Don't be afraid, gringo : a Honduran woman speaks from the heart : the story of Elvia Alvarado

by Elvia Alvarado

Other authorsMedea Benjamin (Translator)
Paperback, 1989




New York : Harper, 1989.


"Elvia Alvarado tells the story of her life and the life of the people of Honduras. Read it and understand the struggle against tyranny of the poor. Read it and act."--Alice Walker

User reviews

LibraryThing member bezoar44
In her mid-30s at the time, activist Medea Benjamin assembled hours of interviews with campesina organizer Elvia Alvarado into a coherent, readable take on life, society, and power among the campesinos of Honduras in the 1980s. Although it is nearly 30 years old (published originally in 1987), the book is a rewarding read. Alvarado tells the story of her life and presents a down-to-earth critique of corruption and violence. She explains why campesinos have organized to take back land they beleive they are owed under land reform laws, and offers a sense of the risks and personal hardships she has suffered as an advocate. She blames the United States for strengthening the Honduran military at the expense of civil institutions, for propping up corrupt leaders, and for investing in development projects that benefit the oligarchs without helping ordinary Hondurans. But the book is also valuable for the insight it offers into the practical problems of living in poverty in a developing Latin American country - the pervasive sexism and violence against women, the way every effort a campesino makes to get ahead legally gets eventually checked by corruption or abuse of power by wealthier landowners.

It's far from clear, on the basis of this book, whether extra-legal land occupation can actually accomplish change. Alvarado believes that without land, the campesinos can't support themselves or provide for their families. The book doesn't ask whether, given rapid population growth and traditional cropping techniques, settling tens of thousands of campesinos on their own tiny farms would be a sustainable solution. Since the Hondurn government of the 1980s wasn't about to do that, the theoretical question was moot. Instead, trapped under a largely lawless regime, Alvarado and her colleagues are engaged in a kind of strategic brinksmanship - up to a point, if they choose targets for land occupation carefully, it will cost the government more to send in the army to crush or evict them than to accommodate them. In that context, it makes a lot of sense than Alvarado does not promote revolution, and she specifically disavows that the campesinos are 'communists'. In the long tradition of peasants fighting the overwhelming power of oligarchies, reaching back to early modern Europe, she presents the campesinos as loyal Hondurans, acting to uphold rather than subvert the promises of the existing system, while being totally skeptical of the capacity of that system to deliver any real justice on its own.

A lot has changed since the book was published. The population of Honduras is larger, and still growing rapidly. The extradition from the US in the early 1990s of criminals hardened in American prisons has introduced a new and even more vicious source of instability to the nation, with competing gangs setting up extortion and trafficking rackets that have inevitably preyed on the campesinos. A short July 2014 article on Slate suggests that fighting between groups of campesinos has emerged as another source of oppression, on top of the gang warfare and continued abuses of power by large landowners and the army. I've searched unsuccessfully on the Internet for recent information about Elvia Alvarado; it would be nice to think she's found success and some measure of personal security and comfort, though she didn't appear to expect that in 1987.
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