An interview by Melissa Cox
Albertina López Melgar, a member of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ, for its initials in Spanish) has emerged in the last year and a half as a profound moral voice in Honduras. As one of the leaders of the encampment in Pajuiles, she has spent more than a year resisting the imposition of hydroelectric and mining projects in her community. In August, when she was six months pregnant, she was arrested along with 16 other members of the encampment and charged with a litany of trumped up crimes for demanding the right of herself, her family, and her community to have access to clean water. Her charges were dropped in September, but ten other members of the community are still awaiting their initial hearing. Witness for Peace National Delegations Coordinator Melissa Cox conducted this interview with Albertina in Pajuiles on March 22nd, 2018, the one-year anniversary of the encampment.
The Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justica (The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice) organizes and has communication projects. We are defending our territory.
We are always in the camp ready for anything. Whatever might happen. The communities are organized. We have a rotating schedule so that people are in the camp day and night. Our objective is to prevent the water in the river from being contaminated, and to prevent work material from getting in. We stop machines etc. from coming in. We’re paying attention to all of this. As women, we are very committed to this fight. The resistance is made up of various communities. There are eight communities who are organized.
We are living in a very difficult situation in our country, because defending the common good has turned into a crime, a crime of the most punished. We’re also persecuted—all of the organizations of the country but especially the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justica (The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice) because of the organizing and defense work that they do. We have to do this because of the current and past governments that we’ve had. They don’t defend the common good. Instead, little by little they’ve been invading our territory. So the only option that we the people have left is to defend what’s ours. We’re not going to allow our country to be destroyed because it’s been sold off little by little. We want to safe guard the future for generations to come. I have a 5-month-old son and there are lots of other women who are currently pregnant. I’m going to have grandchildren and great grand children, and I want them to have and to enjoy the right to water and to life.
Women are motivated by their social commitment, their family commitment, and the knowledge that we as women are important. We’re not just important to our families, but rather to the society at large. When the resistance camp started there were only a few women. And now a lot more women have joined in. I believe that this is critical because women play a very important role. We are the ones who know the housework, and as mothers and as wives we have a very difficult role. Being conscious of all of this is what motivates us.
Since I was a little girl my spirit has been to defend our common good. But sometimes there’s a moment in our lives that arrives where we have to make a decision. And that’s what’s happened in our community, Pajuiles. We decided to create an encampment because we’re aware of what’s going on in the dark and being hidden from the people. This is a formative and informative process. If each person was really developed and informed, they’d be more conscious, but there are people who don’t inform themselves, and the government isn’t interested in people being informed. Because of that in our country education, health and other things aren’t important, because for our government the more we are impoverished and in ruin the better. Why? Because these companies come and buy people off. They offer them a job, that according to the companies is a dignified job, but it’s not a dignified job if you have to give something in exchange for it. We deserve a dignified job, a dignified house, and a dignified diet. But that’s not what we’ve been given; because we know the conditions that they have us in. But that’s what’s convenient for them, that’s how they want us to be, because that’s the only way that they can come and buy off our consciousness. In the communities where the companies come with their projects, they offer to fix our road, to give us a school desk, to fix a classroom, but we know that there are government institutions that should be doing those things. Health and education are not negotiable. The government has a duty to fulfill their obligations, that’s why we pay taxes. We Hondurans pay taxes so that they are returned to us in labor, so that the government fulfills its obligations. We’re conscious of all of this, that’s why we’re here.
It would be great if you could do something so that this government doesn’t get security aid…The government is so good at asking for things, the politicians that we’ve had come at cost to us, because they ask organizations from other countries to send help, according to them for security or to give to poor people. And that’s not true. That money always goes somewhere else, somewhere that it shouldn’t. That’s what’s going on now with the security aid. If a company calls the authorities to tell them that we’re here, a commander with 200 or 300 military personal will come to confront 10 or 20 people. They use tear gas against us, hit us, repress us, detain us, makeup things up to accuse us of whatever crime, and nothing happens to them. For us it’s important to know that organizations, like Witness for Peace and other organizations that have come here, have been able to diffuse this message internationally, because the truth is, the media outlets of our country, the majority of them, unfortunately the companies also buy them off. So they don’t transmit any of what’s happening. They just show the beautiful things about this country, but the bad things that are happening, that doesn’t get out. So it’s important that internationally what’s happening in Honduras is known. We the defenders of the common good are persecuted, criminalized and repressed by those who are obligated to defend our rights; they are the ones violating our human rights.
When I was six months pregnant with Isac Alberto, I was detained, just because we were here trying to prevent the machines from getting to the high part of the mountain. Our objective is to prevent the company from bringing its machines that will contaminate the river. In that moment, there were two machines that came, and there were only a few of us on watch that day, 10 people. We blocked the road here so that the machines couldn’t pass. They called the police and two patrols came. There was no dialogue, there was nothing. They just came to take us out from there. They said that they had an eviction warrant. We knew that they didn’t have an eviction warrant because we didn’t take over the highway. We only blocked the machines to prevent them from passing. And it was evident that the police wanted the machines to be able to pass. We stood our ground and said no. And we told them if they had an eviction warrant signed by a judge that they should show it to us. Since I was insistent, they told me if I thought I wouldn’t be arrested because I was pregnant, I was wrong. At that point the commander gave the order for them to arrest me. They arrested me, but at the same time they were using tear gas, shooting it every which way. I inhaled gas in that moment and they didn’t help me. They later said that they sent two police to get me out of that place. And the argument that they used to justify arresting me was that a pregnant woman shouldn’t be in a place like that. It’s ridiculous because I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I wasn’t committing any crime, nor was I risking my son’s life. They were the ones who were violating the rights of someone who wasn’t even born yet. That’s the saddest part. They were violating the right of a defenseless creature, they’re the ones who committed a crime, because they violated the right to life of someone. Thank God my son didn’t suffer any consequences from that, because he’s been under a doctors care, a pediatrician and they’ve been following up on his care. Thank God he’s ok. But we were afraid for his life. His birth was complicated because of the whole situation that we were living. That’s something that’s not easy. Also you can’t understand…I don’t understand. There are moments that I don’t understand how they can violate our right to life, because we haven’t violated anyone’s rights, we’re just defending our right to water. That’s the same thing as our right to life, because without water there is no life. It’s the institutions that are obligated to protect our rights who are the ones violating our rights. I want it to be known on an international level why we’re here. There are moments that we’re afraid for our lives, but we’ve assumed the risk. We’re not intimidated. They’re not going to stop us; we’re going to stay in the struggle.
On August 4th, 2017 they burned mattresses and everything. When things were burned, it was because people from the high part of the mountain were paid. Eighty people with machetes came. They ripped out our flag, tore down our barricade, they took everything from us. They burned the camp that we had, where we had setup because it was there in the street, and the other one above, was also in the street. They burned them. They bought people off. They paid people $10 USD for them to come. Oscar Martinez, who’s also in the struggle, had his phone stolen, just because he was taking pictures. Martín, the lawyer, was hit with a rock. They were pushing them around and things like that. We decided it would be better to get on one side. We removed ourselves from there and let them do what they were going to do because we couldn’t risk someone getting killed; because someone could have been killed that day, but we decided it was better to get away from there. The police were there watching, just watching. They did absolutely nothing. They just filmed with their phones and when we decided to block the road that day to pressure them to do something to defend us, their argument was, there were a lot of people and only a few police. That day there were only four police. It’s very complicated. There were only a few from the community because in that moment we were in front of the Public Ministry. There were 60 of us in Tela making the denouncement. When we arrived from Tela, the camp was being destroyed. That’s when we took over the main highway. There were between 80 and 100 people there, because the community went out to demand that they protect us.
Sometimes we feel hopeless because of all the systems we are confronting. There’s also people from the community that tell us that we’re wasting our time, that we’re never going to achieve anything, or change anything because the president is the person who’s in charge. The people are also afraid. But we’re here and we’re going to continue in the struggle. Even though we know the consequences that this can have, we’ve assumed the risks, and we’re going to continue to defend our mountain in God’s name and to protect the common goods and assure the future of generations to come.