Posts Tagged ‘Option for the poor’

An Option for the Poor in Honduras

Luke Hansen, S.J.

Luke Hansen, S.J., an associate editor of America, created this photo journal after participating in a delegation to Honduras in September 2013. The delegation, representing Jesuit ministries in the United States and Canada, sought to learn more about the challenges facing the country following the military coup in 2009 and the response of the Catholic Church.
A year ago a new law in Honduras opened the door to further exploration of mining sites throughout the country. Multinational mining companies are increasingly exploiting land that campesinos have lived on and farmed for decades. On Sept. 10, 2013, the delegation met with community leaders and farmers in Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Arizona Parish in the state of Atlántida who face intimidation from mining companies. (Click on any of the photos to begin a slideshow with captions.)
“We have been threatened,” Enrique Castillo told us through an interpreter, “because we have defended the poorest people, the land and the water.” On Feb. 13, 2013, members of his village in northern Honduras helped hang a chain in front of his house to send a clear message to the mining companies: we are not selling; stay away from our land. The next day, he said, the police arrived, shot down the chain, asked for their names and promised to return.
Community members, with the support of their local pastor and bishop, have raised serious concerns about the environmental consequences of mining in the region. One member of the parish asked Fernando Serrano, a professor of public health at Saint Louis University, to test the quality of the community’s water supply.
The community expressed their concerns about the mining companies to their Claretian pastor, Father Cesar Espinoza (center), who was spurred into action. In this photo, Father Espinoza shares documentation of the new mining concessions in the region, which describe where the mining companies can explore and what they are looking for. The new law also permits the environmental impact study to be conducted by a private corporation rather than an independent state audit. Concepcion (right), a member of the parish, was hosting human rights observers when her house was invaded. She was threatened and had to take sanctuary in the church with her two children.
Father Espinoza shares documentation of “denunciations,” which he filed with the prosecutor, police, ombudsman for human rights and the government office for mining regulation. He has issued official complaints about threats received by members of the community and himself, mining employees going onto land that is not within the ownership of the company and a lack of due process for informing the community about the environment impact of mining.
The delegation met with Bishop Michael Lenihan, O.F.M., of La Ceiba, to discuss social concerns within his diocese. In June, the diocese published a pastoral letter, signed by Bishop Lenihan, which laid out a theology of care for creation, an option for the poor and the common good. It voiced opposition to the “avalanche of mining projects” in the state of Atlántida, the negative environmental impact, the militarization of the region and the defamation and threats directed toward Father Espinoza and his colleagues. It called the imposition of mining projects without any consultation with local communities an “outrage to personal and collective human rights,” and requested consultation and trustworthy studies of the environment impact.
The delegation met with leaders of ERIC (Equipo de Reflexion, Investigacion y Comunicacion), a Jesuit-sponsored social research and advocacy center in El Progreso, Honduras, on Sept. 8, 2013. Francisco describes the work of a campesino organization in Valle Sula. Magdalena, his wife, is an elected leader of the organization. She said a subsidiarity of SABMiller, a multinational brewing and beverage company, wants their land.
The delegation meets with community leaders and displaced farmers in the community of Guadalupe Carney, Honduras, on Sept. 9, 2013. The community is named after Jim (Guadalupe) Carney, S.J., a beloved missionary from St. Louis, Mo., who worked among Honduran campesinos in the 1960s and 70s. He disappeared in 1983 and has yet to be found. More than 500 Hondurans gathered to celebrate his life with a march and Mass in El Progreso on Sept. 14.
Ismael Moreno Coto, S.J. (left), popularly known as Padre Melo, speaks with Chabelo Morales (center) at the penal farm of La Ceiba, Honduras, on Sept. 9, 2013. Chabelo is from the community of Guadalupe Carney. In 2008 a police official killed a man in the community. The next day the community went to recover the body, a battle ensued, a landowner died and the police ordered the arrests of 32 campesinos. Only Chabelo, however, was arrested. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to prison, even though he never had an opportunity to defend himself in court. Padre Melo believes Chabelo is innocent. “Essentially,” Padre Melo explained, “he was punished for the group’s crime.” In November 2013, a court ordered a new trial for Chabelo and ordered his release from the prison farm.
The delegation stands near a memorial for Jim Carney, S.J., at the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, the capital city, on Sept. 11, 2013.
The delegation meets with Julieta Castellanos, the chancellor of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, on Sept. 11, 2013. The university hosted a panel discussion on major issues facing Honduras, and announced a partnership with ERIC, the Jesuit-sponsored social research and advocacy organization.
Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras
The delegation encountered numerous military checkpoints during our travels throughout the country. International partners like the United States can have a simplistic response to the violence in Honduras: increase the strength of state institutions like the military and police. This strategy, however, fails to account for the depth of corruption in the military and police forces. At one checkpoint, we were told to get out of the van, and the military personnel did a thorough search. For what? We were never told.
People are demanding greater security and Juan Orlando Hernandez, the newly elected president of Honduras, favors a further militarization of the police force. But this strategy has a downside. “One of the most troubling things about the military police law and generally the militarization of society is the lack of accountability this generates,” explained Shaina Aber, the policy director for the U.S. Jesuits’ office of social and international ministries, who helped lead the delegation. “In the name of security, the military has been given free rein to stop public protests, further corporate interests, investigate and detain activists. The militarization of society is compounding the levels of impunity.”
In this neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, local residents have hired private security officers to protect its block. Organized crime has penetrated a weak police force in Honduras, leaving people vulnerable. Police, prosecutors and judges serve only the most powerful, not the people they have the responsibility to protect, especially those in poorer communities. The state has basically delegated its job to private security companies.
Tegucigalpa at night.
The delegation brought the testimony of campesinos and community leaders to the United States Embassy in Tegucigalpa on Sept. 12, 2013, and the officials asked that we continue to share our human rights concerns with them. The officials explained that U.S. companies are not mining in Honduras at this time, but some companies have expressed interest, which makes it essential that U.S. officials have a clear understanding of concerns raised by local communities related to forced displacement, the natural environment and public health. The human rights officer in the embassy acknowledged human rights abuses in Honduras as a “fundamental, systemic problem,” but she said “we are only two people” in the human rights office, and “we are doing what we can.”
An armed soldier stands outside the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
Padre Melo (left) interviews Gerardo Aguilar, S.J. (right), a student at Universad Centroamericana in Managua, Nicaragua, in the studio of Radio Progreso in El Progreso, Honduras, on Sept. 12, 2013. Padre Melo, the director of Radio Progreso and ERIC, offered testimony in July 2012 to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives about the targeting and murder of journalists in Honduras. In recent years, 16 associates of Jesuit ministries have received credible death threats. Radio Progreso, which has about 1.5 million listeners, continues to receive intimidation and threats for its reporting and analysis of social problems, and one of its correspondents has been forced to leave the country.
Six of the eight members of the delegation pose for a photo at El Colegio de San Jose, a Jesuit-sponsored high school in El Progreso, Honduras. They are, left to right: Rafael Garcia, S.J., pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kansas City, Mo., Kirsti Tasala, youth and outreach coordinator for Canadian Jesuits International, Shaina Aber, policy director for the U.S. Jesuits’ social and international ministries, Nicholas Napolitano, provincial assistant for social ministries for the Maryland, New York and New England Provinces of the Society of Jesus, Mary Baudouin, provincial assistant for social ministries for Jesuits of the New Orleans Province, and Fernando Serrano, a professor in the College of Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University. Not pictured are Kim Miller, program director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, and Luke Hansen, S.J., associate editor of America.