Honduran Civil Society on the Move

On March 6 the “March for Dignity and Sovereignty, Step by Step” reached the Honduran capital after a journey of 130 miles.  PROAH accompanied social movement organizations on the way to Tegucigalpa where approximately 300 exhausted but highly determined participants occupied the plaza in front of the Honduran National Congress. Their arrival represented the end of a ten day march that began on February 28, 2013 in different regions of the country. The great “guancasco”[1] between groups from the north and center of the country took place on March 2 in Siguatepeque, about 70 miles from the capital.

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The collective demands: Dignity and Sovereignty

Day after day, step by step, Honduran citizens walked under the banner of their demands in an effort to make their voices heard by Honduran members of Congress.  Among their demands are three major priorities[2]: the abolishment of the New Mining Act[3] as well as the “Charter Cities” Act[4], both approved by Congress on January 23.  Additionally they demand freedom for political prisoner José Isabel “Chavelo” Morales.[5] These three demands reflect the growing unease on the part of civil society regarding the exploitation of natural resources, the violation of national sovereignty and the repression against peasant movements. The reason for organizing a march as a means of protest is explained as reflective of the great desire on the part of civil society to promote their visibility while emphasizing important values including effort and humility.

The participants

Social movement organizations taking part in this national effort include the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), the Unified Peasant Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), the Honduran Women’s Collective (CODEMUH), the National Center of Fieldworkers (CNTC), the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras. (COFADEH), the Reflection, Investigation and Communication team of the Jesuits in Honduras (ERIC) and the Inter-Municipal Association of Development and Social Vigilance of Honduras (AIDEVISH).  Emblematic leaders of the resistance also participated including Padre Fausto Milla, who didn’t let his advanced age deter him. Padre Melo (ERIC’s director), who is also a daily host on Radio Progreso (part of ERIC as well), took part in the march and opened a space for free expression to the participants in a live broadcast. Numerous other Medias covered the march as well.

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 Under the banner of sharing and conviviality

International observers were present during the journey and witnesses to this human and social experience that provided lessons in conviviality for all.  Participants from different organizations with  indigenous Lenca,  Afro-Caribbean Garífuna or mestizo background, women, men and children, from the countryside and the city, shared food and shelter day after day, night after night. While the march was mostly contemplative and silent[6], evenings were often filled with cultural activities. Fatique, tensions, muscular pains and heat-induced migraines resulting from the miles-long daily march, was displaced by a game of soccer, a dance session or a concert by Garífuna participants. The evenings offered participants opportunities to discuss local problems and reflect on their lives. As a result members of the different organizations learned from the variety of social movements inside Honduras. When fatigue seemed to take over body and mind on various occasions, the leaders of the organizations found comforting words or emphasized the importance of their struggle.  Emotions culminated on the eve before arriving in Tegucigalpa, when news of President Hugo Chavez’ death was made public.  As elsewhere in Latin America, an improvised wake was organized for the participants to unite in a moment of grief and recognition.

A political significance

At the end of the march participants held a vigil in the plaza front of the national congress for 24 hours, waiting to be received by members of Congress.  An objective of the march was to open a space for discussion with the members of Congress who approved the new laws. The next day, after a chilly but animated night in a makeshift camp on the same plaza, a delegation of the participating organizations was received by the members of Congress. [7] The demands for dignity and sovereignty for the Honduran people were expressed but delegates left the Congress disillusioned lamenting the absence of political will.

At the same time, just miles away, a four person delegation including representatives of the international community, met with the President of the Criminal Court of the Honduran Supreme Court. During this occasion Chavelo’s supporters and his brother were able to bring forward their concern regarding the backlog of his case. As a result the President advanced considerably the date of the appeal regarding Chavelo’s sentence and announced that it would take place in the first week of April 2013 – instead of January 2014.[8]

A march for more social justice

Heading back home to their respective communities, participants had a hard time saying goodbye after having passed so much time together but concluded this social endeavor with optimism and commitments to strengthen coordination between movements.  There was some success regarding the case of José Isabel “Chavelo” Morales.  Nevertheless, the need to continue this collective effort was emphasized as the New Mining Act and the “Charter Cities” Act are still in place and represent a daunting future for the indigenous communities as well as for the environment. This march was a further step towards social justice and the leaders of the social movements announced forthcoming actions to assure that the struggle for justice lives on.

For more information please consult the following Spanish articles:

1) http://conexihon.info/site/noticia/derechos-humanos/derechos-humanos-ddhh/caminata-paso-paso-cumple-con-m%C3%A1s-de-200-kil%C3%B3metros

2) http://www.defensoresenlinea.com/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2474:avanza-paso-a-paso-la-caminata-por-la-dignidad-y-la-soberania&catid=58:amb&Itemid=181

3) http://voselsoberano.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14816:avanza-paso-a-paso-la-caminata-por-la-dignidad-y-la-soberania&catid=1:noticias-generales

4) http://movimientos.org/es/content/honduras-llega-tegucigalpa-caminata-por-la-dignidad-y-la-soberan%C3%ADa

5) http://www.latribuna.hn/2013/03/06/termina-marcha-campesina-en-honduras-contra-mineria-y-ciudades-modelo/


[1]  “Los Guancascos” are meetings between different villages.

[2] There are seven demands in total: http://copinh.org/article/declaracion-caminata-por-la-dignidad-y-soberania-p/

[3] The new mining act is rejected by many civil society organizations. In addition to environment impact, there are also problems regarding national sovereignty and low tax regimes. Additionally there are no measures put forward in case of environmental violation by the companies.
For more information in Spanish: http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-latinoamerica/mineria-honduras/blog
Please also see our own articles regarding this topic.

[4] “Charter Cities“ or  “Special Development Zones” are enclaves inside the Honduran nation state with their own judicial system, tax regime and in general almost complete independence. Their implementation would displace a great number of people, mostly Afro/indigenous communities.
For more information in Spanish: http://www.litci.org/inicio/newspaises/honduras/3697-zonas-de-empleo-y-desarrollo-economico-io-zonas-de-saqueo

[5] “Chavelo” is a peasant farmer and member of the “Movimiento de Campesinos de Aguán” (MCA). He has been innocently incarcerated for nearly 5 years for homicide on the base of unsubstantiated proof and testimonies. He has appealed his 20 year prison sentence however it is still unknown if there will be a retrial.

A summary in English can be found here: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/01/22/the-framing-of-chavelo-morales/

[6] On many occasion during the march total silence was requested by the leaders, most importantly for the arrival in Tegucigalpa. There are several reasons for this. On the one hand silence stands in opposition to “political noise”, i.e. the silence stressed the politically independent aspect of the march and desire not to be exploited by any political party for the coming election in November. On the other hand organizers stressed the need for the personal introspection that the silence enabled all participants to have a deeper connection with the root motivations of all people involved in the social movement.
See the following article in Spanish: http://www.defensoresenlinea.com/cms/index.php?view=article&catid=42%3Aseg-y-jus&id=2479%3Acaminata-por-la-dignidad-y-la-soberania-arribara-en-completo-silencio-a-la-capital&tmpl=component&print=1&page=&option=com_content&Itemid=159

[7] http://www.laprensa.hn/Secciones-Principales/Honduras/Tegucigalpa/Honduras-Aprueban-Ciudades-Modelo-en-el-Congreso-Nacional#.UUxylhkls7A

[8] The appeal took place on April 9 and the judges now have 5-20 days to decided on the matter

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