COPINH Activists Fleeing Violence in Honduras

The family of assassinated Honduran indigenous environmentalist, Nelson Garcia, start new lives in the US

I recently had the honor of meeting Yolany Garcia (name changed to protect identity), who immigrated from Honduras to America with her four children last summer. In March of 2016, Yolany and some of her children witnessed her husband’s assassination in Honduras, after which their lives were forever changed, and also now in danger.

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COPINH protests transnational corporations mining in indigenous territories


The country of Honduras is currently led by a violent regime that was put in place by a U.S.-backed coup in 2009. Since the coup, the country has sustained the world’s highest murder rate with many of the country’s Indigenous and environmentalist activists killed under the government’s leadership. In the US right now, there is the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Bill- HR 1299, which is demanding that US aid to Honduran security forces must end.


Yolany’s entire family participated in the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), an indigenous, feminist, anti-racist, anti-imperialistic and environmentalist organization in Honduras. Led by Berta Caceres, the organization has been working together for justice for more than 20 years. Yolany’s family went to community meetings and assisted in COPINH’s struggles for justice for people who had been robbed of their land.

“Berta  was a woman who struggled for a better environment for our country. My husband worked with her. She was killed March 2, my husband was killed March 15,” Yolany tells me.

At the time of Berta’s assassination she was continuing to defend the Gualcarque River, a place of sustenance and spiritual importance for the Lenca people. A company, paid by the Honduran government, was attempting to build the Agua Zarca dam along the Gualcarque river in the Rio Blanco community, and COPINH had been resisting it for years. At the time of Nelson’s death he was helping in a land struggle in Peña Blanca, Cortes

COPINH blocked the road in 2013 and to halt the Agua Zarca damming project 


Beginning on March 15th, Yolany said that her life was in danger as well as her children’s. Because Yolany, her son and another member of their family were protected witnesses to Nelson’s assassination, they were all threatened. Yolany and her children moved around to four different locations in Honduras in attempts to hide from those threatening them. Soon, Yolany’s husband’s family decided that Yolany and her children needed to leave Honduras and go to another country.

Lenca woman protesting for justice for those assassinated

Yolany mortgaged her house for 180,000 lempiras, or about $7,672, in order to be able to travel. Coming to the US for her and her family entailed traveling 17 hours in a container to Mexico City, without sleep, food or seeing night or day. They then crossed the border into the U.S. by wading across the Rio Grande.

“That’s how we got to the US: by suffering,” Yolany tells me.



Once in the US, Yolany’s family was taken to a detention center. Yolany says that the conditions were very bad, and she and her four children were placed in the hierla. Hierla means “icebox” in Spanish, and is used to refer to the reported lower temperatures the holding cells are kept at.

In the icebox Yolany said her family couldn’t eat or sleep and they were very cold. Before coming to the detention center her family had just come out of a river, and their clothes were wet and dirty. Still, they were given no new clothes and no bath. Yolany said the officials kept pressuring her and her children, telling them that they could get out of the icebox if they signed for their deportation.


Yolany and her family are now out of the detention center, and in the process of starting their new lives in America. Yolany said that when she first got to US, she did not feel safe- she felt the same fear for her life that she did in Honduras. She now feels safe in America, but what she now fears is deportation. She is currently waiting on her asylum case which should be determined this coming fall.



COPINH has not been deterred by the government of Honduras or the DESA dam  company in continuing the struggle for human and land rights in Honduras. After Berta’s death Tomás Gómez Membreño stepped up as general coordinator and COPINH celebrated its 24th anniversary this past March. COPINH continues to be an inspiration and source of strength for indigenous movements in Honduras and around the world.


Over the past 24 years, COPINH has supported indigenous people in their fight to defend their own land. COPINH has also been successful in creating intercultural schools and training Lenca professors to teach in them, and improving health centers in the area.

COPINH gathering space 

In the past six months COPINH has joined with 15 new communities protesting against illegal extraction and mining on their lands and completed the first session of the Tomas Garcia Political Training School, where indigenous people learned leadership skills to continue strengthening the movement. COPINH has also organized many national actions in front of the Presidential Palace and the Supreme Court and the group has begun created a autonomous training and meeting center in Utopia and started to build an agroecology farm as a source of income for the organization.

Yolany and her family honor Nelson- father, husband and human rights activist- in their new lives in America by continuing his legacy of continuing to support communities in need.

“Americans need to know about the violence taking place in Honduras,” Yolany stated.


Assassinated Honduran activists Nelson, Tomas and Berta

Interview Interpretation (Spanish to English) by: Judy Ancel of Cross Border Network


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