La Cieba We left Tegucigalpa right after dawn to wend our way north towards San Pedro Sula but then veered northeast at the El Progresso turnoff to La Ceiba towards the Atlantic coast. After some confusion around contacts and coordinates, by early afternoon we were driving within sight of the beach in Corozal looking for the library where we were to meet some folks interested in forming an ACORN group in this Garifunda community.
For those who might be unaware of the Garifunda, here’s the thumbnail from Wikipedia:
The Garifuna are Indigenous of mixed-race descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak people. Although their background is the Lesser Antilles, since 1797, the Garifuna people are from Central America, along the Caribbean Coast of Honduras, with smaller populations in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua. They arrived there after being exiled from the islands of the Lesser Antilles by British colonial administration as Black Caribs after a series of slave revolts. Those Caribs deemed to have had less African admixture were not exiled and are still living in the islands.
The meeting started late. Several key people including the woman who organized the meeting for us were absent and our volunteer organizer in the La Ceiba area was just returning from Spain, so we began with a description of what ACORN did around the world, and what we had accomplished in Honduras in the last half-dozen years or organizing.
Asking for questions and the ability to listen to the issues they had in their community of Corozal, at first there was silence. We waited. After several minutes, one man spoke up arguing that the most crucial issue faced in the community was the lack of potable water. 750 families were connected to the water line, but it was unsafe to drink and hundreds more had no connections at all. Families could look at the beautiful blue water and its gentle waves almost at their back doors, but it was literally a case of “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” People were forced to spend precious resources to buy bottled water jugs on a daily basis. We described ACORN campaigns and victories in Peru and elsewhere in Honduras in winning water.
A woman then spoke up about housing. Another young man raised the issue of children orphaned in the community as families split, and others were forced to look for work elsewhere. We asked about remittances, and the answer was that remittances were the basis of the community’s survival through a brother or sister, parent or cousin, aunt or uncle. There are five Garifunda delegates in the Honduran congress, and we asked for their support in our campaign.
The community was owned in common, and by law the Garifunda were to be consulted on any development in their area. Radio towers had been built recently without a word of warning. This pattern was repeated in case after case. An elder man made an eloquent case that an overarching issue was the government’s unwillingness to respect the basic civil rights of the 300,000 Garifunda in Honduras or any of the 43 communities linked along the coast.
Add the human right to water and decent housing and more, and the need was obvious. We were clear that this would be a campaign that required a different array of strategy and tactics to be successful. We left with an offer to support any decision made by the community. Their issues were great. The fight would be epic, if engaged.