Women Who Move Mountains


 During the San Pedro Sula portion of the trip, Alex and I spent our time meeting with defenders outside the city and meeting displaced families through a wonderful and very helpful organization called Casa Alianza. To meet two of our human rights and environmental defender characters, we needed to do an overnight trip north. We drove up 4 hours to La Ceiba in the morning. Somehow, it was hotter than San Pedro Sula, so much so I thought I was going to literally melt while shooting the streets of a small Garifuna community. We spoke with a 29 year old Garifuna defender named Madeline, who has been defending her community from a resort development project for years. She was arrested and taken to jail during a peaceful protest, and has been threatened and criminalized, slapped with a trespassing charge in her own community that continues to be unresolved for the past 3 years. What struck me was her fearlessness, as she identified herself as part of “women who move mountains.” She spoke powerfully about the trauma her son has lived with since seeing his mother be detained and wrestled into the police car, and the way she speaks to him honestly about the fight that she is carrying. Far from dissuading her, the criminalization and constant threats have made her only more determined to carry on the fight for her community’s dignity and respect for its land. After this interview we drove two hours to Tocoa, to a troubled community in the Aguan valley undergoing intense land conflict for decades. Hundreds of campesinos have been killed for simply fighting for their land and livelihood, killed by the military, police, narcotraffickers, or company-hired hitmen. I interviewed a woman defender whose son and first husband were killed. Although she has government protection and a police escort, she feels those measures expose her even more. After so many of her compañeros, close friends, and even family were so brutally murdered, I’m in awe at the strength she finds to continue doing her work. After all that she’s lost it felt almost like all she has left is the lucha to make sense of the rest of her life. When I asked if it’s worth it, she responded all she was fighting for was basic and fair: a decent life, people’s access to their own livelihoods, clean water. Nothing fancy or undeserved or illicit.  “Uno vive con el temor, pero hay que seguir luchando,” she said, smiling. “No hay otra manera.”


Leah Varjacques, 2019 Adelante Fellow,  Honduras