Spotlight: Women Heroes Of The Honduran Resistance
The environmental non-governmental organization Global Witness declares Honduras the world’s most deadly country for environmental activists. Honduran activist Berta Cáceres was murdered there in March 2016.
Now, two women have come together to let their art speak for Cáceres and the women of the Honduran resistance movement.
Melissa Cardoza is author of the book 13 Colors of the Honduran Resistance. One of the women Cardoza highlights is Karla Lara, a singer/songwriter and social justice activist with the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras.
Cardoza, Lara and Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle, a community organizer and member of the Chicago-based La Voz de Los de Abajo, spoke about the conditions in Honduras on Worldview.
On the 2009 coup in Honduras
Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle: On June 29, in the middle of the night, military — led by somebody trained in the U.S. at the School of the Americas, General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez — broke down the doors of the democratically-elected populist president of Honduras at the time, Manuel Zelaya. They exiled him out of the country. They flew him first to a U.S. military base, and from there to Costa Rica. And the reason was not so much about Zelaya himself, but about the popular movement that he’d begun to listen to in the streets — a movement of indigenous peoples, workers and feminists who’d begun to make demands and began to re-envision what it would mean to refound the country.
And they were going to vote on a referendum that would’ve convened a constitutional assembly to begin that process of refoundation. It had a lot to do with U.S. geopolitical interests in the area, because this was at a time, you have to remember, when there was a rise of the left throughout Latin America — many left governments coming to power through democratic elections, and Honduras had traditionally been looked at as the backyard of the U.S., and was a country that had been assumed to be controllable through many years of military dictatorship that had served as the base of operations for counter-revolutionary activity against the Nicaraguans, etc. And so to move in a leftward direction was intolerable, according to those in power in the U.S.
The powerful families in Honduras — there’s about ten of them that control all the wealth — they’re very close to U.S. right-wing politicians, and it was the families and their sponsors in the U.S. who decided “we can’t allow this to happen, we can’t allow a ‘Chavez’ to install himself here,” so they carried out a coup d’état. And they thought by delivering this coup, they were going to squash the dreams of people and stop this political project, and instead what happened, is for hundreds of days - day after day - people came out into the streets not just to reject the coup, but to fight for the vision that inspired them in the first place: refounding their country from below and bringing those who’d been at the margins of society to the center of decision making about their own future.
On the heroic women who are part of the resistance
Melissa Cardoza (translated by Ginsberg-Jaeckle): There were many stories in the street, and to choose only 13 was not easy. There were so many individual, unique stories because there were many women everyday in the streets for months resisting the coup. There were so many conversations among those women, and all of them had things that were very surprising to tell because many of them had never been in the streets before. For example, one of my favorites is about ‘Patty’s Eatery’: it’s a story that could be from any city in Latin America, even from here in Chicago. It’s the story of a woman from a small, poor, lush green community who decided that she had to leave it and come to the city. And so even though her main motivation for leaving was fleeing from lost love, which is what allowed her to be free, she came and was able — through her struggle — to find a new life for herself, for her kids in the city. And she did that by starting a food stand and eatery — like a cafeteria. In a magical, powerful way, she’s a woman who comes to understand that she and others in the resistance movement have something in common: a struggle, a struggle for life. We all had the dream, we felt we had the ability to take back our country with strength and hope.
As we speak, there is a whole cultural, legal debate that’s going on around decriminalizing abortion, because abortion in Honduras is prohibited, it’s criminalized, it’s penalized, and so the feminists in our country right now are out there with strength and bravery, saying women have a right to decide what happens to their own bodies — the right to abortion. And to do that in the midst of a regime that’s fundamentalist and dominating takes a tremendous amount of bravery.
On hate crimes against LGBTQ
Cardoza: In Honduras in the culture that we grow up in, that we’ve lived in and survived in, it’s homophobic and patriarchal. So that determines the way the wealth is distributed, the way power is distributed, what kind of desires that we should have. So the fight of the LGBT community has a long history.
But this resistance movement — it made it possible for other sectors to see us, and not just to see us for the uniqueness of our particular struggles, but to see us as part of an exploited class, and it strengthened it. It gave it a certain legitimacy being a part of the resistance.
Nonetheless, the hate crimes against the gay and lesbian population, and especially the trans population, have skyrocketed. The movement strengthened itself in the face of tremendous brutality against it, because of this logic of domination: the police, the church, and even of the family itself, which is what holds up that logic.
On what inspires singer/activist Karla Lara
Karla Lara (translated by Ginsberg-Jaeckle): It’s very special for me to be back here with Melissa Cardoza, and to be included in her stories, because she’s a feminist who I respect and love. Because of the work we do, we become public figures, it’s really an honor and a privilege, and with that comes responsibility to bring joy and come out to these protests.
I like coming to these protests — I get to be with my friends, my sisters, my brothers...I get to feel their love, their admiration — that’s really the greatest gift, to run into somebody who you know and say, ‘How beautiful that you’re here!’ It means so much. And I have a reason to be out there! And that reason is: I’m screwed too! (Laughs.)
I’m a feminist, but I didn’t come to be one early in my life — I became active as a feminist after the coup, maybe a little before it with the fight we had about the right to birth control. But really it was after the coup that I began identifying openly as a feminist. So my vision towards the movement for a long time was from the outside in. I’ve grown a lot and I would say that the movement has grown a lot, we’ve moved to a place where the feminists and LGBT have taken a very brave position of trying to make sure that our discourses are included within the left, a left that for a long time had really rejected LGBT and feminism. So we’re putting our discourse as central there, whereas in the '80s, it was absent.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.