COPINH, a revolutionary and revitalizing force in Honduras

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By Roverto Barra / Source: Colombia Informa / March 20, 2018

On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), two years after the assassination on March 2 of Berta Cáceres, the indigenous environmentalist revolutionary leader of the COPINH, we share a part 2 of a text about the history of this organization which, alongside other organizations, helped revolutionize the contemporary social movement in Honduras.

Banner reads: For life, No mining! COPINH

The struggle for the liberation of women

In the midst of the mass struggles for rights on a national level in Honduras and the push towards unity amongst the diverse social movements and organizations, the women of the COPINH began a long journey of rising up and fighting for their rights.

One of the first important struggles was the awareness brought about discrimination and violence within the organization, following which several people perpetuating such abuse against women were debarred from the organization, thanks to the courage and tireless struggle of leaders like Doña Pascualita and Berta Cáceres. Bringing these issues to the forefront faced many challenges. For example, when the first Women’s Assembly of COPINH was launched, members of the organization thought that it would create divisions. However it was an important step in strengthening the internal structure of the organization.

For Berta it was not possible to advance the anti-patriarchal and anti-racist struggle without fighting against violence against women in all of its forms within the organization. They worked for the permanent incorporation of women in the structures of the organization, as well as engaging female comrades in political education of all aspects of the struggle so that they would be part of the organizational work of COPINH and in its communities.

Berta said that “the anti-patriarchal struggle is a vision that is expressed in all areas of work of COPINH from its beginning…This anti-patriarchal idea intersects with all the areas of organization because we want the machismo culture to be changed, we want to achieve equal rights and have participation with benefits in the organization. Considering that we as women are different people and with different stories but not with unequal rights, and with this struggle we demand that the decisions and thoughts of women be valued in the family, in the economy, in politics, and in the organizational development of the country and the world.”

For Berta it was also a permanent need to protect women and children who were victims of violence. Her dream was to have a safe space for female comrades who were abused or attacked. Years later this dream began to take shape with the proposal to build a shelter for women. In 2015 the House of Healing and Justice of the Women of COPINH was finally inaugurated. There were many other struggles and efforts as well. For example, COPINH promoted the Women’s Courts, a space to denounce violence and share strategies of resistance, along with other organizations of women. There were also spaces arranged for encounter among indigenous women.
Berta in the Women’s Court in 2010. Photo credit: COPINH

Accompanied by Berta Cáceres, the women of COPINH brought forth important struggles for the defense of the land. An important example was the resistance of the women in the community of San Antonio to stop the El Tigre dam, in the Lempa River on the border with El Salvador. Thousands of women, along with Berta and COPINH, marched innumerable times between 2006 and 2007 for the community, carrying their children, with their faces covered and machetes in hand, demanding the end of the hydroelectric project that was later suspended.

United People’s Struggles and National Re-founding

In 2006, Manuel Zelaya came to the Government of Honduras. His relationship with people’s organizations had never been good. This changed only after the last Civic Strike in 2008 organized by the National Coordinator of People’s Resistance (NCPR). In these years there was a clear shift of the Government towards the member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA).

COPINH, which always had good communication with representatives of Venezuela and Cuba, was able to recognize the importance of the revised position of the Honduran Government and the urgency to support the brave position of the Zelaya Government in this new political context, as it began to confront the groups of power.

In this process of reconciliation of the people’s movements through the NCPR, they proposed the “independent people’s list of candidates” with workers representative, Carlos H. Reyes,  indigenous leader, Berta Cáceres, a teachers’ union leader, Maribel Hernández, and Carlos Amaya, a member and leader of the Honduran left. With a program based on 12 points created by the agreements that were reached in the First Encounter of the Workers, Peasants, Teachers, Community and People’s Organizations in 2008.

The election of Berta as a candidate did not only demonstrate the political maturity of the movement, but also the recognition of the leadership of the indigenous leader and of COPINH itself. It was through this process of reconciliation that the the First Encounter for the Re-founding of Honduras was organized in La Esperanza.

From there, they tried to put forth a true Constituent Power, to empower the people and re-found the country with a new native Constitution for the people. It is in this context of struggle for change that the Coup d’etat of 2009 happened. On the date of the elections, the candidates, in a gesture of revolutionary clarity, withdrew themselves and called to resist and fight the dictatorship on the streets.
Banner reads: Re-foundation Now! Photo Credit: COPINH

The coup and the struggle of COPINH

COPINH was accompanying the initiative of the Government to consult the people, which is why it was dramatically affected by the military repression. The organization understood from the very beginning that the struggle would be waged essentially in the capital. Thousands of members of COPINH went to Tegucigalpa where, in addition to mobilizing and accompanying the struggle for more than six months, they constituted a unit that was sent to defend and protect the perimeter of the Venezuelan Embassy for more than three months.

Berta holding a sign “No to the coup d’etat”. Photo Credit: COPINH

Reconstitute people’s power and the community-based struggle

Once the Government of Porfirio Lobo was elected, COPINH multiplied its efforts of solidarity to accompany the struggle of the peasants of Aguán, who were being massacred for demanding that their right to land be respected.

There was also a rupture within the recently created National Front of People’s Resistance (NFPR). This rupture came from the divergent positions between those who supported the focus on electoral politics and those who called for the overthrow of the dictatorship through the people’s insurrection. The electoral line was defended by those close to the Bloque Popular and the political cohort of Manuel Zelaya, and the line of insurrection supported by so-called “re-founders”, was led by COPINH, organizations of the left and organizations with territorial struggles.

The division in the people’s movements was already there, and the deepening of the electoral contradictions as well. The electoral fraud of 2013 brought to light the differences and the ruptures between social leaders who accompanied the electoral line, while the re-founding line was led by Berta and Miriam Miranda (from the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras). Both leaders encouraged a new dynamic of struggle based in the regional territories rather than urban centres, encouraging active participation by communities for the defense of the common goods of nature, in response to the onslaught of extractivism from the Lobo Government.

The struggle for land and territory became one of the principal necessities of the “re-founding” organizations. In 2013, the Platform of Social and People’s Movements of Honduras is created under the leadership of Berta and Miriam. It is in the context of the struggle for the defense of the territory that the government unleashes a hunt for and criminalization of social leaders. The resistance against hydroelectric projects on the Blanco River and the Gualcarque River, and the subsequent assassination of Berta in 2016, have meant that many other communities have given their lives to defend the common goods of nature.

In this stage, despite having been subjected to severe state and corporate repression, COPINH continues a fierce struggle against the hundreds of extractive projects that threaten Lenca communities and territories.

This is the current challenge of COPINH: to sustain the struggle. This is why it is rebuilding its power from the indigenous communities and from its historical struggle and resistance. This struggle is not only for COPINH but for all struggle in any part of the world. As Berta said, for mother nature, for humanity, because time is running out.

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