Honduran Ancestral Resistance: Embracing the protection of body-territories

25 February 2019

Between January 21st and 25th, we accompanied the Feminist Solidarity Mission “The Hug,” organized by the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative and the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras with the aim to ACUERPAR1 their resistance. Fifty-two women activists from 13 countries came together, with the objective of placing at the center of this mission, CARE, spirituality, and a political commitment to the diverse women's and feminist initiatives that are responding to the advancement of political and religious fundamentalism.

The Honduran State’s repressive policies, a concentration of land in the hands of few, the persecutions, criminalization, repression, and violence from the armed forces, and the constant threats from companies that look to wipe out common goods; are some of the realities we saw during this visit.

We were in six of the country's municipalities, where extractive companies, in alliance with the government, have put the territories and common goods at risk, instating violent mechanisms to close participation and decision-making spaces for the organizations of women defenders. According to the organization Front Line Defenders, Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America for human rights defenders, mainly for those who defend the right to the land.

Amid the current political context, women defenders continue coming together to defend nature, their bodies, and their lives, with the latent fear of being assassinated or having to flee, as many have done during the last three migrant caravans. At the same time, they are resisting the violence that exists in some mixed-gender organizations, as the women question leadership roles that men have historically held. In other words, they not only face the violence that is inherent to the extractive model, capitalism, and racism, but also the structural violence of patriarchy, which is present in all their spaces.

During the trip, several women defenders shared their creative, spiritual, and rebellious alternatives to defend their body-territories. For example, in the Garífuna community in the municipality of Tocoa, spirituality is their favored protection method, the ancestral connection is placed at the center of their struggles, and it is the strength of their female ancestors that drives the defense of mother earth and life.

We talked with some women from Garifuna, guardians and protectors of collective rights, and members of OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña- Honduran Fraternal Black Organization), which has been committed to working for cultural and territorial rights since 1978, in spite of persecution from the current Jorge Hernández administration.

“Ofraneh is an organization that defends the Garifuna people’s rights, and also those of the indigenous peoples. “Ofra” has programs that work with women, we also have the Women's Association. We work with youth, we defend the rights of LGBTI people. Ofraneh confronts the present patriarchal patterns, so for the state, Ofraneh existance is not advantageous, because we fight for the rights of the Garífuna people” Aurelia Arzu, deputy coordinator of OFRANEH

The force of women who have been killed is also present to demand a dignified life free of violence in their territories, such as Berta Cáceres who, with her legacy, planted a seed in many of the country's women. Juana Esquivel, director of the Fundación San Alonso Rodríguez and a victim of smear campaigns due to her work as a woman human rights defender, assures that:

“We feel and share the courage of our companions, women who defended rights yesterday and resist today. Thus, we defend our bodies, territories, rivers, and mountains; without losing our joy and love of life, which is the greatest revolution in the face of this patriarchal, misogynist, and capitalist system. A lot of the strength that sustains me in the fight comes from the resistance and courage of the women around me, they are my voice and I am theirs, whereever we go.”

The Honduran territory has landscapes full of wonderful rivers and green mountains, that have been victim to the pillaging and violence of a voracious capitalist and extractive model. We witnessed the repression and surveillance that the women experience in their territories from the armed forces, which guards some areas that have exploitation concessions. For example, when we visited the Guapinol River, which is one of the main water sources in the area, 15 military men intimidated us with their presence during approximately two hours, interfering with the tranquility of an activity prepared by the women from this community. This water source, is at risk of disappearing, along with other rivers in the department of Colón, due to the Inversiones Los Pinares mining operations.

“Defending water and common goods is defending life for everyone” shouted the women in unison in front of the Guapinol River.

Fear is present, it is felt in each place, but it is not greater than the strength of the Honduran women, to confront this panorama of surveillance and systematic violence against defenders, activists, and human rights organizations.
This visit made the women's rebellion flourish even more. They reaffirmed that being together gave them strength, that the defense of common goods keeps us united and, more than anything, that they will continue to raise their voices for a dignified and just life, for a world without exploitation of their body-territories.

At the end of the mission, all the participant organizations reiterated our commitment to the situation that the Honduran women live, EMBRACING each one of their resistances, uniting the force of their voices to speak to the world about these situations that have been made invisible, demanding that the Honduran state cease the systematic violence against women defenders, their communities, and their territories.

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