A peasant woman fights for her fellow campesinos‘ rights to farm uncultivated land, an entitlement too often denied by wealthy landowners.
Country Focus: Honduras
Don’t Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart: The Story of Elvia Alvarado
Translated and edited by Medea Benjamin
Originally published by The Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1987
My edition: Perennial Library, 1989
About the author: I could find no current information whatsoever on Elvia Alvarado, and the state of Honduran activism is disheartening. Just last week, NGO Global Witness reported that Honduras ranks as “deadliest country in the world to be a land and environmental defender.” One hundred and eleven Honduran activists—mostly campesinos—have been murdered since 2002.*
Elvia Alvarado is a woman of true grit. Born into a campesino (peasant) family, she endures the worst poverty has to offer: home is a hut with a dirt floor and no running water, a diet of tortillas and beans, one change of raggedy clothes, limited education, endless toil, men who drink their family’s money away, distant and expensive health care, and travel hindered by dirt roads littered with gaping potholes.
A Catholic church program changed her life. The program brought mothers together to discuss and solve common problems, like how to put food on the table. Alvarado loved the feeling of being proactive. She excelled at motivating women to help themselves, so the church asked her to travel to remote communities to reach out to those women.
In talking with all of these people, Alvarado learned two things: why the campesinos were poor, and the importance of organization. They were poor because they did not have enough land to grow crops. When Alavarado spoke out about this issue to the Catholic church, the church branded them communists and dumped them.
As she learned more about the root of the campesinos’ problem, she became involved in land recovery. In 1975, President López Arellano passed the Agrarian Reform Law. The law gives campesinos the right to farm any land that a land owner is not using for a specific, functional purpose. Landowners rarely abide by this law. They routinely bribe officials to falsify paperwork. Campesinos have been tortured and killed for attempting to recover land.
We’re fighting so that we, too, can share our nation’s wealth. We’re fighting so that we, too, can live well. We all want to have good houses-with cement floors instead of dirt, with running water to take a shower and clean water to drink. We all want electricity so we don’t have to ruin our eyes with those gas lights we use. We all want real bathrooms with toilets that flush and sinks that have running water. Of course we want those things. Aren’t we humans beings? Don’t we have the same rights that rich people do?
Why should there be rich people that have more than they need and poor who don’t have anything? God didn’t plan it that way. He planned for us to be equals. That’s why we have to build a society where everyone has the right to lead a decent life.
*David Hill. (April 22, 2015) Honduras is world’s number one for killing environmental activists. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/andes-to-the-amazon/2015/apr/22/honduras-worlds-number-one-killing-environmental-activists