María Felicita López is an indigenous feminist leader from the Department of La Paz, Honduras and works with the Independent Indigenous Movement of La Paz, Honduras (MILPAH). For many years she has fought for human rights, women’s rights, and in defence of the environment in her native Department, La Paz. This department currently has four concessions for hydroelectric dams and at least 26 management plans and environmental permits for logging. In these cases, López explains, the Forestry Conservation Institute (ICF) granted the permits without consulting affected communities or analysing the impact such projects would have on local water sources. López has been part of the resistance to these projects from the beginning, yet her journey to where she is today has not been easy.
López grew up in an indigenous community called San Isidro del Volcán. The daughter of a single mother, she lived with her grandparents on the banks of a river where they had a small straw hut and planted maize. When she was 12, López began working as a domestic worker in the city of La Paz. While there, she studied at a night school and learn to read and write. After five years, she returned to her village and her family. She married soon after and started a family of her own. It was at this time that MILPAH was founded to defend the river that flowed through López’s village. López was part of the fight to defend the river from the beginning, however, as she explains, “I knew nothing about defending rights, the law, or how to defend myself”. As a young woman, López experienced violence, abuse and discrimination. With the support of a human rights organisation, López was able to train in this field, and is now “not as defenceless against their smear campaigns".
2015 saw an event in López’s community that would have profound and life-changing effects. In the early morning of 22 October, a group of 20 police officers, 10 soldiers and 9 civilians raided three houses in the community, threatening the women who were present and striking their children. López lived in one of these houses. She describes the trauma of the event: “I thought they could come banging at my door at any hour. For three months my children would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, ’let’s go now mama, the police are coming!’” López says that it was at this time more than any other that she learned to be strong and face her fight head-on. In spite of what happened, she did not leave the struggle for her rights and the rights of her community.
Stronger every day
Today, López works as MILPAH’s Gender Coordinator, accompanying and running workshops with women facing violence. “It’s very difficult to be part of a social movement that fights injustice and extractive projects,” López explains, “you experience a lot of discrimination. But this doesn’t faze me anymore; I feel stronger every day.” López says that she is happy to have the support and accompaniment of PBI: “PBI helps us when we have problems with bodies like the National Police, or when communication breaks down. We’re very thankful for them.”
Adding to these problems is the precarious economic situation of indigenous and peasant communities. According to figures from the Technical Unit on Food Security and Nutrition in Honduras, nearly 1.3 million Honduras are facing food insecurity (according to the National Union of Rural Workers (CNTC), the figure is over two million). “Because of all this, we will keep fighting so that the Lenca people are respected. In Honduras, extractive businesses see the indigenous people as merchandise,” she explains. Now, López’s greatest dream is for her children to get good jobs and become examples in the fight for social justice. “I won’t lose hope that one day we will transform our country so that there is no more violence against women and children. This hope helps me to keep fighting every day. And if I don’t live to see this change, I hope my children do, so that they can say that say that their mother’s struggle was worth the effort.”
Article published by PBI Switzerland