Medios del Pueblo: Desde las Raices


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Rio Blanco workshop reportback

Outside the church where we conducted the workshops.

Outside the church where we conducted the workshops.

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.

View from La Tejera, Rio Blanco, out toward La Vega, the valley that contains the Rio Gualcarque and the crops that sustain the community

View from La Tejera, Rio Blanco, out toward La Vega, the valley that contains the Rio Gualcarque and the crops that sustain the community.

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.

Moving the laptops with Orlando, one of the local coordinators.

Moving the laptops with Orlando, one of the local coordinators.

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.

Community screening of videos produced by media team.

Community screening of videos produced by media team.

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


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Land is freedom: Garifuna reclaim communal space in San Juan, Tela, Honduras

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September 18, 2013 – Members of the Icery Garabaly (Nuevos Aires or New Breezes) land reclamation vote at the weekly assembly facilitated by youth leaders. They are deciding how to finance the purchase of pipes for potable water and sewage.

Palm trees, lush green vegetation and deliciously warm seawater characterize the Caribbean coast of Honduras. In years past, tourists have frequented the beach town of Tela and its surrounding communities to take in the sun, gentle waves and laid-back vibe. The land struggles of the Garifuna people whose ancestral lands line the shore, however, are conveniently obscured from the visitor’s sight.

The Garifuna are distinct in the Americas, born of a melding of two cultures, African and Native American, when would-be slaves who escaped a sinking ship landed on the island of St. Vincent and integrated themselves in the culture of the locals, creating a new language and people in the process. For over 100 years, this mestizo community was able to resist efforts to subjugate by the European colonizing powers until the British finally defeated the Garifuna and expelled those who survived to Trujillo, Honduras, in 1797. From there, the Garifuna have spread to lands along the coasts of Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. (A more extensive history can be found in this excellent article by Ramor Ryan).

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San Juan Durugübuti, Tela – The government and oligarchy of Honduras would love to get their hands on the Garifuna communal lands. The people of San Juan are organized, though, and resisting any attempt to strip them of their rights as indigenous people.

Corporations and organizations ranging from wealthy individuals to the Honduran government have asserted claims to land held legally and historically by the Garifuna in order to create a lucrative, hotel-strewn coast that would aspire to be Honduras’ version of Mexico’s Cancun resorts, accessible only to wealthy tourists. The fabricated (better described as predatory) claims to Garifuna land by the government and enterprising individuals have been brutally enforced by government officials, hired vigilantes with assault rifles, and the Honduran military. These claims are backed by legal documents of dubious origin which are legitimized by the corrupt national legal system.

The casualties of these coordinated attacks include individuals whose land was obtained through illegitimate methods, like those in the tiny Garifuna community of Miami, Honduras. They were led to believe that they were getting titles to their homes situated on choice plots between the Caribbean and Laguna Los Micos when, in actuality, they were granted titles to uninhabitable parcels of sand in a distant location. In addition to forced removal and threats of injury and imprisonment, activists involved in efforts to protect and conserve communal lands and wild spaces have been murdered, like Jeannette Kawas in 1995 and Oscar Bregal and Jesus Alvarez in 1997. The logic of capitalism dictates that the combination of an insatiable hunger for prime real estate by developers and the reigning impunity in Honduras will produce a growing number of casualties.

San Juan de Tela (Durugübuti in the Garifuna language) is one of the communities that has resisted efforts by outsiders to violate their inherent rights to the land and continues to confront attacks today. The aldea (village) of San Juan is a 15-minute bus ride away from Tela’s city center. Geographically, it’s a stone’s throw from the tourist hub, however it’s miles away from the paved roads and comparatively well-equipped schools that Tela enjoys.

Removing a tree stump and roots so that the ground can be leveled for streets between individual plots at the reclamation.

Removing a tree stump and roots so that the ground can be leveled for streets between individual plots at the reclamation.

A large section of land overgrown with weeds sat on the periphery of San Juan for many years. It is described as a site that was home to poisonous snakes as well as a notorious hiding place for men looking to assault and rape women who passed through. Early this summer, a group of youth that included long-time friends Erlan, Josue and Luis came up with a plan to reclaim and transform the land for personal and community use. The very day after they devised the plan, they put it into action by gathering a diverse group of community members who were interested in reclaiming the area. The group collectively decided on: clearing the land, dividing it into equal parcels, distributing the parcels to each participant and reserving a significant portion for community use. For three weeks, the group went about the grueling task of clearing out what years of neglect had created. The result was the creation of over 100 plots in the 9 manzanas (about 15 acres) of land. The new neighborhood was dubbed Icery Garabaly (Nuevos Aires or New Breezes in Garifuna). Once the land was cleared, the participants in the project decided that weekly community assemblies would be necessary in order for information to be distributed, plans to be discussed and decisions to be made. These meetings will continue to take place until the land recuperation is complete and secure.

Three days after the area was cleared, Erlan relates that a car pulled up and a man claiming to be a representative of the rightful owner informed those present that this land was not in fact available (even though it had gone unused for more than 20 years). Of course, before leaving, he made sure to imply that there would be…consequences for those who did not stop working the area. Later, a document was presented that purportedly demonstrated that the legal owner is a powerful individual from Honduras’ interior, result of a transaction by a community member who passed away long ago. After doing some investigation, Josue discovered that the land is legally Garifuna patrimonial land (land that belongs collectively to the Garifuna community). As with all Garifuna patrimonial land, plots cannot be sold without the consent of the governing council of Garifuna known as the Patronato. The Patronato did not consent to the sale therefore this person is laying false claim to the land. Community members report sighting unmarked vehicles and police cars passing through Icery Garabaly occasionally. Sometimes they drive by slowly with the windows down and sometimes they get out and take photos; regardless, these random drive-bys are clearly an intimidation tactic. Instead of bending to the tactics, community members laugh and continue working the land. The question that they all have now is: when will threats and intimidation ratchet up to a full-scale attack or ultimatum?

    These plots of recuperated land will one day house a new generation of San Juan families.

These plots of recuperated land will one day house a new generation of San Juan families.

Motivations range and overlap but certain themes repeat. In San Juan, there is a glaring lack of parcels of land available for young families. Of the original 1765 hectares of land (about 7 square miles) validated by the National Agrarian Institute in 1984, only 53 hectares (only .2 square miles, a few blocks) are currently recognized by the Honduran government as communal land. Some youth continue to live in childhood homes that house parents and siblings. Every participant in the land reclamation is now the owner of a parcel of land.  Parcels can only be inherited. If a landholder wants to sell the land, the entire community must approve the transaction. This measure has been crafted in an effort to prevent the divide-and-conquer strategy that both corporations and the government have successfully employed to remove Garifuna from their land in areas like Miami.

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Radio Durugu Buty is a community radio station in San Juan that is currently off-air because their equipment was stolen. The Icery Garabaly land recuperation plans to build a two-story community center that will be the new home of the radio station.

A second layer of motivation lies in the use of the land for much needed public space. There is already a functional futbol (soccer) field. Plans are in the works for a basketball court and a two-story community center that would house Durugu Buty, the community radio station. Previously, there was a break-in at Radio Durugu Buty and the equipment was robbed, forcing the station off the air indefinitely. Josue, a local teacher, member of the reclamation and the radio station, stated that the new location will be a safer space for the community radio station as it will be in a more populated area.

This reclamation is much more than a yard clean-up or demonstration of unity – it is an expression of autonomy and direct action. The community is doing everything in its power to meet collective needs; needs that have been systematically ignored by the state with the exception of the week before elections when months-old potholes that bottom out cars are suddenly filled in. They have transformed an area that was synonymous with fear (especially for women and children) into one that is synonymous with power, struggle and self-sufficiency.

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Vista del Mar restaurant run by women’s cooperative in San Juan, Tela

Women’s cooperative restaurant and cabañas
If you go to San Juan, Tela, there are cabañas and the Vista del Mar restaurant on the beach run by a women’s cooperative (in stark contrast to other properties in the area owned by foreigners and corporations). They were started with the help of the CARITAS Catholic charity. To stay at the cabañas, call Benita Diego at (504) 3271-4652 or Esmeralda Arzú at (504) 3378-2723 or email Oscar at oscarcolonn@yahoo.com

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Part of mural from the National Indigenous Assembly held in San Juan in 2011

Resources

The Last Rebels of the Caribbean: Garifuna Fighting Their Lives in Honduras by Ramor Ryan, Upside Down World, March 27, 2008

Garifuna Resistance against Mega-Tourism in Tela Bay by James Rodriguez, MiMundo.org, July 31, 2008

Community Under Threat, Amnesty International

Rosenthal Quiere Quedarse Con Todo Nuevo San Juan, CADRI


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Just finished our first round of workshops!

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Students worked two 8-hour days on the weekend (till 10pm!) to finish editing radio programs in time for the live presentation on Monday.

We just finished our first two-week workshops in San Antonio and Sulaco, Yoro, Honduras. The participants’ work ended on a high note as they were able to present their completed radio programs on 2 radio stations and field questions from professional radio presenters and the public. One of our participants in San Antonio has agreed to take on coordination duties for the middle school students and we were able to be part of the brainstorming process for topics for the next round of programs. The group in Sulaco is interested in passing on their knowledge and skills to local high school students and will be meeting to plan future content. We will be uploading programs to community radio websites so that the information and ideas can be easily distributed. Here’s a brief summary of our process with the workshops:

1) Brainstorm topics for content
2) Form working groups based on topics
3) Develop focus questions and interviewing skills
4) Conduct investigation
5) Edit radio program that includes narrative, community survey, interviews and analysis
6) Present content in a community forum
7) Share knowledge and skills with others
8) Continue to refine journalism and editing skills through participation in community media

Plans are to continue collaborating with Radio Progreso’s alternative radio network in Honduras. We will be participating in their encuentro (gathering) next week in El Progreso and are planning on solidifying dates and logistics for workshops with a diverse range of community radios (women’s, rural, youth, indigenous) all across the country. Exciting times and even more so with the crucial financial support that has been arriving (Thanks!). Five days left in the fundraising campaign so please help spread the word!

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Presenting at Radio Ocalus in Sulaco, Yoro, Honduras

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Group that focused on violence in the community and conducted interviews with the police chief and community leaders

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Octavio (left) completed the workshop and will be taking over as coordinator of the middle school community journalism project.

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Live on radio for the first time!


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Tech Inventory and Future Plans

From El Progreso, Yoro, Honduras: We made it safe and sound and already have produced one radio feature about the Dia del Nino (Day of the Child) celebration at an elementary school in San Antonio, Sulaco, Yoro. The narrator was a young person from the local junior high school and we will be starting workshops with the youth from this community next week. Plans are to use the school’s computer lab and install Audacity, a free, open-source program for editing audio. We have contacts with a local radio station that will be broadcasting the content produced by youth producers and are excited about the possibilities! Big thanks to all of y’all who have made this project possible! Here is a list of some of the technology that we were able to purchase:

– Acer Chromebook ($150)
– Acer ultrabook ($350)
– Canon camcorder with mic input and headphone output ($280)
– Lightweight tripod for camcorder
– Compact shotgun microphone for camcorder
– 2 omidirectional lapel mics
– Small tripods for smartphones/cameras
– 2 Sony stereo audio recorders
– 1 ultracompact mic for audio recorders
– 2 compact 1080p video recorders
– USB microphone for digital recording of narration
– Inverter for powering projector from car batteries
– Extension cord for powering projector for community screenings
– 2 compact surge protectors
– 3 prong – USB charger
– 1 TB hard drive for raw video
– 2 SD card readers
– 4 lapel mics
– Lots of Class 10 SDHC and microSDHC cards of various sizes!

We have outlayed a lot more than the $325 that we have raised so far, so any help recouping funds we have already invested would be greatly appreciated! More updates to come!P1010978


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March Commemorating Guadalupe Carney / Marcha conmemorando al Padre Guadalupe Carney

30 años de su martirio, celebrando la vigencia de la lucha por la tierra.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/74624138 w=720&h=480]