Rio Blanco, Intibuca is a small, Lenca community in the western highlands of Honduras. Since the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores, the indigenous population has been subjugated by a series of oppressors who have exploited their labor and the natural resources of their ancestral lands. This process has continued in the present-day with an attempt by transnational and domestic corporations, Chinese SINOHYDRO and Honduran Desarrollos Energeticos, S.A. (DESA), to build a dam on the Gualcarque River, the source of water for agriculture in the region. The dam, whose jobs and profits exclude the local population, is part of a wave of megaprojects in Honduras, funded by international organizations like the World Bank, planned and executed clandestinely through illegitimate land acquisitions and without consulting indigenous populations.
After construction of the dam and facilities began, community members immediately began to resist the illegal intrusion in their territory and solicited the help of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indigenas de Honduras (COPINH), an organization based in Intibuca that has been resisting attempts to build mines and dams in indigenous communities since 1994, among other projects. A barricade and encampment were installed on the access road to the dam construction site on April 1, 2013, and continue until this day in the shade of a massive oak tree (El Roble). The Honduran government is actively supporting the dam construction and has even installed “Operación Libertad”, a permanent presence of military and national police in the region. In the struggle, two community members were killed and others injured and threatened. Three COPINH leaders face trumped up charges related to the community protests and are prohibited from entering the area. (link) International solidarity is strong and organizations like the Cadena de Derecho Humanos Honduras (CADEHO) have maintained a human rights observation and accompaniment presence, producing videos and reports about the situation.
We were able to get to know the Rio Blanco community members through a visit to El Roble with COPINH and they were very enthusiastic about the possibility of hosting a two-week Medios del Pueblo workshop. After arriving with all our bags on a bus coming back from a social movements gathering, it set in that this community was going to be a lot different from previous hosts. Far off the beaten path, families eat primarily what they grow, including the chicken and pigs that they consume a few times a year. Vegetables are rare and phone access spotty. We are very grateful that the family of Francisco, the president of the local indigenous council, took us in, cooked all of our meals and found us a place to stay. They made fresh tortillas every day by grinding the dry corn they grew on their small plot an hour’s walk away. Beans from this same farm were the base of every meal and fresh plantain tajadas were our snacks.
There exists a creature that confounds the mind at first…and second glance. When I tiptoed into the bathroom following the beam of light from my tiny flashlight I prepared to accomplish my mission when a the sudden movement caught my eye. As I turned my flashlight to get a good look I screamed loudly in my head and maybe in another dimension I’m still screaming, but at that moment, in that bathroom, I learned how to deal with terror in total silence (so as not to wake up the 3 sleeping people in the house). This spider like creature was the size of cookie, had 4 long spindly legs, 2 whip-like antennae coming out of its quarter-sized body and, to top it all off two scorpion claws near its mouth. It walks sideways like a crab and, wait for it, its also hops. The beast can launch itself into the air. Making sure not to turn my back to the creature, I walked slowly to my tent, zipped the flap and hoped that Spider beast didn’t also have secret thumbs for breaking into the tent. The next morning I woke up and, emboldened by the light of day, I walked into the bathroom to find…nothing. Spider beast was gone.
Water + dirt = mud
The house where we were staying (home of Spider beast) was at the top of a steep hill. This hill is a wide dirt road the connects the lower and upper parts of town. This dirt road allows for people to move about, a place for animals to relieve themselves, and for bushels of corn and sacks of coffee to make their way into kitchens. We had to go down and up this hill at least once a day in order to get to the church where we held the workshop. It was good exercise and at one point on the descent, gave a really beautiful view of hills and vegas below. Besides the incline, this hill was also a challenge because the dirt road wasn’t always dirt though, sometimes it was mud. This wasn’t normal mud, the kind that dirties the bottom of your pants or that makes you stomp on someone’s porch before going into the house. This is angry, tricksy mud. It wants to take off your shoe, break your sandal and make you slip and fall. There was a trail of broken chancletas that had been tossed to the side of the road while their owner continued up the hill barefoot. Kyle slipped and fell multiple times and one of the participants told us that once he had slipped and just kept rolling downhill until a fence stopped his tumble.
Just when you think that the mud is a bitter being, it changes it’s mind. Sometimes, the mud makes it so that everyone huddles together and hangs out in the church to wait out the rain. The little kids end up doing traditional dances to the kindergarten teacher’s CD and everyone else just talks and jokes around. Sometimes, as you’re walking up hill you grab the person next to you, no matter who they are, to help you get your balance. Sometimes, you forget your flashlight or don’t have one and a nice person from a house on the way up will notice and accompany you all the way uphill with their power beam so that you don’t have to walk in the dark. My personal favorite was sliding downhill with a group of other people; each person trying to figure out the best way to slide down hill without falling. Talk about instant solidarity.
In order to do the audio and video editing, we needed computers from the local school. Unfortunately, DESA, the company building the dam, had cut the cables that provide electricity to the school in a botched road improvement operation. They never fixed the situation and the school’s complaints fall on deaf ears. The participants in the workshop, however, were unfazed and we moved the laptops and their heavy desks (teachers in favor of the dam construction claimed that they didn’t have the combination) every day to the church and even to the other school down the road. Despite all the obstacles (as a group, we designated a child-care coordinator in response to the declining participation of women), all radio programs were completed the night before our big community presentation in the church.
The last night of the workshop was actually a last day. We met in the morning at 9, gathered in a soon-to-be-pulperia, passed out the cameras to each group and they set out to capture images that reflected the topics of their radio programs. One group set out to find images of Lenca culture, another group headed in the direction of the river to record images of the river for their program about the DESA/Sinohydro dam and the last group headed up the hill to get a panorama shot of the town for their report on recent police aggression and human rights violations. We met back at the church to quickly edit their videos (using images from the documentary El Roble created by CADEHO). People started trickling into the church at 4:45 p.m while some groups were still frantically editing and the 3 giant tables that the laptops were chained to were still at the front of the church. Hurrying every which way participants started setting up audio equipment (speakers, mic etc…), arranging the church benches, cleaning up, and just generally wandering around looking for things to do. Our screen was (and is, it’s a traveling screen) a giant white sheet with a rope strung through the top. In order to hang it, we had to tie socks to the loose ends of the rope to be able to throw it over the beam and tie it around a post. We had 4 people putting up the screen while our emcee began writing out her line-up and her welcome to the audience.
Finally, we were ready and all of the people who had been standing outside began slowly filling in the seats instead of curiously peeking in. Our emcee opened and introduced each group. All of the members introduced themselves and their topics. The Patronato and one of the local members of COPINH supported by provided 2 giant buckets of coffee (buckets, I kid you not) and bags of bread to share with everyone who came out to watch. The participants are planning on continuing to play their audio programs for the community. They took advantage of the arrival of an international delegation on Saturday to start conducting interviews for their next round of programs and have designated several coordinators of areas such as recruitment, dissemination, and equipment. Their programs have been broadcast on 2 radio stations and another one will broadcast today. The hope is that they will have their own community radio station soon with the assistance of Honduran organizations and international solidarity.
For the elections on Sunday, we’ll be international observers with COMUN in El Progreso, where the upstart LIBRE party that came out of the resistance movement after the coup has a shot at unseating the current mayor who has links to the country’s oligarchy. If everything goes smoothly after the election (which is no guarantee, as Xiomara Castro, the wife of deposed former president Mel Zelaya and LIBRE presidential candidate, has already denounced signs of fraud in the national election tribunal), we’ll be off to a workshop with Radio Waruguma and nearby community radio stations in Trujillo.
Programs created by the Voz del Gualcarque media team