political ideas, but also the Resistance is formed as an expression that results from a yawning ideological and political gap which generates a lack of credibility in the church, in the media, in the army, in the police, and in the normal social structures. The Resistance is filling that gap.

The Resistance has its major expression in the urban centres of Honduras, in San Pedro Sula, in various places along the coast, in Tegucigalpa, but it’s not a purely organic issue. But lately it’s been becoming more organic, especially in the barrios. When they repress us in the streets of Tegucigalpa, the Resistance organises demonstrations in the barrios, despite police actions. It’s very difficult for the army to control all the barrios. So there’s a mixture of the traditional values of the people who aren’t so politicised, for example like the people of Nicaragua or El Salvador. But they are a people who have been stigmatised as cowards or lacking values, even as being leftists, …???… But in fact they are a very courageous people. At the moment, the Resistance is perhaps the strongest movement in Latin America. We’re talking in relative terms, but this movement has managed to move a million people.

MM: What are the possibilities of changing the constitution?

JA: With that you have to consider the whole process. First, it’s a process ignored by the political-military apparatus which is radically opposed to it and for which supposedly that is one of the reasons why they kicked out Zelaya. Legally, through the media and through religion they create a filter against a National Constituent Assembly. Now, what possibilities exist? At the moment the coordinator outside of the Resistance is President Zelaya – he is the spirit of the leadership of the National Constituent Assembly.

I believe that we fill the ideological vacuum in the people, but we don’t fill it with an ideology. It’s a process which takes time, resources, training. There’s an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist sentiment, but there isn’t a political development or formation. We need to fill that space but with a leadership to go with the development. People are waiting for ideological and political direction which is happening to some extent, but perhaps not with the necessary speed because of the lack of resources. We have a leadership which has been sacrificed for self-denial, respect and dedication, but we need it [leadership]. The other thing is that we’re talking about mobilisation, and from that comes the debate about whether the Resistance should be a political party or if it should be a broad front. The other question is if the Resistance is a front for the mass of people, of course not fascist, but anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, still we are not there.

I’m not talking in the name of the Resistance, only on a personal basis.

We need to build a peoples’ front because there’s a very important question that refer to the material relations with life. I believe that the material issue is not separate from spirituality. We need to consider that connection with life, of the material, of the cultural and of the spiritual. This means that we need to fill the space which the church has left in all these sectors, because first it seems to me that there is an emotional phase of sympathy, which we can call a honeymoon; but afterwards we have to take concrete actions with which the Resistance may make changes and transformations which the people can see. For example, in your events and propositions you oblige the system to make various changes to satisfy some real necessities that the people have. It seems to me that that is fundamental in the process of construction. For example, we have an agrarian problem which is fundamental in the country and which is unjust to the campesino sector; so the Resistance can support the events or propositions of campesino organisations which are emerging through an agrarian transformation and they can do that in a National Constituent Assembly. This is a mechanism – we don’t see it as a legal mechanism, but as part of a process in which the people take power. That is to say, the people decide not only to build a Constitution but also to transform it. This is a fundamental point.

It seems to me that at the moment we have policies which are all destructive and criminal and that the priority which is emerging is in favour of the private over the public. So it’s necessary for the Resistance to have all these ideas and positions worked out and to take them to the people as ideas and positions for change. We lack that.

The scheme for the Assembly is one of the Resistance’s priorities, but that requires a lot of work, including the theory, the philosophy, the politics, the ideology, to build the transformation of the Constitution, of the system. People haven’t lost their enthusiasm for the Resistance. Yes, we need to build in order to get there, it needs to be worked at, but we lack that at the moment. Remember that we are a country that is militarily occupied by the United States; the whole dynamic of counter-insurgency is very strong here and the army is advised. The whole ideological apparatus of the state and of the international community is trying to present a scenario in which Honduras is a country where there is democracy, where there is dialogue; but on the other hand it’s repressive. In that sense, education is fundamental. I’m talking of education for liberation, not simply formal education. It’s also very important to share experiences and solidarity.

So, the possibilities of a Constituent Assembly you can see them in the dynamics of the situation, because the government could be interested in such an Assembly because it’s such a need felt by the people. But they [the government] are thinking about the Constituent Assembly not to change the representativeness of power but just as a popular demand. We are thinking of changing the whole system to generate a process of change in the country. So the possibilities are difficult, but we haven’t abandoned them – it’s one of the priorities of the Resistance.

MM: In the long term is it feasible for the Resistance to take part in the next elections?

JA: Well with that there are very different positions – there isn’t just one single position within the Resistance. I’ll give you my point of view. I believe that the Resistance must not become an electoral political party because that would weaken the Resistance. The right wants the Resistance to become a political party and to take part in the elections. With that end they are encouraging different sectors to take part in the elections. We must recognise that historically Honduras was a country which didn’t have elections for 18 years. In the 1980s, we began to get elections and there was an almost cultural enthusiasm for them. But the Resistance could lose its major objectives if it turns itself into a political party. From that, the Resistance has to think like a political force, it has to plan strategic objectives and tactics with the aim of bringing about changes and with the aim of allying itself with the Latin American people, but it has to have objectives which go further than a political party.

From another point of view, elections divide and create individual aspirations and fictitious leadership. I believe that in reality the people have to be the drivers of the Resistance rather than a leader. The idea is that there should be a collective direction, not a traditional direction. Now, whether the Resistance can support a political force in an electoral process, that’s another thing. We don’t deny that that possibility exists and I think that it should not abandon any possibility or any space in the political field. Through discussion, the Resistance could support a political force which would compete in the elections, but its objectives must go beyond the elections because historically elections in this country have given rise to distortion, corruption and a whole host of things.

So, what would be the other characteristic of the Resistance? Well, it could be a political force that at this current moment concentrates on the National Constituent Assembly and which through that could develop other characteristics of a political force. In that sense, it could be a broad front, it could be a patriotic front, a force to transform society. Obviously, it has to put itself forward in order to take power – that’s logical – but it’s lacking a lot right now.

In the Resistance there are many political forces which have even taken part in elections and yet they are good colleagues. I’m a supporter of unity, without excluding any strand – the indigenous peoples, black peoples, parties which traditionally have been part of the Resistance, in the democratic unification. Right now I’m not a supporter of any particular sector, rather we are all involved in building a Resistance which has a collective direction and we don’t hide our sympathy with people in other Latin American liberation struggles – we are in solidarity with Cuba, with the people of Venezuela, Ecuador, the whole process in Bolivia – we must protect the Bolivarian process which has a rich philosophical background.

MM: Can you bring me up-to-date with what is happening in the Aguán valley?

JA: In the Aguán valley you have to understand that there’s been a history of land conflict. In the first place, a campesino associative company was founded there. It was called the Associative Company of Small Islands (Empresa Asociativa de Isletas) and was a collective company[ – like a cooperative]. But it was a brow-beaten company because it obliged the campesinos to sell their land. And the right wing demanded that position of the campesinos. They had created a situation of terror and there was a military intervention, assassinations of campesinos – a whole series of things at that time.

But in that zone there were groups of campesinos and also migrants. Some leaders had emigrated from the countryside to the city in the hope of finding an organisation. So there’s a period when the campesinos were selling their lands and Facussé bought them for a price, as they say here “de gallo muerte” [the price of a dead cockerel] – that is to say, extremely cheaply. And he also took over various lands of the state and grew African palm on them. Now obviously we are against agrifuels [biofuels]. Now, we must ask ourselves how a campesino movement arose and seized force during the period of the coup. It has to be with very brave and organised people to be able to take control in such a fixed way that they managed to recover land.

There is a group, Guadelupe Carney, a historic group, which has been in various places close to the Aguán for years. It’s the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), which is a number of organisations, sectors and families who have organised themselves to reclaim their land, to survive or die. The movement reached its climax during the coup d’état. A situation of tension was created there, near Nicaragua and the Caribbean. It was a zone of military testing, heavily militarised, and before there was a battalion there. Now it’s near a North American military base. In the midst of all that MUCA developed. MUCA’s aim is to occupy lands belonging to Miguel Facussé, René Morales and Reinaldo Canales who are the big landowners with thousands of millions of dollars. Moreover, the World Bank is developing there the cultivation of agrifuels (biofuels) as recommended by the [US] Embassy. It’s a project which was not originally associated with the campesinos, but what we have to take into account is that the campesinos have occupied land that is already cultivated with African palm. That’s the crucial point – they don’t know anything about African palm, but they occupied relatively large areas of land.

Faced with the production of African palm, they had two possible situations: not to buy it, but then they don’t process the palm, not in sufficient quantities. So Facussé created his own army. We have to see that here the private army is a major force. We are talking of more than 60,000 armed men, larger than the Honduran army. That’s not just what he has in the Aguán, but this figure is made up of all the private forces in the country. There are hitmen in a very tense situation. It’s not just Facussé, I’m referring to all the private guards in the country. Here we are watched by the army, by the Pentagon, by private guards and by hitmen.

So the conflict develops there and the danger is such that a civil war could develop. There have been many deaths. They manage to tell the government, “We are not going to let you enter here.” They negotiate, they sign an agreement in which they have to deliver lands, they demand health services, education and housing, because it’s an abandoned zone. Those people live in houses of plastic, at high risk and in danger of flooding. At times they are very heterogeneous groups, with a history of struggle, and they have great strength.

Then there are contradictions in the system because the landowning oligarchy is radically strong. The government is from the right and was participating in the process, but the oligarchy is the most radical force there, more radical than the government. Well, these forces, the oligarchy, don’t want to let the campesinos get a hold. But they have gained a very big political space and the threat of the army’s massacres are there. When we go to these barrios/colonias there’s a lot of tension because we have accepted an extremely delicate mission – the struggle against the ultra-right wing.

So I’m not sure how it is going to turn out. There is still conflict which isn’t resolved. The land problem is still ongoing, and still it has not been delivered to the campesinos. But that is just an appendix to the campesino problem which goes beyond MUCA. It’s the community of Guadalupe Carney which has been beaten down. They are the campesinos from other regions of the country where there is no agrarian reform. Here the law of agricultural modernisation rules, and that destroys agrarian reform. That’s a part of modernity, of capitalism. I’ve written about 15 articles on the campesino problem.


Daryl Loth

Interviewee: Daryl Loth, resident, guide and hotelier in Tortuguero
Interviewers: Martin Mowforth, Karis McLaughlin and Alice Klein
Location: Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Date: 19th August 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC



Martin Mowforth (MM): Re. the road about which you and Simon Tompsett wrote in an ENCA Newsletter a number of years ago, what has happened about that?

Daryl Loth (DL): The people who were pushing the road were the municipality, a couple of the diputados, were trying to push for the road to improve the economic development of the area. But it was challenged. Someone went to the Sala IV, and SETENA, who do the environmental impact assessments, had to approve the proposal and demonstrate that the road would not have any harmful effect.

Karis McLaughlin (KM): Where was this road to be from and to?

DL: I’ll show you on the map; but basically, if you go round the corner here (pointing to around the bend of the canal) and you’ll find a gasoline filling station – that{s where the electrical lines come in from the mainland. It would follow the electrical line right from Cariari potentially to that last turn before going off to La Pavona … right to the edge of the river here. So they’re talking about putting a parking lot over there and it would cut right through an extension of the National Park which connects the National Park with the wildlife refuge, land that was purchased by the European Community 16 years ago with Fundación Neotropica. It was purchased with European Union money with the local parliament to purchase the land to convert it into national park to create a biological corridor. And then a couple of years later, someone wanted to build a road through it, which would be a giant slap in the face for the European Community.

Anyway, that’s where it stands until they can prove that it won’t have any environmental consequences.

MM: So SETENA turned it down on the grounds that it would have environmental consequences?

DL: I don’t think it even went to SETENA. It was challenged I believe in the Constitutional Court and they didn’t let it go further.

MM: OK. Well the other issue which you once explained to me on one of the treks I did with you round the Cerro, was the problem of squatters and colonizers – perhaps people who have been dispossessed elsewhere and who are looking for somewhere new. And you explained about a 30 day rule – I don’t know whether this still exists – where if they could prove that they had been on this land for 30 days or more they would be granted a kind of titling which meant that they could not be thrown off.

DL: I don’t know about the 30 days any longer, but there is a certain amount of time which must be respected. Some people move onto land and will plant fruit trees that are a few years old and will say that they have been here for this long – I’ve been here for this long, see, I planted this tree. And of course all their neighbours, who will be in the same boat as them, will be witnesses and will vouch for them. I was speaking to the folks at Caño Palma (Biological Station) just yesterday. They did a census and there are now over 300 people in the area of the Cerro. Fifteen years ago, there were none. Now there’s a school.

MM: So there’s a degree of permanence. Within the National Park (further south of there), do you have the same problem of squatters, colonizers coming in in the same way?

DL: I don’t think there are squatters in the National Park. I haven’t heard of any. The problems are with people using the buffer areas, which are demarcated as buffer areas. Now people are moving onto those and clearing those.

MM: The protection is not the same then?

DL: It’s difficult. There’s plenty of protection right here by the National Park offices where the principal entrances are, but if you’re a hunter or you’re doing something illegal, you’re not going to come in the principal entrance. There’s a 100 square miles, it’s huge, and it’s mostly bordered by people’s farms and banana plantations; so there’s an infinite number of places to come in and out.

MM: And the Cerro is one of those buffer zones is it?

DL: The Cerro is actually inside the Wildlife Refuge. (6:08) They call it the rebajo, the refugio; It’s officially inside, but the village is outside. But they push right up to the limit. They go in there with a GPS and they’ve marked it out. (6:23) People still go in, even if not in terms of settlement, but in terms of gathering wood for building things, cutting down trees and things like that; they are going in to the refuge to get their building material and firewood.

MM: Well that’s very helpful and has brought me up-to-date. So, what do you consider to be the pressures on the park at the moment in terms of this so-called development?

DL: You mean sustainable development, as opposed to raw material?

MM: I’m concerned about raw material extraction and illegal development, and whether there are any pressures from specific sectors such as hunting, or farming, or maybe the plantations?

DL: Every once in a while there are stories of people coming into this forest, coming down the river and squatting on some land, National Park land, cutting down trees and taking the wood out. It’s land that some people claim is theirs, or people sell it to them. I don’t know how legitimate they are or not. But the Park is pretty good at getting onto those people; and people do come in from the road and they hunt and they take out things.

MM: So there are no large-scale threats at the moment from big plantations or mining operations, or whatever?

DL: I believe that (8:12) that there are a couple of things where banana plantations have not respected the rule about the edge of the river – it’s supposed to be 50 metres, as I understand – in the buffer zone.

MM: The Rainforest Alliance has these standards.

DL: ISO. …. I think there’s still a lot of pressure from weekend hunters – you see people are allowed to hunt for their lives, to feed themselves. That’s legal, but some are trying to claim it’s legal and that they’re surviving on it. But they have their land cruiser and their boat on a trailer and have high-powered weapons – they’re not just taking wood pigeons, they’re taking deer and anything that moves. There are a lot of people who come just athe weekend just to bag a mapuche or a deer or a wild pig. And people start on the coast taking a few turtles, babies – right here in front of the village. Four days ago, between mile 5 and mile 18 on the public access beach, it was estimated that about 10,000 eggs were taken at night, in one night – over 100 nests were dug up by people from Limón in ocean-going flat boats. They pulled up – it was calm that night when they set out. They landed about 10 – 15 people and just dug up 100 nests.

MM: That would be for sale of the eggs?

DL: Yes. People like to have their eggs with yoke. And after a couple of weeks, they’re going to have a lot of little baby turtles in there, and people don’t like to have them in there. In the first few days, they want to buy them fresh with a yoke and white. And people from the new community at the base of the Cerro – that’s where most of the people are coming from – are involved to keep trouble off the beach, at that end out near the airport. There have been several arrests but it’s hit and miss. A lot of the people don’t survive on tourism, they are not …

MM: The people in the village are probably not involved in any way, are they?

DL: They are. There are people in the village who aren’t getting the trickle-down, and some of them – well, you have them everywhere – in every country – people who think that National Parks take their constitutional rights away. Those who hunt and gather, and so they against ……

MM: The reason I made that assumption is that there are so many people who make their living from tourism.

DL: You wouldn’t believe how many of the long-standing guides, local people, who show up at the meetings and talk about the importance of conservation and the importance of maintaining this resource that provides them with their daily bread, and at night they’ll join in the feast of the turtle or the turtle eggs. There’s one guy here who used to work for one of the hotels, one of the bigger hotels in the area, and who used to do the patrolling of the beach for the CCC to do their survey. He used to walk the full length of the beach. He got paid $75 each time he did that – four times a month. So he’s getting $300 per month which is an average Costa Rican wage. He got that for doing one day a week, and he worked for one of the biggest conservation organizations in the area, and worked for one of the foremost hotels in the area that had a reputation for conservation, and was a turtle guide. In the off-season, when the turtle season ended, someone caught him with a gill net, fishing illegally on the other side of the river, trying to catch fish. I don’t know whether he was going to sell them or what; but he had the net confiscated; he had his boat confiscated; he had his turtle guiding license revoked; he was fired from his job at the hotel; he was fired from his job at the CCC. This is the kind of mentality that some of the people here exhibit, which I find shocking.

MM: Are there any extra pressures from tourism itself on the integrity of the National Park, but also on biodiversity?

DL: Biodiversity. I would say not. I don’t think it’s affecting a lot in terms of biodiversity. They’ve gone from two cycle outboard (motors) to four cycle outboards which are a lot less …. I don’t think there are problems from the fumes or the wakes given by the boats – I don’t think there are any effects on biodiversity in the park due to those. The people walking on the trails in the park that are temporarily closed – the main trail in the park – because the footpath was getting wider and wider because people were walking off the trails to avoid the mud. They need a big cash injection in the park to build trails that people will stay on, and therefore will not have an impact on biodiversity. But it was being affected, not necessarily by numbers of people, but by people walking through and round to avoid the puddles and then turning the sides into puddles – this was destroying some of the habitat at the side. So that was happening, but the Park stopped that. And we have to raise money – and there seems to be no money in the public coffers to rebuild the trail.

MM: But in your experience, over the last 15 or 16 years that you’ve been in the area, you haven’t noticed any loss of wildlife?

DL: Not due to tourism. You’ve seen at night how the turtle tours are managed. We used to go out when there were 250 people on the beach – 10-15 people per guide – might be 20 guides – all walking up and down on the beach looking for the turtles. Then the National Park put on a limit as more and more people came. They said (16:09) OK, 400 people per night – that’s the limit – 200 from 8 till 10 pm, 100 in the public beach, 100 in the National Park. Then this was repeated from 10 till 12. That was up until about 4 years ago, I think. But the number was being exceeded – the demand was greater than the supply of spots on the beach during part of the year. So they devised a new system – they’re using a system of scouts on the beach. They have news of where the turtles are, and they manage where the groups can go – one group at a time to see a turtle. There’s a trail system just inside the National Park parallel to the beach, just inside the beach, with an exit every 100 metres. So we are not walking up and down the beach any more, we’re not tripping over logs, we’re not scaring turtles back into the ocean as we used to do, especially when we’re coming back after seeing everything, and people just want to get back home, but the turtles see us and get scared back into the water. (17:16) That’s called a false call, when they come out and …. . There are far fewer false calls now than there used to be because the tourists are only going out on the beach exactly where the turtle is – or within 50 metres of where the turtle is. So there are more people than there have ever been and there is less impact on the turtles that there has ever been. It’s a very well managed system, but I guess the walking trails are the ones where you can see the turtle tours are having an impact. (17:54) But it’s partially it’s not just for saving the trails, but it was the legal issue as well, the liability – if someone were to hurt themselves, then the National park trail was open saying that it was adequate for walking but it was not, and it could be proved that it was negligent to allow people to go out there, then it could be sued. (18:28)


DL: There are limits to the number of boats that are allowed on the canal, (Names of rivers, canals, such as Caño Palma, Tortuguero Canal) each one has a specific number of boats that are allowed to navigate in the canal for certain time periods ……

MM: There are certainly a lot more boats now that use the electric motors. You were the first to use one.

DL: Yes, I’ve been using one now for some years.

MM: Also there were several today that were just rowing.

DL: Yes, and there are some rivers that you are only allowed to go into if you have an electric motor, and some where no four cycle motors are allowed. (19:47)

MM: Gave thanks and asked for further recommendations for interviews.

DL: One other interesting thing is a greater number of jaguar sightings recently (20:28). That could be a result of the diminishing buffer zones. What were traditionally jaguar hunting grounds are now turning into farm fields; so there’s a concentration inside the Park. So there might be more jaguars per sq km than there have ever been here. It’s nature’s balance. I was in a photo studio a couple of months back and someone was doing some re-touching of a photo of a jaguar that looked like it had a strange pose to it. I asked what kind of pose is that? Well, it’s actually been propped up by sticks and I’m air-brushing out the sticks. Oh, really, what happened? Well, some farmer in Siquirres shot the jaguar because it was eating his farm animals. A trophy picture. So this is showing us again the conflict between humans and biodiversity.

MM: Anything else you’d like to add?

DL: (21:52) One of the effects we get here is that we get agricultural chemicals washed down from the banana plantations, fungicides and vermicides and pesticides and herbicides. I think it’s the fungicide which is the one that they know in Nicaragua – nemagon.

MM: They use that because they’re exported over the Atlantic.

DL: Apparently, it causes birth defects and sterility. And they have been found at levels – in the river, coming down from the banana plantations up there – at ten times the level that in a laboratory would cause changes in protein – the synthesis of protein could lead to birth defects and genetic problems. And they’re finding levels of these toxins at ten times higher in a laboratory that would be necessary to cause these problems. We think that may be having an effect on the manatis. These heavy substances come down the river in the sediment, and when that gets churned up they are absorbed by plants which are eaten by manati; they’re absorbed by fish which are eaten by crocodiles. So it comes right into the food chain. We have seen in the past fish kills on the level of thousands. By the time they get here, they’ve been in the river for a couple of days, so finding the smoking gun is very difficult. So the banana plantations have gotten off scott-free. We all know what’s causing it, but we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt where the spill took place.

KM: Have there been any health effects on humans?

DL: Well, probably the biggest human health problems from agricultural runoff have been in Siquirres where their water supply has been decimated by the pineapples. One plantation was closed down – I don’t know whether it was Del Monte or who, but they were shut down by the Ministry of Health, and some of the local people were complaining about the water, and others were saying you can’t shut them down – that’s where we work.


Interviews in English

For ‘The Violence of Development’ book, many interviews were conducted in Central America during research visits in 2009 and 2010. Only a very small fraction of these interviews have been used in the published work, and so this chapter of the website is used to make available the full interview transcripts and translations to those who may wish to refer to the words of any of the interviewees.


candy1Interviewees: Candy and George Gonzalez
Location: San Igancio, Belize
Date: Friday 16th August 2013
Theme: An informal interview about environmental and developmental issues in Belize.
Keywords: TBC
matthew_millerInterviewee: Matt Miller, Director of Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
Location: Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize.
Date: 6th September August 2013
Theme: The development of tourism in Belize.
Keywords: TBC
matthew_millerInterviewees: Ernesto and Aurora Saquí
Location: Maya Centre, Belize.
Date: 3rd May 2016
Theme: The development of tourism in Belize.
Keywords: indigenous land rights; subsistence farming; citrus cultivation; conservation; cruise tourism

Costa Rica

Woman-silhouette-2Interviewee: Patricia Blanco
Location: Offices of PAN-UK, London
Date: 29th August 2018
Keywords: pineapple production; monocultivation; export crops; food security; pesticide abuse; contamination; supermarkets; transnational corporations.
Woman-silhouette-2Interviewee: Amilcar Castañeda, Consultant in indigenous rights to the Inter American Institute for Human Rights
Location: San José, Costa Rica
Date: 21st July 2009
Theme: Indigenous issues in Central America.
Keywords: TBC
Daryl-Loth-1Interviewee: Daryl Loth, resident, guide and hotelier in Tortuguero
Location: Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Date: 19th August 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
ross-ballardInterviewee: Ros Ballard, resident, guide and hotelier in Tortuguero
Location: Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Date: 20th August 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
isabel-macdonald-1Interviewee: Isabel MacDonald, Coordinator of the Centro de Amigos Para la Paz
Location: San José, Costa Rica
Date: 24th September 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
didier-from-bl-websiteInterviewee: Didier Leiton Valverde of SITRAP Costa Rica
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date: 17th June 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Woman-silhouette-2Interviewee: Nela Perle
Location: San José, Costa Rica
Date: 28th September 2010
Theme: Labour conditions and free trade banana cultivation in Costa Rica; organic food production in Costa Rica
Keywords: TBC
12198090531909861341man-silhouette.svg_.hi_Interviewee: Juan Luis Salas Villalobos: Producer of organic vegetables and spices and the Executive Secretary of the Costa Rican Organic Agriculture Movement (MAOCO)
Location: San José, Costa Rica
Date: 28th September 2010
Theme: Organic food production in Costa Rica
Keywords: TBC

El Salvador

hector-berrios-1Interviewee: Marta (This is a pseudonym used for protection of the interviewee’s identity).
Location: San Martín, El Salvador
Date: 19 January 2019
Theme: Interview with Marta about her experience as a migrant on one of the migrant caravans from El Salvador heading for the United States during 2018.
hector-berrios-1Interviewee: Hector Garcia Berrios, lawyer and member of the National Roundtable Against Metal Mining
Location: San Salvador, El Salvador
Date: 22nd and 23rd July September 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
P1000640-1Interviewees: Estela Anzora (Presidenta de COMUS), Juan Rodríguez, Jaime Coutts, Chico Peña and Ernesto
Location: San Francisco Javier, Usulután, El Salvador
Date: 26 July 2010
Theme: Many aspects of development in Usulután and in El Salvador as a whole, with special emphasis on agriculture and forestry.
Keywords: TBC
CIMG1139Interviewee: Carlos Flores of the Unidad Ecológica Salvadoreña (UNES)
Location: UNES office, San Salvador, El Salvador
Date: 30 July 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
CIMG0971Interviewees: Oscar Beltrán, Cristina Starr, Manuel Navarrete and Elvis Zavala (all of Radio Victoria)
Location: Cabañas, El Salvador
Date: 29 January 2014
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
hector-berrios-1Interviewee: Hector Berríos of MUFRAS-32
Location: Cabañas, El Salvador
Date: 29th January 2014
Theme: The operations of Pacific Rim / Oceana Gold in El Salvador and the consequential human rights and environmental abuses.
Keywords: TBC
brian-rude-2Interviewee: Brian Rude
Location: San Salvador, El Salvador
Date: 7th February 2014
Theme: An informal interview about drugs, gangs and crime in Central America
Keywords: TBC
12198090531909861341man-silhouette.svg_.hi_Interviewee: Jesús López, Administrator of CESTA (Salvadoran Centre for Appropriate Technology)
Location: San Marcos, El Salvador
Date: 7th February 2014
Theme: An informal interview about environmental and developmental issues in Belize.
Keywords: TBC
CIMG0898Interviewee: Delmy Valencia
Location: CIS, San Salvador, El Salvador
Date: 28th July 2010
Theme: A wide-ranging discussion of development issues in El Salvador, but especially covering the CAFTA-DR free trade treaty and maquilas.
Keywords: TBC


iduvina-hernandez-2Interviewee: Iduvina Hernández, Director of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy.
Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Date: 27th July 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
maria joseInterviewee: Hermana María-José López
Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Date: 27th July 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
norma-maldonado-2Interviewees: Norma Maldonado, member of the International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN)
Location: Guatemala City, Guatemala
Date: 27th July 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
norma-maldonado-2Interviewees: Omar Jerónimo
Location: Tavistock Hotel, London
Date: Sunday 21 June 2015
Theme: TBC
Keywords:Guatemala; human rights defenders; indigenous communities; land conflicts; the dialogue process; corruption


noneInterviewee: Purificación Hernández
Location: San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Quezaltenango, Guatemala
Date: 25 July 2009
Keywords: General Law of Mining (Honduras); mining companies; open cast mining; cyanide; Hurricane Mitch aid; Civic Alliance for Democracy.
DinaInterviewee: Dina Meza
Location: Tegucigalpa
Date: 22nd May 2017
Keywords: human rights; rights defenders; environmental defenders; journalism; media censorship; precautionary measures; freedom of expression
DinaInterviewee: Aurelia Arzú, vice-President of OFRANEH (the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras)
Location: The Tattershall Castle, a boat on the River Thames in London
Date: 25th September 2017
Keywords: OFRANEH; Garífuna people; indigenous peoples; the ‘commons’; ILO Convention 169; human rights defending; criminalisation; land titles; threats; tourism developments; coconut oil; African palm oil.
berta-caceresInterviewee: Bertha Cáceres, leader of COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples of Honduras
Location: Intibucá, Honduras
Date: March 2010
Theme: COPINH; resistance; indigenous knowledge.
Keywords: TBC
2006 pandresInterviewee: Padre Andrés Tamayo
Location: Online
Date: 8th July 2010
Theme: Email Interview regarding deforestation in Olancho, Honduras
Keywords: TBC
P1000689Interviewee: Alfredo López
Location: Triunfo de la Cruz, Faluma Bimetu radio station
Date: 16 August 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
eduardo zavala y dennis sierra mughshot2Interviewees: Eduardo Zavala, Executive Director of FP and Dennis Sierra, Director of Jeannette Kawas National Park
Location: Tela, Honduras
Date: 17th August 2010
Theme: Area protection; threats to the environment.
Keywords: NGO | conservation | Caribbean coast | Garífuna | plantations | monocultivación | land invasions | palm oil | drug trafficking | tourism | fishing
12198090531909861341man-silhouette.svg_.hi_Interviewee: Bryn Wolfe
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: Wed. 18th August 2010
Theme: General human rights situation in Honduras; palm oil cultivation and Miguel Facussé; free trade treaties
Keywords: TBC
P1000698Interviewees: Elvín Maldonado, María-José Bonilla, and Juan Granados – All members of the Camamento Environmentalist Movement (CAM)
Location: Campamento, Olancho, Honduras
Date: Wed. 20th August 2010
Theme: Deforestation in Olancho, Honduras; threats to defenders of the forests
Keywords: TBC
stock-footage-people-consultation-zooming-rotating-silhouetteInterviewees: Bryn Wolfe (long time development worker in numerous parts of the world), Elly Alvarado (resident of Tegucigalpa and Bryn’s wife) and Mauricio Santos (member of the Artists in Resistance Collective, Honduras)
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: Wed. 22nd August 2010
Theme: Resistance to the 2009 coup; post-coup developments in Honduras
Keywords: TBC
????????Interviewee: Dr Juan Almendares
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: 23rd August 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
2007reneInterviewee: René Wilfredo Gradis of the MAO (Olancho Environmental Movement)
Location: Olancho, Honduras
Date: 28th August 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
berta-oliva-2Interviewee: Berta Oliva, President of COFADEH (the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras)
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: 23rd August 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
12198090531909861341man-silhouette.svg_.hi_Interviewee: Lizandro [pseudonym]
Location: Centro de Amigos para la Paz, San José, Costa Rica
Date: 11th July 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
12198090531909861341man-silhouette.svg_.hi_Interviewee: Gerson Suazo
Location: Central Square, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: 11 September 2015
Theme: Los Indignados
Keywords: protests | government corruption | CICIH (International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras) | Hunger strike
12198090531909861341man-silhouette.svg_.hi_Interviewee: COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras)
Location: COPINH’s office, La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras
Date: 23rd September 2015
Keywords: peaceful resistance; indigenous rights; transnational companies; community radio; ILO Convention 169; Lenca people; CONATEL; repression; impunity; National Institute for Agrarian Reform.
12198090531909861341man-silhouette.svg_.hi_An interview with Gustavo Castro (conducted by Vinicio Chacón for the Costa Rica weekly Semanario Universidad) is given as an article in Chapter 8 of this website (in the sub-section on ‘Land disputes and encroachments …’). Gustavo was with Berta Cáceres when she was assassinated in March 2016 and was left for dead by the hitmen.


CIMG1361Interviewee: María Consuelo Sánchez, Director of the Asociación Quincho Barrilete
Location: Managua, Nicaragua
Date: 6th July 2009
Theme: Violence and abuse against children; family breakdown; The Quincho Barrilete programmes.
Keywords: TBC
edilbertha mugshotInterviewee: Edilberta Gómez
Location: Clínica Xochil, El Viejo, Nicaragua
Date: 9th July 2009
Theme: General health of the population and health provision
Keywords: TBC
IMG_1433Interviewee: Sisters Abdontxu Viar, Ana Lourdes, Paulina and Ana Noemi of the Berriz Sisters
Location: Centro Catequístico of El Viejo, Nicaragua.
Date:Saturday 7th March 2015 (10.15 am)
Theme: The issue of children left behind after parents migrate away from the breakdown; The Quincho Barrilete programmes.
Keywords: migration; violence; gangs; sexual abuse.
IMG_1433Interviewee: Council of Women of the West of Nicaragua (CMO)
Location: The office of the CMO, Chinandega, Nicaragua
Date:Friday September 11th 2015
Theme: CMO
Keywords: Nicaragua; drought; monocultivation; small-scale farmers
IMG_1433Interviewee: Conversation in the office of PASE
Location: Chinandega, Nicaragua
Date:September 2016
Keywords: chronic kidney disease of non-traditional sources (CKDnT); maquilas; labour conditions; plantation agriculture; Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS); social security.


GE DIGITAL CAMERAInterviewee: Osvaldo Jordan
Location: Panamá City
Date: 14th July 2014
Keywords: CHAN75 hydroelectric project; Ngöbe people; Barro Blanco; Changuinola 2; Partido Popular; civil society; Naso people; Alliance for Conservation and Development (ACD); Bonyic hydroelectric project.
GE DIGITAL CAMERAInterviewee: Naso people of San San Drui, Felix Sánchez, King Valentín Santana and the mayor of Changuinola, Lorenzo Luis.
Location: San San Drui, Panama
Date: 1st September 2009
Theme: Naso struggle for land rights against the Ganadera Bocas company and the violence of the company and police.
Keywords: TBC
julioyao-2Interviewees: Julio Yao
Location: Panamá City, Panamá
Date: 3rd September 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
geodisio-castillo-1Interviewee: Geodisio Castillo
Location: Panamá City, Panamá
Date: 3rd September 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
geodisio-castillo-1Interviewee: Geodisio Castillo
Location: Panamá City, Panamá
Date: July 9th 2014
Theme: TBC
Keywords: Kuna Yala, Kuna General Congress, COONAPIP (National Coordinating Body of Indigenous Peoples), Development projects, Tourism, Carrying capacity, Cacao production, Agroecology, Lobster conservation, Climate change, REDD Plus
GE DIGITAL CAMERAInterviewee: Felix Sánchez (President of the Naso Foundation) and King Valentín Santana (King of the Naso People).
Location: San San Drui, Panama
Date: 9th September 2009
Theme: Naso struggle for land rights against the Ganadera Bocas company and the violence of the company and police.
Keywords: TBC
Alida SpadaforaInterviewee: Alida Spadafora, Executive Director of ANCON (Asociación Nacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza de Panamá
Location: ANCON’s office in Panamá
Date: 4th September 2009
Theme: Panama’s environment; the inappropriateness of mining in Panama; mining protests; deforestation; ANCON’s programmes
Keywords: TBC
Interviewee: Osvaldo Jordan
Location: Panamá City
Date: 14th September 2016
Theme: A conversation with Osvaldo Jordan, regarding the construction of the Barro Blanco Dam in Panama.
Keywords: Ngabe Indigenous group; Barro Blanco dam; land demarcation; militarisation.

Conversation in the office of PASE

Interviewees: PASE (Professionals for Social Accountability and Management)
Participants: Alberto José Legall López (director de PASE), Edilberta Gómez (Coordinadora de la Clínica Xochilt en la ciudad de El Viejo), Josephine Weinberg (La Isla Foundation), Martin Mowforth, Natalia Petrucci (Ciara) (intern)
Location: Chinandega, Nicaragua
Date: September 2016
Key Words: chronic kidney disease of non-traditional sources (CKDnT); maquilas; labour conditions; plantation agriculture; Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS); social security.

Alberto José Legall López (AJLL): Well let’s mention to you a little about PASE. This association was founded in 2003, and its original source grew from a women’s movement in Nicaragua which was called ‘Movement of Women Maquiladora Workers’. These women fight for the defence of human rights and workers’ rights for the women of the maquila; I don’t know if you understand the term ‘maquila’?

Martin Mowforth (MM): Yes.

AJLL: But it is the preparation and production of textiles. We were founded in this initiative, because at that time there were many abuses of human rights and workers rights; and there was an international campaign to put pressure on North American and European clothing brands so that they correctly improved their codes of conduct. So from there we originated and we’ve been monitoring these in Central America.

Initially, then, our main experience was on the issue of maquilas. However, in the relationships that we were developing we were getting to know North American associations, like the ILRF, the International Labour Rights Forum. Also, SAI, which is Social Accountability International, amongst others, were motivating us to work with agricultural issues. We began to research and work on training and accompaniment to the unions and businesses about the issue of human and labour rights in the west of the country, principally with bananas and sugar.

We have experience in collaborating with other economic sectors such as coffee, tobacco, but this has been more at a level of events or multi-party forums. I don’t know if you understand that word, but it is where businesses, unions , government institutions, civil society and international organisations … all, participate. So that was a little summary of what we do.

In 2005, we did our first investigation with ILRF about the labour conditions around bananas and sugar. They’re on their web page in English; I can send you a link so that you can go over them. And from there, from that investigation, other organisations began also to develop and to understand more about this issue of the epidemic of chronic kidney disease.  We were one of the first organisations in Nicaragua that undertook this type of research.

We focus on different areas. One, we want to develop educational materials at different levels, like this. For example, this is a simple piece of educational material that was distributed in a project that is called ‘to cultivate’; we made more than 5,000 copies, and they were delivered to all the banana and sugar cane workers. This was a basic document and was used by the unions for their training. It is set at a basic educational level. This educational material is more complete:  from the Social Security, and it’s what we are using at the moment. This is what we’re using to train the community leaders, union leaders, workers who have problems with social security. Also, it is used by unions and state departments as a reference. This is a little more complicated, more complete and more complicated for workers who have a basic level of education.

MM: I have read a little about it, 125pages.

Josephine Weinberg (JW): Yes, it is taking all of the Social Security laws; there is advice about property … 

AJLL: This manual we made is very complete, principally because we identified that the subject of social security is very precarious here in the north of the country. There are workers who spend their whole life paying in to social security and when they are sick, about to die, they take pensions of 30/40 dollars a month. This is a rip-off which is happening. There are many companies who take away the money and so there are people who have had big problems. There is one company – ‘apparently’ – although we can’t say it. But there is certain complicity between the state and these large companies. So it is a big battle and we have to be very careful.

So, for us, the project has a low profile. One: we do not have open publicity, because when there is this type of issue here in Nicaragua there is a lot of repression. Because, if groups of workers have a campaign or demonstration, many of them are arrested; there have been assassinations, because they are against, they are trying to, or somehow they are affecting the millions of dollars that these sugar refineries shift in the sale of sugar. For example: they depend on sugar to Coca Cola. Pellas, who is the owner, has a liquor business at a global level, we are talking of multi millions, or billions. So, many, many millions of dollars at stake. Yes?

MM: Between Pellas and …?

AJLL: Yes, exactly. So it’s a very sensitive topic, very complicated and has a political/economic aspect that, if managed at a very public level, can affect our clients who are the workers we help with their pensions. They could lose their jobs, and we could put at risk our lives, our security. So there is a leaflet that we distribute and we only give a telephone number. This is an information leaflet that we give to the people, where it only gives a telephone number and basic information.

MM: For all the workers?

AJLL: For each client that we identify. We have a filter.

MM: Yes.

AJLL: With the Community Centre which you will get to know in the afternoon, firstly we identify if the person who is looking for us really has a need or is a spy for the sugar refinery and who wants to extract information. And after we have made this filter, we attend to their needs. It is a little complicated in this work for the reason already mentioned to you, no? Already we’ve seen cases of lawyers or offices that have been closed or end up arrested because they have gone against this system. So we have to do this in a way that is more opaque.

MM: And their backgrounds are suitable?

AJLL: Yes. I am a lawyer. I am an investigator because I have developed distinct grassroots investigations. I am a lawyer, I defend the subject of labour, human and environmental rights, in different economic sectors. So, more or less, this is a little of the experience we’ve had.

And on this basis also, so that you know, we focus, we try to develop relations on a multi-party level. That is to say we have a connection with the unions; we try to develop relationships with companies, with state institutions, the community leaders, union leaders, civil society organisations and also international organisations. So we try to have a certain balance, in such a way that allows us to be able to manage in this type of environment, which is a little difficult.

These are examples of some of the investigations that we have undertaken in the past. So here, I am talking about the maquila; we undertook this investigation at a regional level. Yes, it’s more or less, must be like your book.

AJLL: Yes. That’s about the issue of the maquila. When we were looking at the subject of the brands and the violations of workers and human rights. Yes?

MM:I can say that your first surname is very appropriate.

AJLL: Yes, yes. Legall. Yes, it fits very well.

MM: When I saw it for the first time, I thought no, no it is a title, a position, it couldn’t be a surname.

AJLL: (Laughing) Yes, Legall. This is another investigation that we did. You can take those that you’d like, the others – no problem, do not worry; we are not going to feel that you are undervaluing us. This we did on the theme of the obstacles to accessing labour justice. Also it was a comparative analysis in Central America, and those issues appeared, those of Communal Justice. So there they are. I won’t show them all because it would be … well, you’d have to carry another travelling bag, but they are some of the investigations that we have undertaken during PASE’s time. And this is another investigation that we did about the subject of the maquila.

MM: Excuse us. I am going to buy another rucksack. (General laughter)

AJLL: That’s why I decided not to show everything, only those which might be of use to you.

MM: Yes, many thanks. You have a lot of useful information.

AJLL: Exactly. And this …

Bell sounds – Several Voices 

AJLL: And this is a more complete summary of the project that we are running, which you can look at in your own time. However, in a minute we are going to give you a basic description of all the work that we are developing in the office – with Josephine Weinberg.

JW: Do you have all that?

MM: I was wondering what was your interest, but I imagine that you can translate this into Italian.

Ciara (C): No, I can be the link …. because I have done my Masters degree in English.

MM: Ah, yes.

C: Yes, and I have travelled. No, it was in Italy but it is a Masters degree from the United Nations, so it was in English, of course.

MM: Perfect. All good. (Translating for June Mowforth) His friend has just finished her Masters degree.

AJLL: So, this office was established a year ago, we had an approach after a United Nations project which we were developing. We knew the Isla Foundation, which is directed by Jason Glaser in the United States. So, we had the opportunity to get to know them; they knew of our experience working here in the west, and some organisations here commented that we could be like the organisation required for this type of work and we should place an office here in the west. So we initiated this experience in June last year, and we said that we would try it for a year and see how it goes, because at that moment there was a lot of repression by the state. Jason was denied entry into Nicaragua, and a lot of things have been happening.

MM: Yes, I’ve heard.

AJLL: It was intense yes. And there was a lot of repression, a lot of people locked up; there were two assassinations, so….

(MM: gave an English translation for June Mowforth.)

AJLL: Yes. So when that incident happened we decided to change strategy. Jason cannot be here, we needed an office to operate on the issues of labour rights and human rights, for the sake of advising the clients. Then they asked me if I was prepared to take on the challenge and the risk; and I said yes, that it was part of my line of work. Maybe this has made the project a little more difficult, a little more complicated due to the pressure that might be generated, be it from the state or the companies. However, it motivates me because it’s something that develops and I have a lot of experience working in this field.

Before with Jason, they were a little more open on the subject of repression, and this was one of the reasons why the State and the sugar mills criticised the name of La Isla and Jason, and for this, they were very strict with them. I suggested to them that if we were going to continue working on the theme, we would go in their shadow, with a lower profile, forming a network. For me, I told them that it was important not to work in isolation. At the time of the setting up of the office, there was no network or collaborative work. I mentioned to them that if I worked in this office, I would develop collaborative networks. It is because of this that we are working with different organisations to be united in this struggle. And we need a low profile, not to attack the State strongly. So we have some contacts within the INSS, which is the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute, who collaborate with us in a certain way; also, they know our manual. So we have tried to carry out our relationship a little differently. Not directly confrontational, always being critical, making observations, but so that they do not perceive us as an organisation that wishes to overthrow the Party. Because when the Party feels that you want to overthrow it or remove its power, that’s when they are going to eliminate you.

MM: Yes. We are aware of that approach.

AJLL: Exactly.  And that is why, as Jimenez says, a report that we are developing, is going to be like our investigation but will be of the office. We are also being careful, as the language that we use is critical, the observations, the suggestions, mustn’t be too strong or too hard.

MM: No confrontation.

AJLL: No confrontation, principally because we are in an election year. 

MM: Yes.

AJLL: So for us there is a lot of pressure. So we need to be very careful in what we are doing. This is a little of the history of how we were born, no? In the project we have various lines of work. One of these lines is legal assessment, which is the attention to workers, ex-workers and their families, covering access to pensions or modification of pensions when there are violations of this right. So we work with people who are in receipt of a retirement pension – that is to say they are insured. That is our principal group because we also identify the violations of human and labour rights which is what allows us to compile the information for our reports. So this is very important, attention to the client. And we identify where the violations are to be able to prepare constructive criticism to the state and the companies. That was one of the key points, giving attention to the client on the subject of Social Security.

The other area is the development of didactic and educational material, like the one we showed you, the 125 pages. And we intend each year to prepare a new updated edition. The state is always making reforms to these laws, or makes modifications to their politics. We have to update this information so that the worker is aware of the changes that happen. One weakness of the state and of the companies is when there is a change which they do not tell you about, they (the workers) lose access to many rights because of not knowing them. So, it is to maintain updates for these educational materials for society. So we are always giving them follow-ups to the reforms and the changes to the administrative policies which are happening in respect of social security, to update these educational documents.

The third subject we are developing is the training: training leaders of communities, union leaders, civil society organisations and our clients, the workers, ex-workers and their families. So that they know their rights and also so that they are able to reproduce information in their communities or in the workplace.

And the fourth point we are developing is our policy reports which we are going to do annually. The objective of this report is to make, as I told you, constructive criticism of the State, but also at an international level so that they know what is happening. For example, organisations like the World Health Organisation, or ONITENDO (?), or many international organisations, do not have the updated information of what is happening in the country on this kind of topic because the state does not put this information in the public domain. So what matters is to be able to share, make international alliances and also local alliances for the fight against this situation.

At the moment we are focussed on themes of social security, on the subject of sickness and on one of the state’s institutions called the INSS. However, we intend to expand. The Ministry of Work has a lot of difficulty with employers on the topic of supervision. So we are also thinking in the future of making a manual about the subject of labour rights, aimed at the Ministry of Work.

We are also interested in expanding to have another type of client in the banana sector. There is a great weakness in the banana sector, those who have insurance, the workers who are insured, they have an insurance that is  … outdated from the decades of the 70s and 80s. And they are still using it. This is to say, the new rights which have been incorporated for the workers in general, do not apply to the banana workers. And for us it was a very hard fight. ….

So that you also understand a little of the concept: my father was the one who introduced me to this world. At this moment he is a civil servant with the Ministry of Work – yes, he works and operates  here in Nicaragua, so we communicate a lot, principally as he knows I am on this project, he is always giving me recommendations.

This then, is the other aspect, the report which we are developing and we are interested in developing in the banana sector, and probably on other aspects. But initially at this moment we are interested in the subject of sickness, which is something very big and what we are seeing is that there is a tendency, since 5 or 8 years ago, international pressure began so that the companies would improve the labour rights of workers in the countryside. The sugar refineries began to mechanise the cutting of the sugar cane on their plantations. What has happened? They’re replacing the workforce. But all of their workers are falling ill. So, they are not confronting this problem directly; rather they are avoiding the problem. So, 5 or 10 years ago there were always tens of thousands of workers in the countryside that were available for the plantations. Since the beginning of the mechanisation process, there are now only a few thousand workers, but there are many thousands who are sick.

MM: And without social security.

AJLL: And they were without social security. Many of them are unaware that they have this right. At times, when the worker dies, the widow and the orphans did not know that they had a right to a pension. So all of this information we try to give to them. Because all of this money remains in the INSS, that is to say, when the worker dies, the widow and orphans have the right to receive pensions, and the way they manage the probation period means that the money stays there [with the INSS] and they remain unprotected. And all the time the precarious conditions of the families of the countryside get bigger. Each time a worker dies the life of that family becomes more precarious. However, they have the safety of a social security net, for at least a monthly benefit, something for all the effort that the worker made.

So it’s a serious issue. It is also big because they consider that the INSS is like a private bank of the state, because they manage a lot of money. Here all of the companies make a contribution and they take money from their workers to make a contribution. So for the state the INSS is a bank which manages a lot of funds. So, they try to reduce the amount of rights that the workers have, and that is the struggle that we have – to avoid this private bank continuing being as it is currently, and rather that part of its benefits go to the least protected workers.

So, this is practically the fight that we are developing. This first year has been very interesting for us: we’ve identified how we can develop the network of work. For this, we allied with [Edil]Berta. [Edil]Berta is a communist and union leader with many years of experience. She has very good relations with the state, but is critical of the state. And also, she is a person with a big heart, to collaborate. So she forms part of our team. When we see the video, she appears in the video.

MM: Yes, let us see.

AJLL: Berta forms part of the team. We are forming the team at the moment. Me, Josephine, who is in the USA making all of the relationships, an assistant/intern who at the moment is our friend Ciara and Berta. In this small team we are trying to give answers to all the citations. There are other people who collaborate with us, who you will get to know. One of our trainers is called Pablo Casco, who is the legal assessor of an organisation called Association of Rural Workers [ATC, by its Spanish initials]; they have a presence throughout Nicaragua. He is also a director of a clinic called Flor de Sacuanjoche.

So we try to make it so that our allies are people who are going to support us or who are able to back us in this struggle. In fact, in the future I think that with the Flor de Sacuanjoche clinic we could form an alliance. For example, at some point, we are thinking of offering free examinations of peritonitis, to allow us to see how advanced the illness is. They are available to do this for free – maybe if we find in ENCA or one of these organisations someone who could donate the medical equipment which they need to undertake these examinations, they are prepared to do this?

MM: In the clinic?

AJLL: In the clinic, yes.

MM: And in other clinics as well?

AJLL: In others yes, but this clinic is the one that is being seen initially with us.  It may be where Berta is as well. But this clinic has the advantage in that it has the authorisation of the INSS so that their examinations are valid. So, in the case of clinics, this is why we look for clinics that have the recognition of the state. So in the future we could undertake this type of … we only need to obtain what is necessary to carry out the examinations for all the workers of the countryside; and the clinic is available to do the charts with their doctors, and we’ll run a campaign so that they admit themselves for an analysis.

When we are there with the doctor we will be able to talk about this.

We have another ally which is the Ramon Salvatierra Union, the union which is from the Monte Rosa Sugar Plant. They are very active; they form part of a national federation of sugar unions, also the International Federation of Sugar Unions of Central America.  They are also strongly allied, and I believe that you might be interested to get to know them in the future, because they provide information that we can share here in the book and in our relations with yourselves.

I think that I am mentioning this to you to make the most of the meeting, they will probably mention to you some of their interests. Maybe right now an interest of the union is that there is a weakness at the sugar mill. When they want everything to appear well, in the cutting of cane, for articles they provide you with a camera at the mill so that you can take photos; however, when there are violations, they prevent it, they don’t offer a camera to you. So for them there’s a huge need [for us] to have a camera. Because it is like this, when they see that there is a violation of rights they will be able to take a photo and make it public. And so when we are discussing the possibility of capital investments, a big necessity is a camera, to provide evidence of the violations that the mill will not let us demonstrate. So these are some of the subjects that I believe they may mention to you so that you are not taken by surprise.

MM: Yes.

AJLL: So, that is basically it, so right now MM:, we are in a campaign, we are supporting the organisation called Solidarity of Holland, that  …

MM: Ireland?

AJLL: Holland, from Holland. For problems in … there has not been a good relationship between Jason’s strong position and this organisation; so there have been some differences in the management of funds. And they told us, well, we are going to cut your funding until May, this month. That is why we are starting this campaign in the United States for the next months of the year, whilst we find a stable ally for the long term. Next week we are going to receive a visit from another Dutch organisation which is the National Confederation of Unions of Holland. Mario Lys of the National Confederation of Unions of Holland is coming to get to know the project and to see in what way they can support us.

In the case of ENCA, I thought that you could help in two ways MM:. One: in the short term, there is a campaign we are running where we are raising small funds. I’d like to know if you are interested in our project and what we are doing. If you can get all of the ENCA members to be aware of this page and although you may only donate a dollar, for us that is a lot, because with all of the activists this will allow us to continue reaching the goals for the next seven years.

MM: Is this through Pay Pal or …?

AJLL: If you can, you can pay by card … We know that you do not have a lot of resources, but you have the connections. You have a network, you have all of these organisations who you work with, their members and their funders. So I think that if you could try and run a small campaign with them, and your friends there; and if they can manage at least 1 dollar, 10 dollars, 15 dollars, this can help so that we may have more months of continuing in our project. Unfortunately, with these differences which happened between solidaridad and Jason, well we have come out worse off. But we continue with the struggle.

Can we take a look a look at the manual? We’ve been thinking again about bringing out a new edition – this is the first edition. Here only the organisations that collaborate locally appear; ATC appear, La Federation [Edil]Berta appears, the union, the sugar mill and the clinic. So, for example, in the future, next year we might collaborate with ENCA or Santa Rosa; here I could bring to attention a special mention to the funder, and for us it is important that they know us. In this first edition I didn’t mention Solidaridad because they preferred not to appear – it’s a complex issue. The same would be for you, if you said to us:  Alberto, we do not wish to appear in the list of organisations – well that is understandable. Because this, this little book is aimed at the workers but it might end up in the hands of a businessman or a functionary of the state.

MM: Yes.

AJLL: But as this an information/educational document which is not attacking a political party; so this has been accepted. So this is the advantage that we have, that the strategy which we are managing is positive. So we think that the collaboration for now is to develop the second edition of the manual for the sake of imparting the training. For us, we will distribute this manual at the training to the workers; this could be a collaboration between us.


AJLL: Another collaboration that we could have that would require a slightly smaller fund, is that we, these workers, as they are of limited resources, we can offer them the journey to allow them to join us when we have to travel somewhere.

JW: But the travel allowance?

AJLL: The travel allowance, yes. We have a register of the money that we give for journeys, or at times, we have to undertake examinations, and we cannot do it for free, we have to pay. So that assistance is so that they can travel.

MM: So they can attend a …

AJLL: Exactly, or they could have examinations, or they might …

JW: Here is an examination of a woman that has been done.

AJLL: Yes, or we have to travel to Managua, so we cover these costs. So, for example, we point out on this page what we will give each of them, with their signature, but if we were to receive help from ENCA, or Santa Rosa, we would produce a page which carries the name of the organisation giving this money for transport or examinations. And the fund is a little smaller, which helps them, (the workers), so that they do not have to use their own money. I am trying to identify the areas in which we could collaborate.

MM: Yes. Tell me how much you need for the edition.

AJLL: Each of these booklets cost us 3 dollars to make. 3 dollars each. That includes everything, because there are a lot of pages.

MM: And how many do you want to produce.

AJLL: At first, we were with the Solidaridad Project and we made 1,000. The goal is maybe produce 1,000 each year. 3,000 dollars. But we believe that it is necessary because, for example, at the moment we are left with only 200. We have already distributed 800, and there is the need for more, because there are thousands of people that need this information. So, with a thousand each year we believe that at least minimally we are trying to reach out to each community. And what we tell them is: listen, we are leaving this booklet in your house, but try to get other families to get familiar with it. So, we believe that one thousand examples a year is like an acceptable target. But if it’s too ambitious … it’s also used for the training. So, it has a double purpose. So, basically we initially thought that we could do something like this. But then we realized that there are so many violations that we had to do something more concrete. And we are very satisfied, all of the organisations and the workers are very satisfied, because here [in this publication] there is all of the information that they need, to undertake the procedures, the functions. What the INSS does not indicate, here, we explain everything. However, as every year they make changes to the laws and are able to change the internal administrative policies of the state; we are getting out each year updated editions, like updating the information.

There are small funds that I believe that we can still collaborate on, that are not ambitious, and for example we are not asking for an annual budget to run the office – that could be very big. We hope in future, maybe with the collaboration that we might have between ourselves that one of the funders that you mentioned might want to support this office.

But also they undertake activities like those that I mentioned to you …, and I believe that these areas can be very important. So that is what initially occurs to me. But yes, it is important, MM:, in these moments, when we are seeking funds. I believe that right now with the campaign, at the end of April, we have already raised funds for the next two months: June and July. However, we are searching (for funds) for the rest of the months.

I don’t know if you have any questions? If you want to say something?

MM: I have a few questions about these possibilities and some things to say.

AJLL: Perfect. Would you like to watch first the video and talk afterwards?

MM: Yes.


End of the First recording

Edilberta Gómez (EG): I worked 4 years on the Cultivar project, with the training, with all of the banana workers. And this experience, really made me learn a little more of the organisational part.

Alberto Legall (AL): This is Cultivar; this is the manual …

EG: Yes, this one. And I say that it was very important the work of those who came to talk to the banana workers. Because it was like we had a coffin, merely to know our duties and our rights, even though working with the unions, right.

But no, they never supported us directly in reality, right? And I’ve seen the work that they’ve been doing, which has been excellent work, special work. And the social work I also point out, because in reality in our country it is needed a lot.

The brief remainder of the recording involves Alberto and Edilberta discussing – often inaudibly – their work in helping sugar cane and other plantation workers, and their families, to receive the pension to which they are entitled when they fall ill because of CKDnT. They mention the need to involve the INSS [the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security], but also the gaps that the INSS leaves when informing workers, gaps left, possibly deliberately, to avoid the payment of pensions and sick pay. So PASE has a slightly awkward and difficult, but necessary, relationship with the INSS.


Berriz Sisters

Interviewees: Sisters Abdontxu Viar, Ana Lourdes, Paulina and Ana Noemi of the Berriz Sisters
Interviewers: Martin Mowforth, David Pickles, Amy Haworth Johns and Russell Hawe
Location: Centro Catequístico of El Viejo, Nicaragua.
Date: Saturday 7th March 2015 (10.15 am)
Theme: the issue of children left behind after parents migrate away from the area.
Keywords: migration; violence; gangs; sexual abuse.
Notes: The interview was held in Spanish, but MM translated for DP, AHJ and RH at times. The original Spanish is left here in the file.


Sister Abdontxu (SA): Sister Ana Lourdes is busy organising the El Viejo Youth Centre. Come along [to Ana Lourdes], because they want to talk a bit about the issue of migration.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Ana Lourdes, I was explaining to Abdontxu that one thing I should like to do is to conduct an interview about the problem of migration – specifically the problem that Sister Abdontxu has told me about before: that is, the problem of children left behind here without father, without mother, perhaps even without the grandma. So perhaps you can give us an explanation of this phenomenon, especially relating it to this area of El Viejo and the Cosigüina Peninsula?

David Pickles (DP): So just to clarify, the problem is emigration of parents leaving the country.

MM: That’s right, exactly. I thought when they first mentioned it to me about two years ago it was a real problem with immigration, actually it’s the other way, it’s emigration, and children left parentless.

SA: I was telling Lourdes this that I’ve already been chatting with you about earlier, right? The issue of migration in Nicaragua is very acute. The data we have is that for every ten families, seven of them have a family member out of the country. Yes, and in particular, quite recently, it’s the emigration of women that has been the problem. And very many women migrate especially to Spain, where they find work more easily, work which is appropriate for women than in other countries.

In many cases you know the situation of families in Nicaragua is that the woman is actually the mother and the father, because many households are headed by women, a significantly high proportion. And the males basically disappear off the scene a lot of the time so the woman has to do all the work, as the breadwinner and looking after all the children. And so, with the women emigrating, the kids are left without either mother or father. And very often the role of the mother is taken over, assumed by the grandma instead. So the grandparents put in much effort and dedicate themselves to the children, but it’s not the same having the grandma looking after you as having the mother – not only on the level of the love they give, which perhaps they do, but for providing all the necessary follow-up. The role of the grandma is a lot more difficult than the role of the mother.

And in the same way, they are left with an aunt because the grandma may die – the aunt also is not able to perform exactly the same role in terms of either love or understanding or closeness, as a mother can give. It’s the mother who best fulfils the role of the mother. It’s not quite the same.

[We are joined by Sister Paulina now.]

SA: At the same time as this, or perhaps as a consequence of it, what happens is the abandonment of the children. Every time where there’s no father, no mother, no grandma, it generates gangs of youths, the ‘pandillas’, here in the barrios. And that in turn gives rise to a greater aggression, greater violence, and greater threat on the streets.

Another effect which arises, as a consequence of this, is the abandonment of the schools as well. That’s another very important factor. And also the pandilleros put their money into drugs …. [Inaudible – a lot of noise.] …. Also, another problem that arises is that the mother sends money back, the majority from Spain, to the aunt or grandma or whoever’s been placed in charge of them. But often the children will tell the mother that they’re not given any money and that they should send it direct to them. So the mothers fall into the trap and send the money direct to the kids. Again that causes more conflict – a major conflict.

Do you know Neli? Neli worked with us in the field of health, in the pharmacy. Well she was left in charge of her nephews because her sister went to Spain. Well, what I was describing happened to her – the mother sent money to her. Now the boy is in jail – it’s already the third time that he’s been put away.

MM: And how old is he?

Sister Paulina (SP): He’s 16 or 17 years old.

SA: There are lots of cases like these, but I’m telling you about this one because I thought you might know Neli. She’s been very close to us, carrying out work with us for over 20 years. Her sister went to Spain and left her children with her.

MM: And the son of 16 years old, he’s …..?

Sister Ana Lourdes (SAL): With the money that his mother sent him, he bought drugs, alcohol.

SA: It’s a concrete case of what we were talking about. There are many like it.

SAL: And another problem is abandonment, and not having anybody close to them to give some sort of follow-up, there’s a lot of sexual abuse. Teenagers getting pregnant really early – at 14 or 15 years old.

SA: At the national level, many denunciations have been made about what we are talking about. In part it’s a consequence of the abandonment by the two parents. I can’t remember the data now, but it doesn’t come up much in the press, although it has increased – youths of 14 years old, young children pregnant.

SAL: Family committees have been created …..

End of tape 1  …        Interview 2

SAL: ……. so that when there was a family problem or a case of physical abuse, of the wife or within the family, they would go to the committees, so that they didn’t have to go to the courts, but instead to those committees.

MM: In all the barrios?

SAL: In the schools and in the communities.  And then, instead of going to the family court, they go to these committees. And yesterday in the press it was reported that the committees should recommend to the mothers that when they go to place a complaint of sexual abuse of the daughter, they should make it with the abuser present. But the girls of 14 years who were abused by a man of 30 or more years, instead of making the complaint that would result in prosecution, the committees suggest that they should marry the abuser.

Amy Haworth Johns (AHJ): Did they [the Sisters] set up the committees?

MM: And were you responsible for the creation of these committees?

MM: No, the government set these up.

 SAL: And there is a problem, and that is that some women’s movements are denouncing the committees. There is a law, Law 779, which protects women from abuse and from violence. But the problem is that instead of going through the courts and a judge, they take their cases to these committees. These are committees of the family, but the people on them are not trained. That’s a really big problem because at times they act as intermediaries advising them not to prosecute the cases – in other words, so that they don’t pursue the legal process of the denunciation.

So the problem of migration is very complex. It involves unemployment, abandonment, abuse, violence, gangs.

MM: So, a question please. You, the Sisters, run some programmes working with abandoned children, don’t you? Here in the Centre?

SAL: It’s a Jesuit project. It’s called the Jesuit Refugee Service.

MM: And it’s a programme designed by the Jesuits?

SAL: It’s global.

Sister Ana Noemi (SAN): It’s a network.

DP: What’s the main problem? The gangs or the problems of abuse within the family?

SA: Some of them join the gangs, and it’s a major problem when they join.

Sister Paulina (SP): Both the women and the men.

SA: All of them suffer as a result of abandonment, and some as a consequence of joining the gangs. But not all of them join the gangs.

SAL: In this area here, the problem of drugs is a relatively new problem. You know, 10 years ago this problem didn’t exist here. And it’s growing – a lot.

SA: One thing we have observed is that internationally there are many media reports and many organisations defending migrants, but very little is spoken about the consequences which are left here. So, here, that’s what we’re dealing with now.

And the Jesuits carried out a study on the level of migration from the country.

MM: In this country, in Nicaragua?

SAL: Yes, and the result was that Chinandega was the area that had most emigrants, after Managua. So here in Chinandega they opened an office, and we link with them to work as a network with them.

It was a study which they did in El Salvador, at the University of UCA. A study of the children, sons and daughters of emigrants, who are not building a life project [identity / ethic]; but instead ……. They’re not building their identity for the future, for their own life project. For example, they don’t feel as if they have an identity, say as Salvadorans, or as Nicaraguans. Because their mind, their future, has been put into the United States or Costa Rica or Spain or wherever they migrate to. And they might spend 8, 9 or 10 years thinking like that.

And the problem of the children of migrants and the adolescents is growing. So they go as well, and sometimes never come back. And their identity continues on standby, because they’re waiting for them to return or to return themselves. And so they’re in a stage where they aren’t a person, they have no identity, they don’t belong to anyone, nor to a family, because they’re waiting, maybe to get there themselves. And when they do get there they still can’t construct a life for themselves because they don’t belong to anything or anyone.

AHJ: It’s a lost generation.

MM: Yes, exactly.

SAL: Lost, completely.

AHJ: Vulnerable, the gangs?

SAL: Gangs, drugs – there is no sense of life. There’s a lot of suicide here.

AHJ: Everybody looking to try and belong.

MM: So, many thanks for your words. …… Many thanks indeed.

"Paulina (back to camera); Ana Noemi; Ana Lourdes; Abdontxu; (with Martin)."

“Paulina (back to camera); Ana Noemi; Ana Lourdes; Abdontxu; (with Martin).


Aurelia Arzú

Interviewees: Aurelia Arzú, vice-President of OFRANEH (the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: The Tattershall Castle, a boat on the River Thames in London
Date: 25 September 2017
Key Words: OFRANEH; Garífuna people; indigenous peoples; the ‘commons’; ILO Convention 169; human rights defending; criminalisation; land titles; threats; tourism developments; coconut oil; African palm oil.

The interview was conducted on the Tattershall Castle, a boat on the River Thames in London, just before the start of an event entitled ‘Defending Rights Defenders’. Because various items were being set up around us, there were numerous breaks in the interview along with interruptions from other people. The event was organised by the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) and Peace Brigades International (PBI).


Martin Mowforth (MM): So, Aurelia, to start with can you give us your name, your role in OFRANEH and a short description of what OFRANEH does; and then the problems which the people of OFRANEH face in Honduras.

Aurelia Arzú (AA): Well, good afternoon. My name is Aurelia Arzú; I am from Honduras and I represent the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras, OFRANEH. My role is as vice-president, vice-coordinator of OFRANEH. Well, we are here in this country seeking support.

MM: Welcome.

AA: Because really we need it. Right now OFRANEH is facing many problems as an organisation, of colleagues being driven apart. We are constantly being persecuted because of the simple fact that we are defending what are public goods.

MM: OK, thanks. One moment please ….

Interruption …. new recording

MM: To continue …., can you tell me a little about the battles that the people of OFRANEH face? Is it solely in the coast area or not?

AA: Yes, it’s more specifically there because that’s where the Garífuna communities are. As an organisation there we’re in a difficult struggle because we’re up against various entities – principally the Government of Honduras, the narcotraffickers, and the business community. So as you can see, it’s an unequal struggle because these are monsters, so it’s very unequal.

Why? Because as an organisation we’re fighting for our commons, that is to say, the water, the sea, our lands and our territory. So we have a government which sees whatever it wants to see and which takes advantage of our common goods and doesn’t give us the right to fight against it. If we lodge a claim, we are taken to court. If we protest, we are also taken to court. Right now in Honduras a law has been established to deny us the right to protest.

Also, they’ve created a ‘law of tourism’. It wants to say that when a foreigner arrives in our country they can develop tourism freely on our lands and we have no right to protest, and so they can take us to court. Also, our comrades are being criminalised and they are throwing them into prison and arresting them. The thing is that those of us who live in our country and act as simple defenders [of our commons] face real difficulties because we don’t know when we can carry on with our lives or when we are going to lose it. Also, the organisation has to struggle because our rights have been established. Despite having an agreement, that is [ILO] Convention 169, it’s not complied with by the Government of Honduras. So we don’t know if we are protected as the Convention is not respected for us in that we can’t support the fascist Government and its dictator.

MM: So the Government protects the investors rather than the people of Honduras?

AA: Yes, to such an extent that the Government of Honduras has actually told us that we are not Honduran as Garífuna people, and that it doesn’t recognise us as a people. But yes to the investors it’s opened the door to them all for them to make their investments at our cost. They’ve never consulted us, there’s never been any prior consultation or information. It does things in its own way, giving priority to the investors because what interests it most is the money. It doesn’t matter that it may endanger the rivers or the sea. When they want to make a tourism investment, for example along the beach, we are prohibited from going there. And the Garífuna depend on the sea because we live from it, from fishing and agriculture. Also when we get to various areas in the mountains for instance, they also close the tracks to us. For example, when we get to a particular site, there are already guards there who tell us that we can’t go through. So, they prevent us from moving and close all ways to us whether it’s by sea, by river or through the mountains.

So, the crime then is, as defenders, to protect our commons. And for the simple deed of protecting our commons, we are prosecuted.

MM: And the industries?

AA: Invading.

MM: Yes. Which industries are invading?

AA: The mining industry; extractive projects such as african palm. Did I mention the mining? There are loads of them.

MM: Tourism?

AA: Tourism too.

MM: Do you have an example of where tourism is affecting the rights of the Garífuna?

AA: Yes, we have two bays which have been affected: Tela Bay and the Bay of Trujillo. How has the Bay of Trujillo been affected? In the Bay of Trujillo a dock has been constructed for tourist boats.

MM: Cruise ships?

AA: Yes, cruise ships. They got the people to sell their land without problems and they said they would give us work and that they would be affiliates in partnership with the Garífuna. But when the project was done, we had rights to nothing and so we were certainly affected.

MM: One moment please.

Another interruption … new recording.

AA: So, we’re talking about Trujillo Bay. So there in Trujillo Bay we’ve been enormously persecuted because they’ve cut out our freedom, our freedom of expression, freedom of all our commons. They’ve taken control of every part of the beach, they’ve built new buildings, hotels, a dock and they’ve thrown people off their lands. That’s affected us big time in Trujillo Bay.

MM: And in the case of Tela Bay?

AA: It’s the same in Tela Bay. They are building tourist complexes, Marbella, an enormous tourist complex; giving no chance to the Garífuna; likewise, they take our land and leave us no right to get near to these complexes; and we can’t get near to the beach, we’re not allowed to bathe ourselves, we can’t fish. It’s a form of destroying us as a people.

MM: And have various villages been affected in Tela Bay?

AA: Yes numerous.

MM: Miami?

AA: Yes, there’s Miami, Triunfo de la Cruz, Tornabé, San Juan Tela, Miami, Ensenada, Cienegüita.

MM: We stayed there, in a Garífuna Centre. It was a centre run by the Garífuna in Tornabé.

AA: Ah, in Tornabé? A big centre?

MM: A dormitory of four rooms.

AA: It’s not for the senior citizens, is it?

MM: It was in 2010, 7 years ago. It was very interesting, but we only spent a few days there.

Another interruption … new recording

MM: What about the situation of Madeline [David] right now, because she’s stayed in Honduras because of a court hearing?

AA: I’ll explain it to you. Colleague Madeline, she was going to be the one to come here and to make this trip. Her full name is: Madeline Aurelia David. She couldn’t make the trip because she was being indicted and prosecuted, accused of illegal encroachment on land. Why? Solely for the simple deed of recovering something that is ancestrally ours – these are our lands. So she was prosecuted. By whom? By a foreigner, a Canadian called Randy.

MM: Ah, Jorgenson?

AA: Yes, that’s the surname. What was it?

MM: Jorgenson.

AA: That we didn’t know. [Laughter]

MM: Jorgenson, the King of porn.

Womens voice: King of porn? [Randy Jorgenson made his fortune from the publication of pornographic magazines in Canada.]

MM: But also Patrick Daniel Forseth?

AA: Him too. So we might ask how is it possible that a foreigner can arrive and accuse a Garífuna of taking the land, a Garífuna who is the owner of the land? That’s something unusual that could only happen in my country. That a foreigner can denounce the owner of the land for owning the land. And she is being prosecuted for it – to such an extreme that she can’t go three meters from her home. Because otherwise she would go to jail. Madeline was studying to be a nurse, but she can’t get on with her studies because she can’t leave home. So we have a situation like this where we can’t do anything, and truly we need help. In our country the laws are not going to favour us, the Garífuna and the indigenous peoples. Because they claim that we are not Honduran, so we don’t have any rights. It’s lamentable.

MM: But he says, or the two of them say, Jorgenson and Forseth, the two say that they’ve bought the land officially with their own money. So what’s the response in that case? I don’t believe it, but ….

AA: No for sure. Look, they offer proof that they’ve bought it legally with their own money. When we the Garífuna have ancestral title to the land, that means that the land can’t be sold and can’t be loaned out. But what they’ve bought is a fake, illegally. Because they make use of a Garífuna, the Garífuna can then buy it and then sells it to him. They use a Garífuna to buy the land and then they pass it on in his name. But it’s not legal because we have only one title.

MM: Yes.

AA: So, as you say he bought it legally. He knows that’s a lie. But he’s protected by the laws of my country, so he keeps on saying that he bought them legally. Because he’s protected, because from the moment he can take us to court he is protected by the laws of the country. And he has more rights than we do. And that’s unjust.

MM: In the case of African palm, have the Garífuna lost much territory to the plantations?

AA: A lot. A great deal that these extractive plantations – let me tell you a little about it. It has ruined us, destroyed us morally, physically and economically. Why? We the Garífuna have our own gastronomy [staple diet] – that is to say we have our own typical food and meals. We also do our own processing of coconut oil. Coconut oil.

A woman’s voice: Yes. Oh, you are talking about palm oil.

MM: Yes, but to say ….

AA: Something natural.

MM: To say they have their own gastronomy, their own meals.

AA: Something natural that is very much ours, that we use for our meals, we use it for our hair, and we use it for the body.

Womens voice: It’s very popular here right now. Coconut oil.

AA: And previously it was only the Garífuna who used it, but it spread, and how? When they ….., in industrial medicine. They began to say that coconut oil was harmful to your health, bad for the cholesterol, that it was bad for high blood pressure and for diabetes, and so on. Like they knew that it wasn’t easy to destroy this food, so they began to kill off the coconut palm in Honduras. They began to get a disease called ‘lethal yellowing’ which kills all the coconut palms. But when they began to kill off the palms, they stopped producing. When there was no more coconut oil for the Garífuna people, they began to use African palm oil. And that’s how we began to consume other things.

MM: Yes, why? It’s a different type of oil.

AA: It’s different because it contains chemicals, but the coconut oil that we made is natural.

MM: It is very much a natural product that has been replaced by the African Palm, that it is more chemical oil.

Voice of another woman: Also it is poly-saturated.

MM: OK, another introduction …. [Another person arrived to be introduced to Aurelia.]

Another interruption … new recording.

MM: Another explanation about African Palm. 

AA: So, as a result of having to use industrial oil, that’s really affected us in our organisation because as indigenous people we have our own gastronomy. So they’re forcing us to lose that too, so it’s certainly affected us.

But how has African Palm really affected the people in Honduras? In the first place, it’s taken our land, it’s dried up our rivers, it’s contaminated the rivers with chemicals. The palm has a life duration of forty years, and when it dies off the land isn’t returned to us and it’s no longer fertile – you can’t sow anything there. So those are the ways in which we are affected. Moreover, the processing of the palm, making the oil, involves throwing the waste products into the rivers, leading to fish die-offs.

MM: So, the factory also ….

AA: Yes. They’re in very close proximity to the people, so it’s a danger.

MM: So, thanks very much. There are other examples, but one final question, please? [Laughter] Do you have any suggestions on what we can do in this country, from here, many thousands of kilometres from Honduras? What we can do to help your situation, not only of the Garífuna, but also the others

AA: Yes, for us defenders the same arises. When I speak of the Garífuna, I speak of all the indigenous peoples. So because we’re all in the same situation there is support between us and for all the indigenous; because there are other indigenous peoples too; we’re the Garífuna. And we have seen and we appreciate that with the international role we can achieve something.

MM: We can give you solidarity. Normally I suppose that like others we can exert pressure on the ….

AA: Exert pressure, yes, make alliances, use your networks …

MM: On the industries?

AA: Yes, to make noise most on the cases where we really have problems and where we need help urgently. Because what’s happening with our colleagues is that there are six of them who are being prosecuted in Honduras. So instead of things getting better, they’re getting worse; so it seems to us that it’s going to get much worse, because from the moment that the government empowered Randy [Jorgenson] to prosecute us – well, Randy’s not going to stop, he’s going to carry on; but also we aren’t likely to give up either. He’s going to carry on, so what comes afterwards? We don’t want to know what comes afterwards because we’re seeing that something worse is coming, our prosecution. Because they have the money. We don’t.

MM: Yes.

AA: And when they have money, they buy the authorities – it’s the worst in my country. So it’s chaos for us.

MM: Yes. So Aurelia, very many thanks for your words, your explanations and we’re looking forward to hearing a bit more tonight. Many thanks. Well done with your struggles.

AA: It’s not an easy struggle because everything is against us.

Another interruption … new recording.

AA: We don’t have support. So often we go to international organisations. We can go to the capital to make denunciations, but when we get there they are filed and spend a lot of time without us hearing any response. But the threats are constant; so the replies, the paperwork associated with the denunciations, we have to archive them. But the threats are constant.

MM: We’re sorry that we can’t give you more time, more than five minutes, in the presentation.

AA: We can carry on talking about ….

MM: Good. Thanks.






Purificación Hernández

At the time of this interview (2009), Martin Mowforth was a member of the CATAPA delegation investigating the problems caused by metal mining in Guatemala. (CATAPA is a movement of volunteers active on the topic of sustainability, focussing on the problems caused by irresponsible mining. It is based in Belgium.) Purificación Hernández from Honduras was an invited guest on the delegation. He represented the Honduran umbrella organisation ASONOG (Association of Non-Governmental Organisations) and in particular their campaign to represent and assist communities in the Siria Valley, badly affected by the Siria Valley gold mines operated by Goldcorp, a Canadian mining company.


Interviewee:Purificación Hernández (Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (ASONOG)), Honduras, regarding the Honduran General Mining Law
Participants: Martin Mowforth
Location: San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Quezaltenango, Guatemala
Date: 25 July 2009
Context: Visit of a CATAPA delegation to the Marlin Mine, San Miguel Ixtahuacán, Guatemala.
Key Words: General Law of Mining (Honduras); mining companies; open cast mining; cyanide; Hurricane Mitch aid; Civic Alliance for Democracy.


Martin Mowforth (MM): We want to know more about the context of the law and its origins. I believe it was created after Hurricane Mitch.

(PH): After Mitch, yes.

MM: So could you tell us something about this and its effects on local communities?

PH: My name is Purificación Hernández. I work as a technician with ASONOG and also I have the job of coordinator of various actions carried out by the Civic Alliance for Democracy which serves as a political space for the struggle against the mining of heavy metals in Honduras.

MM: Can you tell us a bit about the origins of the Honduran General Law of Mining?

PH: The General Law of Mining in Honduras was decreed in 1998. The Law was approved in the National Congress in the middle of November 1998 exactly a month after Hurricane Mitch. There is more than enough proven evidence to suppose and believe that all the aid which Honduras received after Hurricane Mitch from North America (the USA and Canada) was conditioned by these countries as economic aid to help us get out of this natural disaster, but that it was given in exchange for the approval of a Law of Mining which favoured the mining companies.

This was from ten years ago, 1998, and we saw that more than 300 concessions were given to Honduran mines that are still open; there were some companies which are still working and others that were hoping to be able to work due to their politicking in our country so that they might continue working.

The Civic Alliance for Democracy (the political space to which I belong) was struggling against the approval of this decree, but the government wasn’t interested. From this struggle against the Law of Mining we launched an attempt to see which articles of the law were unconstitutional. So we hired a lawyer, Clarisa Vega Venturas. She worked especially on a legal demand to clarify that there were at least eight articles of the Law of Mining which were illegal and which should be repealed. We went through the whole process to get it to the Supreme Court of Justice and on the 4th October 2006 the Honduran Supreme Court of Justice declared that not only eight articles were unconstitutional, but 13 articles in the Law of Mining were in contravention of the constitution of the Republic. And in that way we transferred the struggle from the streets to the Congress. With the support of the struggle in the streets we managed to get these 13 articles to be declared unconstitutional.

Sadly, although that was all very well, the current Law of Mining continues to favour the mining companies. Still now they have to pay only 1% [of their profit account] to the municipalities. They don’t have to present any fund or guarantees for any damages caused by their operations. They don’t have to consult the communities by means of open meetings for their permission or to ask whether they are in favour or not. There are many things which they still do very badly and against which we continue to struggle because we want to repeal this law, because we consider that while the law doesn’t say anything about what this open cast mining produces, it uses cyanide, and we are getting absolutely nowhere because our government doesn’t have the technical or professional or economic capacity to supervise the mining companies.

We believe that the governments of Latin American countries do not have the facility to regulate, to stop or to obligate the mining companies. So we cannot allow them to continue working in our countries.

MM: Thanks.





Patricia Blanco

Interviewee: Patricia Blanco
Interviewer: Stephanie Williamson of PAN-UK
Location: Offices of PAN-UK, London
Date: 29th August 2018
Key Words: pineapple production; monocultivation; export crops; food security; pesticide abuse; contamination; supermarkets; transnational corporations.




Stephanie Williamson (SW): This is for the newsletter. 

Patricia Blanco (PB): I’m Patricia Blanco; I’m a Costa Rican journalist, and I work in the University of Costa Rica.

Other PAN-UK representative: Yes, the questions. OK, so when you are ready, just carry on.

SW: So, we’ll go with the first question. Well, since we had the pleasure of interviewing you in 2000, 18 years ago, when we talked about the state of pineapple production in Costa Rica, could you explain a bit to us about what has changed in the pineapple production system in Costa Rica – perhaps things like what has improved, what’s got worse, and well, in terms of human health, environmental health, socioeconomic aspects, workers’ rights, occupational health, etcetera. So, in order to introduce the subject.

PB: Perfect, OK Stephanie, firstly, many thanks to PAN for the opportunity to talk a little about pineapple cultivation in Costa Rica.

Really, from 18 years ago up to today, pineapple production in the country has changed a lot; principally as pineapple has become an extensive monocrop. Back then we could say that pineapple production was concentrated in the south of the country, whilst today it covers various areas of the country; mainly the south, the Caribbean coast and the northern part. So, this means that pineapple has expanded from approximately 5,000 hectares of pineapples sown at the end of the 1980s; whilst today there are more than 50,000 hectares sown. The data are not exact and there are different data. But there is agreement that there are more than 50,000 hectares sown.

So, with things as they are, the problems have increased. One very interesting thing to say is that this expansion follows an agro-export model and a diversification of agro-exports which governments decided to promote from the 1980s decade. So the pineapple became, as we would say, the star agro-export product. In macro-economic terms, it’s been successful such that it’s become one of the top export products and today it’s the third most important export product in the country.

SW: After what?

PB: After the banana. In first place: medical devices – a manufacturing product which we would say is produced in something like a maquila style; and although it’s also a result of research, it’s more than anything a manufacturing product. And in second place, the banana; and in third place pineapple. It’s exported principally to the United States – around 60% to the US; and 40% to the countries of the European Union; and the rest to other countries.

So, this pineapple expansion has magnified the problems. The problems range from environmental to social and health as well, although there isn’t any research in this field, despite the fact that there are reports of complaints from affected communities. But I think that later on I’ll go into more detail about the consequences.

SW: Well, at that time in 2000 when you came here, you were working and collaborating with the Popular Front Against Pollution. I’d like to know if the lawsuits that you had as a coalition against PINDECO, the biggest pineapple company at that time, lawsuits concerning more precautionary measures to protect the environment, social rights, etc, had any successful results, or not?

PB: Well, as regards the companies and the struggle in the 1980s of the Front Against Pollution by pineapples in the south of the country, one result was the creation of a union, which is actually very difficult to achieve in the private sector. It’s something which is demonised; unions in the country are not wanted in several sectors, despite the fact that they defend the workers’ rights. I think that was an important achievement which still has some validity, as there’s a union of agricultural workers which defends the rights of this sector.

However, with the pineapple expansion, control of the activity has gone out of the hands of the government because it’s very difficult to keep control over an activity that has become so extensive in different parts of the country.

I was forgetting to say that one thing which has changed compared with the 1980s is that in the 80s the only producer of pineapples was PINDECO, a subsidiary of Dole. Whereas now there are other very large companies involved, so it’s the transnationals which are in control of the activity. Also, we have a large number of producers, small and medium-sized producers who decided to leave their own parcels of land producing basic grains for our country, producing for our national diet – such as rice, beans, corn – and decided to change to the production of pineapple. They were encouraged to do so by the incentives given by the government and by the high prices on international markets.

It’s also very important to say that we are not dealing with an isolated activity within the country, but with something that is tied into an international economic model, with the markets, with free trade.

So, many producers changed, left their former activities and began to produce pineapples. As you can see, and returning to your question, we had immediate results, but we never imagined that such an expansion would occur.

This expansion also had its origins in research carried out by PINDECO and Dole on a variety of pineapple, called Pineapple Gold, if I’m not mistaken. The research was conducted here and showed that this variety would adapt very well to the climatic conditions; and the results were very, very successful. This type is a very sweet pineapple and very small compared to endogenous varieties or at least the varieties we have here. So, this helped the expansion.

Thus, we can talk about how the pineapple changed from being a local problem in the south of the country to being a national problem.

What effects have we had since the expansion of the crop?

Well, I’ll cite some of them:

  • Change in the land use. As I said, many producers left their parcels of land or changed from producing the basic grains to growing pineapples.
  • Destruction of protected areas, especially of wetlands which had been declared as RAMSAR sites in Costa Rica. This is very serious.
  • Environmental contamination from the use and abuse of agro-chemicals, of pesticides, especially leading to water pollution.
  • Intensive use of pesticides. I don’t have the figures to hand, but we already know in this country that there is abuse of chemical substances and that pineapple cultivation contributes in large part to this situation.
  • There is also an impact on food security, originating in the abandonment of the growing of basic grains.

SW: Well, the third question – and you were already beginning to say that we had to think that there is that demand for the pineapple at the international level – consumers, supermarkets, all those companies in the chain from producer to consumer. My question is: have you seen changes in attitudes or in the behaviour along this pineapple chain? That is, the supermarkets in Europe or the States, those who are buying Tica pineapples or also their consumers.

PB: Well, as regards the changes in attitude of consumers, of supermarkets, and of everybody involved in the chain of distribution of pineapples or of associated products, in Costa Rica, we aren’t aware of these. The information on that doesn’t reach us, even though it’s extremely important. Why? Because in all this the consumers are very important, because it’s they who make the purchases and who eat them, even many times without knowing how they are produced or even what they are consuming.

So, international campaigns are very important and put a lot of pressure on the country.

I’ll give you an example: in 2017 on German television, Deutsche Welle, there was a report, a journalistic investigation into the cultivation of pineapple in Costa Rica. And later it was distributed through all the channels. That had a big impact on Costa Rica because the country depends on, and fears, its international image. It’s very important to have a good international image, especially because it’s a country which sells itself as an ecotourism destination of great importance. So, here you see there is a tremendous contradiction. Well, this TV report, made by German TV, had a big impact. These types of things, I think, are very important. If each time [they see the report], the consumers, consumer organisations, and some of the companies too, become more aware, they can get involved in lawsuits and spread awareness of the problems associated with pineapple cultivation: that is, as I said before, it’s a monoculture which has spread throughout the country.

SW: OK, now the fourth question. I understand from my Tico colleague, Fernando in IRET, that the current Tico government takes a very welcome position, more proactive in certain aspects of environmental conservation and in aspects of sustainability. Could you comment and give us any examples of governmental policies on improved or stricter regulations which have to be followed with pesticide use on pineapples or bananas or other large-scale export crops?

PB: Well, I think governments ….

SW: And in particular the Tico government.

PB: Yes, Costa Rican governments are worried about getting foreign currency into the country, and also about generating employment. And that’s how they see it and how they justify their support for an activity like this. In the case of pineapple, as I said before, I believe that control [of the activity] has gone out of their hands.

In recent years, however, it’s important to point out that scientific studies have been conducted by the public universities, the University of Costa Rica and the National University, along with the state institution that is associated with and has responsibility for the agricultural sector. These researches detected the presence of pesticides in sources of water, in surface water as much as in subterranean water, which is the water that people drink. Many years back, there was a terrible case in our country of various communities in the Atlantic zone which had to stop using water from the wells and the government had to supply water daily by tanker. I don’t know how you would say it in English, but they’re like ‘trucks’ which transport the water and supply it to the population because the water in the wells is contaminated.

And for several years now, the presence of various agro-chemicals in the water supply has been documented. For example: in the northern zone of the country, where 53 per cent of pineapple production is concentrated, since 2015 we have seen the presence of pesticides like bromasil, ametrina, exaxinona and diuron.

As a result of this the government took the decision in 2017, and I think that it is a positive action, to prohibit the import and the use of bromasil in pineapple cultivation. To me that seems like a positive action.

Another positive action is the carrying out of studies to monitor the state of the soil and water and the existing levels of contamination. That wasn’t done previously – although IRET has been very consistent for many years, but most times the university researches haven’t got to the level of political decision-making.

[Both talking at the same time.]

PB: Another very positive thing is that now there are more complaints and denunciations from the communities, from environmental organisations and they’ve even presented judicial lawsuits against companies which have contaminated their natural resources and which have threatened personal health. This is very important in a country like ours, which is very legally based and where there is recourse to the law for everyone. This type of action has important effects. And it has also generated more information in the public domain and a greater concern about the negative effects of pineapple production.

SW: OK, the fifth question. In your opinion, what would be the single most, or two most important actions for priority and decision-making that could achieve most in turning pineapple production into a healthier, safer and more sustainable system?

PB: Well, that’s very ambitious. Really, with the current model of pineapple production that we have, I doubt that it can be turned into a sustainable system. I would say that what needs to be done, from some time ago, is that the communities and associations should be making demands of the government and the municipalities. In the first place, a moratorium on the cultivation of pineapple should be declared – that is to say that the dedication of more land to pineapple cultivation should be suspended.

That’s a very important thing because up to now we haven’t had any such declaration and if it’s going to continue increasing, I think it would be really impossible for it to become sustainable.

Now, I think that in order to gain greater control we need much stricter public policies; we need to establish a series of measures with which the companies have to comply.

I think that this is also a matter of economic power because, as I said before, there are some transnationals that control this activity. With the small and medium-sized national producers there has been work done to improve agricultural practices. But they aren’t the only ones involved in this activity. There are the big companies which, although they certainly have their teams of professional agronomists and the rest, they still follow a system, a model of intensive agro-chemical use. We already know that pineapple cultivation uses practices that are very toxic for the environment.

So, what is the government’s margin for manoeuver? It’s limited. Recently a former Minister of Agriculture of the country said in an informal conversation that for all the will that he had, in this particular activity there are very strong economic interests in operation. However, I’m certain that the government and the institutions of the state must have greater control.

SW: And a follow-up question. What actions, what decisions could be made by and what role could be played by, for example, the British supermarkets that import pineapple from Costa Rica?

PB: Well, I’m not especially knowledgeable about how the distribution chain functions; it’s not an issue that I’ve researched or read about. But I believe that, as regards the transnationals, the only entities or actors that could have influence are the supermarkets. They’re the purchasing companies and they are the ones that distribute the product. The Tico farmers who grow them don’t distribute them. They sell them to the transnationals and the transnationals are responsible for selling them in the different markets.

It seems to me that the consumer countries’ supermarkets should have better information about the effects of the production, in this case of pineapple cultivation, on the origin countries; on the social and environmental conditions of the production. That could be really important. From our countries, under current conditions, I see that as difficult.

SW: OK, the last question and an issue that is a bit more positive. I’d like to know a bit more about what is being done? If there’s an agroecology movement in Costa Rica? If so, what type? And what kind of activities do they do? What kind of agricultural practices? What type of people are involved?

And a little about any level of governmental or municipal support, or support from the food sector for promoting organic or agroecological systems of production?

PB: I think there is a tendency – I would say at the global level – to move towards more environmentally friendly production. And Costa Rica is also in that tendency. I think that peoples’ awareness that chemicals, agrochemicals are toxic for our health and for the environment is increasing all the time. And there’s a greater desire to eat more healthily.

However, that implies that in a country there are decisions and policies which government authorities can take to make this possible in many cases. In the case of Costa Rica, how do I see that situation at the moment? There is greater availability of organic products than before. There are many more organic markets in different towns. Also, in a limited way, you can find a section of the supermarkets dedicated to organics.

And also, I could say that there are changes in the teaching and in university courses concerning agriculture. That’s very important because in that way there begins a change in the mentality of people and of future professionals who are going to work in different places. So, for example in public universities where there was a teaching model based on the use of chemicals, they’ve changed to a bio-model, more in league with Mother Earth, with the environment.

For me that is really a source of great hope, because it’s the new generations who are going to be able to make the major changes.

Also, I see an important agroecology movement in the communities, with the campesinos, with people, supported in many cases by small associations of students, of professionals, who have major information resources, for the transfer of technological information and on many other aspects. So, for me that’s a source of hope, because if there is really an important movement from the communities, I believe that it can reach up to the state. That is, so that the state takes effective measures, determines policies and supports those small movements that there are in different communities because they want to have a healthier environment free of agro-chemicals.

But it still seems to me that this kind of movement continues to be limited. The greatest availability of products continues to be, unfortunately, those grown with agro-chemicals, and with unsustainable practices.

SW: And can you end perhaps with some examples of how it affects your own work, or that of your colleagues in the university where you work? What evidence is there of ecology or bio-production? I don’t know if there are any examples of research or work on ….

PB: Yes, I think there are some that you can use for reference. I’ll give you a link to our website at the University of Costa Rica. Recently, last June, we did some journalistic work to see how the university is contributing to making pineapple production more sustainable – what you were asking me about. And we realised that there is a series of researches which have been done especially looking to reduce the environmental and social impact of pineapple production.

An example: the use of the stubble, the waste from the pineapple, which gives rise to a lot of pollution because there’s so much of it and because in order to get rid of these remains, what the producers do is burn it. And that has a strong impact on the soil. So, some research has looked at how they can make use of these wastes in a sustainable way. There are several investigations into this – so that’s one case I can cite.

The other involves alternative ways of reducing the impact of the stable fly which propagates itself on these wastes and which strongly affects cattle. On that also the universities have collaborated on research into how to control this insect, but without causing more pollution; but doing it in a more natural way, with the use of biodegradable technologies.

Also, another way in which the universities have contributed, along with the government, is with training for the producers in good agricultural practices. For example, there is a project that the University of Costa Rica has carried out in the north of the country, and I understand that the National University has also been involved in that. For example, there has been work on the environmental properties of agro-chemicals so that the farmers are informed about these.

On water and the management of waste water; alternatives to reduce the use of agro-chemicals; also, to reduce pests such as the stable fly, as I was saying. And the wastes, which we call stubble, amongst other things. So, not everything is bad – there is work in various sectors that are aware and concerned about the impact of pineapple production.

And I think that perhaps in several years we might not manage to reduce the area that’s dedicated to pineapples because that will depend on the international market. Probably in several years another product will come along and supplant the pineapple, but there’s a lot of work to be done in that respect.