In September 2013 I left the States on a one-way flight to Peru with two friends. Over two months we traveled down Peru’s dusty southern coast and into the Andes. We dug a big hole, got our asses kicked in chess in a Lima park, hiked the Inca Trail and felt a bit guilty about it, watched way too many movies about wolves, made a lot of great new friends and debated the meaning of life. We split up in November, and I did some potato communications in Cuzco, translated for some American doctors in the Andes, worked on a farm in Cochabamba, taught chess and English in the Amazon, and spent a month as a journalist in Honduras.
I pictured the trip as part Motorcycle Diaries, part On The Road, part You Shall Know Our Velocity! and part something uniquely my own. The idea was to find the answers to all of life’s burning questions; I was able to at least come home with an insight or two about myself and where I fit into a really big world.
From Spanish invaders to US imperialists, the Honduran struggle for self-determination has found enemies at every turn. Photo: the hills of Río Blanco, in the western Honduran mountains that have seen land conflicts across five centuries.
The Lenca people say the spirits of children inhabit the Gualcarque River. The kids probably wouldn’t be pleased with a hydroelectric dam.
The river is sacred to the Río Blanco community of indigenous Lencas in western Honduras, and an important source of water. It’s also the proposed site of the Honduran DESA Corporation’s Agua Zarca dam. Fearing displacement, the people of Río Blanco have vociferously opposed the dam for years, even as DESA established itself on contested land. But when DESA posted security guards and “No Trespassing” signs along the river in spring 2013, residents took matters into their own hands.
The morning of April 1, 2013, community members gathered at a high point of DESA’s access road, the area’s wide blue skies and rolling forest-green hills on display. There they formed a human blockade, dug a trench big enough to sink a truck tire, and built a fence across the road with sticks and thick metal cable.
Tense months followed. Supporters of the dam brandished machetes at opponents and made verbal threats. Honduran National Police made multiple attempts to evict the protesters. A protester’s coffee crop was burned. Hoping to put an end to the tensions, several hundred community members marched down to DESA’s riverside headquarters on July 15 to reiterate their opposition to the project.
“There was a soldier there who may have been nervous,” one Río Blanco resident told me last year.
Near the head of the community group was Tomas García, a forty-nine-year-old father of seven. As they approached, Honduran army Sergeant Kevin Jasser Sarabia, stationed outside the DESA offices, began firing shots into the air. Witnesses say García made clear the group’s desire to have a peaceful conversation. Jasser must have thought otherwise when he lowered his weapon and fired several shots, killing García and wounding his seventeen-year-old son.
Blood for Land
The people of Río Blanco are fighting a long fight.
“Five hundred years ago, when the Spanish came, they also deceived us,” says Francisco Javier Sánchez, president of the Río Blanco Indigenous Council. “The same thing is happening today as five hundred years ago. Our dear Honduras is a very rich country. When they come to take advantage of it, they come to take the little bit that we have left.”
Hondurans living on rich lands have faced violence and displacement for centuries, as Spanish colonizers sought gold and American banana barons sought profit. Today, a new wave of bloodshed is sweeping Honduras as a domestic elite looks to increase its outsized share of the nation’s wealth. It has claimed over one hundred lives since 2009. But if it’s a war, it’s a one-sided one, with the violence directed mostly at subsistence farmers who oppose land grabs for agribusiness, mining, or hydroelectric projects.
Read the rest at Jacobin.
Flying over Amazonia in Bolivia. Areas of thick forest like this are less and less common. In neighboring Peru, the rainforest became a net carbon dioxide emitter rather than carbon sink for the first time in 2012, as deforestation released tree-trapped CO2 into the atmosphere.
I’m raising money to send to missionaries in Bolivia who provide free medical care and house children so that they can go to school. To donate and receive some prints of my awesome Bella Vista photos as a token of thanks, click here.
This year, I spent a month in Bella Vista, Bolivia with the Missionaries of the Holy Sacrament and Virgin Mary, teaching English and chess to children. The missionaries run a medical clinic, preschool and boarding house for about 25 students, aged four to 16, who attend school in Bella Vista. Each of the programs makes a big difference in the lives of people in this rural, agricultural region of Bolivia, and they do so with meager resources. I’m raising funds to send them so they can make some much-needed purchases to improve the quality of life for the people they serve.
The clinic offers its services free of charge, and even houses patients who have come from other towns. The preschool helps low-income families prepare their children for school and allows mothers extra free time to earn an income for their family. And the boarding house, in addition to giving children from rural communities a chance to go to school, has also provided refuge for children at risk of domestic violence or indentured child labor.
Your donation will be used by the missionaries in one of the following ways:
Unfortunately, there is no registered 501c3 in the US supporting the missionaries’ work. I will gather the funds and then wire them to Bella Vista. The missionaries will compile a report of how the money is spent, which will then be sent to donors. Thank you so much for your support!