Crime & Justice

Honduras tribe has lost several leaders defending ancestral lands

By German Reyes

San Francisco Locomapa, Honduras, Jun 9 (EFE).- The Tolupan tribe’s demand that their ancestral rights be respected since 1990 has cost the lives of more than 10 of its leaders in the northern Honduran town of San Francisco Locomapa.

One of the murdered Tolupan leaders was Maria Enriqueta Matute, who was killed on Aug. 25, 2013. She was the mother of Celso Alberto Cabrera, the head of the Preventive Council of Tribes, whose home in the town was torched on May 10, 2021, as he related to EFE.

“First, they murdered my mother … and friends Ricardo Soto and Armando Funez,” Cabrera said standing at the ruins of what was his modest house, which was burned to the ground in broad daylight.

Amid the ruins can be seen the twisted remains of the bed in which Cabrera and his wife – who is expecting their fifth child – slept, a pair of jars and the hearth where they cooked their meals.

Cabrera said that he was able to get out of the burning house with his wife and children, but they were unable to save any of their few belongings.

“I got out with just the clothing I was wearing and a pair of flip-flops,” the Tolupan tribal member said, adding that the tribe is only demanding that their right to their ancestral lands be respected, given that the lands were left to them in 1864 by Father Manuel de Jesus Subirana.

Cabrera’s house was located near the site in San Francisco Locomapa where the Tolupan are building the Radio Dignidad Tolupan radio station, the outer wall of which was destroyed on May 10 by people linked to lumber businessman Wilder Dominguez, the members of the tribe say.

Cabrera said that there is a video of the damage to the wall of the radio station, which has not yet begun broadcasting, and of other violent acts committed against the Tolupan on May 10.

“The attackers, with machetes, firearms and stones came in violently. They took from us the flags we had here in our camp and burned them, and they insulted us,” the treasurer of the Preventive Council of Tribes, Angela Murillo, told EFE, adding that she herself had received a death threat on the same day.

“They told me that they were going to go to my house and drag me out, that they’d rape me and that they’d set fire to me and my whole family, and a bunch of other things,” she said.

Murillo said that the Tolupan are “ready to die in defense of their ancestral rights” and she lamented the fact that crimes against the tribe have gone unpunished.

The struggle of the Tolupan tribe in San Francisco Locomapa to protect their forest lands, minerals and water sources is being supported by the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MAJD), a non-governmental agency, which has denounced multiple crimes against the tribe, whose members live in several spots in Yoro and northern Francisco Morazan provinces.

The tribal council began to organize in 1990 in the town because members of the tribal council’s board had allied themselves with the lumber businessmen, who have been exploiting the forest resources in the area for more than half a century.

The destruction of the radio station’s wall has temporarily paralyzed construction at the site, but a MAJD member told EFE that “soon work will resume with the support of the public.”

Cabrera, who said that because of “the poverty” of his parents he could not attend school, added that “the community radio that San Francisco Locomapa will have will help educate the children and will teach them what their rights are and that they must be defended.”

The secretary of the tribal council, Ramon Santiago Matute, told EFE that lumber businessmen are “stealing” the “forest, the water and the antimony” from the residents of San Francisco Locomapa.

He added that the council rose up because the National Agrarian Institute (INA) placed a new title on the ancestral lands that Father Manuel left for the tribe back in 1864.

Matute emphasized that the tribe is being attacked by the state via institutions like the INA, the Forest Conservation Institute (ICF) and the National Police, among others, who are favoring the lumber businessmen.

The tribal council president, Jose Maria Pineda, 61, said that in the town authorities are carrying out a plan to benefit families that work in the lumber industry and that when the Tolupan demand their rights “what we receive is imprisonment and displacement.”

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