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.
My name is Albertina Lopez Melgar.
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.
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.