by Professor Amy Argenal
Seven years ago, I attended my first pilgrimage to Honduras as part of a group of faith leaders to explore the root causes of migration. I wanted to explore the root causes of migration so I could understand them and become a better advocate and solidarity partner. Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, along with Share El Salvador, organized the pilgrimage to help us learn and understand more profoundly why so many families and children from Honduras were showing up at the U.S./Mexico border. Many of us had our own assumptions, especially as the narrative of gang violence was running rampant in our media. But what we heard in Honduras was completely different and it changed me.
During our first visit in 2015, we spent time with communities who were being pushed off their land for large scale development projects It was tourism causing displacement in the territory of the Garifuna peoples. We later came to hear about Berta Caceres and the struggle of the Lencan people, who faced attacks by Honduran security forces for protecting their sacred river fromhydro-electric projects. We accompanied them on marches against the corruption of US-backed former President Juan Orlando Hernandez, commonly known as JOH, who had facilitated the theft of the public health system and privatization of the roads. We returned to the US with their requests to withdraw support for former President JOH and to stop US military and security aid to Honduras that was being used to intimidate and criminalize communities who resisted.
In 2018, we visited the community of Guapinol. This community was resisting a large-scale mining project taking place in the Carlos Escalaras national park mountains that was the source of several rivers bringing water to communities in the Bajo Aguan region of the country. When the mining company, Inversiones Pinares, began constructing the road to get to the mountain, it polluted the Guapinol River. In response, the community engaged in nonviolent direct action to block the road. The Guapinol encampment ended in violence between security forces and the community, and eight of the leaders were imprisoned without trial for nearly three years.
We returned back home to the U.S. and Canada with a commitment to uphold international solidarity by freeing the Guapinol 8 and accompanying Honduran communities seeking to defend their land and water.
Reverend Deborah Lee shared with my students that Critical Migration Studies must interrogate power. It must ask “who makes our immigration laws and policies and for whose benefit?” and “who decides what aid and development projects go where, and for whose benefit?” Here in the United States, we are often the ones to benefit from large scale development projects that take place in locations far and unknown where we don’t have to see the cost and consequences of our consumption.
Seven years later, I have continously returned to Honduras. Sometimes I have gone twice in the same year to accompany and walk in solidarity with communities struggling for the right to land, water, and the right to remain in their home, the right to not have to migrate.
Interfaith Movement has deeply instilled in me the question of what does it mean to accompany. Accompaniment with those suffering injustice takes many forms at Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. We accompany newly arrived families, those seeking freedom from immigration detention, and those fighting for the right to remain, who are dismantling oppression and tackling the roots of injustice.
Accompaniment means to walk alongside, to hold up, to support, and also to follow with open hearts. To accompany must include understanding deeply and showing up when called for. This work is long term, and can take many forms. Relationships are important. The accompaniment of Guapinol over the years meant continual messages of solidarity, checking in, calling members of Congress, posting on social media, and organizing events. For me it meant to be presente! To show up in court in Honduras as an international observer when the trial started, to carry a banner of the Guapinol 8 at the inauguration of President Xiomara Castro, and to learn the Environmentalist Cumbia from amazing women leaders like Juana and Juana, like Esly, and Adelia! It meant to pray with Juan sitting outside the court house where the whole community gathered,slept, and strategized with our dear friend Reynaldo.
This Spring 2022, there is much to celebrate on the accompaniment journey with communities in Honduras. In January, the regime of President Juan Orlando Hernandez came to an end. He is facing extradition to the US on charges for narcotrafficking. Honduras’ first woman President, Xiomara Castro, was elected and inaugurated. In the early part of February, local organizing and international pressure freed the Gupainol 8 and charges were dropped. To see the videos of the leaders arriving back home to their community’s gathering place, the soccer field, after three years, brought tears of joy to my eyes. I know that, for the Guapinol community, this is just the start. They still have to fight to close down the mining company, and protect their water, livelihoods, and right to remain. There is still continued work to pressure the US government to end military and security aid through the Berta Caceres Act and the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act. Even though there is a new administration, the corrupt and problematic military apparatus that have criminalized and assassinated land and water defenders still remain.
This is why I continue to walk, to accompany, to be in solidarity with, and to strive for a better world where borders do not exist to separate our families, and detain our peoples. Instead, I strive for a world where communities can make a choice about whether they migrate or remain, and where all communities can thrive.
Professor Amy Argenal is a human rights educator at the University of San Francisco and a life-long learner with Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.