« In the end we succeeded. But it cost us six years in jail, and five of my colleagues were assassinated. However we are still here, working, and pushing forward, » said Alfredo Lopez.
Alfredo, a well-known and respected community leader, is the vice-president of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), a partner of Grassroots International. OFRANEH organizes with indigenous, Afro-descendant Hondurans (known as Garifunas), whose ancestral territory contains some of the most breathtaking and fertile areas along the Atlantic coast of Honduras. And they also constantly face land grabs by agrofuel plantations, tour-resort developers and narco-traffickers.
While leading efforts to stop a tourist development from displacing Garifuna communities, Alfredo was jailed on trumped-up charges and spent six years in prison before being released for lack of evidence. It was only through community pressure, international solidarity, and a ruling by the International Human Rights Commission Court in Costa Rica that the Honduran government finally freed Alfredo.
Since his release, he and with other members of OFRANEH have received numerous threats and been the target of several attacks. Soft-spoken and humble, Alfredo explains that threats to personal safety are commonplace for human rights defenders in Honduras. Embroiled in the middle of political violence spurred by a hardline, military-backed government, Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Alfredo has helped OFRANEH set up a network of six community radio stations that are unifying Garifuna communities along the coast. The stations educate communities about their rights, history and culture, and keep them current on news and strategies for defending their territories. OFRANEH has also set up an impressive network of international solidarity and a national network of allies across the country to help them in their efforts. The determination of OFRANEH and its organizers like Alfredo – to continue to defend their rights in the face of such adversity – has been recognized internationally as they have been named the international winner of the 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize.
The Food Sovereignty Prize spotlights grassroots organizations working internationally and in the United States for a more democratic food system and will be awarded on October 14 at 7 PM Central Time in Des Moines, Iowa. The ceremony will be livestreamed online.
While the challenges are many, Alfredo and OFRANEH continue in their push for justice and find strength from the past.
« Our ancestors suffered through the same situation as us, perhaps even worse. They were forced onto boats and shipped from Africa. Many were not lucky enough to survive the journey and died along the way, » reflected Alfredo. « We try to remember and respect their sacrifices, and this helps us today in our struggles. »