*This reflection was written by Lucy Edwards (PROAH, Hope in Action, Congregational United Church of Christ, Ashland, Oregon)
One year ago, on the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, 2013, three Honduran indigenous Tolupan leaders were gunned down by armed men. The tribe of San Francisco Locomapa had initiated a roadblock in their community to prevent illegal mining and logging of their communal lands.
Two men working for the mine came down on motorcycle and opened fire on the group, catching Ricardo Soto Funes and Armando Funes Medina as they took cover in elder Maria Enriqueta Matute’s yard. Maria was in her kitchen when she was shot. The next morning (Monday, 8/26/13) I accompanied Radio Progreso staff to claim the bodies and return them to be waked and buried in Locomapa.
This year on the first anniversary of the murders, the community, working with Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ), held a commemorative march which three members of the PROAH team accompanied. (From France, USA and Switzerland).
Tolupan adults and children held and lit twigs cut from their pine trees, their source of energy and light. They re-lit them along the route at selected locations. The sweet smelling smoke provided a comforting visible presence. Someone mentioned during the ceremony that they would typically do this commemorative walk at night, but it is not safe to do so.
When the march reached Maria Enriqueta Matute’s house, where all three died last year, the twig torches were all gathered into a small bonfire.
The two men who opened fire that day at Maria Enriqueta’s house are still free and operate in the community. There is an order for their capture, but the police have not been able to act on it, perhaps for a few reasons. For one, they explain that they have no vehicle. There are concerns that they are complicit, and/or worried for their own security.
Two police officers accompanied the procession. I asked one officer about the murders, and he said that the perpetrators had left the area. I mentioned that the community reports seeing them regularly, at which point he mentioned the police transportation issues, no vehicle.
Near the end the procession, I walked with an elder woman named Maria Petrona. Several little children, came up to her and said “tia” (Aunt) and she would put her hand on their forehead, in a blessing form. Maybe five little girls did this. She turned to me and said they were all family.
Later we found each other again, in our search for shade. We were at the place where the two men had died, next to Maria Enriqueta’s little house. It was here that Maria Patrona explained that she is the older sister of Maria Enriqueta. Tears streamed down both our faces as she described how the bullet holes are still there, in the wall of her kitchen. She took my hand, took me there and showed me. She stood just where her sister had been, where she fell dead on the floor in the doorway of her kitchen. I could see a bullet hole just above her shoulder. Another was hidden by her body.
A soft yellow color of the kitchen walls is on most of the houses in the community. It is the color of the clay of their tribal lands, of the earth to which they are so deeply connected.