Learning How to Live Solidarity from COFADEH Print
Over the past six years I have had the enormous privilege of traveling to 19 countries in Latin America to connect with those who give every hour of their lives to building justice, sovereignty and dignity for their people. Theirs is an uphill battle after decades of devastation at the hands of my country and its henchmen at the School of the Americas. But there is no country that tugs at my heart more than Honduras and no organization that is more doggedly committed to bringing justice to their nation than is COFADEH.

My visits to these many countries has been in my role as coordinator for the School of the Americas Watch, a grassroots movement that seeks to close this school that has bled the continent from the Rio Grande to Patagonia since the 1940's until the present day. But I have also made these trips as the mother of three children, raised in the slums of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, during years in which Venezuelans dared to confront empire, dared to sow their own unique dreams. Thus, I made these journeys as activist, as mother and as a follower of the Bolivarian dream of Latin American unity.

I recall my first visit to COFADEH in 2007. We met with the staff in a room surrounded by sea of photos of faces: men, women, mostly young, all with an intense look in their eyes. They were the faces of the disappeared of Honduras. Given their omnipresence during the meeting and the constant references to them, I assumed that only months had passed since their disappearance. But no, more than 20 years had evolved. What, then, was the fuel drove the intensity of these dedicated COFADEH members to their cause? It took me months and years and coups and more disappearances to discover that their fuel is quite simply this: love. Untiring love for these people whose lives were stolen, indefatigable love for their cause of justice.

Unfortunately, that sea of faces of the disappeared multiplied not long after that visit, doubling after the June 2009 coup.

The coup that took place in Honduras was an effort to steal the dreams of a nation to shape it's own destiny, to define its own path, via a constitutional assembly which would allow citizens to shape the blueprint for a new society. But, both the Honduran oligarchy and the empire to the north refused to remove Honduras from under their boot For them, Honduras was an anchor from where to put out the fires in the neighborhood known as Central America, certainly not a source of flames themselves.

None of us were surprised to learn that the officers who led the coup were SOA graduates. This, after all, has been the school's main claim to fame. Steeling the dreams of nations, robbing children of fathers who dared to struggle for justice, robbing mothers of daughters who dreamed of a nation of 3 meals a day for all.

Only hours after the June 29 coup, I found myself in front of a computer trying to book a flight to Tegucigalpa. As images of the repression in the streets there played on Telesur, my companero turned to me, asking "just what do you think you can do there? Let's leave these situations to Batman and Superman." I detected a chunk of poorly disguised worry behind his comments. After seeing me pause, he then said: I know, it's Bertha and your friends there you are worried about .You just want to go to be with them.

Bingo. That is the essence of solidarity. Just going to be with. It might not change anything in the immediate: the coup definitely continued entrenched and its puppets remain, but solidarity does move mountains of the heart. And, who knows what changes that will bring, in that long long run?

This is a lesson that I had learned first and foremost from COFADEH itself, especially in the actions of its director Bertha Oliva. It's hard to find one word that sums up this extraordinary woman. So, when I try to describe her to others, I tell people how she drives. Bertha is a new driver. Even though she has firmly taken the helm of her life, only hours after her husband was ripped from her arms, she only took the helm of a vehicle recently. Two things about Bertha's driving: it's all at one speed. Whether on an abandoned dirt road, or a glistening super highway, it's the same velocity. Just like she moves in life: whether in moments of peace and calm, or moments of terror and danger, she keeps going with the same determination. Then, there is direction. Bertha only drives forward. When she needs to back up , she turns to me: ok ,now you take the wheel Lisa. Bertha Oliva does not go backwards!

All of these qualities came together on the last night of my most recent visit to Honduras, this past September. I was exhausted from weeks of visits to other countries, and packing up my suitcase in my posada, feeling exhausted but cozy in the room as a rainstorm outside. Suddenly, a knock on my door and there is Bertha, in her car, in the rain storm, asking me to accompany her to visit a family who had been receiving death threats. With Bertha as chauffeur and the streets filled with water and the nighttime closing in on the world's most dangerous city, I wasn't exactly enthusiastic. But, then, I could only imagine how much more exhausted Bertha must be. I reluctantly took the passenger seat.

Almost an hour of slowly winding our way through rivers and puddles, we were at the home of those who had been robbed, spied upon and threatened. I kind of expected Bertha to take out a little notebook or tape recorder to note down the details of what had occurred. But instead, she stood up, took up a position behind the exhausted human rights activist, and stared giving him a massage, asking him how he felt, giving him the freedom to release his fears and frustrations. Soon afterwards, another COFADEH staffer arrived, and I assumed that the notebook would soon open. But no, it was the kitchen cupboards and refrigerator that opened. What do you all have to cook here, Dora asked. She scrambled up some frijoles, queso, and a salad, and the next thing we were all sharing a meal in the wee hours of the evening with their son, laughing and enjoying the feeling of being together as the storm raged outside. Suddenly I realized, there was no place that I would rather be at that moment.

This is the place of solidarity. It's the place that Bertha has shown me. It's the place that all of COAFADEH has taught me. It's not always easy to arrive there, it's not always safe or comfortable or. But, it's the best spot in the world.
Abrazos, Lisa