ULA Rallies For Honduras

Art and politics collided at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church last Saturday night. Singer Karla Lara and pianist José Antonio Velásquez blended their melodies in an hour-and-a-half-long benefit concert organized by Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA). 

The concert was a fundraiser to raise awareness of and support for the Berta Cáceres Act (H.R.5474), a bill currently being debated in Congress. Speaking through a translator, Lara said it would prevent U.S. military aid to Honduras “as long as social justice leaders are being murdered with impunity.”  By the end of the night, it had raised $600. 

Through their music, the two performers sought to generate a strong sense of hope for people of all cultures. As Lara sang long and powerful notes, her voice quivered, a sort of desperate plea for justice to prevail in her homeland. Her voice carried the burden of Hondurans wrongfully imprisoned, repressed, and murdered because of their oppositions against the nation’s policies.

Lara described how in 2009, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya sought reforms that would change the country’s constitution, ultimately prompting a military coup and massive protests across the country. Over 2,000 people were detained, 21 were killed, and 21 became political prisoners—charged as common criminals. She set the scene: 

“Ignorance kills, yes that kills
And blame kills blame because it crushes
That silence that carries us kills us
And the fear that traps you kills you…
The power that controls you kills
They kill with decrees that devour you
They kills with their crosses and sentences
They kill you with fear, which is violence
They kill, they don’t exorcise their demons
They kill with false testimonies
They kill with rosaries, with deception
They kill in an alliance with fear”

Lara said that current president Juan Orlando Hernández continues to dictate, unchecked and uncontrolled.  She said that for too long the diverse peoples of Honduras—indigenous peoples, those of African descent, its LGBT community—have not been represented by their democracy. 

“Change is not going to come only from elections, “ she said. “Change must be built from below [through] social movements that are autonomous from the political parties and structures.”

As Velásquez played the piano, it was difficult to sit in the audience and remain unfazed by the weight of the music. Each note created a vivid picture in the listeners’ mind. The image was either a negative one, where people’s suffering is loud and explicit or a positive one, where cultures and communities coexist peacefully and coherently. 

Through their art, Lara and Velásquez established a desire to strive towards change within a unified future. Differences in language were not an obstacle that evening—Spanish and English speakers alike understood and empathized with the artists’ emotions from across the language barrier.

The pianist and the singer together played with volume, adding another element to the listening experience. The music held the same power when sung both low or high. Their connection to the lyrics was palpable, leaving their audience covered in goosebumps. The air was thick with passion, raw and authentic. Lara was herself overcome with tears.

“Art is a way to bring people in to talk about a very difficult issue,” she said during the concert. “The goal is to build bridges between peoples—bridges of solidarity...in a way that is horizontal!”She described First and Summerfield as a “meeting space where we find our humanity despite what authorities have imposed,” and added that she speaks “a lot during the tours because I want to share this beautiful music as an activist…[I] want to share my testimony.”

Despite the turmoil in Central America, Lara said she strongly encourages communities to continue to fight to keep the drive of activists like the late Berta Cáceres alive. She told the audience that the “Western model of development can kill and destroy people and all living things,” and that this detrimental pattern is shared among multiple countries, not just Honduras.

“No matter where you are, you have a struggle to fight,” she said. “You are here because of that!”

“We have the power now,” she added. “We build it by walking. In the midst of the dark time, there are artists, resisting, inspiring, and giving hope...We fight. We dance. We sing. We continue.