Bryn Wolfe

Interviewees: Bryn Wolfe
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
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



Martin Mowforth (MM): Martin explaining book, especially Re. African Palm cultivation and Miguel Facussé.

Bryn Wolfe (BW): I wonder what the connection is – who’s buying it? I assume he’s growing it for fuel.

MM: Yes, although I’ve just read an article today which quoted him as saying that we’re trying all kinds of new margarines and that kind of thing; but I think that’s a cover.

BW: Most of the cooking oil is African palm.

MM: Well that doesn’t surprise me, but then there’s so much African palm, you could have enough cooking oil for the whole of the Americas. [3:46]

BW: Do you know about Sam Zamuri, the banana guy? He’s really interesting. That guy also created the Zamorano, the research institute. And he virtually introduced the African palm to diversify. He was an odd guy. He was a Russian Jew who emigrated to the US in 1870 – 1880, and then he was very clever. He worked out that he could buy the over-ripe bananas or rotting bananas cheap to supply ice cream parlours, and he  …. that from almost nothing into 20,000 dollars, and when he’d made that money, he then started getting interested in the production. So he made the connection early in the  …. And he actually financed President Bonilla’s coup in the early [19]20s. He got 50 mercenaries on a boat, eluded the US government officers, or paid them off and they sailed in; and he got a five year concession on taxes. But apart from that he introduced the African palm. Even more bizarre, apparently he gave a grant to found one of the universities in Louisiana, which apparently has a very liberal reputation. But of course his actions with the United Fruit Company and everything else were ….

MM: Zamorano I find a strange institute – on the one hand, there’s very serious work on GM crops and on the other, there’s work on things like biopesticides and IPM (integrated pest management). [5:57]

BW: Is it actually integrated with the agricultural production on the famous Zamorano  ….?

MM: Well, I think only on the Zamorano-owned land, but they have various places – for instance, they have some bases – I’m not sure whether they own them, but I suspect they do – down in Valle and Choluteca where water melons are grown.

[More  re. African palm]

MM: It is of course related to the global issue of alternative fuels – an appalling solution if ever there was one.

BW: Yes, when I first read about Malaysia, with the environmental disaster and the human rights stuff. And then I thought they were growing a little bit of it, or they were just introducing it. But when I researched it – I mean they started growing it in the late [19]40s.

MM: More explanation of book. ….

Discussion of the research for the book and research assistants.

BW: Discussion re. Noelia / did Masters at Essex / Noelia Jover / working on climate change / also on Mexico /

Much general discussion. ….. lasting a long time.

Elly talking too, but very difficult to hear her.


BW: The coop is very interesting. …. The Red Comal is a cooperative which is really … The analysis of the whole problem of the agricultural situation they find themselves in. … Their analysis of everything that was happening was really impressive … And then they got raided. On election day, the police came in and yanked the hard drive out of all their computers. …

[MM on the book again.]

BW: [23:26] How do you feel about Costa Rica? Do you think it’s the Switzerland of Central America?

MM: Well, not really. You can see that it’s so much better than … with lots of nice places, but  scratch the surface of course and you will find plenty of environmental and social problems as well.

BW: Like any place, even developed places, the affluence and the relative deprivation. In terms of the different countries, it’s not that richer.

MM: No. the poverty there is less than in Nicaragua and Honduras, of course, but …

BW: But the general output and the level of people who are making money is greater.

MM: Yes, that’s right.

BW: Up to about two years ago when the TLC came in. I love the initials – TLC – Tender Loving Care in English. The same acronym. But I was fascinated – I’d visited Costa Rica a couple of times before – I’d never worked there. [25:08] After a while I started asking a few Costa Rican friends ‘What’s the difference?’ Because if I look at the geology and topography of Honduras and Costa Rica, there a few more volcanoes; and most of the Costa Ricans who gave me a good analysis said that they thought it was during the first Arias regime in the eighties that their government invested big time in education; so they got a jump in that they had more English, so that it was attractive to foreign companies to come in and then maybe start to ….

MM: I’m sure there’s some truth in that, but also it was earlier than that wasn’t it? I think in the late fifties and early sixties they invested quite a lot in their social systems and social welfare system, and health. And at that time there was no equivalent investment in places like Honduras or Nicaragua or Guatemala. And so it got a jump on the others there as well. …

It was only in the mid-1990s when tourism took over as the number one from coffee, or was it bananas?

BW: Apparently the development of coffee was different there from Honduras, in that there were a lot of small producers who were quite viable. So it made a difference too that they were all affluent. I always find it bizarre if you travel during the daytime and you see all those big cattle ranches with the Brahmin cattle.

MM: But then you go to the area you went to, Cartago, and you go past all these small farms growing vegetables and coffee too. You know they’re small – they’ve all got their little stalls out by the side of the road. [27:38]  In a similar way, its tourism developed like that to start with, and it still has a reputation for that – great reputation for relatively small-scale, relatively low-impact, sensitive tourism development  with lots of little lodges.

BW: Now they’re talking of condos.

MM: Exactly.  Since the late 1990s when things like Papagayo and things like big condominia, far from sensitive – all down the Pacific coast, Jaco, up in the Guanacaste area, there are big developments, and more developments planned. And of course these take huge amounts of water, particularly for …. So, that’s an interesting one for Chapter 3, because actually there is a particular struggle in Guanacaste, which is a dry area anyway, there are three major players all fighting for the water. One is the tourism industry, particularly for its golf courses and for its big developments, hotel and resort developments; two is agriculture because that’s being developed more and more in that area; and then three are the local people. And you can guess who’s going to have least power out of those three.

BW: In the nineties, the biggest budget I got out of the European Union – close to half a million euros – was for a huge indigenous integrated project in the far south, places south of Puerto Limón. It was a huge integrated thing with the indigenous, and of course they were under a lot of pressure. I find it very sad.

MM: Last week, I was in Casa Ridgway, and there was a group of indigenous Costa Ricans there to protest against the withdrawal of the law which gives them a degree of protection. So there are quite a lot of things going on. Then there’s Crucitas, the gold mine in the north.

BW: You know about the controversy about the place called Valle here?

[MM explains re. Goldcorp and the Marlin Mine in Guatemala.]

BW: This is that place which is so complicated because the whole mountain is a watershed for this little town, and the people have all kinds of titles that they’ve held these areas in the mountains for years, and then some golpista family comes in and claims they bought all the trees, and they want to clear all the trees. And of course the mining corporation wants to come in and do a strip mine. So it’s destroying the whole environment of the area, it’s essentially destroying the village. And then there are title disputes – it’s not that different from Bajo Aguán.

[MM: explains re. cyanide heap leaching, acid rain, skin diseases, etc.]

[Then they move onto pineapple production.]

BW: Here of course all the rivers and surface waters are polluted. ….

Somebody told me years ago – I couldn’t figure it out about Chiapas – you know I grew up in Mexico – and where the Mayas and the indigenous people were living was in the marginal areas anyway on the mountains and the slopes. It didn’t make sense to me with the hacendados – what was the land grab? Then some Mexicans told me well, it was uranium – there’s uranium there. It wasn’t for agricultural purposes or anything else – they want the uranium.

[Mention then of Isabel MacDonald’s mention of uranium.]

[Then more on Pacific Rim, and other examples of gangsterism.]

[BW: gives example of women’s groups protesting against discrimination.]

BW: The big story here of course that has fascinated me – when I arrived in the first year or two, I used to talk about Honduras as the Big Sleep. Because you have the traditional left who would get 200 or 300 people marching once a year on the presidential palace. It was just a group – the women’s group was separate – and who heard of the indigenous? (There about the same number, I think – about 5 or 6 % like Costa Rica). And suddenly when everything happened – the coup – this group came together, the Frente [38:37] and the left wing groups amazed me, the traditional political parties, because they genuinely seem to have embraced the indigenous and the women’s groups. And they, the women’s groups and the indigenous, definitely had an effect on the Frente. And the indigenous groups had a voice, and suddenly these invisible people and the Lenca, have suddenly come forward.

[MM: explains re. ENCA and earlier interview with Berta Cáceres.]

BW: A month ago when the police arrested her. They didn’t give her a bad time, but then she had a lot of signatures for the Constituyente, and they robbed those. Bertha Oliva, …. But that’s the interesting story – the invisible people. But the water thing too – it hasn’t been much of an issue here up to now, but if you look at what happened with the water in Brazil and Chile – it’s a big deal.

[Various items of discussion.]

BW: Ten years ago or fifteen years ago in the north, there’d been 300 Honduran rice farmers. Then as the markets opened up and the US was dumping the subsidised rice, suddenly there’s like fifteen people growing rice. You can go to the supermarkets with your students and try to find Honduran rice – all of it is American. When I returned in 2005, where I had to catch a connection I was talking to a farmer who was saying there’s no money in frijoles, maiz, rice – there’s no money in it – the trade agreements and everything else.

[General chat.]

Sayeed arrives [50:15] – with semitas.

[66 mins.] Talk of food.

Talk also of book entitled ‘Pseudo Capitalism’. Bryn considers it very suspect because of lack of index and rigour.

[80 mins]  Much talk of computers – Sayeed helping Bryn with viruses.

[102 mins]

BW: [104:15] I’ve just got this article which I thought would be interesting by Annie Bird from Rights Action. It’s just a big change because she was saying that the US failure to get the votes in the OAS. First of all she said that Maria Otero tried to meet with the Frente, and I’ve not been able to get a straight answer out of the Frente people I know about whether they met with her or they rebuffed her or whatever. Annie Bird was saying that 1) the US has accepted that the Frente is a player – they have to talk to them. And the other thing they have accepted is that the Constituent Assembly is inevitable. That’s a big change because if the US accepts it, then the military and the oligarchy have to. But then they’ll try to control the process, which is why the Frente …. So it’s a big change.

[Talk of Sayeed’s car.]

[The rest is farewells and chit-chat, in the car.]


Padre Andrés Tamayo

Interviewee: Padre Andrés Tamayo
Interviewers: Martin Mowforth
Location: Online
Date: 8th July 2010
Theme: Email Interview regarding deforestation in Olancho, Honduras
Keywords: TBC
Notes: Please note that Padre Andres had recently been expelled from Honduras to his native El Salvador on account of his having become one of the leaders of the opposition to the illegal coup d’état in Honduras. This explains why the interview was conducted by email.


Q1: Referring to the deforestation in Olancho, can you consider the following…..

1a) The different degrees of guilt of the agencies which are involved in the exploitation of the wood.

Padre Andres Tamayo (AT): The first major guilty culprit is the institution of government today called the Institute of Forestry Conservation. This entity and their employees, from the bosses to the lowest, are investing in political paternalism and compromise, (one which should be healthy but yields to the pressures of power). No one denounces the form of decision-making channels and corruption in which they hand over the timber resources. By pressure they legalise the illegal; whitewash invoices, fix auctions, no evaluation is done on site – it’s all off the cuff, they inflate the quantity, the wood is decommissioned and they send themselves the same material which they stole. Ultimately, all the wood is owned by 4 giant companies- Sanzone, Lamas, Noriega, Indema and others. The contractors are those who lend their names to the afore-mentioned companies. The mayors who give their signatures hand over the forests in return for bribes. The deputies use their political influence and receive money and favours in exchange. The majority of the cooperatives are only vehicles for handing over the assigned areas to the businessmen, because they are the ones who receive the money and don’t do anything with the wood. The transnationals mentioned before have appropriated the majority of forest areas, buying the property rights to own and take for themselves the nation’s territory.

1b) The relation between the EU programmes, with respect to the supplies of drinking water in Olancho, and the illegal deforestation.

AT: It’s true that the EU is more an economic union than a political one, and they themselves have a budget for water resources. They don´t have a demanding policy to put conditions on the state with respect to its good use of the resource, because they themselves, and anonymous businessmen of their countries have concessions over our resources whether those are wood, water or minerals. Neither do they denounce the illegality because they have interests in the resources – [see research into illegal felling]. The precious timber goes to Europe. As far as financing drinkable water goes they only advise the communities about protection of the resources but don´t demand the state to stop the abuse of illegal exploitation of the timber.

1c) The link between agents of deforestation and the coup d’état in Honduras.

AT: The previously mentioned transnationals are exploiting my presence in the Olancho department because we managed a ban on 13,000 sq km, in order to make an experiment on the sound use of the resource. This affected their interests. They had already tried to expel me from the country. This was their best chance [in the coup d’état] for them to carry out their actions and demand that the coup government expel me. These same companies entered to cut wood in the prohibited zone with the military and police following the coup. The businesses picked up the bill to help the coup and political campaigns in its favour.

Q2: Can you explain the distinction between the ‘movement’ of people against deforestation (the MAO) and the NGOs and international NGOs?

AT: MAO is a movement which defends the natural resources, resisting and persisting, but they do not make plans nor execute them because it is more interested in protection and defence rather than doing experiments. MAO managed to put the forestry problem on the government’s table, and the NGOs are only concerned with one thing – local protection, but not with the national damage; and for that (local protection) they make and execute projects. The NGOs make and execute plans consistent with the interests of their financiers who are not militant institutions. I don’t deny that they are doing a lot of good, but they don´t put themselves at risk to defend their natural resources, neither to question the government nor the transnationals. Our organisation does not have any salaried workers, only people of conscience who defend their area from pillagers. The NGOs have employed workers.

Q3: What do the developed countries have to do to secure a return to democracy in Honduras?

AT: First they have to leave behind their neo-colonial interests – they are paying governments to ensure themselves of the exploitation of natural resources. Secondly, they ought to know the truth about why the coup came about – transnational companies which have large interests in this country were affected and therefore financed and promoted the coup. The greatest purpose of developed countries ought to be to create a development plan of benefit to the country with its natural resources and not to make themselves richer than they already are. Democracy is to allow what the people decide about their resources and wealth, and not to allow the transnationals to buy a government structure which empowers itself from the peoples’ natural resources. The free trade treaties ought not to be made from the government´s cabinet, but by the consent of the people, with equity.


Bryn Wolfe, Elly Alvarado & Mauricio Santos

Interviewees: 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)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth, Amy Haworth Johns and Lucy Goodman
Location: Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Date: Wed. 22nd August 2010
Theme: Resistance to the 2009 coup; post-coup developments in Honduras.
Keywords: TBC
Notes:  Mostly in English, but with 3 small parts translated from Spanish and inserted in the transcription of the English conversation.

Mauricio Santos (MS): [Translation / Mauricio 0 file] … the moment the coup occurred, social meetings became well tuned. But now that the coup is a little behind us, now there are developing some internal tensions. There are different definitions and differences demonstrated – the first difference is that a meeting of the liberals is a meeting of the Resistance which, without a presence retained in the two parties – that’s always been the system – but there are many movements, the workers, the feminists, the indigenous; and it’s there where the first tension appears.

Elly Alvarado (EA): [Translation] As time passed, the coup lost its strength. … Now it’s almost a year away.

MS: [Translation] It’s a movement which is structured due to the political situation brought about by the coup, but there has been no precedent for sharing agendas. The coup allowed each sector that was fighting its own battles to communicate with each other; and so the LGBT movement had direct contact with the workers’ movement. The feminist movement had never worked with other sectors like the teachers. There’d never been any communication. So, …

Martin Mowforth (MM): [Translation] Now there is?

MS: [Translation] Now there is, but … So, up to now a new movement has begun. The difference, for example, between the indigenous movement, horizontal movements creates a lot of conflict with certain tendencies which now accept a vertical structure. So there’s a bit of tension within the Resistence.

Bryn Wolfe (BW): In terms of resistance, for me as a Quaker and a pacifist, there’s been a lot of terrible things – Nicaragua was a huge tragedy/turning point for me, because for a long time I endorsed violent revolution, because what option was there … you’ve got a Somoza what do you do? But in hindsight I felt like, you know it’s like hearts and minds and stuff, and there was no Nelson Mandela, nobody with a vision, and the problem was in Nicaragua there was a lot of people who never changed in their hearts. So it’s so tragic, you can achieve a certain amount of change for a while, but then things shift. Had the Sandinistas genuinely been dictators, you know, then they would have kept the regime that they did. But they didn’t and things swung back and so all the sacrifice and tragedy and blood … things are a mess. But the resistance is genuinely a kind of postmodern thing. It’s odd, and not as glamorous as the ‘….. something in something’, but it’s something new and different that people are perceiving in a different way, because this strange collection of people who most people dismiss as idealists and feminists and crazies, they are methodical and talk about strategies and what they want to do. They insist on deciding things in a consensual way and moving in unity, and if they don’t have unity they don’t go forward on that issue. Something definitely has to change because everybody has observed that the political system is broken in Honduras. And this is not unfamiliar to us from Britain because for the last 10 years we’ve been talking about the democratic deficit; how can we have 1.5-2 million people marching in the streets of London in 2003 and the government completely ignores them. Clearly the people were in non-favor of entering the war and yet the government ignored them. Another thing is, how many people in Britain feel disfranchised because there isn’t a political group that can actually reflect their interests, and the political system is controlled by money. The US is the worst example of that where it’s all about money. Here the political party … I think Ellie has voted only once in her life …. one time was enough. Mauricio has only voted once too. So nobody believes in the legitimacy of the process despite wanting to vote. It’s an interesting thing, the people at the front are saying let’s make a difference, so I felt there’s a great need for something like CAP – the peace centre in San José, to allow the different organisations to meet and communicate and explore ideas and do things and talk about how society might change and what they could do. I haven’t read anything for a bit about work that’s been done recently about people talking about writing a new constitution and talking about a new form of the state, but I know that work is going on. I know that there are people in the Resistance that are drafting and talking about the new constitution and I think that’s really important because when the time comes it won’t be vague and they’ll say look we have ideas written down.

MS: [Translation / Mauricio 00 file] I think that the most important change was that before we were in a relatively bad way, and nobody knew exactly why things weren’t working. But the coup allowed us to see the other side of the people who run this country. So in a certain way it was good because in the end it became known who were the people who were taking advantage of the country and exploiting the people. That was good. That was a fact that allowed the people to mature a little – much more than if there were a process of political formation. Now everybody in the streets talks about the oligarchy.

BW: For a little while at the beginning of the coup, I was writing diary thesis for ‘Red Pepper’ in Britain, for Fiona, whatever her name is, and I kept trying to tell her the Resistance is the real story here, that’s what interesting for the researchers and sociologists, that’s what’s new and so interesting in Honduras. My friend came back to me and said it’s just not a story so they’re not interested, and I thought they might just be interested in the formation of the left of the progression. But its outstanding the control of the international media, because I think back to the things we read about … something … or Nicaragua, and now with everything that’s gone down to do with the situation here, or even what’s going on in Costa Rica with the militarisation. It’s just not on their radar.

MM: I’ve heard very little about Costa Rica, only through the CAP.

BW: But the Guardian had some terrible editorial pieces analysing … and one time I wrote on their website saying this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

MM: The one thing I wanted to ask you was for your analysis of how the situation is with the Resistance. What you’ve told me already …. but anyway, let’s start with the effect of the women’s movements on the Resistance.

BW: Well I think the women’s organisations insisted that the movement work democratically and by consensus, and I think that historically and traditionally in Honduras there were 2 or 3 left wing parties in the campesino organisations, and they had a constituency but you know, when there were marches and protests in Tegucigalpa, I remember the first year I came there was one with 300 or 400 people, not huge numbers, and I think before the coup d’état, the traditional left wing parties didn’t talk much to the women’s orgs or the indigenous peoples, but when they threw them together in the ‘Frente’ there was genuinely sharing of ideas and talk of strategy. Also, significantly important was, whether people were prepared for it or not, but the women’s orgs and indigenous people argued for peaceful protests and Ghandian sort of direct action, not that people had the knowledge of Ghandian methods, but things like civil disobedience and resistance. I think that’s had a dramatic effect and it still goes on today. I was telling you about before the ….. conference in Tocoa, some of the women’s org and indigenous chose not to be involved in the selection of the executive leader. They didn’t want to have delegates and they didn’t withdraw from the Frente but said they didn’t want to take part. Sure enough I think their caution was quite useful because from …… somewhere to somewhere ….. the liberals tried to pack in 25 more delegates, and you know nobody accepted that.

MM: That was the conference you were telling me about in Tocoa with people turning up in 4 wheel drives and …….

BW: They had a lot of weapons and guns there.

So I think Tocoa was quite crucial, because nobody would have predicted that this broad movement with so many people in it, given the way the left was and the campesino organisations were, that it would still be going on a year later so strong, and still putting people out collecting over a million signatures for the Constituyente. Again the movement, interestingly, has always stayed disciplined, that their goal is to get the constituent assembly core to draft the constitution. Lots of things, and groups and individuals have tried to divert them from their agenda, and lots of people have said they should have formed a political party and stood for elections, but the movement seems consistently to have decided to stick with a Constituyente – that’s the goal.

MS: I think that the goal was important because all the movements fight for the same reason … opposition. All the things ….. become one force.

BW: So it’s united and has a united executive and has a very definite strategy and objective and it’s still growing. I think for the media, the Honduran media, the ………. names of paper and Radio stations, other than Radio Globo and channel 56, they have tried to ignore the Frente, and called the same policy as Lobo, to dismiss and ignore them. But I think the strength of the Frente has been counted as an achievement, because when the North Americans had to call off the 30th of July meeting of the OAS, because they still didn’t have the votes to get Honduras restored, and that’s because of the agitation, the protests,  and the lobbying of the Frente. The US media also tries to ignore and suppress the Frente and the lobby, it is very strong and well organised for the Golpistas and the oligarchy in the US, but they have not been able to budge the southern group, the Cono Sur . They have not been able to budge that group even though they have detached Chile and another county to support, the other countries are standing firm and are saying no. Of course Daniel Ortega’s position in … something …. is very clear, saying that I didn’t vote for this and I won’t support it, and we’re supposed to move forward by consensus. So I think in that sense, and I was telling you about the article of the analysis by Rights Watch, that the state department in …… somewhere, have accepted that the Constituyente assembly, to draft a new constitution is probably inevitable. So I think it’s quite significant that the North Americans have recognised that even though they’re not saying it. I was trying to nudge Mauricio the other day thinking about if Maria Otero had actually been able to meet with the Frente, there’s lots of talk and lots of gossip about how she had tried to meet the Frente representatives, but the media is not really clear about it.

MM: She’s one of the undersecretaries of state of the US government.

BW: She was dispatched during the ….. something July meeting. She also made a statement saying that the human rights situation would not preclude Honduras’ readmission to OAS. So the thing continues with the North Americans, the State Department, not acknowledging the human rights crisis.  I’d love to have a meeting with the American ambassador Lorenz, or one of these visiting people, about all the human rights reports since June 2009, there have been 7,8,9 lives of all kinds of diverse groups, there must be a huge stack of cases now, and I’d love to hear what these people think on the matter.

So I think its focus (the Frente), they’ve collected a million signatures, they have a million where only a half a million were required to trigger and call for a constituent assembly, and they intend to present that on the 12th of September, at congress, and then have activities. So that’s really where we stand, and the Frente remains united despite continued assassinations and everything else. There was a woman leader of an indigenous organisation who had 8 or 9 kids and was assassinated, all in the same pattern. What is fascinating here in terms of that, is for those of us with longer memories of operation Condor and low intensity conflict, and the techniques developed by the State Department and engineered throughout South and Central America in the 1980’s, it’s the same thing but the scale is not so big, but they do have a dirty war going on. They collect intelligence, they target individuals and in a drip drip way, you know 3 or 4 for a while maybe, or a whole group of journalists they’ll try and intimidate, and there was a brief spell when they were assassinating …..

MM: 7 journalists were assassinated …..

MS: ……….. In the 80s I think 300 people were killed, but now 100 people have been killed already in one year.

BW: In the 80s the US media, some of it was interested and would report violations, especially the famous human rights cases in El Salvador and Guatemala, and they would highlight these things, and the issues of Nicaragua were well known. But now except for the blogs and journals, the mainstream media doesn’t say anything about Honduras at all.

Compared to Sri Lanka where there’s a full-on war and you didn’t go out on the streets at night and lots of people vanished …. But nevertheless it’s quite significant, the number of people that have been lost. I want to make a point, because we were talking about Opus Dei before; in the early months of the coup, one of the really significant things, and really nasty, was that there were a lot of really committed activists in the Gay and Lesbian groups, and these groups, especially the transvestites got targeted. There were a lot of really grisly murders of transvestites with their heads cut off etc – really dreadful. So they were a definite targeted group. And a number of prominent media like …. someone. But then every sector, like the nurses, there was a very popular nurse leader and her husband is still being harassed now, although it happened a month ago.

MM: It’s the same in Olancho, like Padre Andres Tamayo. And Adalberto Figueroa has recently been the 13th member of the MAO to be assassinated. René is now at the top of the list of being targeted by the death squads.

BW: So whether its journalists, teenagers active in the barrios, prominent trade unionists, environmental activists – like with Goldcorp. The mining practices by Goldcorp involve cyanide heap leaching and you can imagine what effect this has on the watershed as it leaches into the river system.

MM: They spray tonnes and tonnes of water onto the earth with a cyanide solution in it to separate out the gold or silver, and all the waste water goes into a reservoir and the CEO of Gold Corp was asked in a press conference to try and name a single reservoir of cyanide solution run off that hadn’t leaked at some point, anywhere in the world, and he was unable to do so. Every one of these pilas has leaked into water courses on which people depend, and into the water table. Their defense is that cyanide in a water solution evaporates quickly, but then inevitably it falls as acid rain and then spreads the damage. There’s lots of horrible photos of people with rashes and skin ailments.

Amy Haworth Johns (AHJ): But there was an incident when one woman spoke out about the contamination and a lot of the village turned against her because they worked for the mine.

MM: Not the whole village but it caused a split between those employed by the mine and those not ……….. It’s a classic case of gangsterism.

BW: Pseudo capitalism, gangster capitalism. In Sri Lanka they went through 3 waves of structural adjustment, they were one of the first countries in Asia from the late 70s onwards, and they called it ‘Cloney capitalism’ and they did things like privatise all the buses. But because there was such a strong tradition in Sri Lanka, the MPs and parliament etc, this was part of their thing; so that they had lots of jobs to hand out to their constituency, so that when the parties got in power … There was one regime when we asked our MP and we were always complaining to our leader where our goodies were, where’s our pork pie?

I want to get back to your question … so I mean the movement remains strong and is committed despite all the attacks and everything else. The signatures have been collected and will be presented. Where do we go from here, I ask my friend here (Mauricio), because I can’t see that anything has actually changed since June 2009. Although if Lobo makes any sort of noise that’s necessary, he is as one of my good friends says ………., so I can’t see him doing anything dramatic or making any sort of move to congress just because the petitioners say so and he would like to do it. I don’t see any evidence that the guys who insisted that they had nothing to be sorry for and refuse to reinstate Mel Zelaya in the Tegucigalpa – San José accord, they haven’t changed, and the oligarchy hasn’t changed, so the big question is what happens when the big petition gets presented? Now legality and what the rule of law is and what’s in the constitution hasn’t meant anything to the golpistas and golpista mark 2 and Pepe Lobo. So it’s difficult for me to see them conceding a constituent assembly. So I personally expect some trouble for maybe a week or a week and a half in September, depending on how harsh the police and military are on cracking down on what happens. As always, it’ll be critical on the North Americans, what levels of violence will they accept and how violent does it have to get and that’s a key question.

MS: The signatures don’t have any value because the constitution says in an article, that anybody can change the constitution ………. …… so we can do anything and the constitution won’t change.

BW: But what about the golpistas with their articles written in stone. This is the rhetoric of what they say, but in the constituent assembly everything is up for negotiation. That’s the conundrum and I wonder exactly what’s going to happen. Obviously they’ve had since the world cup, plenty of time to think and discuss what they’re going to do. They know that the petition is going to be presented and the reception outside ….

The other thing to say is that they’re desperate for money because the IMF has refused emergency loans. The IMF is coming back in September to talk again, but as it stands now, the government thought they would be readmitted by the OAS and they thought they would have emergency funds from the IMF and they don’t. I don’t think the payroll has been missed since February. The government couldn’t do the payroll for a while in Feb this year, just after Pepe was inaugurated as president there was a month or month and a half when they couldn’t pay salaries and public finances were really a mess. It’s difficult to see what will happen and how far they can keep going until another economic crunch. We had the taxistas protesting with the final raising of petrol prices and gas for a week and a half, two weeks ago. So it’s difficult to see what’s going to happen. But at the same time, if the government cracks down on the Frente, or if they refuse to recognise the petition, then I can see this solidifying the southern group. They’ll say no, things aren’t normal in Honduras and they’re not even accepting the rules, which the Frente has gone through all the proper processes to abide by, so legally they should do it. So there’s still a lot of talk about the North Americans who want to see the Supreme Court change and they want to see the justices who are dismissed and the magistrates justices put back, but all of those are side issues. It’s difficult to see, in the next two months, what’s going to happen. I don’t think the Frente is going anywhere though.

One thing I’ve said to you and you’re aware from Costa Rica, is that the CAP is sheltering at the moment 27 people, recommended to them by the Frente. We may well see more people leaving and another exodus of a lot of people who are under pressure. One thing for certain is that the economic situation is going to get harder. I was trying to talk about this with Ellie’s father, who of course has a perspective. He’s in his mid 70’s now and lived a long life and seen a lot of stuff. We were talking to him about the coup in the early 60s. I asked what the difference was with that one. He said there was a lot more shooting and more people got shot. The conclusion we came to was that somehow people keep going, as they always have.

MM: What about the Truth Commission?

BW: Well the Truth Commission is a joke and has no credibility in or outside of Honduras. The big question is if … Maria Otero … there was talk with her because the fact that the US has now recognised the Frente as important and significant resistance, whether they could find somebody to go along to the Whitewash Truth Commission. There’s no comparison, if you look at the two commissions, the one set up by the Frente and the people involved in the remit, I mean, the whitewash commission has no credibility what so ever. There’s lots of good analysis to say that these Truth Commissions, where they have been implemented in South Africa, etc – they happen after the conflict not in the middle of the conflict, and we’re still very much in the middle of the conflict.

MS: The new liberals want a new party. I think there are different visions, because all the different movements, social and indigenous movements, they are trying to think in another way, like something similar to Bolivia – not a party.

Lucy Goodman (LG):  Would they have more effect if they were a party or would it be a completely different approach?

BW: There’s fear that if they became a political party, then they would simply be co-opted exactly like the liberal party started 50 or 60 years ago, supposedly as a progressive movement that intended to do all this good stuff, but clearly the liberal party got completely co-opted by the power structure.

MS: [Translation / Mauricio 000 file] I think that the conflict is between the visions which push for a structure which allows participation and those that simply want representation. There are people who are afraid of converting to a political party which would again use a platform of representation with leaders who would completely forget the grassroots. You can hear people in the streets – they say ‘No, we don’t want to see that.’ A campesino with a representative in the National Congress, ‘we don’t want to see people who ransack the country.’

MM: This is the crucial difference between participatory democracy and representative democracy, and the problem is the grassroots, the base, and the social movements get left out of representative democracy.

BW: The majority may not always be right. The majority can do horrific things and how do you protect the interests of minorities. I have one good student in Bolivia who works for an Italian movement offering good governance and efficiency training. She was very frustrated about why the Resistance hadn’t formed a political party. But I think it was the point that the political system is broken, and so people are saying it’s not about getting a new group in or new government – the whole system has to be changed. There’s a feeling, that unless the constitution can be changed, like in Bolivia, the constitution that is now the present one, was drafted in the early 80s in the State Department in the Reagan presidency with the military, and basically it’s engineered to preserve the power bases and oligarchs and protect them. So just like in Bolivia, they say they need to change to a greater franchise and have greater rights for people. The feminist organisation is a great example because they say that nothing in the constitution actually helps them or protects them. They say that there has to be actually guaranteed mechanisms in the constitution to protect women. The femicide here is horrific; I mean before the coup it was awful. The rates of violence were shocking.

LG: Do they leave the bodies on the streets as symbolism here too?

BW: Bodies are thrown anywhere.

MM: The social cleansing of street children is an ongoing issue to for both Guatemala and Honduras.

BW: That’s happened for the last 30 years.

AHJ: Who does the cleansing?

MM: The death squads.

AHJ: Who exactly are the death squads?

MM: Well, who are they?

MS: The movement, right now …… only has had one year, and the best thing right now is the talking and participation and discoveries of ways to move together.

BW: Moving together in unity. In usual democratic politics, minorities get shunted aside and have to accept the view of the majority and their views get lost. Like in our system, I think most people who have spent time looking at it objectively, in Britain, now conclude that the first past the post in not having a PR system like most of Europe, is really not working for us. We certainly don’t have governments that are objective to views. The places where there is PR, of course, we have green MPs, and green county councillors and extreme socialist worker parties.


Lizandro [pseudonym]

Interviewee: Lizandro [pseudonym]
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Centro de Amigos para la Paz, San José, Costa Rica
Date: 11th July 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes: Lizandro [pseudonym] is a Honduran coup exile and a refugee in Costa Rica.  There were 27 exiled Hondurans being helped and supported by the Centro de Amigos Para la Paz


Martin Mowforth (MM): Can you give me your name, nationality and other circumstances. And can we use your name?

Lizandro:I am Lizandro from Honduras. I am here in San José, Costa Rica, and I have come here seeking refuge, fleeing the repression of the army, the police and the oligarchy of Honduras, for being an active member of the Popular Resistance in Honduras.

MM: How long have you been here?

Lizandro: We have been here about seven months. We arrived in January [2010].

MM: Can you tell me what happened immediately after the coup? First in your life and second in general on the streets.

Lizandro: Before the coup there was joy in the people, because we had never had a president who would walk amongst the people. At first we thought that he was like all the other presidents. Mr. José Manuel Zelaya, constitutional president to date, because that is how we Hondurans see it. At least 85% of Hondurans think so, and before the coup there was a great joy in the people and we were anxiously waiting for the 28th June 2009, because we knew that we were changing for a better life. We felt happy knowing that we were going to vote on a fourth ballot to decide whether or not we wanted to be consulted. Of course we want to be consulted about everything that happens in the country. The country belongs to the Hondurans, not to the oligarchy that is completely foreign. Immediately afterwards there was going to be a change in the Constitution because we know ex-presidents that have become millionaires at the expense of the people, of companies that have borrowed money from the people and have gone into liquidation, of banks like the General Investment Corporation [la Corporación General de Inversiones] run by foreigners, including Flores Facussé, Ferrari, other foreigners who do not come to mind at this moment. They ran this bank, they bankrupted it, cynical, because until they sold the building of the bank, we remember because we are still paying that money.

We arrived to vote at the fourth ballot and unfortunately on that day the coup happened, which I now realise, through deputies and trusted people here in Costa Rica, that four days before the coup it was known here in Costa Rica that there was going to be a coup in Honduras. So we believe that they are the same people. In fact, ex-presidents of Honduras have companies here in Costa Rica. José Leonardo Callejas has companies in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala. He has investments in Mexico, less in Honduras, where he robbed all the money with which he goes around with influence everywhere.

He walks around enjoying our money, with our wealth from Honduras. We do not like it, and that is the root of the poverty in Honduras. We are not poor; we are miserable in Honduras, with so much wealth, but belonging to only ten families, who are unfortunately all foreigners.

MM: Can you tell me about the protests in the streets after the coup and if you were involved in the protests?

Lizandro: As soon as we realised, at a few minutes past five in the morning, that there was a coup, the people took to the streets to see what was happening and we realised that we were already under siege, that we were not allowed to be on the streets; but the people were on the streets and ignored the call of the tyranny, because it was a military coup, oligarchic, and in which Cardinal Rodríguez and Evelio Reyes of the Evangelicals were also involved and in agreement that the coup was the best thing that had happened in Honduras. Also Ramón Custodio, from human rights, said that he did not know how so many people from the Resistance were falling dead on the streets of Honduras because the bullets being fired by the army and the police were made of rubber. From that moment we nicknamed Ramón Custodio ‘rubber bullet’. We saw that the firefighters were not collecting the dead; we saw that the Red Cross was not collecting the dead from the streets, but that the same people, instead of supporting the people, they carried arms, tear gas, they carried prisoners in the ambulances, because there came a time when the police could not cope with carrying so many prisoners, so many injured, that is, so many people, because with an entire population, even if they are soldiers, they are never going to beat us. We beat them because we tired them out. They were awake for 24 hours and we were resting, continuing, and taking turns. We walked in the streets day and night to demonstrate to the world and the international community that we were not, we are not, nor will we continue to agree with the policy of the current dictator in Honduras.

MM: What is happening with your job, your company in Tegucigalpa?

Lizandro: I worked in printing, my wife in another company. I always kept on with the protests, from the very moment of the coup I never stopped going to the streets every day to protest against the government. I am an active member of the Popular Resistance and on 12 August 2009 I was arrested in the Central Park and taken to the Támara penitentiary in Tegucigalpa; and it was then when a group of lawyers joined forces against the coup and it was them who litigated for us to be able to leave.

At the moment of the arrest, they took me by force, they beat me, tortured me, chained me, handcuffed me and then we disappeared for nine hours. The human rights bodies did not know where we were, nor our families. But we realised that we were in the Cobra Squadron, a squadron where the 3-16 were trained by officers trained by the School of the Americas of the United States. It is a special squadron for torture. There we were tortured, we were savagely beaten, we were asked where the weapons were, who was paying us, if we were being paid by Hugo Chávez, Mel Zelaya, who it was that was paying us. No one pays us, it is something that comes from the heart for the love of Honduras, for the love of the people of Honduras and to live in a State under the rule of law; that is how we want to live. Right now, with this Pepe Lobo, it is not a State of law, there are no laws in Honduras; it is a lie.

We continued, and until a lawyer from the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), after going three times to the Cobra Squadron, he ran into the official from Madrid and said to him “official, I have a call on my mobile from one of the police who says that the boys are being detained here. If you do not tell me the truth I am going to make it known internationally that you want them to disappear.” So this was how the official reacted a bit. He was one of the torturers there and he was the boss, he gave in and let the lawyer from COFADEH in, who began to see how we were, after nine hours of searching for us, and he saw that among the detainees were people injured, fractured, badly beaten, deprived of oxygen, in a pretty bad state. We had been put in an army car; the floor of the car we left covered in blood. Then by the request of COFADEH, a Red Cross ambulance was called. They arrived; they just looked at us, bandaged some of us, then the Official from Madrid said “they are fine”. At midnight we were taken to Code 7, a police station in Tegucigalpa in Dolores, always with hands and feet chained and shackled, like criminals. There they started torturing us again and they put us in cells.

From 2 pm when we were taken prisoners, until midnight, we had no water or food and we were given a real beating whenever they felt like it. We were hungry and thirsty. At midnight, by demand of the lawyers – at that time we had a front of lawyers led by the lawyer Neftalí – we appeared before a judge. The judge ruled that 11 of us would go to the Central Penitentiary. We left the meeting, we were handcuffed and put in the cells again and at 2.30 am we were taken to the Penitentiary in Támara, Tegucigalpa. We received a visit from an official, whose name we could not make out because the part of the shirt where the name is engraved was always covered up, and they began to torture us again. We got there at 3.20 am, we were completely soaked with buckets of water. That official ordered the police to bring plenty of water and wash us again and again with all our clothes and shoes on, and we were beaten, for at least one hour and 45 minutes. They laughed and told us “look, Mel Zelaya is with two women over there in Nicaragua and look at you here, you will no longer be doing that”. I always said, “it doesn’t matter, leave that to him, he is no longer president, but we will keep fighting”. To speak there at that time was not thinking in the same way as them and so they continued to beat us. We gave up speaking and just let them beat us and they threw water on us whenever they wanted to.

So this is how it was and how we entered the premises of the Penitentiary and until the fourth day we had the right to wash ourselves, during that time we did not have a bed, a sheet, a pillow, we had to sleep on the wet floor, not even in the cells but in the corridors. We had to ask for permission from the other detainees to sleep on the floor because there was not even any floor space on which to sleep. I happened to sleep on one of the stairs, sitting there. So this is how it was during the time I was kept prisoner. We watched nervously as the officials and police came in at 11, at 12, at 1 am, at 2 am, who will be taken today, who will be killed today, and who will they take to torture. There was a psychosis of fear because we knew nothing of the outside world; we were cut off; we thought that at any moment we would be taken off to be disappeared or tortured to get some truth out of us. A situation of terror.

MM: How long were you detained for?

Lizandro: We were there from the 12th until the 20th. We went to the Court five times. Each time it was the same, with feet and hands shackled and chained. Those were moments of terror and fear, because we were told that we would have to spend 30 to 40 years in prison and so we almost started to demand that the lawyers bring us the good oficios so that we would be able to leave. They told us “we have everything to win, but the oligarchy, the police and the army have the power right now and we cannot do much, but we are doing everything possible to remove them [or ‘get you out’ [sacarlos] – not sure if talking about the police / oligarchy/army or the prisoners]”. So they kept on working, with us always in solitary confinement. People came to see us at the Penitentiary – the Commission on Human Rights, from Brazil, from Spain, from Canada, from the United States – we told them everything that had happened to us and what was happening to us. They were aware of our situation. Those who have experienced firsthand the repression of the coup, we hope that they are working for us and for the people of Honduras.

MM: Are your family still in Honduras?

Lizandro: Yes, they are in Tegucigalpa. But the people that are active in the people’s movement have no right to work, no jobs, nothing. They are asking me to help them, but I cannot work here. The Government of Costa Rica does not allow me to work. If not, we will not have work to live, I cannot live by begging. There are people who support me [Friends Peace Centre, San José] and that is how I have been getting by. I do not know how it will be in the future. Right now we are processing documents, you just do not know. I am a foreigner in a country where I cannot demand anything, only do as they say.

MM: Are you still receiving news from Honduras, from your friends, your family, and from the newspapers? What do you think is happening?

Lizandro: The people are still in the streets, with the knowledge of all the deaths that there have been: professors, teachers, shoemakers, builders, carpenters, doctors, lawyers, journalists, disappeared. Like any oligarchy, everything is entangled with drugs, they say that they die for settling the scores. That is what the police said, because that is what the oligarchy tells them to say. But no, it is part of the popular movement and they do not like the people demonstrating so they look for ways to keep them quiet, to silence the people’s thinking. These people have to be eliminated, and they are eliminated by their death.

MM: Could you mention the importance of COFADEH and other similar organisations?

Lizandro: Immediately after the coup, all the human rights bodies, like CODEH, TPTRT, COFADEH, announced that they were available for the people 24 hours a day. When someone was arrested, they were present. They were ready to defend the people and we are very grateful to them because they condemned it, and as soon as they knew something, they were there; and the people are aware of this and it has been taken into account. Not so with the other traitor, Ramón Custodio, the ‘rubber bullet’, who put himself in their favour.

We trust in those organisations, we now see how they work and support us, otherwise there would have been more deaths, because there are many people around the whole country, not just in Tegucigalpa, but also in San Pedro Sula, in Copán, in La Ceiba, in Progreso, Tela, Trujillo, Colón, La Esperanza, Intibucá, Choluteca, who are in wheelchairs, there they are for history, to judge the military, like Romeo Vásquez, who hopefully one day I will be able to see die, to pay for the great number of deaths there have been and for the many crippled people who are walking around on crutches. They have caused great terror and they have to pay for it. I would like to see them in Rome paying for their crimes, Micheletti, all them, that would be a great joy for the people.


René Wilfredo Gradis

Interviewee: René Wilfredo Gradis of the MAO (Olancho Environmental Movement)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Olancho, Honduras
Date: 28th August 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes: Email interview. At the time of this interview, René was believed to be at the top of the death squad hit list in the department of Olancho.


Martin Mowforth (MM): Can you describe the actual situation of the MAO right now? (As a result of the coup and the expulsion of Padre Andres Tamayo)

René Wilfredo Gradis (RWG): The organisation has taken the decision to keep a low profile concerning the systematic violations of human rights, the assassinations of colleagues and the repression by part of the state. After the coup we have regressed as an organisation over 9 years’ worth of struggle, and possibly more. In the totalitarian government, where the timber merchants are part of this voracious group of businessmen in Honduras, there remains no other way in which to restate the strategies of defence of our natural resources. As an organisation we continue the struggle, but primarily we have to save our own lives, and for that reason we have lowered our public profile.

The exit of Padre Andrés Tamayo also weakened the organisation. He is a person recognised and invested with the authority of the church. In addition, he is a public person of international renown. To a certain extent this [his absence] weakens our organisation, but despite everything, and given the weakness, we continue struggling to defend our forests.

MM: As for the illegal felling, can you tell me if it has changed as a result of the coup?

RWG: Of course it has changed. With the government of Zelaya we had obtained: the approval of the Forestry Law, a prohibition to the cutting of wood in the valley of Telica, agreements for land registration, and establishment of a new normative technique for the execution of management plans, amongst other things. 15 days after the coup, the armed timber merchants supported by army personnel have entered the forests and are exploiting them in an unsustainable way; 100s of lorries with wood taken from Olancho. How is it logical for authorities in charge of the forestry administration and the operators of justice to serve these timber merchants so that they can legalise their actions and demobilize and intimidate the poor people who are trying to defend our forests?

MM: What has happened with the conversion of COHDEFOR to the ICF?

RWG: With this conversion, shamefully we only obtained a change of name of an institution as corrupt as COHDEFOR, because now they are demonstrating that the employees of ICF are more corrupt than those before, and that their employers are the managers of the timber companies.

When we struggled for the change of the institution, we thought that it would get rid of the corruption in forestry, and honest people would be placed at the forefront, but shamefully the circumstances created by the coup have benefited these voracious businessmen to position their employees to serve them as they please.

MM: Do you know anything about the current situation of Padre Andrés Tamayo (I know the Resistance is calling for his return).

RWG: I don’t know much, I only know that he is also using the strategy of not appearing in public too much, as he is one of the people pursued by the coup government of Pepe Lobo. If the resistance is demanding his presence, then he is one of the few people that can make the struggle advance. He has much credibility and is very giving to his people.

MM: What is your own current situation? Are you still working for the MAO? Also, can you explain your necessity to grow your own beans and corn etc, 20 km from your house? (Personally I have an allotment of approximately 1 manzana in which I cultivate my own vegetables in England, but it is only 5km from my house.)

RWG: My situation is equal to that of my colleagues of the struggle – it is difficult. On the one hand it is a social struggle and there is a need to defend our forests, but on the other hand we need to consider the survival of the family. At present there is no work, the economic situation is difficult, and because of this I have to go to work in the country 20 km from my house to grow my own food and resign myself to eat beans and tortillas. I dream of being able to lend more time to the struggle, but one must strike a balance between the family and the social struggle. Currently I have left the position of Coordinator [of the MAO]. I have resigned due to the situation; although I would be pleased to continue leading our organisation from the front. I have a child of 6 years, he is in school and I have to find something for his sustenance and education.

This is the sad reality of my country that we are passing through a disappointing moment, but we can do nothing else but to continue struggling because one day we’ll find a ray of hope which provides us with equality in our use of resources.

MM: Can you tell me something about the links which the Resistance has with international organisations? Or maybe relations with international organisations which you would like to have or develop.

RWG: I’m not familiar with this subject. I have participated in different activities after the coup, but I have not been in the leadership, but I see that they have many links with international organisations. With which? I don’t know, but yes they have them. At the moment it is essential to be able to count on international support, and I don’t have much information, but I believe that they are largely supporting this struggle from outside and the more alliances they have the better.


Fundación Prolansate

Interviewees: Eduardo Zavala, Executive Director of FP and Dennis Sierra, Director of Jeannette Kawas National Park
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
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


Eduardo Zavala (EZ): The Prolansate Foundation was founded in 1989 by a group of people from Tela, who had observed that we had a wealth of natural resources but that there was no authority responsible for its protection. It was then when Jeannette Blanca Inés Kawas, along with others, and supported by the Peace Corps of the United States initiated the formation of a group. Once formed, the group gave it a name, and the foundation was legally established in 1992. It obtained its legal status, which is a requirement of our country, and it began to operate with a legal structure, based on an approach which takes into account the participation of communities and advocacy in public policy and decision-making, so that the people benefit as much as possible.

Our main aim is to improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the river basins. This depends on the point of view from which you look at it, because for some people it will be that we are going to restrict the exploitation of certain resources, and for other people we are going to protect the resources. So, it depends on the particular viewpoint, how our vision is interpreted. But our vision and mission has been focused on that, improving the quality of lives of people, through giving them a good place to live, a good environment, conserving species, and preserving the quality of the environment.

Prolansate has six programmes: community development, eco-tourism, environmental monitoring and conservation, environment education, project management (financial sustainability of the organisation) and technology transfer. This last programme is responsible for working more closely with communities in agriculture and production. We focus on these programmes to deal with the issues.

As an institution we have evolved, we have changed, because in 1992 when we started out, our mission was purely environmental, it was to protect the fish, to protect the birds, the jaguar; but at that time the role of participation of civil society or of communities within the system of protection was not so clear. Then we moved forward in time and we have added aspects which give us greater integrity in our work.

Now we work in programmes relating to health, vulnerability, climate change, or be it, on issues which although they had links to our work before, they were not part of our mission. So we have evolved because to survive you must. Donor policies have changed – they say “we want you to work in this”, so we have to go along with it. Also today civil society is more aware, the people do not sit quietly, as noted before. Nowadays people in the communities make demands, they educate themselves, they read, they learn about the laws. This has forced us to make these institutional changes.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Could you explain the main problems facing the foundation?

EZ: We analyse the problems from three perspectives: economic, social and environmental. On the social side, since three years ago we have had a number of serious and delicate problems. We have a group of people who constantly try to invade the core area of the parks, that is, the areas which are off-limits, which belong to the State and are for preservation. So we have different groups of people, motivated by political and economic interests, that want to invade the land so that they are given land titles which then later they can sell. There is a strong land market here. Unfortunately people have been acting wrongly and illegally.

On the environmental side, we have problems related to the accelerated degradation caused by humans – for example, changing weather patterns. The birds usually come on certain dates, but now all the cycles have stopped. We also have soil erosion in the upper parts of the river basins, which will end up in the lagoons, sedimentation has been filling up the lagoons. We also have an accelerated rate of coral reef death, due to suspended sediments. We are also introducing new species, invasive species, like the lionfish which is very prominent here in the bay.

On the economic side we have the tourism project Los Micos, which is currently the largest in Central America, the largest investment in Central America. It is an opportunity for Tela, for the park itself, for certain aspects of sustainability; however, the omission of a social side in the project since its start is the biggest problem, because it causes the people to speculate on land values, prompts the invasion of areas near the projects and abnormalities start to occur at the local level.

MM: With regards to Astaldi and Los Micos project, are there conflicts between Astaldi and the Garífuna communities, and between the Garífuna communities and the Foundation? And is the Foundation working with Astaldi?

EZ: Los Micos project consists of three main parts: the private part, which is the largest, the part of the government, which is considerable, and then the Garífuna part. The Garífuna are part of the project, they have seven per cent. The others have some 51 per cent and those, some 42 per cent. So the private part holds the majority, second the government and in third place the Garífuna communities.

To implement the project, they established a company, joining the government and private enterprise, and created a joint venture called Tela Bay Touristic Development (Desarrollo Turístico Bahía de Tela, DTBT). Then they contracted a construction company, which is Astaldi. We, as Prolansate, are outside. We are part of the project because it is within the national park, but we deal with the municipality, SERNA, which is the country’s environment authority, the ICF, which is the forestry authority, the Institute of Anthropology and History, Ofraneh, the organisation for Garífuna communities. We are auditing these people, Astaldi and DTBT, with regards to the project. It is in this sense we participate.

Clearly there is a conflict between the Garífuna communities and the project, but there comes a point where you could say, what is it that the Garífuna people are asking for, because there has been no clarity from the communities who say “we, as Garífuna communities want this and that”. Maybe within the project the needs of the Garífuna communities that have been posed are based on the needs that certain people in the communities have expressed, which are not the needs common to all, but those which suit this person or that person.

So the project has been addressing a series of needs that have been expressed by the communities, however there are other issues such as the social side and participation. That is, the participation of the Garífuna communities in the project is not yet clear. We do not know what this participation will entail, what the real benefit will be, or the repercussions of participating in the project, so in this regard there is still no real clarity between the Garífuna communities and the project.

MM: Yesterday we were with Ofraneh and they said that no other organisation or government ever listened to them.

EZ: I respect Ofraneh’s mission and vision, but about 90 per cent of their views I do not share, because our vision is rather more to promote development, social development tied to economic development. But that of Ofraneh sometimes wants social development without the inclusion of the economic aspect. I do not understand how we are going to secure a quality of life without promoting work or investment – that is what I cannot understand. Yes, logically there are differences between Ofraneh and Prolansate, well because we are different institutions, but we have a common goal.

Ofraneh sometimes use our technical reports, because we have produced a series of reports in which we say Los Micos project is going to affect the humidity in this or that, the Los Micos project will affect such issues. We have produced very comprehensive reports in collaboration with other institutions and universities. But when we represent a restricted (limitante?) Prolansate, we are no longer an ally and they see us as an enemy. Ofraneh have accused me of promoting the sale of land, but quite the reverse, we have supported the Garífuna communities in not dividing their titles, in preserving this heritage for their children, that is in our interest. And the interest in working with the Los Micos project is for that. It is to try and settle as much as possible, because as they say, you can make a greater change from the inside than the outside. With this we see eye to eye with Ofraneh. Ofraneh does not have the support of all the Garífuna communities. In Tomabé they do not have much support, in San Juan yes, en Triunfo de la Cruz there are two boards, one which supports Ofraneh and another which the community elected. There is a conflict between them and Ofraneh and a Garífuna organisation would be better off reconciling interests, as the issue at hand is not fighting among themselves, but rather confronting something else which is a threat.

So, with Ofraneh, yes we have had some differences because it holds a very extreme position. I believe we can no longer be saying “don’t touch here, don’t fill here, don’t do that”. I believe we can no longer do this because the times have changed for good. Let us remember also that there are political and economic interests and there are projects which will go ahead regardless. So to avoid that it is better to say: it is ok for the investment to go ahead, but it has to abide by the environmental laws, with the management plan, with the international conventions, the ILO Convention 169, the Ramsar Convention, the Biodiversity Convention, among others. As institutions, it is very important that we take an integrated perspective and point of view and do not just focus ourselves on one thing in particular, because that would lead us to make errors.

MM: Can you talk a little about the cultivation of African palm. I know that is a problem too.

EZ: In addition to the invasions that have occurred through this area [pointing out area], we have the pressure caused by the cultivation of African palm, which for many years has been increasing because of a government law passed which encourages the production of energy from biofuels. So the people saw that it was more profitable to cultivate African palm than to have cattle and other things. So the change in land use began. African palm has had the greatest impact in the south-west. There we have a number of campesino unions or community cooperatives that have been increasing the cultivation of palm, and in the areas of Los Cerritos and Agua Chiquita. In the San Alejo sector they have not increased cultivation of palm.

It is rather ironic, because in Los Cerritos and Agua Chiquita there is a lake and a lot of mountains which for many years we have been fighting to reforest and [there has been] nothing, no interest on the part of the communities. What happened? All this has contributed to soil erosion and sedimentation in the lake. And what has happened with African palm? All these hills are now covered in African palm. So we have noticed a reduction in erosion. Or, in some cases the palm has functioned as a protective cover, but the use of pesticides increases. So we have not yet measured the increase in concentrations of agrochemicals.

Also, there was a comprehensive study done last year by Juan Carlos, about the impact of African palm in the entire north coast corridor. The problem with African palm is that it promotes monoculture; it does not encourage diversification or an approach based on biological corridors. So, in certain cases African palm causes a disruption of the biological corridors and has prompted a monoculture approach. Certain species can disperse and it can attract others. But the greatest impact it has on protected areas is in the southern and western areas and we have some cases of palm in the core protected area, caused by the birds or another type of animal that has [XXXX].

MM: One thing that Dennis explained three or four years ago is that African palm is slightly better than livestock, as it allows for migration [of animals].

EZ: Definitely, because with livestock what they do is knock down all the trees and plant grass, and also the ground is trampled. The point is to get a balance. The important thing is to not look at or demonise African palm or demonise tourism, but rather see how you can make a livelihood for a family, because if you go to these communities that benefit from the palm then you will see that they live very well, they have all the comforts, their economic situation is better than it was before. So you say, the people benefit from the protected area. The important thing is that this is carried out under a regulated framework, but here comes the role of the government in trying to regulate these matters, because it is the government itself that provides the incentives for it. So they should try and create policies and structures to prevent the situation getting out of hand.

Eduardo leaves and the interview continues with Dennis

Dennis Sierra (DS): The national park and its zones of influence are well defined. The Inés Kawas Park is a delta of the two big rivers: one is the Ulúa River which flows into the Caribbean Sea, and the other is the Chamelecón River which forms the boundary of the park. For many years the banana companies tried to colonise the park – the whole Sula valley. So this ecosystem here is connected from the Alvarado Lake which is in Puerto Cortés up to the Tornabé Lake. It is a single ecosystem, because ecosystems do not have borders. It all forms part of this delta.

MM: Another question about the case of Jeannette Kawas. Was it last year or the year before when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights opened the case again?

DS: The ruling has already been made. The government of Honduras accepted responsibility for the death of Jeannette. It is an international case and it was a death which went unpunished. Her family is being compensated by the government but that does not make Jeannette return. But there are no culprits, that is the problem, which is why the government took responsibility.

Because of tourism, the rich people in this country now want to seize the land of the park, using all means at their disposal to acquire this land, which is national land. As there is a lot of corruption here, they appear with titles issued years before. I say to them “why didn’t you declare your land years ago?” In 1998 we had a meeting with all the people occupying this territory. To those living in the area, the government gave all rights. But since 2000 a whole lot of owners have been appearing, wanting the government to compensate them or wanting to develop projects. That is why we have been condemned and sometimes we have been made vulnerable, because here people personify other people … because they are a nuisance to them.

MM: Could you expand on these threats which you have received?

DS: In the area, because of being close to industrial activities and the cultivation of African palm and banana, the soil is threatened. This is land where the water table is very near the land surface, because it is wetland. All these channels you see here are manmade, to try and lower the water table. This channel is called Martínez and cuts the protected area in two until it comes out at the sea. This was done about 100 years ago. In that time there were no environmental laws in Honduras. The Environmental Law dates from 1994. These companies came and gave out concessions for these public lands. From the railway line that comes here, they grabbed 5km from the right side and 5km from the left, and they could do whatever they wanted – they could knock down all of the trees here, cut the wood, because that is what they had been paid for by the State, and planting. These companies were the United Fruit Company, which has already left these lands, and the Cuyamel Fruit Company, which worked from Cortés up to the border with Guatemala, the Standard Fruit Company. They are American companies which were granted these lands concessions over 100 years ago. The concessions ended and this left a big problem, as now there is no railway.

MM: When did the concessions end?

DS: About 20 years ago. Some of the area was inhospitable, and still is. There are parts where there are lots of mosquitoes, dengue, malaria, because it is wetland, but the people who worked for the multinationals stayed, and here the communities that are on the map emerged, the villages that were born here such as San Juan, Tornabé, Marion, Kilómetro 4, Kilómetro 15, Ramal del Tigre. It is called Kilómetro 4 because this is what the banana workers called it, these were banana plantations. In the years after they stopped growing bananas, they grew a lot of plantain, but independently.

The land, which was already ready for agriculture, with the drainage and irrigation systems, has been used for various crops, for example teak and melina, fast-growing timber. Later this was replaced by palm. For between 25 and 50 years now, the land has been dedicated to the cultivation of palm. Right now there are farms which are being renovated, because after 28 years of cultivation, they are no longer productive. So they are returning to planting palm because there is a palm oil factory. They have the whole infrastructure in place.

MM: This factory belongs to Miguel Facussé?

DS: No, Miguel Facussé is over on the Sopo side. On this side we have Agrotor which is a public limited company, not a multinational. There is another company called Hondupalma, which belongs to some campesinos, a collective – it is on this side of El Progreso. And when you come on the road there is another company called Coapalma which belongs to independent producers, which also has its own factory and its own infrastructure for processing oil. They make soap, margarine and a range of products from palm oil. Also the quality of palm has improved. I am an agronomist. They have been improving the plant to make it more resistant to humidity, to the water table, to make it more productive, to produce up to three years, and to produce larger fruit to make better use of the oil. They have genetically improved the variety of African palm.

One of the things which I like to talk about, because I studied agriculture, is the Lancetilla Botanical Garden, the birthplace of African palm in Latin America. Here African palm was born in United Fruit Company’s laboratory. Lancetilla Botanical Garden was born from the United Fruit Company, and has species from around the world: mangosteen, rambutan, these are from Asia. I studied in Brazil and the Brazilian technical experts had to come here to Honduras to see the techniques of cultivation, to see how to produce more per hectare, how many plants per hectare, which species were being planted. And then people also came from Malaysia to study here, at San Alejo, the cultivation of dende or African palm. Even Malaysia improved the variety of African palm and now the Hondurans are bringing varieties from Malaysia to plant here.

MM: Does the Foundation have programmes on climate change?

DS: We do not have a defined programme, but Prolansate is an active member of IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and there is a technical office for the Mesoamerica region from Panama to Mexico. This office has the expertise and they are informing us of activities on climate change. With NOA there is also a change in cooperation and thanks to this cooperation we have been solving problems that we ourselves would not have been able to solve without the technical expertise necessary for the environmental issues we face in the corridor that we are managing.

From Trujillo there are several NGOs that are organised in a network. There are about ten organisations: Prolansate, Funapid, Fucawua, Fucsa, Fundación Nombre de Dios. They formed a network to look at the issue of climate change. They inform us and we inform Tela civil society about the problem of climate change. They also do monitoring. There is a state organisation called Copeco (Comisión Permanente de Contingencias en Honduras), which is also at the forefront of this, with satellite photo footage – there are people well-trained in it. We know that in Central America we are in a vulnerable place. Right now we are in the hurricane season, for example, so we are on the alert. We are part of that. We have some early warning systems; we have some shelters (casetas) here in agreement with the municipalities of Puerto Cortés and Tela, where there is a Copeco office, so we are exchanging information with them in case of any emergency that might happen, because there are always problems when managing these rivers.

MM: Can you explain the problems with fishing? I explained to Eduardo that yesterday we spent some time with Ofraneh, and they explained the problems faced by the fishermen and conflicts with organisations.

DS: Throughout our Caribbean coast, we have a number of villages, and these people use the resources, but there has not been any standard for regulating the use. Unfortunately, Honduras is a disorganised country. We are in the process of ordering, and the people do not like it when order and regulations for use start being put in place. The fisheries are over-exploited in all of the Caribbean, not only in Honduras – the same in Nicaragua, and in Guatemala the problem is much more serious than in Honduras. Here we have a lot more resources than in Guatemala. Belize, which is a country where fishermen are well organised.

I say this because we as Prolansate work in protecting the Gulf of Honduras, which is much bigger, and so we have connections. Currently, Prolansate is the secretariat of the trinacional, some 89 organisations working in the coast part, for the protection of an ecosystem much larger than this, the Gulf of Honduras. It concerns four countries: Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. All the animals that move here, that large biomass is related, they move in the Gulf, and all the users who are around the Gulf make use of this, but there are different closed seasons for fishing. About five years ago we started coordinating the fishing closures to happen at the same time, not at different times. What happened before, when Belize had the closed season the fishermen could not fish in the waters of Belize, but the Hondurans and Guatemalans went fishing to Belize, and Belize has an English law a lot stronger than ours. So the Belizean patrol would capture these fishermen, take their fishing tackle from them, the vessel, everything, and take them prisoners. And on that Ofraneh said nothing, they stayed quiet.

MM: The problem for the Garífuna is that if there is a ban for several months, what do the artisanal fishermen do? Because they do not have any other means of survival – that is their livelihood.

DS: We are aware of the Garífuna. When we have a closed season, what stops is the commercialization (marketing?). Why did Honduras name these areas Jeannette Kawas? Because these sites are very important for maintaining the biodiversity of the sea. In these coastal lagoons the mangroves are like the birthplace where the fish are born or for species such as shrimp or snails, the larvae come out from these lagoons and into the ocean, but if we come and fish in these areas where they reproduce … but here there are also people, fishing communities, all those villages dedicated to fishing, because it is a resource. Here then we start to make regulations and say to them, “you cannot fish within 50 metres of the lagoon, it is prohibited”, because they are taking away the small fish, they cannot throw their nets (chinchorros) in the biological corridors. They are used to throwing their nets in the mouths of the lagoons and the rivers, which are biological corridors and maintain the life of the sea species, of the lagoon and of the rivers. So we put regulations in these zones, measuring a kilometre here and a kilometre there, and trawling is prohibited, fishing with hooks is permitted, and with atarraya, so that the species can make their life cycle. But without the use of nets, only small nets.

This was discussed with the fishermen, not imposed, because they themselves were aware of the problem. Now there are many fishermen, not like before. The number of fishermen has doubled due to unemployment, for whatever reason, those that are not doing anything at home become fishermen. Many of them here are not even registered as fishermen, because the government requires that all Hondurans born in Honduras have to present themselves at the Directorate of Fisheries to register as a fisherman and they have to pay for a small license, it costs around $2 for a fishing license. A fisherman makes $2 in a day, easy.

The fishermen are not organised, we at Prolansate have tried to organise them. We have two cooperatives that are more or less organised, but there are a lot of people. We want to work like in Belize where there are fishermen cooperatives that work really well. We have had exchanges between the Honduran and Belizean fishermen so that those here learn how to manage the resources, because here the problem is they have the resources and they cannot manage them and they want to do the same things that their great-great-grandparents did. At that time the problems we have now did not exist, there was no climate change, there was no overpopulation, there was no drug trafficking, well, a whole lot of things, and the people did what they wanted and there was no law.

Currently this country has a Protected Areas Law and the Garífuna want to continue doing things like their grandparents did. When they come they want to fight. I tell them “you are not from these countries, you came from Africa and you have to adapt to the laws of this country, you are Honduran”. Our natives were displaced by them, the true natives of Honduras were the Tolupanes, the people that inhabited the coast from here. The Garífuna were people that lived on the islands and mixed with the Indians that lived on the islands, but they came here to the coasts and displaced the tribes who were not warriors, they were harvesters. I know the history well, I am a good friend of the Garífuna, I have even defended them with regard to their territories, because they are also under threat of being displaced, but they too have to comply with the laws of the country; they cannot stay isolated, they have to be integrated to see the problems which they have, because they have a whole lot of problems like their ethnicity, which came from outside, because they do not really come from here; they came from outside, from Africa, and they came because the Spanish brought them as slaves, but they showed themselves in San Andrés and came to the coast of Central America. Even recently we supported the celebration of 213 years of having the Garifuna communities here in the park, in Río Quinto, Saraguaina, Tornabé and San Juan. We have Garífuna communities and they are protected within the park, but they must also abide by the regulations of the management plan which specifies how to use the resources in a sustainable way. So those here have to adapt to that management plan.

These organisations, Ofraneh and Odeco have their headquarters in La Ceiba, and sometimes they want to impose things on the villages here who are sometimes not in agreement, as has happened in San Juan and in Tornabé. Ofraneh wants to come with their lawyers and put regulations on the ethnic group, and they do not want to accept it. They say, “no, that does not suit us”. It suits Ofraneh but it does not suit Tornabé, because they are the ones that live there. This has come about a lot with the development of tourism. There is fighting between them, between Ofraneh and Odeco which are the two Garifuna NGOs, but which look out for their own interests, not the interests of the people of Tornabé or the people of San Juan; so sometimes they turn against each other within the same community.

As stewards of the resources in that area, we look at this problem and we tell them, “the problems in your communities and with your ethnic group, you sort out”, we cannot intervene, but for the problems with the resources, yes we can intervene, because we have to come and regulate it.

We have problems with shark species for example. The shark is a species that is being threatened throughout the whole coast of Honduras, because people without a license come from Jamaica and elsewhere. They arrive at the black communities and then fishing becomes underground because they start fishing illegally but with the consent of a fisherman from some village who is taking money in return. After drug trafficking, illegal fishing and other matters related to fauna is the most profitable. Then they kill the sharks and just take away the fins, dumping the carcasses.

The other day we did a tour because a big boat came from Jamaica. I found more than 100 shark carcasses of various species, with only the fins cut off. I have photos. That is the problem with illegal/underground fishing. Not all the communities do this, but yes there are people from here that do it and we have to find out which people. Then they turn to Ofraneh and Odeco to ask them to defend them. It is enough to say that they are Garífuna, who are an ethnic group and we cannot regulate them because they are within their own territory; and then come the conflicts. We have to struggle with this, and come out as best we can, because this is engaging in conflict, and conflict is not good.

Because of this we have some surveillance committees within the community, so that the people that consider themselves smarter than others do not do this, and so it is reported to the authorities, because Prolansate is not an authority. This type of problem arises with resource management. We have illegal fishing, poaching. Having this large area of land where people live and coexist with wildlife, we are going to have these types of problems.

MM: We have heard a story yesterday from Ofraneh about the problem of … over there where a Garifuna was killed by soldiers.

DS: That incident was in the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado (Fucsa)

MM: They wondered if Fucsa has the right to carry soldiers and shoot at the fishermen, even if the fishermen are doing illegal things. Do the administrative organisations have that right?

DS: They do not have the right to kill. No-one has the right to take the life of another human being, because there are always circumstances and human error. Fucsa is an area which is very well operated, but there is a very enigmatic species there, the manatee. They do not have a large lagoon, there are small lagoons and here the manatees live. There the area is smaller than in Jeannette Kawas [National Park]; they have a contingent from the naval base; they are in the mouth of the sand bar; there is a wildlife refuge. It is not us who are in a park. A wildlife refuge is a stricter category, because it refers to looking after the manatee and the manatee leave the sea and enter the lagoons and the channels.

Many years ago, the people here from Triunfo de la Cruz travelled in canoes with outboard motors up to Tres Bocas, in the sand bar area of the Rivers Cuero and Salado, usually going at night. As Hondurans, we cannot ignore the drug trafficking that goes on in this area. There are armed groups, not only military, but also from the paramilitaries. One does not know who they will run into when travelling in the sea at night. That military contingent from the Navy is a patrol of four soldiers who are assigned to patrol the area so that the manatees are not killed. They check to see if the boats are carrying manatee. I know because one of my guards was over there with those fishermen and apparently the soldiers confused the boat for drug traffickers, so they stopped the boat, but apparently they the fishermen took no notice and they were shot. That is the story I was told. They shot a fisherman.

I cannot hide the fact that many of the fishermen fish … cocaine paste, because the planes fly by here and throw out packages [bultos], and many fishermen are collecting these … because they get paid and they get involved. We cannot do anything. Already they have got hold of the people involved in that drug trafficking. Like in Mexico where right now there is a drug trafficking war on the border, the personnel here are told to check all the boats to see if there are any drugs and fishermen are not exempt from this inspection. If I am stopped and I refuse to stop and make off running, then the army has the license to shoot at me. That is what happened there.

It is not that the fishermen want to catch the manatee, but as they fish in the mouths of the rivers and throw a trawling net around the mouth, that is in a protected area, and that constitutes a crime. But they do it because it is a biological corridor and there are many species, so when they bring in the net – it is a net that they pull in by hand, it is hard work, it is not an easy job – they get a number of species and sometimes the manatee comes in the net, and many times because it is dragged the manatees die young, then the fisherman with the dead animal knows he has committed a crime and wants to hide it. Or he butchers the animal and makes it into meat. But it is not that they go there specifically to hunt manatees.

I had the opportunity to work at lot with fishermen from Triunfo de la Cruz. We were even having an influence on the community so that they would not capture or eat the manatee, because it is a species in danger of extinction. Many fishermen were cooperating, but not all, there are some who resist it because they say the manatee was eaten by their grandparents, that it was used to cure disease. The issue becomes problematic when there is a law. Manatees in the Garífuna culture are enigmatic animals that are used for medical matters, they say that it has a rich fleshy meat. We have to understand the cultural significance as well. That was an isolated incident, perhaps through no fault of my colleagues there, because I have had such problems here. They come and fish in the estuary of the Martínez channel. There in the Martínez channel there are manatees which enter the channel and go out to sea, and if you throw a net and catch the manatee and there is a small manatee, that manatee is going to die, and that is what happened there. I had a resource guard in the area and he sent a note, that a manatee was killed and eaten. I dismissed the guard, because I cannot tolerate a person who is working with me in conservation, who then participates in the eating of manatee, because he has a commitment to the organisation. I cannot go to the Quinto River and eat a manatee, I am not part of that.

Our job is not easy, we have to deal with people, and all people are different, and with natural resources, how to conserve these resources. We must start educating our communities in how to manage the resources. The problem is that we have the resources and we cannot manage them communally, although they say that they can. Although they lack education, our communities are very willing to be educated, our communities are not stupid, the Garífuna are not stupid, they know what they have, but as the proverb goes, it’s good fishing in troubled waters [un río revuelto hay ganancia de muchos pescadores], so sometimes we cannot confuse the interests of Prolansate. This business of natural resources is broad and there are many actors – NGOs, cooperatives, private companies, people in organised crime, government people, from the army – we cannot ignore them.

I am a person that when I am working with the military, I do not leave them alone. You have to be there, otherwise there could be some problem, because these people often do not have defined interests and we cannot forget that we are a corridor through which thousands of tonnes of drugs pass to the north and a lot of planes work at night. About ten years ago I used go patrolling during the night, but since about five years ago I have not patrolled because there is a lot of trafficking in the night and we are in a vulnerable area. We have no police presence and sometimes the police themselves are not reliable. So, we live in the uncertainty of not trusting our own authorities. We have said this to the government ministers, that the police themselves there are problems, and in the military too. If some incident happens for X reason, it is necessary to open an investigation, to find out why Jeannette was killed for instance. Why was Jeannette killed? This is the question I ask myself. Jeannette was a person like you, like her, who lived here at home, and who came to protect this forest that still exists, because as things stand there are many people who do not want that forest. They want quick dollars, because we live in a consumer society where the faster we get money the better. I personally very much regret the death of Jeannette, I knew her personally. Many times I advised her, I said to her: you can’t do that like this – this is when all the newspapers of Honduras take photos of you, there is your photo and whatever person that wants to can identify you, and it is very easy to kill you for 500 lempiras.

These are all the problems that we face and we are aware of them.

Right now these people come and I say to them, why did you not legalise your holding when the park was created, and not until now, when there is plenty of investment. The Garífuna community itself is being displaced, because there are two ways of being displaced: one by force or murder, or with money, and ill-gotten money at times. So, we are faced with a big challenge, to maintain our communities and develop them sustainably or these things will disappear, so the fight is that. In fact sometimes working on this, you can get disillusioned that there is no equity. Governments speak of equity and it is just lip service. Here there is much poverty, even though we are rich in resources.


Berta Cáceres

Interviewee: Berta Cáceres, leader of COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Peoples of Honduras
Interviewers: Dominic McCann, Kerstin Hansen, Juliette Doman and Michael Farley
Location: Intibucá, Honduras
Date: March 2010
Theme: COPINH; resistance; indigenous knowledge.
Keywords: TBC
Notes: The reader is referred to Chapter 4 of this website for news of the award of the Goldman Environmental Prize to Berta Cáceres for her leadership of COPINH’s struggle against hydro-electric power projects in Honduras, and in particular for a link to a video clip of her acceptance speech.


Interview Team (IT): It would be good if we could talk about the COPINH project regarding the arboretum – for example, what herbs are you thinking of sowing?

BC: Although it would seem like a small project, for us in COPINH it’s an important project. First, because it’s important to recover and reconstruct our ancestral knowledge from the communities, and that’s very valuable for us. It’s one of the reasons for being for COPINH; it’s like a pillar for us; it’s not an isolated thing; it’s the very basis of COPINH. You have to see knowledge in much the same way as culture, it’s under threat for sure, from the free trade treaties, from the association agreements between Central America and the European Union because it’s one of the strong issues leading to privatisation.

So the project also represents an opportunity for the communities to recover and strengthen themselves, because they already have it. For example, in Montaña Verde, Plan de Barrios, to have and strengthen the sowing of plants such as the palm of pacaya, which is one of their own foods of these communities – it’s very nutritious, it whets the appetite, it does loads of things. Indeed, in the central zone of Montaña Verde (which is a wildlife refuge) there are troops of spider monkeys, howler monkeys, white face monkeys – it’s very important because it’s also food for them. So, the pacayas and capucas are plants which are in danger of extinction. For us, it’s normal to eat them, they’re good, they’re bitter. They are also curative plants and they help the digestion. All the medicinal plants, like manzanilla, horse’s tail, el boldo, the snapdragon, the good grass, the valerian; roots, like for example the skunk plant which is used for sinusitis, and lots of other plants, for example for coughs, for intestinal infections, for diarrhoeas, for example, guayaba leaves which cure diarrhoea. In an emergency, where there is no doctor and no medicines, or maybe if there are doctors and medicines, the doctors don’t know these things.

So, that is to share amongst the communities of Montaña Verde, Plan de Barrios and the Utopia centre, which for us is a really important centre, where the idea is to develop sample species in the medicinal plot.

IT: So, the first project is going to develop in COPINH and then in Utopia?

BC: The project is going to develop in the communities.  In Utopia, there is already an appointed part for this, but I think that the development is going to be simultaneous.

IT: What are the most common illnesses in the communities?

BC: When talking about this, it is necessary to mention the historical context in which the indigenous people have lived in Honduras, the Lenca people in particular.  This was one of the communities where colonisation had the most disasters.  The Lenca community was one of the communities where there were strong indigenous rebellions / uprisings during the Spanish invasion and the conquest; one of the biggest in Mesoamerica.  The way that they resisted was to stay in the territory, which was different from the other communities who resisted by residing as nomads in the territory and the jungle.  In other geographic regions, which long favoured them, for example, in the whole of the Mosquitia region where there were more than 4 indigenous communities.  The Lenca community persisted, so the invasion, the conquering, the aggression from the Lenca village was more, because they stayed there, supporting and defending their territory.  The marginalisation, exploitation, ransacking, killing, the aggression against their culture and against their cultural practices, for me, is one of the most serious human rights violations.  Here we must also mention that apart from the structure of the colony and its institutions, so that they become republicans, they follow the pattern of subjugation against indigenous people, all of the institutions, all of the system, including the church.  This church is a criminal against indigenous villages.  The church demonised the cultural practices of the Lenca community in Honduras, which here in Honduras were very strong – there were tremendous cases.  The church began to take away their language – the Lenca language was thought of as very difficult as it was a complex language.  The Spanish and the mixed race people couldn’t learn it.  It was a colonial policy to learn the colonial languages in order to conquer them, but in the case of the Lenca community they couldn’t.  So, they wanted to impose the Nahuatl language, because this language dominated, but the Lenca community didn’t want to learn it.  They were, however, forced to learn Spanish.

In a more recent context, a situation that we now have here, for example, is that of the Spanish and Italian bishops – these were disasters.  One of the bishops is Lunardi, an Italian bishop that came here and undertook a tremendous ransacking, well, we don’t know, nor is there an inventory of everything that was here, but it is believed that he took Lenca scripts that we have not been able to find very easily.  So, now the Italian government say that they are the heritage of the Italian community. All of the ceremonial, spiritual and healing practices of the Lenca community that above all were conceded and multiplied by the women and the elderly were criminalised. The church (not only the Catholic but also the Evangelical church), and until recently a few priests say that it is Satanism and witchcraft.  They condemn the indigenous for practicing these ceremonies, which are very important as they are healing ceremonies.  It is a complex concept of healing, not only physical but spiritual healing.  It is healing of the Earth, of water, of the living forests, of the spirits.  The Lenca community’s practice of healing the Earth is strong.  And the practices not only cure the Earth, but thank it as well.  All of this has to be seen with the body and with the health of the Earth.

So, as a result of all this subjugating here, the communities’ living conditions are some of the most critical in the country, and even the continent.  Here, the Lencan indigenous municipalities, like San Marcos de la Sierra, are some of the poorest municipalities in the continent.  This has been denounced by COPINH – a health authority has never said this.  Communities such as San Francisco de Opalaca, Dolores, San Marcos de la Sierra, were decimated by Chiagas disease, and this is related to poor living conditions, housing etc.

Other diseases are respiratory (here these are tremendous); gastrointestinal diseases; and here there is another thing, malnutrition, which is the product of poor nutrition and poor living conditions.  Also, here there are many skin diseases, in some communities there is still a lot of tuberculosis.  There are cases of syphilis, cancer, many cases of skin cancer in some places, which is perhaps related to old mining.  Some Cuban doctors told us that in some places they suspect that there is something in the water consumed by the community.  There is blindness due to malnutrition, parasitism, and a terrible thing; infant and maternal mortality is very high in this region, it is one of the highest in Honduras, along with infant malnutrition.

So when we arrived in San Francisco de Opalaca as COPINH, it was called San Francisco de Opalaca because it was with the fight of COPINH that we managed to acknowledge it, there was not one child with a normal weight.  When I ran these workshops I was shocked that there was no doctor there, even though a child was dying from diarrhea every two or three days.  There were also fungal diseases, and plenty of skin fungus, which is very common.  There are many plants, tree bark and leaves which are good for this, or for the lice.  The mud, which is not a plant, but the mud here is used to heal, and for other common practices of the Lenca people.

IT: Who came to work on this project? To cultivate the plants?

BC: The members of COPINH; we wanted to involve the elderly and the young people as well – this combination is an important one.  But it is going to be Pascualita Vazquez, an elderly woman, and a colleague of Montana Verde.  She is an indigenous teacher; she graduated from a course in indigenous education, which was also an achievement of COPINH, so that she can work with school children.  And also the whole of the community that want to be involved.

Also, Alba is going to help, because we need someone systematic, and in this we have problems.  So Alba can help us a little, and Melisa who is another colleague, who has worked a lot with health issues.  Alba is Italian, Melisa is a Honduran colleague, a feminist, who works with other organisations and with COPINH.

IT: It is good that there are so many women.

BC: Men are also involved in this community, and in Utopia as well.  In the Lenca village in the past, it was normal for men to be involved in these roles, but as time has passed these roles have been left to the women.  Although there are elderly people that know a lot about medicine, not only about the plants, but also how to handle, for example, if somebody breaks a bone – if it is not fractured, they can repair it.  They also know about spiritual health.

IT: So, they are also going to teach about spiritual health?

BC: Yes, that cannot be detached, for us there cannot be one thing without the other, because they heal the houses in which people live.

IT: So, part of the project includes the elderly teaching the young people how to use these medicinal plants, and how to prepare the medicines?

BC: That is it.  We have a small school for the young people, this has already been done.  The idea is that the elderly give classes to the young people, they pass on the knowledge.  This is one of COPINH’s more formal projects and it is very popular among the young people – it shows what can be done in the village, in Plan de Barrios.  The young people have a lot of participation in COPINH, in all areas of our work.

IT: Why herbal medicines, why medicinal plants, instead of chemicals?

BC: Firstly, because it is an ancient practice of the Lenca people, it is ours; there is a lot of knowledge and a lot of wisdom and we know that the herbal medicines are effective in many cases – people have proved this over hundreds and hundreds of years.  The majority of communities do not have a doctor, and it is the people in the community that heal and that are aware of health issues and how to cure them.  Another thing is that plants are an integral part of life for us and using them to cure is natural, it is how it should be.  The other thing is that we, as an organisation, fight against the neo-colonialism in which we live, and we know that health is a vital part.  The issue of health is important in the communities.  We as COPINH have had long struggles with this issue.  We are against the systems of death that privatisation of health services impose.  Public health services become more inaccessible in this country when they are privatised.  There is logic behind neo-colonialism which imposes and makes a person believe that they cannot live without chemicals, that they must depend on them, which generates a large profit.  The big pharmaceutical companies are stealing the genetic information of plants and animals, including genetic information from indigenous villages.  The American ‘gringos’ have already done this to the Kunas in Panama and to the indigenous in La Mosquitia. Even here as well.  The gringos come with medical brigades, they say, mixed with fundamentalist churches, and they bring practitioners to work on the indigenous.  Often, they bring military gringos to do this, and to combine with the church.  And once they are gone, then come the Yankee troops of Palmerola with military armies, they call themselves ‘New Horizons’.  The last time that they came; they called themselves ‘Beyond new horizons’.  After this, after the fundamentalist church, after the medical brigades had left – who brought with them a mountain of chemicals and drew blood samples, for example in Yamaranguila, they took blood samples from indigenous people without telling them what it was for, and they forced the indigenous from Azacualpa without telling them anything; ONGs, agencies like World Vision. World Vision has taken them to be sterilised, but they have not told them what sterilisation is. So, they will have been sterilised without consent.  So, they have violated the right of indigenous women to decide what is right for their own bodies, if they do or do not want to have children.  If they want to be operated on then that is their decision, they shouldn’t be taken for fools.  After this happened, then came the transnational mining companies, hydroelectric dams and granting proposals for rivers, for territory, so it is a very unequal fight.  For us these struggles against the free trade treaties are vital, the issue of health is vital, and it is an issue which has been put here by the biggest pharmaceutical companies and universities as well, because the gringos send people from universities to investigate why and how we use each plant, and they take this information back to the university, who then sells the information to the big pharmaceutical companies.  This has happened in the case of La Mosquitia with Bayer, and the gringo universities have come to do studies.  That’s why, for us, the recovery, the practice, the strengthening of natural medicine is not a thing of fashion, and it is not something we do to make Utopia look good.  No, it is a fight of resistance, a political struggle that goes beyond sowing plants; it is something deeper and more profound.

IT: You said that genetic information has been extracted from the indigenous people of Central America, for example the Kunas in Panama and the Mosquitos in Nicaragua.

BC: The Mosquito in Honduras.

IT: So, could you talk a little more about this?

BC: Well, the Kuna reported this many years ago.  They claimed that the US army had extracted DNA from the indigenous people and that they had a bank of genetic information in the USA.  The Americans are saying that they use it to research why the Kuna people have more resistance to certain diseases than white people, or, I don’t know, why they are more vulnerable to these diseases.  I don’t know, to know what further reason they keep them.

Again, the Mosquitos claimed that the US universities, and I think that also this claim went public, that they were drawing information to take to the universities in the USA.  Now I can’t remember the name, but the pharmaceutical companies are selling it.  They have taken it from here. For example, the allegations from Yamaranguila – they went to take blood from people; they were gringos from medical brigades, they said, and they were also military gringos.  The indigenous didn’t know what the blood was being drawn for; they were never told anything; no examination to say that it was to find out if they had anaemia or something like that.  They took blood from the children.  And so, why do the gringos want this?  Additionally, they didn’t do anything afterwards which was for the good of the health of the community.  The theft that was undertaken in the indigenous villages by the transnational companies and the gringos, and worse now that they have put a military base in the Mosquitia region, in the Barra de Caratasca, which has been strengthened after the coup, they did business with a transnational oil company and they have put the military base there.  For a few years we have been alleging this and they have said that it does not exist.  Today they have installed a runway, a radar and everything.  They say that it is to combat drug-trafficking, but we know that this is a lie; they want to invade and loot our villages.  The threat is not only to Honduras, but also to Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Cuba, because the location is very strategic; in geopolitics this is very important.  But not only this, in Mosquitia, apart from the human and cultural richness that exists there, there is a lot of rich biodiversity; so they are threatened.  It is like a small Amazon, and the richness that is there is amazing.  There is also a lot of oil, and before nobody said that Honduras had oil.  The gringos said that there was no oil, but a few years ago a crazy Russian was walking through here lost, and he passed through Mosquitia and then made remarks to the media to say that “there is oil in Honduras”.  I don’t know who he was, or what studies he had done, but he said it.  The next day the gringos left, saying that he was lying.  In Honduras there is oil, and the indigenous have always known this, in the same way that we know which hills have gold, but here the people have never had such greed that they want to destroy the earth.  But the gringos have to come to guzzle what they can and to say that they are going to exploit such a thing.  So I believe that all of this is more related to the logic of death, of looting, and the huge threat to the biodiversity than it is to the health of the community.

IT: It would be good to talk a little about the coup and Honduran politics.  How do you see the future of resistance in Honduras after the coup?

BC: The resistance is seen as a concept in the community, it has to do with a social and political movement which has a lot of credibility, a lot of confidence in the people. There is an extraordinary group of volunteers which has a number of treasures, one of which is diversity.  I believe the diversity is what secures the unit, because we can say that the unit is united but this can be just words on a page, but in practice, or should it be in action, the practice maintains this unity, and this has been one of the Honduran achievements, that we recognise that we are diverse.  Here in Honduras, long ago, no one dared to openly criticise the leadership: the religious elite, the powerful military leaders, or the religious practices.  So, recognising all of these things and having the capacity to see that we are all indigenous, blacks, women, feminists, intellectuals, poets, artists, musicians, writers, people from urban areas, or from rural communities, farmers, workers, young people, gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, in the other ways that the village was organised and we didn’t realise, that is, from the traditional concept of organisation, for example, it didn’t look like the market ladies were organised, or that the women selling chewing gum and cigarettes were organised.  I believe that this jump has been incredible, and I see the potential for resistance from here on.  I also look at the challenges: one is to make sure that the resistance does not become an electioneering place, being a social and political movement.  Politics is more than just elections, because what we have done is to make a historical political action plan.  So, if the Front is reduced only to elections, then the resistance is going to die.  But, if we conceive it as a political and social movement, in which one of the strategies, but not the only strategy, is an electoral political front, the people will warm to that.  If this is done correctly, without losing sight of the social and political movement, then it will be a great strength.  But not only this, another thing is the construction of the power of the people because we cannot continue saying that we are going to take the power.  For us in the COPINH it is not that, it is to build power and to use it, because the power of the people does not win elections. To go to the Executive and to be in the government and have a colleague that is the president: this is not the power of the people, it is more than this, and it is built from the base up, from all of the bases of resistance.  But each one of these constructions of concepts is diverse, in the same way that the resistance is diverse, and it is complex to articulate all of this.  For example, the construction of the concept of community power in indigenous villages is different to the community power that exists in urban areas, and it is different to the community power of feminists or intellectuals or academics.  The construction of power is rejection, for example what you saw in San Francisco de Opalaca, the position of communities deciding on their strategic natural resources and the autonomy to decide that they do not want a hydroelectric dam, this is the construction of community indigenous power, because it has to do with their identity, their culture and their world views.  So, I see that with the resistance there is a challenge to articulate all of this and instead of this being a weakness, it is an asset.

The other element is the National Constituent Assembly.  This people are determined to change; we may have ceased to be news in the world, but here we continue to work towards something.  We are progressing and understanding that the fundamental objective is not the National Constituent Assembly.  The fundamental strategic objective is to re-establish this country and one of these elements is the construction of popular power, which is the National Constituent Assembly.  A community which is democratic, popular, characterised by its people, where the people provide the content, content that arises from their historical claims.  What? For example, the water: the people here say that in this exercise that we had with the Constituent Assembly, in its texts, we wanted water to be a human right, a common good, an inalienable right, without limits for the Honduran people, and where privatisation and outsourcing are prohibited by the Assembly’s order.  This content is a challenge to the structures: the political structure, the tax structure – they touch the foundations of the injustice in this country.

There are various elements to this reorganisation: the reorganisation has not been built with a good constituency, not a good constitution, because this can be pretty well written but the process of reorganisation is a process of profound economic, political and social transformation.  It is an action against the dominant culture, for example, patriarchy. We have fought strongly as COPINH and as women, even within our own Front, above all in our organisation / structure because understanding it is to dismantle these forms of domination, not only capitalism but also patriarchy and racism.  It is a serious thing, it is hard.  But the Front has already positioned itself as a social and political movement which is willing to dismantle these forms of domination.  This is an important breakthrough, but now we need to internalise this and put it into practice.

Here in Honduras everything was normalised, there is a Government of reconciliation and national unity.  There is a Truth Commission: they are the same criminals that are there, amnesty and Porfirio Pepe Lobo’s projected vision for the country is a project of domination which in 2038 will be a strategy for the gringos, and that strategy will continue.  For example, the strengthening of the gringo bases in Honduras is not accidental: it is no coincidence that they are distributing the country’s wealth to the transnational corporations, or they are complaining, as we popularly say, that today the transnational companies have more impunity than ever, to operate and do as they please.  The gringo strategy of selective repression, assassination, murder, torture, surveillance, has been suffered by organisations like COPINH.  In other words, they are the same people that took part in the coup; this regime of Pepe Lobo is an heir of the regime of the coup.  The rulers of this country are the same people that took part in the original coop.  Pepe Lobo is just a puppet who wants to present a smiley face to Obama, while massacring the people.  Like Obama is massacring the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, or all of his policies against the Colombian people.  More military bases in Panama, an invasion in Haiti.

I think that everything has to do with an imperialist annexation project across our continent which is at a historical moment of struggle for emancipation.  The gringos know this and they want the resources that we have.  They want our knowledge, our wealth, they want cheap labour, they want our forests, our water, oil, gold, silver … they want whatever they can take from here. They want … the latest technology, they want the oceans, and for this they send the fourth fleet in to the seas of this continent where they threaten all of the liberation processes of the continent.  All of these alternative projects of the communities inconvenience ALBA.  I believe that this continent is in crucial times, for life or for death.

IT:  What is the question of the political left in quotation marks, like Cesar Ham?

BC: Oh my god. In the stage of maturity which the Honduran people have reached, to know and to recognise who are with the people and who are not and who act by pure opportunism. This faction of the UD (Democratic Unification), because we must make a difference, there are people from the base of UD who are very militant in the Resistance and who never shared what César Ham did in guaranteeing the regime as the heir to the coup, guaranteeing the idea of the coup, that’s what he did. And he is there as a puppet, as the Minister of the National Agrarian Institute because the oligarchy knows that the agrarian issue, the territorial and land issue

are hot issues in Honduras. Obviously they place there a figure who has a leftist image, and that is with the intention of dividing us, of tearing us apart.

But the Honduran people know who are with the people and I believe that he is already feeling the cost of having acted as he did. He’s finding it harder every day and, well, in the recent case of the Bajo Aguán and the colleagues of MUCA. The Honduran people are fed up with the traditional political parties. When I say traditional, that doesn’t just include those of the right, but also those who say they are of the left, because they act in the same way as those parties, exactly the same; there is no difference. They say that we are the electorable people; that’s not certain. In Honduras before the coup the level of abstentionism was growing because the people didn’t see any option, neither in the party of the left nor in the party of the right. They wanted to build their own thing and to feel it.

So, I think that now he’s there, I don’t think he’s a loss for the Resistance.

IT: What’s the situation been like here in La Esperanza during the coup d’état and as it is right now? Are there any repressive forces here?

BC: Since the coup, in fact since before the coup, since the day when COPINH first arose, we’ve suffered a lot of harassment and repression. We’ve had five of our colleagues assassinated for their defence of water, forest and land. We’ve had colleagues tortured, condemned to 30 years in jail, colleagues who have had their eyes taken out, who have had their legs beaten by groups of soldiers. Also, colleagues harassed. We’ve suffered campaigns to discredit us; they say that narco-trafficking finances us; those gringos from Palmerola have said that COPINH is an organisation with terrorist tendencies, that we are financed by the FARC, ETA, and who knows who else. If that were the case we’d be millionaires. With a delegation of gringo activists who came here and were at Palmerola, they even told them that COPINH was a threat not only to the security of Honduras, but also a threat to the security of the US government. That made us laugh – it’s so ridiculous – but at the same time it’s also worrying because it gives us an idea of what they are thinking.

Before the coup, for years COPINH had demanded that Honduras should be a member of ALBA, since ALBA was first created. In fact since before Mel Zelaya, and when Mel came to power and took the initiative we supported him. We backed Mel Zelaya in the initiatives which benefitted the Honduran people, but we didn’t stop being critical of him. We supported Petrocaribe, ALBA, the increase in the minimum salary, we mobilised against the Air Force to recover the ballot boxes, for the 4th vote, on the day of the Consultation – many COPINH people were active before the coup. We supported his veto of Congress’s decree to prohibit contraceptive pills, a clear violation of the rights of women, a decree promoted by Opus Dei. Mel Zelaya vetoed that law and didn’t allow it to pass. Opus Dei is one of the architects and financiers of the coup d’état.

For the Popular Consultation, from the start we knew that it was an action that could set the Honduran people off on a process of struggle for a National Constituent Assembly. We were conscious of that and we had a first meeting for the re-founding weeks before the coup d’état. It was labelled: First National Meeting for the Re-Founding of Honduras with more than 400 delegates. The people said what type of Constituent Assembly they wanted and what type of Constitution. Indigenous people, women, workers, youths, the agricultural sector; they discussed issues of justice, equality, dignity, sovereignty, self-determination, autonomy, independence, tons of things. After that meeting, as COPINH we held a mobilisation to Tegucigalpa, and there we took over the Public Ministry because they wanted to prohibit the Consultation. They did the usual things and we denounced the threat of the coup d’état. In our communication we called on the Honduran people to prepare themselves for a popular insurrection – we did that before the coup. Our colleague Salvador Zúñiga said to Mel various times, “watch out for the coup d’état”. He said about the Armed Forces, “they’re going to run a coup d’état,” and he didn’t believe him. He said it to him lots of times. Mel agrees now, when we saw him afterwards in Nicaragua and elsewhere, he agreed and referred back to it, “I remember when Salvador told me.”

With all that, in and around the coup, everything was militarised; they put out the Tenth Infantry Batallion and they surrounded Utopía. They threatened the radio stations, they threatened us that they would capture us; they went to take the ballot boxes away because we were in charge of them. They wanted to pick up the more than 100 colleagues from El Salvador who had come as international observers. We had split them up between eight different towns and cities, and they wanted to detain them, and they took away their bus. Those spoilers, the military, ‘chafarotes’ we called them, were on the streets with machine guns – it was like a war.

It was hard to get to Tegucigalpa to join the protests. Salvador and many colleagues left on foot from here for Tegucigalpa. Here the electricity was off, we didn’t know anything that was going on. You couldn’t hear Radio Globo. We didn’t hear what was happening in the morning, only what some colleagues told us by telephone. We didn’t hear about meetings from anyone, but we knew that we had to go to Tegucigalpa. So we went, and we kept ourselves there day and night for five months with a large contingent of colleagues. For months we defended the Venezuelan Embassy and we took part in all the daily marches and all the actions. We went to El Paraíso department, on the border with Nicaragua, where they arrested some of our colleagues, women, indigenous people, old people – the military took them off to prison and said they had to register them because they were hiding arms in their vaginas – a huge abuse, and very racist. The coup increased racism and abuse against women. We have denounced all this. Here, a young indigenous colleague who operated the radio at that time was threatened no less than 20 times. They told him they were going to cut out his tongue. To the radio station that we have in San Francisco Lempira, the colonel called threatening that they were going to set fire to it, but the communities provided a self-defence for it and looked after it.

For us here it’s been really hard, but we are fulfilling this historic role because we are in an historic moment in which the people call upon us to reconstruct and re-found this country. So, as COPINH, we’ve tried to be coherent with our objectives and principles, to dream of a more just and more human fatherland, people, country and society.

Here the coup supporters wanted to do a couple of marches, but they didn’t get more than 100; they couldn’t do it, they couldn’t walk more than three blocks because the people from the barrios and the markets came out and …???…, [maybe something like ‘blocked their headway’ as we say. Also, Micheletti and Romeo came here before the elections – the only public place that Micheletti went to was here. He chose La Esperanza and Romeo brought army reservists from all over the country – there were no more than 800. And they offered them money; many of them didn’t know why they had been summoned, they thought that it was to be paid their salaries that they hadn’t been paid for some time. They lied to them, they told them it was to pay their delayed salaries from their retirement; they were given 100 lempiras, which is like five dollars, and they gave them a white t-shirt and trousers which had been given by the maquila owners. They laid a large military siege. But for them it was a great failure because if it was a national meeting for all the reservists and only 800 came, to offer them pay and to lie to them was a failure.

The other thing is that presidential candidates were not able to carry out a normal campaign here the people didn’t let them; they followed them wherever they went. They did things from throwing eggs at them to occupying the places where they were going to have meetings, and they wouldn’t move themselves. Beforehand, there were gatherings here with no less than 5,000 people, up to 10,000, with no more than 200 in favour. Pepe Lobo came to talk at a school, and surrounded there, he talked about the danger which not just the Resistance represented, but also COPINH.

It’s hard. We’ve had to take everything out from COPINH, we’ve had to take out the radio and hide it. We know they are watching us. Before the coup, armed men with guns, cell phones, short-wave radios came to our houses to threaten us. They threatened our children and all the family. They spoke to us on the phone and by post to COPINH. They twice shot at Salvador in the apartment where he lives, and they have followed him. They’ve been to COPINH to interrogate our colleague, Felix, who looks after it. They went behind the radio transmitters. They wanted to find out about our colleagues from other countries who work in COPINH. One of them works here, he’s a journalist, and during the coup he covered it as a journalist, and they beat him up, splitting open his head, and they stole his camera. He’s Chilean. It’s been hard here.

One other thing, the role of the agencies. We note for example that in the coup, today you’re either with the coup or against it, and for the cooperation agencies it’s the same, they’re either with the coup or against it. So we’ve observed that the agencies have defined themselves [in these terms] and those that have been committed to the people and which are genuinely in solidarity with us have been with us and have not abandoned us. And that’s good – their presence. We’ve brought over colleagues from other countries, even from the US, so they’re put with Utopía as well because we had some gringo colleagues there, activists who helped us with the radio station and who dared to do this with us. The international presence has helped us. We know that this can cost you your life. Loads of colleagues have been killed, for example, Walter, Vanesa, they were very much in tune with us. The colleague from Aguán, the journalist, the other teacher colleague from San Pedro, came to COPINH’s activities. It’s not easy, but we will carry on.

IT:  What do you think you’ll be doing over the next few months with the grassroots and campaigns?

BC: In COPINH we are in the middle of a period and in the middle of that coup, in December we have our General Assembly. We realize, and we hear from all our communities, that we need a time for a breather because we have not really rested at all, we’ve had no respite and this is reflected even in our bodies. Everybody’s ill, with gastritis, one of us has got facial paralysis, there are other consequences of the coup. We check the role of COPINH and the coup, and we realise that all our projects, the ones we were so keen to develop, have all fallen behind. It’s because we’ve concentrated on the struggle against the coup, on defending ourselves and on surviving. But we’re in a period of mending COPINH of reviewing everything. There’s been a lot of understanding of organisations that support COPINH. Some are from Norway, for example, APN or Rights in Action who accompanied the Honduran people during the coup, and organisations from Italy that accompanied us. We’ve spoken with them and they are aware of what has happened to us.

Now we have determined that we shall follow on with the struggle against the coup and what it represents and for the re-founding, for a National Constituent Popular and Democratic Assembly, debating issues on popular construction and promoting events like those we are developing. For this second meeting for the re-founding we have put forward the debate around the theme of anti-patriarchal, anti-racist and anti-neoliberal struggle. At the same time it falls to us to confront those shitty transnationals, those businessmen – we’re fighting against all that, but also it falls to us to confront those businessmen here on our own ground – that’s difficult, to be involved in all that. And at the same time to be in Opalaca, with Terra, Inversa and …???…, and again in the community of San Rafael, Inversa and Terra are again there – mining companies here, mining companies there, causing land conflicts. We have 20 land conflicts which are tense and we can’t find any solution for them.

To maintain our radio stations, to strengthen them, to provide follow-up for youth projects, the herbolarium, to carry out a diagnostic survey of the education of the Lenca people, with projects of indigenous professionalisation, with the issue of womens’ struggles, with the project of COPINH’s Womens’ Healing and Justice House, the Popular Womens’ Court – we have all this planned. And to work for the Resistance throughout this zone, to strengthen it, and moreover the international work that COPINH does, whilst at the same time we are driving the Convergence of the American Peoples’ Movements, which has six important axes and which clearly overlaps with COPINH. We are also involved in the anti-dam fight and in the struggle against the US military occupation in the continent. So we are coordinating the Third Hemispheric Meeting Against the Militarisation of Colombia. The Second was here – COPINH called it, we were the hosts. So, I don’t really know how we do it. We’ve lost even the dream. Those coup leaders have rid us of our dream even. It’s not easy. Those fuckers have changed our life, from family life to organised life as a people.

IT:  Are you working with other organisations, like COFADEH?

BC: What happens is that since before we had a real affinity in our work, as with COFADEH on the issue of human rights for example, when Amnesty came they invited us. We then invited them to our events and we had an exchange. We support them in things like training and interchange of experiences. With OFRANEH the thing is that we have a common struggle with the indigenous and black people and their sister organisations, we have a political coincidence and very similar visiols, so that helps us all. After the coup, it was even more so, and here we have had to form one major bond – we’ve looked out for one another – there’s a wealth of human solidarity which we didn’t think about before. We didn’t think we were capable of it and so it was difficult for us, and now we are working all the time on the theme of the coup’s impact, we’re always monitoring it and making national and international denunciations.

IT:  Regarding Zelaya, do you think that one day he’s going to return to Honduras and that he might have some influence on happenings in the future?

BC: It’s not that he’s going to have or has influence. Initially he was a folkloric person in this country, but he changed – the coup changed him and his family and you have to understand that he’s not a type that comes from the left, from a social movement. He comes from the rural land-owning sector, the large landowners. But he underwent a great change. Now he could be a very positive element for the Resistance, for the re-founding project, if he could de-link himself from the Liberal party, if he took another step to leave it and if he came closer to the Honduran people – that would be very good.

And I perceive that that’s what the Honduran people want, wherever he goes the people expect a lot of him. He’s going to come back, that man is going to return, and when he enters the country it will be through here, through this frontier with El Salvador. When he enters here for the embassy he’ll pass through here, through this frontier, and I feel that Mel has the perspective and the desire to carry on, to follow through. But if he does come in he will always be threatened and they are quite capable of killing him, or of putting him in prison, and of exhibiting him to humiliate him as they wanted to do from the first day when they got him out in his pyjamas, in fact they want to humiliate him, to make an exhibition of him in his humiliation – they are going to want to do that.

So, I think he has a great potential to influence matters. There are many people waiting for him to say whether he will be thrown out of the Liberal party or whether he will stay there. If only he would take a step to leave that oligarchic, oppressive and coup-minded party, that would be really good. Definitely that man still has great charisma, what he says and does carries a lot of weight.