Haitian voices in wake off Hurricane Matthew



Photo  Stephen Bartlett

November 18, 2016

By Stephen Bartlett (Of Other Worlds)

Haiti was beaten down once again on October 5, 2016 by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew, yet grassroots leaders remain unbowed, voicing messages both of warning and hope.  Social movement leaders who live and work in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, are grateful to have “dodged the bullet” this time but many have family and organizational members in the impacted areas of the greater south and far northwest and are scrambling to help them find shelter, medical treatment, food, and potable water.  The coordinator of the national peasant organization Tet Kole (heads together), Rosnel Jean-Baptiste, reported dozens of deaths among its members in several communes of the greater south departments of Haiti.  The death toll nationwide is at least 1,100 and the long- term impact on agriculture that still nourishes most Haitians will likely bring serious consequences on nutrition and human health in the medium term.

Nevertheless, In spite of the extreme hardships and difficulties confronting Haitians, it is inspiring to observe an amazing capacity for human dignity and positive individual and collective action, even in the midst of widespread suffering.  In the hard- hit southern Haiti commune of Chardonnieres, a 69 year old farmer told Annol Phylidor, the director of an agricultural support organization Action de Careme, “I am a rough farmer.  I did all I could and made use of every opportunity to build my house, educate my children and live a peaceful life.  In one day, this hurricane carried everything away.  I still have my dignity.  I cannot risk that by using violence to get some food.  If those who bring aid cannot organize it such that there is a dignified distribution of food, it would be better for them to just leave with their aid and leave us at the mercy of God.”

The Popular Democratic People’s Movement (MPDP), an organization long in the struggle to transform Haiti’s political, economic and social conditions, published a declaration two days after the hurricane struck.  The declaration asks those executing the response and the local authorities to “hold their responsibilities and patriotic courage in their two hands to correctly coordinate and manage this emergency and rehabilitation, in dignity and transparency, without favoritism, nor pressure. MPDP advises both the central and local authorities to get through this emergency phase as quickly as possible and quickly begin the rehabilitation of areas and regions that were hit. This is the only approach that will empower victims to take their lives in their own hands and do away with the mentality of being ‘victims.’

Haitians did not sit passively by before and during the storm.  In one rural town, people donned motorcycle helmets and confronted the deadly winds to rescue and protect the elderly and children in imminent threat of injury or death.  Many of the buildings, churches, and schools designated by local authorities as shelters prior to the storm, were themselves destroyed by the 145 mph winds and flying trees. This led to a number of additional deaths and left countless people exposed to the elements and flooding that followed with the monsoon rains that followed the hurricane.   In addition to serious flooding, these heavy rains have meant that people have been exposed soaking wet conditions day and night.  The outdoor kitchen of a Haitian colleague whose roof stayed put in rural Grand Anse has been the site of 25 people standing packed together all night long to keep out of direct exposure to the rain.  An elderly woman unable to walk has had to be carried from her sick bed each time the rains start again.  Children were observed sleeping fitfully outdoors soaking wet in a landscape that by day looks like a barren moonscape. The only comparable event in recent Haitian history was of course the massive earthquake of January 12, 2010 that struck the capital city and nearby areas, killing an estimated 200,000.

Kettly Alexandre, a leader of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) said “Matthew dealt a severe blow to Haitians who have been working for so many years to find solutions to the many problems we face.”  These problems are well known to those familiar with Haiti:  extreme impoverishment, international occupations and interventions in Haiti’s internal affairs, weak institutions and governance, and corruption in high places.  Policies hammered in place, such as so-called “free” trade regimes and economic structural adjustments imposed by the U.S. and Europe, have resulted in forced rural to urban migration, ballooning the population of the towns and cities, especially Port-au-Prince.   Meanwhile those remaining in the rural areas, especially those with strong local organizations, continue to struggle for access to education, healthcare, and markets.  The lack of holistic rural and agricultural development, they know, creates a vicious cycle of rural flight which creates conditions that lead to desperate decisions by rural people such as widespread charcoal production that lead to the continual degradation of the soils and forest cover.   The U.N. MINUSTAH security forces are across Haiti looked upon increasingly as an occupying force.   Cholera imported by MINUSTAH soldiers has sickened up to one million Haitians, and killed at last count nearly 10,000.  Cholera following the hurricane is on the increase in the impacted area due to a widespread lack of potable water. Kettly Alexandre summed up with a tone of irony tinged with a sense of injustice:  “With all the problems we face already, Haiti really did not need hurricane Matthew.  In this context, we don’t even know who to blame.”

Lenz Jean-Francois, a psychologist and social justice advocate who worked as a trauma counselor following the 2010 earthquake, while awaiting a mission to do the same in the south, asserted that “there is a deepening impact on the Haitian psyche” of the grinding ills plaguing the country in recent months and years.  “Many youth are fleeing the country for places like Chile, Colombia, or Brazil.  There is a lot of despair.  Organizations advocating for structural changes are weakened as leaders devote more energy to secure the well being of their families, or to deal with other personal problems.”

Peterson Derolus of the Mining Justice Collective (Kolectif Justis Min, KJM) said:

We can see already how the corporations interested in seizing land are ready to use the Matthew disaster to take advantage and rush their agendas forward.  One example:   a representative of Newmont Mining corporation after previously being run out of the area by angry local people, returned bearing food aid to hand out in communities where Newmont is attempting to gain mining access.

Fabienne Jean, the coordinator of FONDAMA (Hand to Hand Foundation) a network of Haitian farmer and allied organizations, asserted: “This disaster could be used as an opportunity to hasten the consolidation of large scale projects that involve land seizures.  Haitian agriculture has always been its greatest strength, and Haitian land must be in the hands of Haitian farmers to produce healthy food and contribute to the development of the country.”   Jean Mathulnes Lamy, a leader of the farming communities of ‘Ile a Vache’ regrets the wholesale concession of his native island by the Haitian government for the expansion of an extensive tourism enclave, taking over agricultural lands with no regard to the customary use of that land by local farmers who have nourished themselves from farming for generations.  “We denounce plans for building an airport for tourists on the island, when the entire mainland of southern Haiti has no airport, and is now in ruins from the hurricane.  People are not taking these threats sitting down.”

Ricot Jean-Pierre, Director of Land Rights Struggles for PAPDA stated:

Hurricanes and earthquakes will certainly strike again, but given the historical role Haiti has played, achieving the first free Republic in the New World, and supporting with arms and soldiers Simon Bolivar’s revolution against Spain under the condition that slavery be abolished in the newly independent republics, Haiti will make history again one day, whether it takes 10 years or 100.   There is too much spirit here to count Haiti out.


Solidarity Delegation Analysis Above US Embassy Pay Grade

DANGER: Solidarity Delegation at the Embassy

DANGER: Solidarity Delegation at the Embassy

Today, May 5th, 2016, the Agricultural Missions Solidarity Delegation to Honduras met with representatives of the US Embassy. Our demands included: (1) an independent and thorough investigation of Bertha Cáceres assassination by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, (2) upholding respect for the international conventions concerning the rights of Indigenous peoples including Free, Prior, and Informed consent, and (3) the demilitarization of Honduras and US-Honduras relations.

Our delegation voiced passionate, articulate analyses and testimonies of the situation faced by Honduran people. To these, the embassy representatives’ most salient response was, literally, “this is above our pay grade”. Our main disagreement concerned that the US and embassy officials could be exerting greater pressure upon the virtual dictatorship that rules Honduras.

For officials sequestered far behind the protective ramparts of the embassy fortress, the extreme suffering and vulnerability that are experienced by the majority of Honduran people lacked the urgency that our delegation felt. We pointed out that the US, which is closely involved in the investigation, has a responsibility to push for justice and hold the highest intellectual authors accountable.

Vallecito: Vision of a Garifuna Future of Autonomy, Agri- and Aqua-Culture & Good Living!

Ag Missions’ Honduras Delegation Journal Part VI:    

Written by Stephen Bartlett,

Testimonies of OFRANEH leaders transcribed by Steve Pavey;

Live interpretation from Spanish by Stephen Bartlett.


Access to the sea is vital for Garifuna culture and economy.  Photo by Steve Pavey

There is a complicated and challenging correlation of political forces impacting the Garifuna struggle, including the blow to democratic process of the 2009 Coup D’Etat and illegitimately and fraudulently elected coup-successor regimes, the extreme wealth and power of a tiny Honduran elite, the U.S.  government support for this elite and its police and military forces, as well as deepening neoliberal policies and deregulation applied across Honduras.    There is also the reality and threat of more out-migration of Garifuna  from rural communities and villages to cities, including the humanitarian immigrant crisis of Hondurans fleeing to the United States.

Yet with all that, the vision for the Garifuna leaders keeps coming into focus, clearer and clearer.  Miriam Miranda, longtime organizer and current president of OFRANEH (National Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras)  together with veteran leaders such as Alfredo Lopez, and young leaders such as Nahun Lalin, provided us with a look at those forces within a trajectory of struggle that has been happening through the efforts of OFRANEH since the 1980s. 


Miriam Miranda addresses the assembled Garifuna Brigadistas and international guests at Vallecito, on October 23, 2014                                                                         Photo by Steve Pavey

The Garifuna struggle in Defense of Ancestral Lands:  Resisting Land Grabs, Using International Human Rights Law and Strengthening Autonomy through Cultural Renewal and Self-sufficiency.

Miriam Miranda:

“This has been a hard fight. We have a lot of disadvantages in this effort to reclaim our land.  We see that there is a governmental plan to displace indigenous people from their lands.  We have had two hearings with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights this year.  On May 2nd  75 people went to Costa Rica for that hearing.  It was a big excursion.  Many of the people from Triunfo de la Cruz went because that was what the hearing was about.  It was a marvelous experience.  Many of the old women went saying this  could be their last chance to advocate for what will become of us.  It was very interesting to be there with groups from Nicaragua, with universities.  They received us very well. “

“ In Costa Rica we understood the intention of our government.  The Honduran government attorney argued that the Garifuna are not indigenous people, and therefore the UN Convention 169 of the ILO does not apply.  We are foreigners, he argued. And, he said,  “they have dislocated the indigenous Tolupan people who used to live there before the Garifuna came.”  That was 217 years ago (long before Honduras became a nation).  What the government lawyer said was well thought out.  When they offer beach lands, they say no one is here.  They say we don’t exist.  They say the land is empty.  This is what they say outside Honduras.  It’s empty, they say.  Why do they say that?   Because they want to kick us out of there.  And that is what is happening in Barra Vieja with these tourist mega projects.  Who has the right?  Those who invested in the project, they say.  The eviction was even asked for by the DA, the attorney general, the attorney’s office, to get the people out of Barra Vieja.”


 Guard post at road leading to INDURA tourism complex, restricting entry to that stretch of beachfront and accompanying banana plantations.   The unpaved road to Barra Vieja skirts this down the slope to the left.                                                                      Photo by Steve Pavey

Miriam:  “In this area where we are, they call this a “special economic zone.”  The famous “charter city”  plans.   One of these is going to be from Guadalupe all the way to the lagoon a little farther than Battala, the whole area, including the Miskito communities over there.  What does that mean?  That if the government proposes, all these communities… the government will try to remove the people from those communities.  We have seen it in Trujillo.  The Garifuna community of Rio Negro disappeared.  They used the law to evict the people there.  The people didn’t want to sell.  So the government cited eminent domain.  They expropriated the land.  And now they have cruise ships come in there making millions of dollars for tourist companies.  And the people have no benefit from that.  From these cruise ships, the buses arrive there and take them to their hotels.   There is no benefit for the Garifuna community.  And that’s what they want to do for this whole zone. Vallecito is strategic because it is in the middle of all that territory.  And we have a lot of  sub soil resources.  There are studies that have been done and they say there is oil under this land.”


Miguel Facussé Barjum is one of them (that wants all this land).  Look where his land lies.   It starts in Limon and comes all the way up here.  You’ve seen the fence that goes for miles and miles and miles.   And he is on the other side too. 

VallecitoFenceMiguel FacusseCropped We drove for many miles with this fence along one side of the road. All that land is in the hands of Honduras’ largest landholder, African Palm magnate, owner of the Palm Oil refinery Dinant corporation, and boss to hundreds of “security personnel” some call a paramilitary, Miguel Facusse.                 Photo Steve Pavey

Miriam continues to address the assembly of Brigade youth:

       “We celebrate that you are mostly young people.  You can see in this campaign here, this brigade, 95 percent of you are young people. That is also a big challenge though.  There are a few of you from Sangrelaya (which is rural).  But most of you come from urban centers.   Those of you raised in urban centers have experienced changes, significant changes in your culture which is part of what we want to do here.  We hope that next year we will have a training center here for the recovery of the Garifuna culture.  And that’s what we want to do on the other side of the gate there.  We are going to build the center there.  Pech people came to help us with the adobe.  They cut the adobe.  There are many adobes there to install a training center to strengthen the recovery of the Garifuna people.  So you who are young people who do not know how to drum, or how to make drums, the traditional customs of making our traditional items.   You must be able to make drums also.  All our traditional crafts.  Many young women no longer know how to make Cassava bread so we are struggling to do that.  We have the right to be there.  To have a center for the recovery of Garifuna culture.”

VallecitoDirigentaCarolinaNuevaArmeniaCroppedDuring the Assembly Carolina spoke of their struggle against the officials in Nueva Armenia community, where the Garifuna are fighting to resist a land grab and prevent an eviction.                                                            Photo by Steve Pavey

Nahun Lalin, OFRANEH leader elaborated on Miriam’s words: 

    It is a hard job, acompaniment to recover our food security, with our youth.  It is important to remember our production knowledge.  A person who loses their land, they lose their identity as people of the land.  We need to change our daily habits.  Some communities stopped growing because they don’t have land and others because they just lost the habit of doing farming.  So we need to recover that part of our identity and to recover our food security. 

It is a very big challenge because there are many interests.  The Agrarian Institute for example.  We have spent three months trying to get them to move on this invasion (in Vallecito) and they have not done anything.  When there is an eviction order, those people should be removed immediately.  When there is an eviction order signed to remove Garifuna, it is executed right away.  They say we need to go the legal way but they only use the laws against us.  And when it’s trying to enforce the law in our favor, they don’t.  What happened in Barra Vieja and in Armenia where 50-100 armed men came to evict them.  Yet here in Vallecito no troops have arrived to remove these invaders in our land.”

VallecitoMarchBeanFieldCroppedLands in Vallecito belonging to the Garifuna have been invaded by campesinos of the area and planted in beans and other crops.  There was evidence of third party financing behind their agricultural activities, including use of tractors, leading to the supposition that these campesinos are in the employ of people with interests in access to the land for Narco trafficking purposes. 


Creek dug by persons invading the Garifuna lands in Vallecito, presumably for clandestine access to the sea for drug trafficking. Heavy machinery was employed.

Photos by Steve Pavey.

Alfredo Lopez, a veteran leader of OFRANEH from Triunfo de la Cruz spoke of the importance of communications by means of six community radio stations run in Garifuna communities.  Alfredo had been imprisoned without charges brought for more than six years starting in the late 1990s.   One of the first hearings and sentences issued by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights in a case relating to the Garifuna struggles helped provide sufficient pressure for his release.   He founded the first Garifuna community radio station there: Coco Dulce Radio. 

AlfredoLopezCroppedAlfredo Lopez spoke to us in Sambo Creek about the Vision and Struggle of OFRANEH

Photo by Steve Pavey

Garifuna community radio aims to strengthen the use of Garifuna language, inform and educate the community on issues relating to Garifuna well being, and provide local news, music, sports and cultural programming.  Garifuna community radio also trains young people to broadcast and prepare radio programming, and do community based journalism.  The results of this effort in six community radio stations and in media trainings OFRANEH has organized, have been decisive in various campaigns and actions by OFRANEH in defense of Garifuna territorial integrity, as can be seen by many excellent videos and audio posted on the OFRANEH website, blog, facebook, etc…  Recently CONATEL, the government ministry regulating communications, sent a letter threatening to shut down the community radio station in Sambo Creek, saying it is using a bandwidth with permission.   Alfredo Lopez informed us that there is no mechanism currently in place that community radio stations could use to legalize their status.  The Garifuna radio stations are currently operated under the protections of Convention 169 for indigenous peoples’ autonomy in their territories, but this Convention is constantly being violated.

RadioSuguaCroppedCommunity Radio Sugua in Sambo Creek, a Garifuna community east of La Ceiba, Honduras

Photo by Stephen Bartlett    

 Alfredo Lopez sees hope in recent decisions taken by the Inter American Commission on human Rights.  He described the hearing in Costa Rica as historic.  He said that the ceremony invoking the aid of the ancesters that was enacted in the hearing room by the Garifuna delegates was so powerful that when it came time for the government to testify, first their power point did not work, and then the electricity in the whole building went out, frustrating the government representatives.   Soon their time elapsed before they had finished what they wanted to say and their frustration was evident.  Cross examination of the government testimony displayed impatience and annoyance on the part of the judges of what the government spokesperson had said.  OFRANEH expects the decision from this hearing to be issued before the end of the year.   Alfredo also said that in addition to two other cases accepted but pending by the tribunal, a fifth case was accepted by the court in the record-breaking time of only four months. That case concerns Puerto Cortez, which evidence now available is showing that the entire Port there was built on what was Garifuna land, similar to the Port in Castillo.


The whole issue of migration is a critical one in the struggle to defend Garifuna territory and culture.  Miriam in dialog with the AMI delegates broached the topic of immigration in a very clear way while addressing the assembly:   

“We were in New York recently.  A large group of Garifuna women who went with their children had these electronic ankle bracelets on their ankles.  You’ve seen them on facebook right?  They say that they cannot leave the city.  They are being constantly monitored.  It is a nightmare for them.  The American Dream has fallen.  Because there is a crisis there.  There in Detroit where they built cars and now they are so poor.  It is incredible to see abandoned houses just like that everywhere.   There are huge sky scrapers in Detroit that are just empty.  And if  you walk where the Garifuna live in NY you see all the garbage.  You see people without jobs.  People without work because there is a crisis.”

VallecitoMiriam&BrigadeNearBeachCroppedMiriam speaking about the invasion of lands in Vallecito.  Nahun Lalin in center. Photo by Steve Pavey

 Miriam continues:  

I agree with what Stephen Bartlett said (when talking about a Three Sisters Ag Cooperative he coordinates in Kentucky_)  The liberation of ours starts because we can plant what we eat. This is food sovereignty.  There is a big job to do in the social movements of Honduras and everywhere because the people have to know that they need to produce.  That’s why we are pushing for production here.  We want what is beginning to exist here in Vallecito to spread across Honduras and to all our Garifuna communities.  To bring the autonomy and the sovereignty of our peoples.  If we continue to consume, it doesn’t matter how much we shout and protest.  We may have big protests and big slogans,  on May 1st for example.  Great big marches.  All the workers march and they save money all year to buy the paint for the big banners.  And the social movements say “march” and they march.  People go in and shout “ the people united will never be defeated”  but they don’t produce.   They are still consumers.  It is a contradiction.  We need to work to become producers.  We need new forms of struggle.  When you touch the pocket book…that is the surest way to overcome our enemies.   This process of recovering,  reaffirming our connections to the soil to our communities, to our land.  We were in NY for the march on climate change and there is a very strong struggle there.  So although there are many in solidarity there, yet, if there is not a change in the model of life, in the behavior of consumerism, there is no real struggle.  What will happen when all the energy is consumed?” 

VallecitoWateringChiles2CroppedYouth Brigade member waters a pepper plant in kitchen garden/farm in Vallecito, the new center for Garifuna struggle for autonomy and self determination.                                    Photo by Steve Pavey.

Agricultural Missions delegation:   Our delegation was struck by the strength and resilience of the coastal Garifuna communities we visited.  The Garifuna people are blessed by fisheries and lands rich in biodiversity and fertility, which they have stewarded so well since their arrival here on this coast more than 200 years ago.  Sea fishing, freshwater fishing, gathering of crabs and shrimp, growing of cassava, bananas, plantains, wild fruits and vegetables, the preparation of delicious casaba  and coconut breads.

BatallaFishDryingFresh fish drying in Batalla, near ruins from Gamma storm.  Photo by Steve Pavey

  Their diet is wonderful and their subsistence economy rich and agreeable.  Going back and strengthening those roots under the banner of food sovereignty is indeed  a recipe for long term endurance and cultural resilience, and a basis upon which to continue to struggle for a democratic Honduras.  We applaud the work of OFRANEH and the Garifuna communities they accompany and advocate for and with!!  We will do what we can to stand with them in solidarity.

TriunfoChildrenBeach Garifuna children on beach in Triunfo de la Cruz, Tela Bay, Honduras.  photo  by Steve Pavey.

 For more information and how to join Agricultural Missions and others in solidarity with OFRANEH and the rural social movements of Honduras, contact Stephen Bartlett:  sbartlett@ag-missions.org  502 896 9171






Vallecito: Contested Sanctuary and Source of Life for the Garifuna People in Honduras

Ag Missions’ Honduras Delegation Journal October 20-23, 2014

By Stephen Bartlett

Part V:  Vallecito:   Contested Sanctuary for Garifuna Cooperative, Lands for Resettlement,  Indigenous Agri-Cultural Educational Center. 

The Vision and the Step-by-Step Realization of that Vision.


Garifuna Encampment, Cultural Resistance.  (Lombardo Lacayo is a founding hero of OFRANEH).    Photo by Steve Pavey.

The recovery of Vallecito began in August of 2012, with a mass encampment determined to push for the resurveying of the land by the National Agrarian Institute (INA).  Paramilitaries in the employ of the Narco Trafficker who had invaded the lands shot off their automatic weapons for weeks on end in an attempt to intimidate the Garifuna, but the Ancestors had been summoned by the ceremonies and drumming and dances continued into the nights, day after day, and night after night, as national and international solidarity (among them Ag Missions) applied pressure to the Honduran government to provide security so that the surveying could proceed.  And it did proceed, finally, and the INA confirmed what everyone knew already:  the land belonged to Garifuna cooperatives, all 2,500 acres of it.   In 2013 Ag Missions co-organized a gathering in Vallecito attended by 250 people representing six indigenous delegations, a US contingent and a Salvadoran delegation organized by Ag Missions, to learn more and to help OFRANEH consolidate their land recovery.


Garifuna Youth who do community radio programming who attended the Ag Missions-OFRANEH assembly in 2013.  Photo by Stephen Bartlett

On this occasion more than a year later our delegation arrived in Vallecito in the dark after many hours journey from the far east of Honduras, after skirting sand dunes and driving dangerously into the surf to cross the mouth of the Iriona river.  We had crossed through Garifuna communities such as Tocamacho, Cusuna, Punta Piedra , Sangrelaya.  Supper was being served, and a generator was running so there were a few lights on in the outbuildings that have come to represent a new project of hope for the Garifuna people.  Many young adult Garifuna were present, 60 we learned the next day.  We set up our tents by flashlight as the drums and cries and banter of youthful fun resounded into the humid darkness, and settled in to be part of a Rural and Urban Youth Agriculture Brigade.  In the morning, we were awakened by calls to work crews and headed out to see how we could participate.


A youth Brigadista waters sweet chile pepper plants in the Kitchen Garden Field.  Photo by Steve Pavey.

Several brigades had spent time in Vallecito in the past months and I could see a lot of progress had been made.  The large kitchen garden was the most visible, close by the outdoor kitchen and food supply outbuilding and protected behind a barbed wire fence.  In that garden were planted plantains, cassava, chiles, sweet potatoes, pineapple, squashes, lemongrass, and there was a cluster of sprouted coconuts ready for transplanting. 


Kitchen and pantry outbuilding beside community kitchen garden.   Photo by S. Bartlett

In front of the kitchen garden, conveniently located under the raised cistern, was a tree nursery, where mahogany and other reforestation trees were already developing into saplings.  A workshop organized by the official Vallecito agronomist and trainer Henry Morales advanced the work in the tree nursery.  Youth in the brigade learned to prepare a good soil mix for the plastic starter bags and to prepare sprouts for various beach dwelling fruit species to be planted in those starters.


Sprouts of the camacama tree seeds being transplanted into starter bags. Photo S. Pavey


Mahogany tree saplings developing in tree nursery, investments in the future. Photo S. Pavey


Garifuna agronomist Henry Morales, teaches youth planting techniques. Photo S. Pavey


Young adult Brigadistas prepare plastic starter bags with mix of sand, compost and soil.

Photo by Steve Pavey.

Other work crews mobilized to mow grassy areas around ranchitos where a new ceremonial area and educational center building is slated to be built, using adobe cut by a Pech* brigade.  (*the Pech are one of the indigenous peoples of Honduras who provided the adobe cutting work in solidarity with the Garifuna efforts.)


Photo by Stephen Bartlett


With the heat index near 100 degrees F, this field work was no joke.  One of our delegation members  (hmmm, myself)  only managed to swing the machete for about five minutes before blisters and overheating set in.  Photo by Steve Pavey


Sharpening machetes with a hand file to cut the tough grasses and woody weeds.  Photo by Steve Pavey

After work sessions, the Brigadistas return to camp for meals, where a crew of cooks keep busy feeding the field workers.



Wonderful wheat flour tortillas were a staple in Vallecito.  Photo by Steve Pavey.


To slake our thirst I split a coconut we were given in Batalla, a variety called “tanque” or “tank” because of how much coconut water there is inside.    It is one of the few that is resistant to the lethal yellowing disease that has wiped out so many coconut groves in Honduras.


The daughter of a Brigadista enjoys some fresh soft coconut meat.

The next morning is time to inspect the beachfront lands of Vallecito, so OFRANEH organizes a long walk there. 


Photo by Steve Pavey


 The former landing strip used by the Narco Traffickers had been damaged by the army last August who dynamited craters.  Campesinos evidently in the employ of some Narco attempted to fill in the craters using pine logs.  It was when this was discovered that Miriam Miranda and other OFRANEH leaders were nearly kidnapped.  Since that time Miriam has been assigned a security force as she has been issued a protective order.


The inspection of the lands near the beach reveal that the Narco’s have brought in machinery to dig a creek for clandestine boat entry.

Photo by Stephen Bartlett

And in addition large areas have been plowed and planted in a variety of crops, including corn, beans, rice, tomatoes.


Miriam with ceremonial incense burner views the tomato patch planted by the invading campesinos in the employ of someone with money intent on holding onto this land, presumably for the drug trafficking activities.  Photo by Stephen Bartlett

???????????????????????????????Inspection of Garifuna beach front lands.  Danita Nelson of AMI delegation in foreground.

Photo by Stephen Bartlett

Understanding the forces behind the continued occupation of the Garifuna lands, OFRANEH must now take the fight back to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa and the Institute for Agrarian Reform to push until they complete the procedures of land recovery that their land survey initiated, including the eviction of the invading settlers in the pay of organized crime groups, individuals or families.

The effort to resettle this land in Vallecito is making strides.  Many of the gates built by the Narco invader have been removed.  Agricultural production is expanding, including a whole acre of land planted in plantains and other staple foods, using sustainable practices designed to maintain soil fertility.  The youth are being engaged and trained to tend to plants and to live off the land, with rural youth in a leadership position with their urban peers.


Photo by Steve Pavey

  In the final photo essay of this series, Part VI, we will address the big picture being envisioned by OFRANEH leadership and how Vallecito fits into that picture.

Stay tuned!!

Garifuna communities in Trujillo and Puerto Castillo endure collective displacement, fisheries contamination, threats to fresh water.

Ag Missions’ Honduras Delegation Journal October 23-24, 2014

Part IV:  Garifuna communities in Trujillo and Puerto Castillo endure collective displacement, fisheries contamination, threats to fresh water.

Photos in this post by Steve Pavey


This photo shows the Port of Castillo in the distance, lands taken from Garifuna in the 80s who were forced to relocate to their current overcrowded location.  A naval base was also established in the Port area.  These facilities have contaminated the surrounding waters with toxic chemicals, causing a decrease in the health of the surrounding fisheries.

The towns of Trujillo and Puerto Castillo are in the heart of Garifuna territories on the Northern Honduran coast.  OFRANEH has been in a long term relationship of solidarity with these communities, whose ancestral territories encompass large swaths of this geographically significant peninsula with a sweeping northern point that shelters a very large bay and to the west of the peninsula a very large freshwater lagoon to the east. 


OFRANEH leader from Trujillo, Carmen Blanco.


Betty was among those forced to leave her home in Cristales when the Port Authority forced them out, and confirms that the overcrowding and marginalization in Puerto Castillo are difficult to endure.    Betty said: “If we had known then what we do now, we never would have allowed them to make us leave.” 

Our delegation heard from the local leaders of Puerto Castillo, who laid out their history of displacement, and their current faceoff with local authorities over issues of overcrowding, economic marginalization and threats to their freshwater supply.  These grievances led to a firm but peaceful protest and road blockade that was violently repressed this past May.  (to see video of this police action that imperiled the residents of Puerto Castillo, go to:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVKU6PM2rEU

We saw a Persian window broken by a tear gas bomb as the peaceful protest was violently repressed.  An infant less than 1 year old  and many other small children were nearly asphyxiated by tear gas bombs shot into peoples’ homes, as the police rampaged into the town.   The residents evacuated the affected children to a boat in the bay.  A witness recounted to us: “We told the police to stop firing the tear gas, that infants were being asphyxiated. “  One of the soldiers replied:  “Let them drown.”


One of the leaders of the Water Board of Puerto Castillo explained that their water supply comes from springs located in far off mountains we could see across the large bay, and delivered through pipes that were built by the United Fruit Company, a system they had built for their own operations (aka during the making of the Banana Republic of Honduras that took over prime lands for banana production).  As part of the deal when United Fruit finally left the area, the water system was turned over to the local people, which provided them with safe water for decades.    For the past decades, this water has served the people of Puerto Castillo and also the Port and Naval Base, who never paid a penny for their access to this community water supply.  However, recently the water supply has been irregular, partly due to dry spells, but also due to damage being done to the springs and the water tubes there, as the municipality of Trujillo does construction work to build a sewage system for the urban dwellers there.  Extensive damage was done to the water pipes at the source due to this construction work, and Puerto Castillo experienced 3 full days with no fresh water at all.  The people were extremely angry at this threat to their lives in this community.


Puerto Castillo leader of the Water Board, daughter of former President of the Local Council and public school teacher.

When the Garifuna communities of Cristales were displaced by the Port Authority to build the Deep Water Port, they were relocated into what is today Puerto Castillo town.  There the wooden houses were built in tight lines with no space for gardens, trees, etc… a very different situation from their previous community that provided ample room, including for agricultural production.


Puerto Castillo town suffers from overcrowding, lack of space for gardens, economic privation, threats to their water supply and now violent repression when they protest these conditions.

The people of Puerto Castillo therefore are demanding the right to expand their community to lands that were considered to be ancestral Garifuna lands to the south of the town of Puerto Castillo.  However, private interests have interceded and have used legal maneuvers and police raids to cut off the community access to adjacent lands.  Homes built on those claimed lands have been destroyed on several occasions by authorities.  We met this man who due to lack of land is now squatting on the roadside opposite lands the road from lands the community have claimed. 


Squatter on roadside outside of Puerto Castillo. 

The President of the Patronato of Puerto Castillo (see photo below) confirmed these issues with us and asked for our solidarity.  He decried the use of police forces using tear gas as an offensive weapon and rubber bullets and larger projectiles in the violent repression of the town.  He said the community had tried all procedural means to improve their situation and what was left to them was to block the road leading to the Port, which triggered the violent repression.


President of the Patronato of Puerto Castillo, a very articulate, warm and friendly young man.

See this link for a photo of police repression:  http://www.laprensa.hn/honduras/regionales/711018-286/desalojan-a-pobladores-en-toma-de-carretera-a-puerto-de-castilla

Meanwhile, back in Trujillo itself at the foot of the peninsula, we saw the results of the Banana Coast tourist enterprise developed by the Randy Jorgensen, known as the “Porn King” of Canada.  The Banana Coast company managed to displace an entire Garifuna community that lived in the center of Trujillo, through pressure and buying out local people’s plots.


 A large area in the downtown area of Trujillo and many hopes were displaced by this Canadian “investor” where Cruise Ships now drop off tourists who are bused away to his private facility, leaving almost no trickle down to the local economy. 

So in the name of “development” “progress” and in line with the slogan coined for Honduras by successor governments of the 2009 coup,  Honduras is: “open for business.”   The wealthy elite that overthrew the democratically elected government of Mel Zelaya are in collaboration with foreign investors who encroach upon Garifuna and other indigenous peoples’ and campesino community lands.  One result:   local struggles to preserve the necessities of life such as water and enough space to live in, such as that struggle of the people of Puerto Castillo are violently crushed. 

Before you take your next tourist trip, you just might ask yourself… “ Hmmm, I wonder what lies behind the benign message of this billboard?”  Who could know that a “Porn King” and displacement of peoples lay behind that?


All photos in this post by Steve Pavey.



Climate Change Displacement from Batalla and Tocamacho, Honduras: AMI Delegation Journal Part III

Ag Missions’ Honduras Delegation Journal October 19-20, 2014

Part III:  Climate Change Displacement from Batalla and Tocamacho:  Two Garifuna Communities On the Front Line.


Selvin of OFRANEH and his son Benedict in Batalla, Photo by Steve Pavey.

Our last morning in Batalla we were introduced by our OFRANEH companion Selvin to Roberto Ariola and Leslie Flores, a young couple who were settling in to a new hamlet called Dagadagati as refugees of the storm provoked by tropical storm Gamma in 2005.  They had paddled dugout canoes over from Dagadagati, and wanted to tell us their story. 


From left Selvin, Roberto, myself Stephen and Leslie, photo by Steve Pavey

We agreed to visit their place across the Lagoon and they said they would paddle us over.


No problem for Roberto and Leslie to take us to their resettlement community across the big Lagoon.  Photo by Steve Pavey.

We were surprised that Leslie, the captain of our dugout, admitted to not knowing how to swim, additional motivation to not have us tip over.  These boats felt very very tippy. 

Our guides kept us from tipping on the way over to Dagadagati community.


Photo by Steve Pavey.

Quite a number of families displaced by Gamma had settled in Dagadagati community.  Their children would paddle their dugouts in order to attend school on the far east side of the Lagoon.  We were impressed at the intensive and orderly agriculture taking place in Dagadagati community.


Cassava, plantains, coconuts were in abundance in Dagadagati, settled after 2005 storm. Photo by Steve Pavey.

OFRANEH had helped these folk get some support for housing from a Honduran government program, but the house design was poor (the houses were far too small and divided into tiny impractical rooms within).  In addition, the funds dried up before the houses even had doors and windows, so the displaced settlers had to figure out how to do the finishing themselves, according to their means.  Here is the entranceway to the home of our guide Roberto, still without a paved floor.


Photo by Steve Pavey.

Residents of the new community reported that they were having a land dispute with non-Garifuna folk who had moved into the area, limiting the amount of land available for their agricultural production. 

Kitchen gardens had been planted, with a variety of vegetables being grown, including okra, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and of course the staples of cassava, bananas, plantains.  Their kitchens separate from their houses were very functional.


Photo by Steve Pavey

We met a nurse in the community who was also working with the local residents on basic health and prevention, and had a special mosquito net treated with chemicals in order to kill malaria-carrying mosquitos.  Selvin, the OFRANEH guide, discussed the possibility with the nurse/health promotor of finding ways to treat poisonous snake bites by traditional means, as there are very poisonous snakes in this area.  The yards of the residents were kept clear of any vegetation in order to minimize the likelihood of snakes coming too close. 

Finally it was time to return to Batalla and this time I got to paddle along with Leslie, which was helpful as we were heading right into a brisk wind.


 Leslie is pointing to our destination in Batalla.  Photo by Stephen Bartlett

Later that day as we traveled west along the beaches of the narrowing peninsula between the Caribbean Sea and the Fresh water Lagoons inland, we got testimony from the President of the Patronato (local council) of Tocamacho.


Geronimo Palacios, President of the Patronato of Tocamacho.  Photo by Steve Pavey.

Geronimo told us that when he was young, from his house you could not even see the Sea, observing that the Sea had taken away a great deal of land, including many homes and trees, etc… over the years.  Standing besides his house, we could see the Caribbean only about 150 feet away. 

   As we continued our way westerwardly, we saw strong evidence that what Geronomi had told us was absolutely true, such as mangroves dying due to exposure to the surf and erosion of the roots of almond and beachgrape trees.  The level of the Sea was definitely rising, taking with it acres and across of beach front, many of which had been occupied in the past by peoples homes, and by a variety of trees.


Photo by Steve Pavey.

Our journey back west could not have succeeded, however, if it were not for some fancy driving on the part of Oscar Gamboa, our OFRANEH chauffeur.  We had to navigate across the mouth of the Iriona river, and to do so required driving out into the surf and trying to keep on the sand bar and not be overcome by the sea and surf.  Our four wheel drive vehicle just managed to do so, despite the right front wheel falling off the sandbar into deep water at one point.  In the following photo, you see the Iriona River heading out to a beach head, where we were to meet our destiny… well, since you are reading this, I guess you can tell that we didn’t drown or have our camera equipment ruined by salt water.


 Photo by Steve Pavey



Climate Change on Coastal Wetlands Impacts Garifuna Livelihoods & Culture

Ag Missions’ Honduras Delegation Journal October 19-20, 2014

Part II:   Threats to Garifuna Livelihood from Climate Change: visit to the remote shrinking community of Batalla.


Photo of Freshwater Lagune and Coyuco (dugout) behind Batalla community,

photo by Stephen Bartlett


As we report about the catastrophe that befell the community of Batalla in November, 2005, the origin story of the Garifuna people is worth repeating:  the Garifuna (Kaliganu) are descendants of Indigenous Taino and Carib peoples who sheltered and merged with Africans whose slave boat ran aground on the island of St. Vincent, allowing them to escape the trauma of chattel slavery.  There they took on the subsistence agriculture and fishing culture of the Taino-Carib peoples, alongside small-holder French settlers.   The Garifuna survivors of the subsequent defeat of both the French and Garifuna who fought together against usurper British plantation barons and their military, were shipped as prisoners of war to Roatán off what is today the Honduran coast, left basically to fend for themselves, and from there using dugout canoes the surviving community settled what was then loosely governed British Honduras on the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.  Today they speak the Garifuna language, composed of Taino and Carib, and smatterings of European and African languages, languages that have otherwise gone extinct or nearly so, and practice an ancient spirituality borne of their ancestral cultures.  In the Garifuna coastal economy, the men traditionally do the fishing and clearing work, while the women engage in agriculture and food processing, famous for their cassava breads and coconut-flavored fish dishes and breads.


Cassava partially weeded in Dagadagati settlement adjacent to Batalla, photo by Stephen Bartlett


Cassava Bread Comal Stove, aka 2014 in Dagadagati, where survivors of Gamma have settled.

Photo by Stephen Bartlett.

 The Garifuna are a robust, joyful and strong people very much at home in their rich coastal communities, with a long history of resistance and endurance, and they have lived in these places from a time many years before the nation of Honduras came to exist, and fought  with distinction alongside the famous Honduran independence fighter Morazan.

The name of the farthest east Garifuna community is Batalla, which is Spanish for ¨battle¨:  local folk said this name referred either to a battle the Garifuna warriors won against British pirates or the name of a wooden basin used in the processing of cassava.    To reach this community we traveled in an ably-driven four wheel drive pickup truck, and were forced to cross a deep creek that filled the floor of the truck with water seeping through the door but fortunately did not kill the engine, and to navigate across a rustic bridge across a swamp, as well as move through sand and all manner of ruts for several hours. 

Amidst wonderful hospitality we received in Batalla, we learned of the November, 2005 catastrophe of extreme weather that struck this community:  tropical storm Gamma.  While in the village I composed this poem about what we learned, entitled:  ¨Gamma Waves.¨

 ¨Gamma Waves¨.

November 18, 2005

The Earth lay saturated by heavy November rains

When tropical storm Gamma hovered south of Batalla

Over inland hills and mountains denuded for cattle pastures

Two rivers merged, flooded the inland lagune:

a rising torrent of water, seeking a way to the sea

The peninsula ceded, sand dunes breached

Houses filled with water in the dark

Then the newborn outlet rushed, widened, accelerated

Sweeping to sea 35 houses, the walls of the primary school

Acres of almond, beachgrape, coconut palm

3 humans died, one a child, the rest were rescued

In launches, dugouts, on foot

There was no evacuation possible

Batalla village lies near the eastern end of the peninsula

Where that fateful day

 Lagune and sea joined all along in ragged channels

Those were the Gamma waves of climate change.


Benedict, a young resident of Batalla, poses before sand dune expanse where 35 houses, coconut palms and other trees once stood before the breach from the Lagune caused by Tropical Storm Gamma.  Photo by Stephen Bartlett


Now vacant lands where 35 houses and orchard and woodlots were swept away, note frame of school in distance.       Photo by Stephen Bartlett


Destroyed and abandoned primary school in Gamma flood plain.  Photo by Stephen Bartlett

One could ask whether this was merely an unfortunate act of nature.  However, leaders and residents of Batalla categorized this catastrophe as ¨man-made¨ for the following reasons:  1) in the long history of their community they had never seen the lagune take on so much water so quickly and attribute this to a climate change-related phenomenon; 2)  the hills and mountains inland from Batalla community had been deforested by predominantly non-Garifuna people moving in to customary Garifuna territory to engage in cattle ranging and logging, 3) the peninsula itself has been narrowing all along in what appears to be a steady rise in the sea level and storm surges, 4) some mangroves in the area have begun to die due to salinazation and 5)  there is no other explanation for this extreme occurrence besides the increase and intensity of extreme weather, intensity of rainfalls, etc… as well as the rise of sea surges, etc…all of which can reasonably explain what occurred as a result of the Gamma storm. 

The President of the local Patronato of Batalla, town, Carol Figueroa gave additional testimony of the threats to their livelihoods and lives.  He said that the government of Honduras had signed a contract with a foreign oil corporation, BG group out of the United Kingdom, to explore and drill for oil all along the coastline and in the fishing grounds of Garifuna and Miskito communities.  This, he said, had been done in violation of Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization of the U.N. that requires by the Honduran constitution (a signatory of this Convention) to undertake prior, free and full consultation dependent on the consent of the Garifuna people before such projects can be undertaken.  He noted too that BG group had offered annual funds of 200,000 Lempiras (about $10,000 USD) for community projects if we were to agree to their oil exploration, an offer they had so far rejected.  Therefore, he said, this concession signed by the Honduran government, was illegal and the Garifuna residents of Batalla and OFRANEH were insistent that a genuine consultation with full transparency and disclosure of the likely impacts of such a project must be done before any search and drilling for oil.


President of Batalla Patronato, Muncicipal Clerk and Water Board President, Carol Figueroa photo S Bartlett

 Carol asked our delegation to find ways to research the history of BG Group and of the likely impacts of oil drilling in their fragile coastal ecosystem.  The Garifuna people, he insisted, could not continue to exist as a people without the economic benefit of healthy fisheries, pure water, freedom from pollution, and areas to grow their subsistence crops.  He also lamented that more was not being done to provide opportunities to youth in order that they could remain in their communities.  Instead, he said, our youth find it necessary to migrate to far away cities and even to the U.S. in order to find work.  What is needed are scholarships and educational and vocational opportunities here in their home communities.   He asked us how this might be achieved.  Steve Pavey of our delegation offered to connect the Batalla leadership with an international effort of young immigrants that recently held an international gathering in Mexico City to find ways to support their communities of origin and apply their educational advances and increasing international networking for the betterment of their home communities.


Due to scarcity of large trees, this dugout canoe is worth today equivalent of $300 USD.

Photo by S. Bartlett

(Part II with survivors of Gamma and leader of Tocamacho, to be continued tomorrow…)