Harassed for speaking out: the case of Tesla Ventura
Tesla Ventura faced four years in prison.
I, Tesla Marina Ventura, from the Lenca ethnic group, mother of five, resident of Santa Elena Municipality, department of La Paz; hereby put to the consideration of the national and international community, this act of injustice and racism committed by some authorities in an absolute lack of love and filled with hatred to us, the poor women.
Since the 1980s, I have advocated for the rights of indigenous and peasant men and women, I began working in organizations for the rights of the Lenca culture, COPINH, which I am very proud of. I later joined an organization for environmental justice: Movimiento Madre Tierra.
For defending these rights and being an activist in the social movement I was four times victim of torture and police and military violence in previous administrations. I was also repressed for reporting the atrocious murder of Chorti leader Candido Amador Recinos. Similarly, my partner Eduardo Jeronimo Gomez has been subject to persecution, death threats and he has suffered the terror caused by the most powerful sectors of the country.
My solidarity and humanitarian activities have been focused on the alternative integral health and on the protection of the environment in order to help our brothers and sisters of the recovered area of Nahuanterique, who have suffered the effects of war.
I am currently a member of Movimiento Madre Tierra and I work in defense of food sovereignty, against the organisations that promote and produce GM food, as well as against the damages that the mining industries are causing in the country.
On May 4, 2005, during the previous administration, the students of 15 de Septiembre High School of the Lenca community of Santa Elena, occupied the Centre to protest against corruption, as they were not receiving English or Spanish lessons, although two professors had been appointed for the subjects. They never showed up and the salary was being paid to a professor who never gave the lectures he was paid for. Meanwhile the students still had to exams.
Two hundred parents supported this fair demand. But seven people (including Eduardo and I) out of the two hundred were prosecuted and received threats for fighting the corruption. We were offered a plea bargain: if we pleaded guilty, they would set us free. We thought the decision of the authorities was unfair and my partner Eduardo, and I refused to accept it.
Since 2005 I have been forced to appear every Friday in Court to sign a book of precautionary measures, and if I fail to do they told me I would go to jail. Besides this offense to my dignity, my children were discriminated against in school, to the point that I had to send them away so that they could finish their studies elsewhere - I appreciate the solidarity of the people who helped me. My mother suffered a lot as a result of these incidents, which led to her early death. Even after all that the threats and the persecution against Eduardo continued to intensify. This has caused me deep suffering.
The Christmas and New Year's wishes I received in 2007 from the Court of Comayagua was that I was declared guilty for a crime I did not commit and that my offenses were to have defended the right of young people to education and fighting against corruption. The final decision was then put into the hands of the Supreme Court of Justice, whose delivered their verdict will be known in January 2009.
History repeats itself in Honduras. Impunity for the powerful and the human rights abusers, jail and torture for the indigenous, peasant and the poor.
Despite being humiliated by a ruthless attorney and judges, of living in poverty and being discriminated against for being a woman, I have all the moral strength to defend my rights, the rights of Eduardo and those of my children, and to continue working to protect the environment and the rights of the poor.
I call the state authorities to respect life, my personal dignity and the dignity of my family. I also appreciate the national solidarity of three hundred families of Santa Elena and Nahuanterique communities, and the support of COPINH, Movimiento Madre Tierra, and of solidarity organizations from the US, Canada, Europe and Latin America.
Santa Elena La Paz, January 7th, 2007
In February 2009 Tesla's sentence was passed. Again she was faced with a choice; pay $2000 or spend four years in a Honduran prison. The court gave Tesla a matter of days to raise the money for the fine which, thanks to international support, she managed to do and was spared from jail.
Tesla continues to campaign for human rights and work for Movimiento Madre Tierra / Friends of the Earth Honduras under the watchful eye of the authorities.