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Members of US Congress Met with Honduran Civil Society Organizations on Fact-Finding Mission

By Julian Arturo

On March 19,21,22 and 23, 2022, Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective in collaboration with SOA Watch, CISPES, and other organizations promoted meetings between Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Jamal Bowman and Jesús "Chuy" García with different Honduran social organizations, working in defense of human rights and environmental justice.

The following is a brief summary of the meetings that took place during those days:

Meeting with Berta Oliva of COFADEH

On March 19, the delegates met with Berta Oliva, director of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained in Honduras (COFADEH).

Berta maintains that COFADEH has not only been doing great work for the disappeared and victims of human rights violations, but also wants to reconstruct the historical memory of the country, in this line, from the Congresswoman Omar's Foreign Policy office proposed to pressure the State Department to declassify those files that can help fill those historical gaps that exist, given the impossibility of obtaining information in Honduras about the people disappeared for political reasons.

Meeting with the leadership and social bases of COPINH in La Esperanza, Intibucá

On March 21, the congressional delegation met with leaders Berta Zúñiga, Camilo Bermúdez and Laura Zúñiga and other grassroots members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). During the meeting, the delegation asked about the real needs of the Honduran people for energy, to which Bertha Zúñiga responded:

"Despite the fact that energy is needed in the country, nevertheless, prior consultation to ask these peoples if they want a certain project to enter their territory cannot be obviated. In this sense, the communities are looking for different non-commercial models to supply the energy needs of the people".

In this line, she highlighted that many projects of this magnitude are designed to defraud the State, i.e., the infrastructures created are not made to produce at 100% capacity in order to create a need for more projects and the State incurs more expenses.

Finally, he declared that

"Behind the Agua Zarca project, there are important national and international banks, such as FICOHSA and CABEI, which should be linked to the case of Berta Cáceres as part of the process".

Laura Zúñiga declared that,

"with the conviction of members of the military and David Castillo, the chain of impunity in cases of assassinations of social leaders was broken. For the first time, a senior executive of a company (DEESA) was convicted".

Finally, Camilo Bermúdez shared the strategic intentions of the litigation for the cause of Berta Cáceres:

"Now we are seeking to convict the intellectual authors of the crime, and we are also seeking to hold accountable the banks that influenced the financing of the project in Río Blanco (FMO, Dutch)".

In addition, Berta Zúñiga pointed out that:

"It is regrettable that the big banks have outsourced the assistance to the controversial project to other smaller banks, in order to get rid of responsibilities".

On the other hand, the congressional representatives responded to COPINH's doubts about the implications of the Biden Plan for aid in Central America, saying that this plan contains the same package of reforms as those of previous administrations.

Thus, the objective of this congressional delegation is to request an audience with the Vice President to discuss the testimonies they have heard during the tour and to try to re-schedule a plan for Central America.

Meeting with Miriam Miranda and OFRANEH bases in San Juan, Tela

On March 22, the congressional representatives met with the leader Miriam Miranda and other members the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), to discuss the U.S. military funding in the fight against drugs and the implications that such support brings to the Garifuna and indigenous communities in northern Honduras.

In this regard, Miriam Miranda argued:

"The U.S. government finances the armed forces for the fight against drug trafficking, you know that in Honduras there are peoples who are about to disappear because of the policy of the fight against drugs that enters with blood and fire and sponsors the plundering of the territory of the black communities of Honduras".

In this regard, examples of the misuse of the anti-drug policy were brought up, what is happening in La Mosquitia, being this territory the object of spoliation through intimidation. There, on May 11, 2013, members of the security forces and DEA agents killed four members of the Misquitos community, claiming that the boat had drugs, but in reality, they were pregnant women with their babies.

In view of the testimonies, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar pledged on behalf of the delegation to denounce what is happening in the territory in the plenary of Congress, promoting laws for social justice.

In the same vein, she pledged to summon the people responsible for these atrocities to be held accountable, such as the government agents responsible for U.S. policies abroad, those in charge of approving and granting financial support, etc.

To conclude the meeting, Congressman Jamal Bowman stated:

"we work for the community and with the community, we do not care about corporate interests, their stories are similar to those of our communities, therefore, their struggle is our struggle, their struggle is ours"

Likewise, Congresswoman Cori Bush stated:

"their struggles inspires us to fight from our territories. We are all activists, I became a congresswoman because of the militarization of our communities and the killing of black people. We are facing criminalization and the death of ourselves"

Meeting with leaders of the Agrarian Platform of Bajo Aguan

That same night, the delegation met with several leaders of the Agrarian Platform, who explained the region's problem with land tenure, bringing up the historical context of this problem that the region has had since the 1970s, as a result of failed agrarian reforms and the political persecution of land and community leaders who protested against government land concessions that were never fulfilled.

In addition, they denounced the role played by the Unit for the Investigation of Violent Deaths in Aguán (created in 2014 in response to the need to investigate the deaths caused by the land conflict), which, far from fulfilling its mandate by investigating what was happening in the area, was dedicated to criminalizing peasants. They also recalled that the Unit was financed by the US government.

Finally, it was pointed out that the Standard Fruit Company has a lot of influence in Aguán.

Meeting with the Jilamito resistance camp

On March 23, the delegation went to the Jilamito camp, where they met with members of the resistance and those accompanying the process of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ).

During the visit, the resistance explained the negative effects of the construction of hydroelectric dams in the region, where 3 hydroelectric dams are currently under construction. None of them supply energy to the communities.

In addition, the construction of these hydroelectric plants caused floods during the year 2020 during the ETA and IOTA storms, since the floodgates of these hydroelectric plants were opened because their reservoirs were too full.

In this sense, from the resistance they ask the congressional representatives to go and tell the banks and multilateral organizations to withdraw because they are willing to give their lives so that their resources and the river are not taken away from them, since it is a source of water for human consumption, not for energy.

It should be noted that, during the course of these spaces, the social organizations asked mainly to assume the corresponding responsibility on the part of the US government and its institutions that provide financial support for extractivist projects, projects for the institutional strengthening of the Honduran State, social projects and military assistance in the country.

For their part, the members of congress agreed to monitor the situation of the socio-environmental conflicts they had the opportunity to learn about, in order to carry out concrete advocacy actions.


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