Lessons of Black Internationalism from Central America

Statement by the Chiapas Support Committee

Resistance to enslavement has been a defining characteristic of Black communities in the United States and across the Americas. From rebellions aboard slave ships, to insurrections on plantations, to maroon societies, African peoples and their descendants have challenged the horrors of white supremacy with remarkable resistance in the name of self-determination and self-defense.

The massacre at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17 further exposed the indiscriminate violence against Black people in the United States. The nine people murdered were targeted because they were Black. For Black organizers in the United States and throughout the Americas, the reality of white supremacist violence necessarily requires communities to seek out answers and strategies on how to build self-defense, safety and ultimately sovereignty.

Currently, an historic delegation is on the ground in Central America, made up of young organizers from across the United States, Honduras and Belize. As we exchange with African and Indigenous communities on the frontlines of revolutionary change in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize we are witness to the shared realities our communities face. Ultimately, the connections between the US Black South and ancestral struggles for land in the Global South are far too apparent in the wake of this most recent tragedy.

News of the June 17 massacre and its historical significance for Black resistance harshly reminds us of these undeniable connections.

Vesey’s Conspiracy to Contemporary Black Resistance

June 17 is a significant anniversary for Black people throughout the Americas. In 1822, the city of Charleston, South Carolina was a major global center of the US slave system and the scene of a budding uprising. June 17 marks the 193rd anniversary of Denmark Vesey’s conspiracy and rebellion.  Inspired by the Haitian Revolution of 1804, Vesey organized a network of thousands to overthrow the slave system in Charleston, to liberate the city’s enslaved Blacks on the plantations and ultimately, to escape to the free Black Republic of Haiti.

Haitians had liberated themselves from the shackles of slavery at the beginning of the 1800s after more than a decade in rebellion. Their nation was regarded as a beacon of freedom and justice for Black and Indigenous peoples everywhere under imperial suppression. Vesey’s uprising was part of an international movement against slavery, racism and colonialism. Black communities including the Gullah Geechee people, an African-Indigenous nation residing along South Carolina and Georgia’s coastal plains and neighboring Sea Islands, prepared and led the conspiracy.

Unfortunately, the rebellion unraveled after two informants betrayed the organization and sold the plan to white supremacists resulting in the assassination of at least 35 leaders. The South Carolina Legislature reacted to the revolt by passing the Municipal Guard Act the very same year. This act established Charleston’s first formal police force funded by a special tax on Blacks. The municipal guard had no legal authority over Charleston’s white residents. The Municipal Guard Act also resulted in the creation of a fortress at the north end of the city known as the Citadel, meant to protect the slave system from future attacks. Today, the Citadel is one of the most well-known military academies in the United States.

The echoes of this oppressive architecture can be felt today and we can see the ramifications of it 193 years after the anniversary of Vesey’s rebellion. The road to the massacre of nine Black people at their place of worship was paved by the clear ideology of settler colonialism and white supremacy that the United States was built on. The actions of Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter in the massacre, are directly aligned with the principles of the United States of America and its anti-Black racist foundations.On this day of mourning and sadness, on this day commemorating the 193rd anniversary of Vesey’s rebellion, we all have a duty to honor these histories with righteous anger. As such, we have every right to channel our fury into sustainable means to protect our communities.

Garifuna, African Kriol and Indigenous Resistance in Central America

Our resistance as Black and Indigenous communities has taken place over the course of 500 years. Today, African and Indigenous peoples across Central America are a shining example, continuing to stand against corporate terrorism, land theft and violations against human rights.

In Central America, we are hearing testimonies of remarkable resistance against rampant land theft by transnational capitalist investors. These movements are led by Black and Indigenous peoples. The Garifuna reside along the Central American coastlines of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The largest concentration of Garifuna lives in 46 communities in Honduras. African Kriol people live throughout Belize and are the descendants of the African people who carried out multiple revolts against a logwood and mahogany-cutting slave system in the colony of British Honduras, forming various Maroon communities in mountains, along the Sibun River and into the Peten and the Yucatan peninsula.

In Belize, organizers have informed us that they estimate at least 80 percent of the land is in foreign hands. What little remains is then parceled out by politicians during elections to buy votes and ensure loyalty to Belize’s neoliberal two-party system.

In neighboring Honduras, Miguel Facusse, also known as the palmero de la muerte, the palm plantation owner of death, has been identified by communities as a vicious supporter of the 2009 coup in Honduras and subsequent repression that has resulted in thousands criminalized and hundreds more assassinated. Facusse owns palm oil plantations in Honduras, illegally invading and occupying Garifuna lands. Organizers in Belize have also remarked that he also owns thousand acre tracts of land in Belize. The Garifuna have ancestrally utilized these same usurped lands to nourish entire communities and to safeguard their Indigenous culture and spirituality.

In the last month, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) won a legal case against the Honduran state which accused an entire Garifuna community of Barra Vieja of illegally usurping lands. A youth organizer explained that this case has been pivotal in the Garifuna’s fight for territorial control and has exposed Honduras as a state co-opted by transnational capital. The Garifuna were able to defend their lands based on the legitimacy of their ancestral lineage and toppled the state’s attempt to displace them in order to expand the Indura Beach Resort project in Tela. Currently, OFRANEH is also awaiting the results of two other international court cases against the Honduran state in violation of the Garifuna’s Indigenous rights protected by the International Labor Organization Convention 169.

For entire Black and Indigenous communities across the Central American isthmus, their resistance revolves around the fight for territorial sovereignty. Their struggles are how to meet the basic needs of the people and respect Mother Earth. Their nations are resisting in the face of grave repression. For example, in 2013, communities organized by Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) stopped the El Tigre project, a hydroelectric project that was to extend from Honduras to El Salvador at a cost of $7 billion dollars. heir organization has also pushed out US military base projects planned in their territories. COPINH works with Lenca communities across the Honduran southwest and has won more than 200 collective titles in 22 years for communities living on over 100,000 hectares of land.

One organizer explained, “We are the owners of the land by the mere fact that we were born there, we live there, and we will die there. We have reclaimed much land and we do it in many cases without land titles. Indigenous and African peoples will never have the backing of the government. Whether or not we have land titles, it is our land. During and after colonization, all was built by African and Indigenous people. And so, we are the legitimate owners.”

However, this resistance comes at a great risk and with incredible sacrifice. According to one organizer with COPINH, the Honduran state has concessioned 38 percent of land in indigenous Lenca territory to mining and other transnational capital. In the last year alone, 114 environmentalists were murdered, nine Indigenous COPINH organizers were assassinated and over 200 community leaders face criminal sentences for defending their lands.

These realities are only compounded by rampant state sanctioned violence in Honduras. Forty-two children are killed monthly across the nation and 25 to 30 youth are murdered daily. Additionally, the United States has proposed to give US$1 billion to the governments of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to militarize the borders in order to arm soldiers to murder those who they are already forcing to flee their lands. This funding is part of a wider effort by the Obama administration to establish a reactionary foothold in an ever more progressive Latin America. Given Honduras’ geographic and political importance in the region, its extreme right-wing turn since the 2009 coup signals US intentions to groom the state into Latin America’s Israel.

Black Lives Matter and Black Internationalism

On the 193rd anniversary of Vesey’s rebellion we must highlight that his plan was situated in a Black internationalist vision of resistance against transnational capital and the plantation system. In Central America, entire communities are still engaged in the struggle against the plantation system, protecting their territories and leading dignified struggles against oppression.

As we witness events unfold in Charleston, we look toward the growing Black Lives Matter movement as a beacon of transformation in the United States. BLM stands on the shoulders of resilient Black ancestors and echoes what Vesey along with countless other rebellions were organizing for.

Looking at different organizing models used by Black ancestors in Charleston, Gullah Geechee lands and other regions of the Americas, Black people reclaimed their right to life with dignity, took over the plantations and demanded that they control the land that they labored on under exploitative conditions. Thousands of nameless maroons began to recreate their lives and their communities with the visions that their ancestors carried from Africa.

Today, Black Lives Matter is another chapter of this history offering an unprecedented opportunity to build a successor generation of Black freedom fighters in the United States. Our time in Central America has only reaffirmed that we must look toward the Garifuna and African Kriol across Central America as well as other examples of Black and Indigenous resistance in the Americas that have laid out a vision and concerted collective effort to build autonomy and secure self-determination.

From the self-defense formations created after the end of the Civil War, to the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), to the Black Panther Party, to African anti-colonial independence movements and other revolutionary movements of the 1960s, 70s and throughout the 80s, Black people have been relentless in their stance against state violence. Contemporary Black organizing in the United States is a piece of this enormous international tapestry woven across the centuries for justice and liberation.