Honduras: Juan Almendares on dark skin
Having dark skin has always given me a sense of dignity and a feeling of pride for the genes which are an integral part of humanity, although I have no discriminatory or prejudicial feelings about any other skin colour, be it yellow, red or white. On the contrary, loving my skin colour, and all the skin colours of humanity, is just one expression of my love of multi-diversity in the world. This love also manifests itself in my support of non-violence, my anti-war beliefs, and my convictions as a peace fighter in the struggle for the respect for human rights and for environmental justice.
To be even more consistent in my beliefs, I am about to become a vegetarian, extending my principles to plants, animals, and bacteria, striving equally for the rights of all life forms.
I have also always had the policy of raising my voice, with all my cultural and spiritual force, even though I live in a political system without freedom of speech, where truth and history are deformed, and economic inequity, exploitation, torture, and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of humans continues to worsen. But it is a place where, despite the oppression by imperialism and globalization, people still possess the resolve to fight for freedom, and retain their dignity.
As a result of demonstrating my solidarity with the poor and oppressed, for striving against military oppression in Honduras and other countries, for defending human rights where I see injustice, and for my stance against racism, I have been subjected to assaults, persecution and torture. Nonetheless, I harbour no hatred while maintaining my principles in a critical and reactive stance against an oppressive system.
In the 1990s, during the period of full political repression, we voiced our opposition to a discriminatory declaration about the Honduran armed forces because it stated that there should be no members of the armed forces of Jewish or Arabic descent.
In all circumstances where it has been possible, we have shown solidarity with the 'campesinos', the indigenous 'garifunas', whenever they have been violently evicted by police or military brutality, so that their land could be cultivated by 'banana multinationals', used as palm or sugar cane plantations, or mined for natural resources. Their land, instead of being cultivated to produce food in a country where hunger and poverty are rife, would instead be destined to produce bio fuels for luxury cars in the first world, or the developing world's powerful elite.
Equally, we have always rejected any discrimination or violence infringing the rights of people of any skin colour in our country and anywhere else in the world.
It seems ironic and very distasteful, that developed nations are housing, in their famous museums, the testimonies of their barbaric colonial past and cultural imperialism.
In my trips to many countries around the world, due to my dark skin colour, I have been variously considered Hindu, Indonesian, Arab, Jew, Sephardic, Latin, Mestizo, or African. I have encountered discrimination ranging from the subtle to the grotesque. Racist fundamentalism is based on the notion that every person with dark skin who visits the West is likely to be in some way subversive, a terrorist, a drug dealer, or a potential economic migrant to their imaginary paradise. They are oblivious to the fact that both historically, and still today, we have been and continue to be terrorized by their political regimes and social inequalities.
I recall one occasion when I passed through a powerful country where I have good friends, an immigration agent, of Cuban origin, asked me in very good Spanish what my profession was. I answered that I was a medic. "Well let me test you to see if you can prove your knowledge of medicine," he said, and interrogated me about the cervical vertebrae in the spine. With a sarcastic tone he asked me, "What are you going to do in this country?" I answered that I was going to be Visiting Professor in a university medical school.
Another experience was one time when I was waiting to be interviewed in an immigration office. There was a Central American lady with her seven-year-old child. The lady was summoned by an immigration official with a shout, telling her to, "leave the girl and come alone." When I saw the girl alone and frightened, I grabbed the child's hand and took her to her mother telling the official to behave with more respect. The man screamed at me, "You should remember that you are in the most powerful country in the world, and if I don’t want to let you in, you won’t get in." I was scared by his aggressive manner. Nevertheless, I remained calm and answered him in a dignified manner. "I recognise and respect the laws of your country," I said, "but all of us, the child, the lady, you, and I, have dark skin, and your behaviour is simply racist. I am sure that you have experienced such racism yourself in this society." He assumed a calmer and less arrogant manner, and seemed to grudgingly recognise how wrong his behaviour was. He allowed all three visitors to enter the country.
Arrival at an airport still causes me some psychological trauma ever since the 1980s when I was violently detained by two machinegun-wielding members of the Honduran army for my fight for human rights and my denunciation of the crimes related to the disappeared and the torture of citizens. In other countries I have been threatened with death and have been subjected to psychological torture during interrogation in immigration offices.
My most recent experience (not wishing to tell a dozen of them) occurred during a trip to Europe, not long ago. When leaving the country I had visited, I was interrogated first by a local official, and then by an official from the most powerful country on earth. They asked regular questions, the likes of which they ask of any traveller in the current circumstances after I had agreed to be screened in their electronic databases. But the interview had a feel which reminded me of the terror I suffered in the 1980s, except that on this occasion there was a new aspect: environmental activism.
They asked for the names of the people who had assisted at and organised the event I had attended, and enquired after the political objectives, places of meeting, and sources of finance. After the interrogation I was left with no doubt that fighting for environmental issues posed a risk to my life.
My answers were bold and pertinent. I informed them that the telephone book contained the name and phone number of the organization that had invited me, and that our objective was to contribute to planetary wellbeing. But I gave no names because, although they were speaking in another language, I felt that my personal dignity was being attacked.
Despite all that I have been through for having dark skin, I conclude that I would never wish to change the colour of my skin, nor my dark curly hair, any more than I would sell out my conscience or principles.
Our most powerful weapons are Humanity and Solidarity, and in this vast prison called Democracy, the most powerful weapon of all: Truth.