To Refound a Nation: Honduras’ Youth Confront Poverty, Injustice and Militarization at 1st Assembly of Youths for the Refoundation of Honduras (October 7-9, 2011, Zacate Grande)

Buses filled with energetic young people arrived Friday afternoon (7 Oct, 2011) in Puerto Grande on Honduras’ southern Pacific coast. Their task for the weekend: create a way for diverse youth to reform and remake the political, economic and social structures of their country–at this, the 1st Assembly of Youth for the Refoundation of Honduras. Members of the Honduras Accompaniment Project were present as observers of the process.

The two hundred participants in the weekend gathering represented 30 organizations from all over Honduras. Many had traveled a long way from their own communities, from the northern valley of the Bajo Aguan, from north-coast Garifuna communities and from indigenous communities of Esperanza, Intibuca (just to name a few), to Honduras’ southern Peninsula of Zacate Grande, on the Gulf of Fonseca.

Their own local and regional organizations have been active in the broad-based social resistance to the 2009 coup d’état and its subsequent militarization of their communities. In recent months the FNRP (Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular) has moved to create a political party to organize its participation in national elections. This gathering was in part intended to recapture the social direction of that broad resistance movement, finding a way to organize, collaborate and create meaningful social change outside the context of building a political party.

The place, the Zacate Grande Peninsula, was chosen as an act of solidarity. The community has been engaged in a land struggle with one of Honduras’ most powerful and wealthy landowners, Miguel Facussé, who maintains large extensions of land, as well as a vacation home in the area. A businessman, Facussé is well known throughout Honduras and especially in the northern Aguan valley for his activity in the palm oil industry, and where dozens of campesinos and six of Facussé’s own private security forces have been killed over the past year in land wars over contested titles [1] [2].

In Zacate Grande, generations of families have grown corn, harvested shrimp and fished in the Gulf of Fonseca for generations, but lacked title to the land. Facussé says he is the owner, since he bought the land from a Nicaraguan national. But Honduran law at that time forbid foreign nationals from owning Honduras’ coast, so the families contest Facussé’s claim, since the Nicaraguan could not own the land she sold [3].

The struggle created deep divisions in Zacate Grande and has resulted in numerous threats against campesinos, fishers and their supporters in the various communities of the peninsula. Their community radio station, La Voz de Zacate Grande, its program producers and community leaders have been the targets of death threats and harassment.  In March of 2011, Franklin Melendez, Director of the radio station was shot in a local pool hall by a neighbor, Porfirio Medina. Melendez survived the attack but then local police refused to investigate and last week a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to charge the perpetrator with murder attempt, despite local and international witnesses [3][4].

While participants in the weekend gathering came from many different groups, two organizations were especially well-represented at the Assembly, OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña) which represents Afro-Carib Garifuna communities from the northern coast, and COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras), representing diverse indigenous and popular groups in western Honduras, bordering El Salvador. All the participants in the Youth Assembly were well aware of the threats against the campesinos and fishers of Zacate Grande. They are the same kind of threats and attacks that their communities, families and organizations have experienced, especially since the coup.

Since June of 2009, Honduras has seen a spike of murders, often linked to gunrunning, gang activity and drug trafficking [5]. The violence also includes political assassinations and killing of campesinos in land and resource conflicts over Honduran and international projects like tourist developments, dams, mining projects and African palm oil plantations for biodiesel production [6]. As part of their weekend gathering, participants analyzed the effects of economic forces at work in the country, and the process of the continuing militarization of their communities. They noted that their political and social dissent has been criminalized. Their demonstrations are routinely attacked and youth are teargassed and arrested.

In working groups they strategized, identified the risks and threats they face, and worked toward creating a collective response to address the problems of the country as part of their goal of re-founding a democratic and participatory Honduras. They identified the beginnings of their own organizational structure with representation of all 30 participating organizations and placed a priority on training and group communications. They plan to meet again in November in Siguatepeque to continue the process of developing their organization and strategic plan.


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