[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #11 in July 2010]
In the US, as in other countries that are imperial political and economic centers for migration from the lands under their domination, migrants (immigrants) often organize around bi-national issues. Organizing in the US might focus on immigrant rights, local politics, or community issues. Sustained connections to organizing in the home country might include sending money to build a church or schools, supporting political parties, social justice struggles, or even revolutions. The Here and There intermix, especially when the migrants look at the causes of their migration. Coming to understand these forces brings the Here and There even closer together because of the role US policy and intervention play in the home country and the interdependence of the struggles in both countries.
On June 28, 2009, a coup occurred in Honduras. For many people, even in the Latin American solidarity movement, it was the first time that Honduras, or more importantly the Honduran people’s movement, came into their line of sight. The instantaneous mobilization and organization of hundreds of thousands of people, who took to the streets daily for months, and the continued massive resistance for nearly two years has been a surprise for many. The spontaneous resistance of so many people who had never been activists is inspiring, but organizing among campesinos, indigenous peoples, teachers and trade unions has a long history before the coup. This established organizational base provided the skeleton around which the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) was formed. The campesinos, the indigenous peoples, the teachers and the trade unions are what the Hondurans have come to call the four “pillars” of their movement.
La Voz de los de Abajo grew out of a solidarity response to the natural and unnatural disaster caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 in Honduras. The group, composed of solidarity, community and immigrant rights activists, coalesced around a vision of: People to People, Community to Community, Solidarity not Charity. In Chicago, we worked mainly, but not exclusively, in the Pilsen and Little Village communities. In Honduras we worked with the organized campesinos and with the indigenous communities. For these Honduran communities and organizations, resistance has been a permanent fact of life. The poor and landless campesinos’ movement for land is permanently in conflict with the agri-business oligarchy including the notorious coup organizer, Miguel Facusse. Land recuperation by the campesinos has met with violent evictions, detentions and assassinations since before the 1950s. The campesinos working on the banana plantations organized the legendary strike of 1954 against Standard Fruit. The indigenous communities, including the Garifuna, have also struggled against these same repressive oligarchs and international companies to keep their ancestral lands and maintain their cultures. Teachers and other public employee workers have formed the backbone of union struggles against privatization and the neoliberal program since the 1990s.
When we began our work, La Voz analyzed how to actually do something that could be sustainable and meaningful with our limited resources. We developed a strategy of building ties between sectors in the Chicago community with specific communities and projects in Honduras. We also focused on projects that, although modest, could help the organizations in Honduras do their work. For example, radio stations in campesino communities, with control of programming entirely in the hands of the organized campesinos, provide an organizing tool for education, mobilization, communication and for building the organization itself and developing the members’ capacities.
In the late 1990s, Honduras was far from having a high profile internationally; Chicago is not a major center for Honduran migration in the US. Although there were and are Hondurans involved in our organization, we work in a community that is mainly Mexican. Building ties meant building recognition that the struggles are in common.
Building partnerships with local groups for specific projects, such as Radio Populares (RaPo) to build radio stations and Chicago-based artists to create mural projects for communities and organizations in Honduras, became a way to interlace the struggles Here and There, to weave a fabric of solidarity. This work contributes to building community among the people and organizations working together Here, and at the same time connects to the people and struggle There. There, the main effect has been to break the feeling of isolation and to contribute, in a small way, concretely to the people’s organizing in Honduras.
The June 28, 2009 coup d’état created an emergency situation for solidarity work and also brought an urgency to the Here and There question of what relationship migrants have to the struggle in their home country.
During the wars in El Salvador and Guate-mala in the 1980s most migrants arriving in the US were war refugees or political exiles. A core of them were sympathizers of the revolutionary organizations in their home country. They formed organizations that were explicitly political in support of the struggle in their countries and that also organized services and advocated for their communities in the US. The situation with Honduras is somewhat different.
Honduras, like the rest of Mesoamerica is a country of forced economic migration. According to a 2007 Pew Hispanic Center study, there are 527,000 Hondurans in the United States; 71% were born in Honduras. But since the 2009 Honduran coup there have not yet been large numbers of political refugees arriving in the US with the idea of organizing in the diaspora. New York, Florida and California have the largest established concentrations of Honduran migrants but the communities have not been highly organized. There were also divisions in the Honduran migrant community regarding the coup. A group in the Chicago area (Hondureños Unidos), for example, came out in support of the coup. However, a number of existing groups did come out against the coup, and Hondurans opposed to the coup and supporting the resistance also organized new groups.
In Honduras, the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) initially formed as the National Front Against the Coup, came together within days of the coup. The FNRP has become an umbrella group in which existing organizations (trade unions, left groups, campesino groups, indigenous groups), new groups of anti-coup dissidents from the traditional parties, and even large numbers of individuals who are only loosely organized formed a unified voice, strategy and actions against the coup.
After the current regime of Porfirio Lobo came to power through the illegitimate elections of November 2009, the resistance focused discussion on a struggle beyond overturning the coup. They began to envision a radical refounding of the country based on the needs of the majority of Hondurans. The Frente began structuring itself for that longer-term fight through local and regional assemblies. In February of this year, it held the first national assembly of the FNPR with more than 1500 delegates. This effort to unite groups with different ideological, regional, and sectoral interests around a program for refounding the country is full of debate and fragility but also is vigorous and creative.
The Frente has also developed a concept to formally integrate the Here and There by forming the 19th Department. Departments are the equivalent of states, and there are 18 departments in Honduras. The 19th Department is composed of the Honduran diaspora, living in the centers of Honduran immigration (United States, Spain, Canada, etc.). This is a unique idea. More commonly migrants organize solidarity with the struggle in their home country, and this organizing has traditionally been similar to the work that non-migrants would do. However, the FNRP has requested an organized migrant participation in connection to the resistance and refounding process in Honduras, beyond solidarity organizing.
The challenge, for the Frente and the Hondurans in diaspora, is making the 19th Department something real and functional, not symbolic. The 19th Department seems to have some important differences from the other 18 departments. In Honduras, the people are organized around their own sectoral political struggles (union, land, women, etc.), which are in direct confrontation with the dictatorship, and they are organized directly against the coup and coup governments. In all the departments there are groups that existed prior to the coup or formed after the coup that have diverse opinions, ideologies and practices. They have unity on big questions—human rights, the refounding of the country, and so forth—but disagreements on many other questions. As the coup has persisted, and the repression and pressures felt by the resistance have increased, these disagreements have sharpened. In the 19th Department this is further complicated by the small, often very new, organizations that have not come out of more organic organizing over time. It is even further complicated by geographic isolation from each other and from their home country. The 19th Department is not fully formed. If it is able to move forward, exactly how it will work Here and There remains an open question.
As time goes on though, ideas about Here and There continue to germinate. In recent presentations in the United States, a representative of the FNRP, Gerardo Torres, talked about solidarity with Honduras and emphasized even more the importance of Here and There coming together in recognition of the commonality of the goals of the peoples’ movements. Here and There share a common enemy in these moments—the US government and the ruling elites in all countries. This truth brings to mind other initiatives for bringing Here and There together, such as the Bolivarian Circles organized around the world in solidarity with the Venezuelan revolutionary process and around local struggles, as well as the Zapatista’s concept of a worldwide “movement from below” based on Zapatista principles.
While this article was being written (April 2011) army and police troops continued to attack protests of teachers and other resistance members, two more campesino activists were assassinated and there was an attempted assassination of the director of an anti-coup community radio station. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Clinton congratulated Porfirio Lobo for advances in human rights and the US continues military and security aid to the regime and its partnership with the oligarchy.
There and Here the situations are different but the themes are the same: militarization and privatization. Here and There, we are called to act together.
For more information on how to work Here with the Honduran people in resistance, contact La Voz de los de Abajo firstname.lastname@example.org and see http://hondurasresists.blogspot.com