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
Forward by Elvia Alvarado
Introduction 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 that poverty had to offer: she lives in a hut with a dirt floor and no running water, has limited access to education, faces endless toil, eats a diet limited to tortillas and beans (and that’s on a good day), and has virtually no access to transportation or health care.
Despite and because of her hardships, Alvarado is one of many campesinos involved in land recovery. The land recovery movement is based on the Agrarian Reform Law of 1975. This law gives campesinos the right to farm any land that a landowner is not using for a specific, functional purpose. However, landowners rarely abide by this law. Campesinos have been tortured and killed for attempting to recover land.
Don’t Be Afraid, Gringo is taken from 30 hours of recorded interviews with Elvia Alvarado. The book, organized into chapters, reads as though Alvarado is talking to the reader directly. Her bravery is remarkable, and her belief that the campesinos can lift themselves from poverty if only given some land is compelling. She explains the obstacles that she and her fellow campesinos face with an intelligence that belies her second grade education.
It’s been almost three decades since Alvarado shared her story with the world, and I would have hoped that she’d have succeeded in seeing her people raise themselves up. Unfortunately, recent news stories report that the campesinos are still fighting for their happy ending.
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