Two weeks ago I participated in a delegation of North Americans in Honduras.  The trip was organized by the Bay Area Latin America Solidarity Coalition, and the goal was to meet and talk to members of the resistance movements who have been marching and protesting since the June 28th 2009 coup that sent the elected president Mel Zelaya out of the country at gunpoint.  Very little mainstream media publicizes the current political situation, and although the US Government has recognized Profirio Lobo, who won controversial elections last November, there have been reports of increased assassinations and attacks on resistance leaders.  During our week we spoke with over 50 individuals, many of them women, who represent over 30 different organizations and groups – including a visit with the American Ambassador, Hugo Llorens.

Laureano speaks eloquently - even poetically - about his work with sustainable farming.

One of our trip leaders, a Guatemalan lawyer who organizes with campesinos and promotes sustainable farming, brought us to a Center for Teaching and Apprenticeship in Sustainable Farming in Siguatepeque, Honduras.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see a project that stemmed from the same values and vision as my work in Nicaragua.

Laureano Jacobo Xajil, originally from Guatemala, fled to Honduras nearly thirty years ago and has worked with both government and non-governmental organizations promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development work in Honduras.  Eighteen years ago he founded the first center for Teaching and Apprenticeship in Sustainable Farming that is now a network of 18 centers called Red CEAS.  The centers run many levels of workshops and maintain model farms.  Laureano says, the governement agricultural ministry has a difficult time influencing agriculture because they don’t model anything, they only promote ideas that they themselves can’t show results from.  At the centers, “the lessons flow from the brain to the heart” during the work at the model farm.  The farm in Siguatepeque where we spent the night is a self sustaining business – it doesn’t need the income from the students at the center to survive – and has worked recently in reforestation and the production of grains.  They have planted over 40,000 trees – and have plans this year to seed and plant 60,000 more – with 200 families in neighboring communities.  “We are battling again global warming and climate change,” says Laureano, “one tree at a time.”  The families come together to seed and raise the tree saplings in communal nurseries, with the support of the center and partner organizations who have donated seeds and bags.

Many of the trees are leguminous, which fix nitrogen in the soil and provide protein rich pods for cattle.

I woke up at 5:30 to slip out and see the model farm while the rest of the delegation slept for an hour and started breakfast.  At the farm Laureano showed me some of the recent reforestation work, creating living fences out of fast growing trees that are also excellent firewood species.  The house on the farm is made of adobe blocks and every wall is lined inside and out with barbed wire.  The combination of the flexible adobe and tensioned wire means the walls flex and and are less likely to collapse in earthquakes.  The family has a tank which fills with water from the roofs during the rainy season, and with the 18,000 liters of water they have water for their consumption for the dry period.  A large section of the farm is coffee, with terraces created out of many different model plants.  Students at the center can look at the variety of terraces and imagine which would work the best on their own farms.

The center provided a wonderful breakfast with the tastiest tortillas we had on the trip made from their organic native corn.

Back at breakfast I joined in to listen to a presentation by a member of Red COMAL, the Network for Alternative Community Commercialization.  Red COMAL promotes community owned stores, value added products, local farmer/consumer relations, and the production and consumption of native traditional food as opposed to processed imported food products.  The presentation was focussed on their role as one of the organizations who, after the coup, supported the return of Mel Zelaya.  We were first shown the myriad of ways that the Hunduran population has resisted the coup regime, from the age old uses of song, poetry and peaceful marching to technology that has become recently available to small farmers such as using cell phones to send group text messages.  Red COMAL used their list serves to send out information about how to become involved in different actions, and has over the last few years hosted workshops and published material to raise consciousness about how CAFTA affects small Honduran farmers.  Their website, however has always showed their primary focus – creating alternative ways for small farmers to market their products.

The presentation ended with a recount of a raid on the Siguatepeque Red COMAL office and ECOSOL, the networks school for community economics and conference center, the day before the elections.  On November 28 armed police entered the offices without reading the residents inside any rights.  They took computers, cameras, posters, and documents including a report of human rights abuses in Honduras that Red COMAL had presented to the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, copies of legally published left wing newspapers that are available on the street for purchase, and other resistance literature.  The material was deemed as “subversive” and removed.  Two hours after the raid, an officer arrived to read a document prohibiting the disclosure of the seized documents.  At ECOSOL, an office guard was shackled and threatened with ten years in prison if he did not agree to the accusations of sedition presented.  The internet system and computers were destroyed, and the raiders demanded that any “military equipment” housed at the economics school be turned over.

Other than the obvious question of legality, the timing and placement of the raid is significant.  As our presenter explained to us, Siguatepeque has in the past been a critical voting sector, housing a large number of progressive voters and institutions.  A violent raid at a community organization in Siguatepeque where lists of names were among the confiscated items has an impact on an election the following day.

The presentation also shed light on an aspect of the coup that has been ignored in most accounts.  Whereas even the US Ambassador listed the poll for constitutional reformation as the main reason for the coup, there are underlying land rights and trade control issues that make community organizations like Red COMAL, who work with large numbers of small farmers, ideal targets for psychological and political repression.

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