A Letter from Brigitte Gynther, SOA Watch Human Rights Accompanier in Honduras
“Sangre de martires, semilla de resistencia.”
“Blood of martyrs, seed of resistance.”
When I heard this chant last week at a ceremony honoring the life of Néstor Ovidio Zuniga, an art teacher and one of the many social justice activists killed in Honduras since the 2009 coup, it brought me back to a visit I had made to the country in February. During that visit, I attended an international human rights gathering in the Bajo Aguan region, an area where over 50 small farmers and community members have been assassinated since the June 28, 2009 coup. At the gathering, the widows, mothers, children, and fathers of those assassinated led a procession to place the photos of their lost loved ones around a makeshift candlelit alter.
Family after family processed forward as name after name was called. So many lives lost, simply for standing up for their right to land to grow food to feed their families. So many widows and children without fathers, who now struggle even harder to survive and continue to stand up and speak out for the land they need to survive. So many mothers who have had the pain of losing one of their children. That refrain “Blood of martyrs, seed of resistance” summed up the feeling that the very loss of their loved ones made it more important than ever to continue forward in the struggle for justice. And as the family members and friends of those killed spoke out they made a request: for international accompaniment in the face of the continuing death threats and for international solidarity, through actions such as demanding an end to US military aid to Honduras.
That experience is what led me to begin the journey of international accompaniment, though it was actually an experience nine years ago that first interested me in justice issues in Honduras. In 2003, I visited Honduras as a college student and while I was there Carlos Arturo Reyes, a young Catholic environmental activist, was assassinated. I ended up participating in a delegation that was organized by several organizations to bring attention to his death and the struggle against logging that he was part of. The experience made a strong impression on me but I never considered the possibility of international accompaniment until I heard the request of the campesinos in the Bajo Aguan in February.
And so I arrived here in Honduras two weeks ago to volunteer with the Honduras Accompaniment Project (PROAH) for SOA Watch. After orientation and training, we went to a gathering held by the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The first day both started and ended by honoring COPINH’s martyrs. In the morning, everyone gathered around a pine tree whose branches held colored sheets – each one with the name of someone who died in the struggle to defend their land and natural resources. As the colored sheets fluttered in the wind, Doña Pascualita, an older indigenous woman, led those circled around the tree in a prayer ceremony to remember those lost. And after each name was read, the crowd responded Presente, just as we do at the gates of Fort Benning every November.
That evening was the ceremony remembering the life of Néstor Ovidio Zuniga. We all walked several miles to the local high school where the students and faculty had prepared a touching event, complete with an orchestra, chorus, and art display, to honor the life of their beloved art teacher, poet, painter and COPINH activist who became one of their martyrs on October 24, 2010.
Far too many Hondurans have been killed, kidnapped, and beaten since the coup; and yet, human rights defenders, journalists, and community leaders continue to be killed and suffer persecution. Against this background, PROAH provides international accompaniment to human rights defenders at risk, with the aim of dissuading violence and informing the international community of the violations that do occur. Click here to read PROAH’s blog.
Each time I hear a story about someone who has been killed, I am reminded again how incredibly unfair it is that so many people have lost their lives simply for speaking out – for their right to a country where the President is not taken away in the middle of the night by the military, for their right to report on and expose the reality of what is happening in Honduras, for the protection of natural resources or for their right to land to support their families. And I am reminded of the role of the US as it was SOA graduates that led the coup in Honduras and SOA graduates that head the state security forces under the current regime. Despite the widespread repression and reports of abuse by the military and police, the US provided an estimated $68 million in military aid to Honduras in 2011 and that is projected to increase.
In the face of repression and violence, people in Honduras continue to stand up for justice and we are called to act as well.
Travel to Honduras to see the effects of militarization, and then take action at the November Vigil!
Witness for Peace Northwest, Witness for Peace Upper Midwest, Witness for Peace Southeast, the Friendship Office of the Americas, and SOA Watch are sponsoring a delegation to Honduras, that will take a closer look at the role that U.S. militarization plays in that country.
Click here for more information and to apply to join the delegation.