August 2017 Honduras Coup update

August 2017 Honduras news update

Gunfire against Libertador newspaper owners

On 24.8.17, as ‘El Libertador’ newspaper owners Johny Lagos (director) and his partner had left the office at night, attackers fired three gunshots directed at them. Whilst firing the shots, one attacker said to the other, ‘finish off this son of the b… get him in the head’. El Libertador is one of few commercial medias left that is committed to reporting news about repression and resistance.

In midnight hours, more gunshots at journalists, at their homes

On 1.8.17 at about 11.30pm, in Comayagua city, Mirian Mejía of the Canal 60 Panorama news program was sleeping when she heard several gunshots, so she got up first to check on her kids in one room to see if they were okay, then to check on her grandchildren in another room. Seeing that they were all okay she went outside to see what had happened, thinking that someone might have been assassinated. She saw that other neighbours had also come out to find out what had happened too. They received a witness account from some other neighbours who were sitting outside drinking beers nearby. These neighbours said, they saw a gold-coloured tourist van go close to Mirian’s house and these fired shots at the home’s roof. To know that you are persecuted for your work and commitment to your beliefs is a difficult thing. Mirian knows it is not a one-off because she has been two or three months before followed by a gold van like that in the city centre. On that occasion she pulled into a shop and stopped there a few minutes so that the gold van would drive on, but as she resumed driving changing her direction she was surprised to see the van still following her from a distance.

On 3.8.17 at about 3am, in La Paz province, Wilfredo Zepeda, of Dialogo Municipal program and who is a Radio Globo correspondent, heard an explosion. He didn’t think much of it at the time. It was only at 6am when someone who comes and helps clean the house pointed out that there was a hole in the wall and asked him about it, that they called the police to examine it. It was confirmed that there was a firearm bullet embedded in the wall of his home. Wilfredo has no enemies but is a journalist who supports the community, and can only conclude that the attack is related to his journalism work. Of the many possibilities is that the attack was because he recently interviewed an indigenous leader of Copinh who told him that five mining concessions have begun work on open pit mining.

UNAH – students struggle continue against privatisation, repression and authoritarianism. Repression also continued

On 2.8.17, as students protested in front of the uni calling for uni authorities to resign, over 2 hours and 15 minutes, dozens of riot cops, police and army agents evicted the protest attacking students with water tanks, and launching dozens of teargas bombs inside and outside campus buildings.

On 4.8.17, National Party MP Francisco Rivera stigmatised UNAH uni students, he went on TV news program ‘Hoy Mismo’ where he called students ‘vagrants who are becoming delinquents’, and said that if the students think they can direct the agenda of the congress, that they are ‘very mistaken in thinking that’.

On 7.8.17, at the pacific coast campus of UNAH – CURLP, students had been occupying the uni for 47 consecutive days protesting in solidarity with the three students who had been ruled guilty of charges of usurpation by the repressive courts, and also protesting against privatisation and demanding a new transition authority at the uni and for quality education. This protest was evicted and fifteen students were charged with usurpation by occupation of public building and given court attendance and subsequently bail conditions of signing at the court every Friday and not leaving the country. The names of the charged students are: Nahun Gutiérrez Yanez, Carmen María Lagos, Marvin Josué Padilla, Carlos Levi Ortéz, Bryan Yojarshi Cárcamo, Wilfredo Flores Cruz, Kevin Armando Aguilar, Luis Felipe Zepeda, Kevin Gabriel Estrada, Fausto Fernando Betancourth, Darwin Edgardo Sánchez, Adán Orlando Rivas, Harim Josué Reyes, Dagoberto Rosali Andino and Kevhin Ricardo Espinal. They add to 29 students already facing charges and bail conditions in Tegucigalpa, and one in San Pedro Sula. All are at risk of harm ordered by uni and state authorities.

An update on 11.8.17:

  • While on campus, one of the student facing charges, anonymous for security reasons, had been threatened and ‘robbed’ by someone with a firearm and had his phone snatched. When other students chased him he responded by pointing the gun at them
  • The hunger strike tent had been up for 47 days and nights by this time. Every night there are people in unidentified cars with polarised windows and no numberplates spying on and intimidating them
  • Protests have stopped classes at this point for 2 months. University authorities are using this now to announce that they are stopping to pay lecturers their salaries for having fallen behind in the curriculum and accusing these of being ‘complicit’ with the MEU students’ hunger strike
  • Journalist Ronnie Huete who had been repressed and tortured and charged for accompanying the students’ struggle, has been this month for weeks followed by strange cars in the streets of Tegucigalpa and notes interference against his mobile phone

On 16.8.17, a contingent of over 300 cops with 2 tanks of gases and water arrived on campus, and suddenly without any warning or announcement of eviction launched pepper gas against students on hunger strike. Also affected by the gases were human rights defenders and students who were there in support. There were about 50 students around (not many like there are in demos) as there was no particular event on. Red Cross rushed four students on hunger strike to hospital after the attack.

On 19.8.17, students organised in MEU presented a proposal (university constituent assembly, provisional uni government, participative democracy and transparency, keep education public, quality and secular, and stop charges, persecution and repression against students) backed by thousands of signatures to a special commission of the congress.

On 23.8.17 a smear campaign was launched on facebook by uni authorities posing as students. As the students have a UNAH Estudiantes page where they give updates to 122,000 plus followers on the student movement, the smear campaigners launched a page called UNAH Estudiantes Oficial <https://www.facebook.com/unahestudiantesoficial/#> which has dedicated itself to posting images to mock and portray negatively those it attacks, including MEU student movement and those identified as its leaders, those on hunger strike, Ronnie Huete the journalist who is persecuted for reporting on students protests, human rights organisations, and making jokes of acts of protest and masking up for safety.

On 24.8.17, judge Armando Ramón Valdez who is assigned the case of charges against 20 students, was requested by the students to obtain and see with them unedited video footage of the 70 security cameras of the administrative building, since edited videos from the same had been used to justify the arrest and as evidence, and since students are accused of property damage and who damaged the property would have been captured on camera. When the judge attended the university offices asking for the original videos, the administrative staff from the different offices all replied saying such videos would have been deleted already. The NGO C-Libre had back on 24-25.5.17 requested the same videos from the uni authority, to which the response they got was that the required information from the security video cameras needed to be obtained through the prosecutors department since the footage will form part of the evidence of the facts for the case.

On 25.8.17, Uni teachers association representatives were refused entry by security as observers to the public sessions of the university council.

And for some context, between 2010 and 2016, 21,000 students have been assassinated in Honduras -most of them high school students.

Lawyer of students raided against and arrested

On 9.8.17, in the morning before 8am, military police and ATIC (crime investigation unit) members raided the home of lawyer Laureano Carbajal in the calm neighbourhood of 21 de Octubre in Tegucigalpa. Four unmasked soldiers pounced about at the front door. Three masked ones in another exit. Six were on the footpath. Two ATIC agents raided inside. They arrested Laureano on a pretext of accusing him of falsifying documents for having obtained for a van owner a permit 3 years before he subsequently was found with drugs – a pretext that does not justify the raid. The real reason has to be because he is the lawyer defending the three condemned student activists Cesario Padilla, Sergio Ulloa and Moisés Cáceres, who were ruled guilty in June and supposed to be sentenced in July but the authorities are feeling the pressure given the guilty verdict is a clear human right violation and there are protests against this on many different levels. Laureano was also in the 80s a human rights defender helping family members demand the truth and appearance of their disappeared loved ones. When Laureano was a student he was the president of students organisation Federación de Estudiantes de Segunda Enseñanza (FESE).

More communities fighting hydroelectricity dams attacked – mob attacks, arrests, eviction and burning of campsite

Camp burning and mob attack – on 4.8.17, a resistance camp (then 136 days old) against the HIDROCEP dam of Jason Hawit (which would destroy the Nombre de Dios mountain ranges and Mezapa river) had been set on fire. Those who burnt the camp took advantage of that most people of the camp were out at the highway blockade action in Tela and La Ceiba that day. MADJ coordinator Martín Fernández and community leader and Word of God delegate Oscar Martínez were going to check out what damages had been done to the camp when a shock group of about 20 ambushed the two and attacked them with insults, batons, rocks and kicks to hurt Martín and Oscar. They were beaten in the face, back and legs. Martín’s injuries included a nasal septum fracture, severe back and left leg injury that left him limping, and they stole his phone. The 20 men were allegedly paid by Hydrocep US$6-8 each for carrying that out. The mercenaries had the complicity of the police and Atlántida council in destroying the camps. With the attack, police was less than a block away – their excuse for not intervening was that the shock group was ‘armed and throwing rocks’. Those responsible for or who carried out this attack walk around freely, while those attacked and at risk have Inter American Commission of Human Rights ordered protection measures, but are anything but protected. And police has shown that when the company calls on them, they come many and armed.

After having destroyed the campsite, police maintained a tank there to continue threatening those who maintain a blockade there.

Just six days later on 10.8.17, Oscar Martínez who just suffered the above attack was arrested by military police together with his partner Angélica, and René Mejía, Arnaldo Castro, and Orlando Castro from the Pajuiles communities in Tela when police and army came to evict those blockading. They were arrested for their defence of the Mezapa river and their community water source and organising against corrupt business people and the mayor who signed off the dam without consulting the community. They were released on 11.8.17 with bail conditions of signing at the court twice a week, and not leaving the country, and not attending public meetings. Their hearing process have been postponed because they were assigned a judge who is the sister of Tela mayor Mario Fuentes who collides with the dam projects and arrestees requested another judge. There were also capture orders against 12 community members for ‘usurpation for occupying public spaces against the state and the company Hidrocep’. Some sources say ten were charged this day. The day before this wave of arrests, the organisation accompanying the blockade MADJ received the visit of Sagrario Prudott who is the security department’s head of human rights, accompanied by police, who rather than responding to their hosts’ demands, took advantage of the visit to identify leaders in the area to target them for arrest.

Another five days later on 15.8.17, a massive contingent of heavily armed police with riot gear and teargas arrested Albertina López (6 months pregnant, was taken to a private clinicafter to check on her pregnancy because her baby didn’t seem to move), José Rodríguez (underage), Kevin Linares, Juan Bautista Santos and Wendy García. Human rights observers were asked to refrain from taking photos. What happened was that they were blocking the road to not allow heavy machinery onto the dam building site, and a heavy machinery did come and the community blocked its way, but then within half an hour another heavy machinery came escorted by police. Tela police head ordered the community to let the machinery through and the community asked to see the warrant. Police responded by violently arresting, pointing guns and firing teargas bombs into people’s homes, into the camp including the cooking area, and chasing and capturing leaders who were blockading with complete disregard for that children, old people and pregnant women were around. Police also confiscated motorcycles of community members who placed them there to block heavy machinery from coming through, the same way police smashed windows of cars placed there for that purpose. Arrestees were kept in inhumane conditions. Teenager José Rodríguez was beaten by police while under custody. Pregnant Albertina López was also treated with violence and was supervised by male police officers the whole time of being in custody. They were charged with illicit meetings and damages released on bail and in the last of three dates of subsequent hearings on 28.8, 29.8 and 1.9, the judge announced that charges against these were dropped.

The blockade against HIDROCEP of Jason Hawit had on 15.8.17 marked 145 days of continued resistance in defence of the communities’ right to water, and to protect the river and mountain ranges. There are also communities blockading nearby another hydroelectricity dam company Ingelsa of Emín Abufele. There are 20 communities that have joined in these struggles.

Albertina who was arrested on 15.8.17 and had joined in one of the camps since some months ago said following this arrest, ‘they have arrested me twice already, but the struggles makes us stronger. I don’t feel scared, just concern for my pregnancy. All this motivates us to keep going and struggle. The violence, persecution, and evictions aren’t going to stop us. It has not been easy, but neither is is impossible’ ‘Now I understand the words of the compañera Berta Cáceres. Her assassination was something that I felt deeply, but I never thought that we would have to fight the same struggle, that we were going to have to find the same courage that she showed to defender the Gualcarque river. Today it’s on us to defend the Nombre de Dios mountain ranges, the Mezapa river and all the rivers of Honduras that have been sold and plundered.’

Attacks against Garífuna people, radios and territories

Black Garífuna communities have long been in struggle particularly against Canadian companies who plunder their territories for tourism. As the Canadian companies take over by moving in and getting their names on the papers illegally endorsed by state authorities, communities continue to resist and organise.

On 7.8.17, Canadian businessperson Patrick Daniel Forseth placed charges of defamation and injuries against four Garífuna rights defenders: Mirian Miranda – Ofraneh (fraternal organisation of black people in Honduras) coordinator, Medelin David, Neni Avila and Letty Alvarez. Forseth owns ‘Carivida’ Mercantile Society together with Randy Jorgensen – known as porn king – and the two of them try to take over Garífuna territories in the region for their tourism megaprojects. There is a long history of charges by these business partners who have the support and complicity of council and state authorities. This May had Garífuna defender and Radio Progreso correspondent Cesar Geovany Hernández arrested by police for ‘usurpation of lands’ through charges placed by Forseth. November 2016 had Medelin David arrested through charges placed by Jorgensen.

The day before, on 6.8.17, Waraguma Garífuna community radio received a second resolution from the telecommunications commission Conatel in which Waraguma is named a ‘rebellious’ radio and threatened its closure quoting the an older resolution it said it has sent and saying that the radio’s right to defence had long ago expired. And as Waraguma is of Ofraneh, Ofraneh Mirian Miranda, who was charged as above, was then summoned to appear on 14.8.17 at the prosecutor Angela María Figueroa’s office, to declare about ‘the facts related to the complaint in which the offended is CONATEL’ and bring the documents to show that the radio frequencies of Ofraneh community radios have been renewed. Another Garífuna radio was also threatened with closure through a resolution by Conatel in 2014 – Sugua Community radio. Another Garífuna radio, Faluma Bimetu, was intentionally set on fire in the beginning of 2010. The community radios broadcast news, strengthen culture and language, and speak up in defence of ancestral territory against illegal sales to entrepreneurs of the north development of model cities on these lands.

A week later on 15.8.17, the congress approved LFT – Law of Strengthening Tourism, without many changes to the bill, proving the state’s tendency to auction off its territories to investors. The law includes auctioning of indigenous territories, tax incentives for investors, the handing over to tourism exploitation of protected areas and national parks, wildlife refuges, and archaeological parks. It legalises expropriations when they find a way of justifying them as ‘works of utility and public needs’. Banana Coast, a cruise ships port that has dramatically diminished patronage over several years, is an example of a project that had been justified as a work of utility and public needs. They are justified on the grounds of promised job creation and under the guise of sustainable tourism without regard for the impact that the project has for indigenous and other communities or the environment.

Another smear campaign targeting journalists

A webpage http://nosquedaclaro.com has been created to smear journalists’ reputation and put their lives at risk. This site has articles that argues that journalists (journalists with a human rights defence focus) it smears are linked to organised crime and drug traffickers. This site so far attacks David Romero of Radio Globo, and Renato de Jesús Alvarez of Corporación Televicentro.

Towns getting roadblocked by politicians

The neighbourhoods Santa Rosa and Cruz Roja is accessed using one road that was damaged a year ago and was being worked on by a contractor but which abandoned the project without finishing it. People don’t know what happened, maybe the council did not pay the builder? All they know is, the road is breaking on both sides, and every time that it rains the road gets narrower. And it is under pressure all the time as those who live there depend on water that gets carted in on trucks, which puts pressure on the road.

Human rights defenders of Zacate Grande get 5 year prison sentences

On 18.8.17, courts ruled the prison sentence of 5 year and one month each for Zacate Grande community leaders Abel Pérez and Santos Hernández for ‘taking advantage’ of a public beach. A re-cap on this case: Abel and Santos are subsistence farmers and fishers and also organise within the community to oppose the taking over of land by large landowners. To support their meagre income, as they had done in previous years, they cleaned up the beaches and carpark for easter and charged visitors a small parking fee. They were charged in April 2015 and have been imprisoned for around 100 days each initially before being granted bail.

Attempt against a lgbti human rights defender

Human rights defender and program manager of Development Centre and LGBTI cooperation ‘Somos CDC’, Osmin David Valle Castillos was being persecuted and in fear for his life and sought protection measures from the Honduras state – but all they gave him was a few security cameras installed in his office. Days later, on 10.7.17, Osmin was stabbed and gravely wounded on many parts of the body on 10.7.17. In the last 7 months in Honduras, there have been 24 lgbti persons assassinated.

Farmers abused and getting framed for murder

On 27 and 28.8.17, about 800 campesina families recovered 8 farms in Bajo Aguan. Five of these were violently evicted by police under the command of Subcommissioner Juan Adolfo Zapata and army agents led by head of Xatruch III, Hugo Coca. A number of the farms were legally agrarian reform land that are not for private exploitation: Paso Aguan, Remolino, el Plantel and los Laureles. In Paso Aguan and Remolino, armed guards were also participating in these evictions. Hugo Coca was intimidating and threatening community members of the Panama community, the Xatruch Operation made a military station at Paso Aguan farm.

During the night of 27.8.17, the Dinant (palm company of Facussé) armed guards Santos Misael Guzmán Bautista and Juan José Salazar Villeda were misteriously found dead 6 kms from Panamá community. Farmers who found out about the killing on the 28.8.17 do not know what happened to these and call for investigation. Dinant guard Obdulio Pequera made public accusations against the farmers’ movement for these deaths. Despite that a number of farmers there have been assassinated in the last years, some at the hands of guards, it would have been impossible for the farmers to kill them because the farms are always watched by the military and security guards, the farmers were grouped in protest and were not involved in any confrontations with guards that day.

At the same time, on 28.8.17, in the midnight hours, farmer Edgardo Rodríguez of the farmers cooperative Nuevo Evenecer was shot at several times by armed guards of Inversiones Ceibeña. Nuevo Evenecer works on the Remolino farm which is in conflict with the large landholder Reinaldo Canales who says the land is his, despite the land title papers stating that it belongs to the organised farmers.

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July 2017 Honduras coup update

July 2017 Honduras coup update

Killed: Student activist and actor

luis-joel-rivera

In the midst of these months of university students struggle, including of many sociology students, on the night of 12.7.17, a group of armed and unrecognised persons abruptly appeared at the Rivera family home’s door. They forcibly entered searching for Luís Joel Rivera and did not leave until they were dragging him with them. His family desperately called police emergency numbers, where they kept reiterating that Luís had death threats against him. Police did nothing. The attackers took Luís with them, they didn’t go very far before they assassinated him. Luís was an active member of the Sociology Students Association for which he was the communication secretary. He is also an actor and the director of a threatre group Sombra Roja, and has worked as an organiser of cultural events and in arts for over a decade. Luís also has been an active part of the students movement.

Student arrested out of the blue

On 2.17.17, student Armando Velásquez was this Sunday afternoon travelling on a bus from the Atlántic coast towards San Pedro Sula, when the bus was stopped at a police checkpoint at El Porvenir, and as they checked everyone’s names, they picked him out and arrested him. Armando was back on 24.5.17 arrested with 19 other students for occupying a university building at UNAH. During this May arrest, he was also singled out at the cells in the midnight hours for interrogation. Armando was in addition one of the 75 students charged the year before but these charges were dropped because of an agreement between students and authorities then.

Evictions against students

Throughout July, there were ongoing student demonstrations including a hungerstrike by several students that lasted most of July and beyond. There were a number of eviction attacks against the students:

On 13.7.17 about 10pm, ESPA security guards and police tried to evict students who occupied the odontology faculty building using pepper gas, verbal and physical threats. The students managed to stay put but one student on hunger strike needed medical attention because of poisoning by peppergas. Students gathered evidence showing the guards smashing desks – something guards did with the intention of blaming students for property damage. They also showed the involvement of Roger Aguilar the retired military with ESPA – Roger was part of the 3-16 batallón which in the 80s disappeared at least 83 citizens.

On 17.7.17, since 7am, at the health sciences buildings, a group of hooded uniformed security guards with red and green ‘Spartan security uniforms’ were on campus holding firearms and knives and pointing these and chasing students in an effort to evict them. They beat students in the faces and bodies and wounded five students. Minutes later though, more students came and they managed to evict the ‘Spartan’ paramilitary group reverting the situation.

On 25.7.17 in the morning, security forces launched teargas bombs to evict students.

Arrestee students now also suspended for 5 years

The 19 arrrestee students from the 24.5.17 uni campus occupation were now also suspended for 5 years.

After a concert: UNAH attacks father Moreno and cancels students radio program

On 28.7.17, the Venezuelan protest music group Los Guaraguao came on campus to give a free half an hour concert in solidarity with university students of UNAH who are continuing their more than 40 days of continuous struggle. After this concert, which also is supported by Jesuit radio organisation ERIC-SJ, UNAH director Castellanos announced to the media in a university council meeting saying that she was cancelling a cooperation agreement between the uni and ERIC-SJ, so that the students radio program supported by this agreement – UNAH VOZ of journalism students, is forcibly cancelled. Castellanos based her decision on her opinion that ERIC-SJ father Moreno ‘encourages anarchy and disrespect of a legally constituted authority’ and ‘encourages practices and ways that generate violence in university youths.’

Students blamed for cancellation of academic term

At the CURLP campus, the authorities on 15.7.17, arbitrarily suspended the second academic period, they they went and gave the press the names of five student activists, announcing that it is their fault this second academic period got cancelled, inciting hate against these.

Journalists close and personal with students’ reality

On 26.7.17, TV journalist José Carlos Cardona expected to hear about the students struggle when he invited them into the studio to talk about their situation on his show ‘Sigo Yo’ which has the slot of 8-9pm, Monday to Friday. José did not expect that as the student activists Héctor Estrada and Héctor Ulloa would minutes before that be yelled death threats by people holding pistols on motorcycles just outside the UNE TV studios. ‘Death to MEU’, they yelled. Cardona was nervous and did not give the usual welcome speech. He said, ‘The life of these youths are in danger, since 2 months ago all this began, this is very regrettable… what just happened to you has me in shock, it is so extreme I don’t want to believe it, this war of hate against you, against you student leaders within MEU and all who are part of this struggle.’

The day before, on 25.7.17, during the morning, as La Tribuna cameraperson Arturo Hernández was covering the eviction against students at UNAH, he was wounded by police – a stone impacted his head. Students helped Arturo get help and take him to a safe place and got him to the care of Red Cross Honduras. Security forces were launching teargas bombs to evict students.

Human rights defender smeared

On 12.7.17 UNAH CURLP director Alina Molina in a tv interview smeared Costa Rica-based human rights defender Ana Franzen calling her a ‘psychiatric patient’ for speaking up against UNAH authorities and their implications in the persecution and assassination of Hector Martinez Motiño.

Attempt against lives of Copinh leaders

On 30.6.17, Copinh leaders Sotero Chavarría, Asunción Martínez and Bertha Zúniga Cáceres were travelling together in a car after having met with the Cancire community. While driving along, their car was intercepted by four unknown people armed with machetes, but they managed to escape swerving to avoid contact with the attackers, but not without having been hit by a stone thrown at the driver’s window. Minutes later, a black Toyota Tacoma PCH1886 that was at the initial attack tried to crash into them and push them over the edge. When that did not force them over the edge, the Tacoma drove in front of the Copinh car and braked in front of them, but the Copinh driver managed to break away in a different direction and escaped. The Cancire community like the San Antonio, Higuito, and Cedrito is organised with Copinh and is standing to lose their water sources if the building of the Puringla-Sazagua hydroelectricity dam that is supported by USAID funding goes ahead. Bertha Zúniga Cáceres is the daughter of the assassinated Copinh coordinator Berta Cáceres 16 months ago, Bertha the daughter is the current coordinator of Copinh.

FMO and Finn Fund – withdrawn but not without any buts

On 6.7.17, following tireless campaigning and pressure of Copinh communities, there was finally official confirmation that FMO and Finn Fund have withdrawn from the assassin hydroelectricity dam project Agua Zarca – however they have ignored Copinh recommendations about the responsible exit they should take. For one part it meant they are still promoting a decision making process on a hydroelectricity project even though the Lenca indigenous communities have clearly rejected this and that continuing to put this on the table only invites more violence and repression against the communities. For another part FMO and Finn Fund have not recognised their responsibility for the deaths and human rights violations through their contributions to Agua Zarca. Copinh continues to demand that they recognise their responsibility.

Corrupt teacher gives death threats against journalist

On 5.7.17, for having spoken up about teacher Félix López having found an administrative loophole to get paid for teaching without fulfilling a teaching role, Trujillo based journalist Miguel Dubón received death threats from Félix, who said, ‘this son of hundred thousand bitches of Miguel Dubón has me tired but today is your end, you will die slow you ungrateful piece of rubbish’. Miguel is journalist and director of the Noticiero Independiente program of the Warumuga Garifuna community radio of Ofraneh. He is also a correspondent of Radio Globo and of Radio Progreso.

State fines and threatens to close a garífuna community radio – Waruguma

On 27.7.17, Conatel (Honduran Telecommunications Commission) threatened to close the Garífuna community radio Waruguma (Estrella) and also sent Ofraneh received a resolution signed by Conatel president Javier Duarte García, which declared the community radio as ‘rebellious’ and imposed a fine of 30,000 lempiras (US$1300). The document referred to a proceeding that began on 1.6.11 when they also tried to close the media using the law Ley Marco del Sector Telecomunicaciones. Waruguma and other Garífuna community radios do work of defending ancestral territory, speaking up against illegal land sales.

Radio program ordered closed

On 6.7.17, journalist Jorge Oseguera spoke up about that after having remained on air for 3.5 years and almost daily messages telling him to watch out and to stop talking about certain topics, his news program on 96.1 FM of Buenos dias Buenas noches San Pedro Sula’ was removed from ‘Radio International’ programming in an unilateral decision made by the owners. Jorge described himself as a pretty aggressive journalist and is also a correspondent of HRN. He received an average of 150,000 calls a year on the program.

June 2017 Honduras Coup Update

June 2017 Honduras Coup Update

This June 2017, 8 years since the military coup begun, the repression is heavy against uni students and the continued struggle in Río Blanco to kick out the hydroelectricity dam project Agua Zarca and demand justice for the murder against Berta Cáceres and for many other grave abuses and murders there. Another farmers group was evicted very violently with the full force of state, this time in La Paz. A journalist was assassinated after constant death threats. State official, politician and church leader all speaking publicly hate speech and smearing and attacking groups – student activists, marxists, lgbti persons, and others.

Parent of arrestee student who participated in solidarity protests and media interviews, murdered at his door

On 24.6.17, at 5.30am, Roberto Antonio Gómez was assassinated with gunshots just as he was about to leave for work, at the door of his home, in the neighbourhood Brisas de Valle in Tegucigalpa. He is the dad of Andy Gómez, one of 20 uni students arrested and charged at an uni students occupation on 24.5.17. Roberto accompanied his son participating in court solidarity protests together with other students’ parents and other student compas. There are photos of him holding up a placard which said, ‘I want my children to have a public education that is quality, without repression or authoritarianisms. Roberto had participated in different meetings with human rights defenders organisations that support the students’ movement. He participated in media interviews at the protests, for HCH he said, ‘we are against this downtrodding of the university that is trying to take away the rights of the students, and we want this to resolve in the best way – through dialogue.’ His murder is comparable to that of 13 year old high school student Soad Nicole Ham, who was interviewed by the media where she spoke up about lack of furniture in classrooms and called on the president JOH to get out, before she was found assassinated on the streets of Tegucigalpa.

A verdict of guilty ruled against 3 uni student activists

Cesario Alejandro Padilla, Moisés David Cáceres, and Sergio Luís Ulloa were charged with usurpation in 2015 for having been organisers in a student protest in opposition to a detrimental academic regulation reform at the UNAH university. When students regrouped in 2016 to keep fighting to defend public university education, uni authorities responded by arresting and charging 103 students – the authorities and students ended up negotiating and the agreement made included with withdrawal of all charges against protesting students. This agreement was witnessed including by UNHCHR because of the immensity of the persecution against students. Despite this, uni authorities failed to fully comply with this agreement by continuing the charges against Cesario, Moisés and Sergio, culminating in the grave ‘guilty verdict’ ruled by the Supreme Court on 7.6.17 for the usurpation charges they got following student occupation protests. UNHCHR affirmed the graveness of this in violating international human rights standards, and in opening way for criminalisation of different groups of rights defenders. UNAH of course does not respond regretting what it does, instead, in its public statement in response, attacks UNHCHR for ‘not having gathered all relevant information’ in forming its position, insinuating particularly that the student protests are ‘violent’ and that UNHCHR in failing to ‘recognise that’ is contributing to the ungovernable state of affairs and messing with processes of forming ‘responsible citizens’.

UNAH: charges plus now expulsion hearings

Not only were the 20 students arrested and charged for their solidarity protests with other students who were judicially persecuted before them, but to add insult to injury, on 16.6.17, they were all summoned to expulsion hearings, and are so threatened with being expelled from uni.

One of these 20 is Henry Orlando Rodríguez D Vicente, who was in 2015 charged with sedition by UNAH legal rep Horario Baquedano under instructions of UNAH-CURLP director Alina Molina, and academic secretary Rogelio Alvarez. The same charged him again in 2016 and made a capture order against him for ‘usurpation’, from which he was freed through the legal work of NGO lawyers. He was then this year again arrested and charged and given bail conditions, and now summoned to an expulsion hearing on 16.6.17.

Another of these is José Manuel Gonzales Serén, a Lenca indigenous journalism student who participated in the students’ campus occupation. Not only is he summoned to an expulsion hearing, but as a scholarship recipient, he had this scholarship cancelled by the uni authorities on 26.6.17, which cleared stated that the cancellation of the scholarship was because of his involvement in the occupation of the university.

Students’ solidarity protests again evicted violently, several students arrested

On 16.6.17, UNAH uni students in both San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa city campuses camped from the night before occupying UNAH buildings in solidarity with 26 compas who are facing expulsion. Students from both campuses suffered arrests, teargas cans being launched at them and being chased:

In San Pedro Sula, police arrived at 3am and asked students to leave by 6am. When students were still there at 6am at the uni gates, police approached the students and the students asked to see the eviction order from the court. The prosecutor accompanying the police replied saying no eviction order was required (this was untrue and the eviction and subsequent capture were illegal), and called on a large riot squad of the police and began evicting students. Seeing so many cops, the students fled inside the uni buildings, and the prosecutor gave the order to capture the occupation participants. Police under sub-commissioner Nuñez initially hesitated to carry out the order to capture students, but proceeded to do so when the order was given a second time, and captured at least one student.

In Tegucigalpa, there were lots of riot cops and teargas cans. Many were massively affected and suffocated by teargas including people who were receiving treatment in the dentistry and nutrition faculty buildings and the students and educators, as well as the human rights defenders, journalists and camerapersons who accompanied and gave coverage to the student protests. This day, in Tegucigalpa. 6 students were arrested.

Security guard attempts against student the way they previously did against staff

In the last few years, a number of incidents have been reported by activist staff (including one subsequently murdered by other means) of the uni that security contractors of the uni would put holes in their tyres while they are parked, to provoke accidents to involve the targeted ‘trouble-making’ person as instructed by officials of the uni. On 27.6.17, a student spotted an ESPA (UNAH contracted private security) guard putting a hole in another student’s tyre and began filming this – when the guard realised he was being filmed, he fled quickly. Days before this, students had made a demand for ESPA’s contract to be stopped given that students had on different occasions been identified by security guards, their demand was followed by ADUNAH educators’ associations then demanding the same. Students also demanded the end of military presence on campus, given that this military presence puts lives at risk.

More death threats against copinh members

Death threats against Copinh (Council of indigenous and grassroots movements of Honduras) members had been constant and intensifying, as had dealing with these people who threaten them being armed. This is in the context of the community and Copinh members continuing to defend their territories from being invaded by people linked with DESA who are everyday pushing still to impose the ‘Agua Zarca’ hydroelectricity dam. On 21.6.17, in the morning hours, a number of armed men again threatened Copinh members while they were working the land at la Vega de Culatón. One of the armed men threatened with killing at any moment the children of Francisco Javier Sánchez, the coordinator of the Río Blanco indigenous council and member of the general coordination of Copinh. Copinh’s complaints to the authorities about the threats and the destruction of their cornfields fall on deaf ears while those making the threats continue to walk around freely, and receive backup security by police even. The lives of Copinh members at Río Blanco are at high risk, especially when they are working on their ancestral territories in la Vega del Achiotal and la Vega del Cuatón, as they are the places DESA has invaded to try to build the dam project. The context to this is that the Madrid family from another province of Santa Bárbara, had illegally plundered Lenca territoriy and sold part of this to DESA, and DESA staff have since been threatening Copinh members including Berta Cáceres before murdering her. One of them threatened with ‘fixing things’ with Berta and warned about watching out for consequences. Franklin of the Madrid family has in particular pointed firearms at Copinh members in Río Blanco, and has fired shots to the air near Copinh members while they work on the ancestral territory.

Update on Berta and Copinh’s case

More than 15 months following Berta Cáceres murder and a bit over 4 years since the beginning of the Agua Zarca dam project imposed against community wishes, the preliminary murder trial continues. The lawyer representing Copinh and Berta puts forth that Berta’s murder was not planned months before, but, rather, since the beginning of the DESA project as the organised opposition begun. The state had not made much information available regarding the investigation, and that Berta’s murder – as well as the plundering of land with threats and coercion affecting others also, involved the complicity, coordination and participation of state security forces, parallel structures and hitpersons linked to DESA, and used security systems, the building of a network of informants, the following and attacking of peoples. At the same time that this trial continues and defendants’ lawyer makes their shameless attempts to discredit all witnesses on Copinh’s side, the finance organisations are also trying to appear to be ceding to the demand of ceasing finance to Agua Zarca through mainstream articles that speak of their decisions to abandon the project (eg FMO and Finnfund as published on Guardian on 4.6.17), while none of the banks (FMO, Finnfund, CABEI) actually made any official declaration towards such commitment.

Massive eviction against farmers in La Paz

On 13.6.17, about 6.30am, to evict 22 farming families of the farmers group 23 de febrero occupying 168 acre of land, came 150 national police in 3 military commando operation (Cobra) trucks carrying many teargas bombs, which they launched without mercy. On this land the families laboriously nurtured the land and grew maíz, beans and coffee – all this was slashed off by the military and the civilians that were with them. These 22 families have been occupying these state lands that were not privately owned for 6 years, prior to their occupation the land was unused for over 30 years since the death of the person in possession many years ago. Out of the blue, with complicity by the council mayor who also harrasses members of the farmers’ group, papers suddenly appeared in the last months naming the siblings Iris Avila and Dario Avila as owners of these lands – it was they who sought and obtained the eviction order. This farmers group that was based at the la Piedra community at the Tepanguare village in the La Paz province belonged to the CNTC rural workers national federation.

Journalist murdered following constant death threats

On 15.6.17, journalist of tv channel 45TV in the Ceiba city in Atlántida, Víctor Funes, ‘the people’s journalist’, was assassinated the moment he arrived home. It was 4.29 am in the morning of 15.6.17, a security camera captured the precise moment of the assassination of journalist by a person who drove a motorcycle whose face was covered by the security helmet. Víctor was the director of the ‘Nocturnal Panorama’ program on channel 45, running 10-11.30pm at night. With his assassination there are now 67 journalists who have been assassinated in Honduras from 2003 to date. He received death threats, almost daily, from unidentified persons who called or texted his phone. One of the threats was in April 2016 when he transmitted a video of an assassination of a driver on Cristina transportes intercity buses, carried out by a woman. Funes received threatening calls demanding that he stopped speaking about this topic. Funes also had won internal elections in national party as an MP candidate.

Uni authority, politician, and evangelical pastor smearing and spreading hate

Uni authorities on 23.6.17, the same time as the hearings against students they had initiated began, launched a smear campaign in the media against student activists Mirta Gutiérrez, Héctor Ulloa and Kevin Ramos. They released a video to stigmatise these on mainstream media, portraying these as adversarial to the uni authorities.

On 24.6.17, parliamentarian and cartoonist and TV program director Darío Banegas published a homophobic cartoon on newspaper. Through the cartoon he spreads a message of hate towards lgbti persons, already heavily stigmatised to the point where between 2009 and now, over 240 persons of lgbti background have been murdered, with a number of cases substantiated as killings driven by hatred against sexual diversity.

Meanwhile, evangelical pastor Evelio Reyes also made hate speeches in the media telling people not to vote for politicians who don’t share their faith and values – and proceeded to spread hate against those who are outside of traditional heterosexual marriages, those who seek decriminalisation of abortion, and those who seek to redistribute wealth and ‘thereby attempt against private property and free competition and fair profits’. He said, ‘don’t vote for immoral, homosexual and lesbian candidates who corrupt God’s model.’

May 2017 Honduras Coup update

May 2017 Honduras Coup update

Journalist bashed and tortured covering attacks against a student occupation

Journalist and human rights defender Ronnie Ezequiet Huete Salgado has a long history of having worked 17 years in journalism including having taught in UNAH and in private universities and has been on the scene to document many human rights violations in Honduras. In the beginnings of the coup he received death threats in relation to his work. On the night of 24.5.17, Ronnie received a phonecall from an anonymous person; the caller told him that there was an uni occupation taking place and that people’s lives were at risk, so he went immediately to the university to cover and intervene in the capacity of a journalist. As he arrived he saw a group of ESPA company UNAH privately contracted guards around the buildings – he approached and asked them what was happening, and they responded that they were not authorised to give statements. Ronnie went towards the admin building and saw a group of students who had faces covered, and the students gave their testimonies on what was happening. Ronnie proceeded to a lower level of the building where he saw a group of students in confrontation with another group of people who also had faces covered, but who had shirts removed and were holding batons. Ronnie began recording with his phone with which he can transmit live for the Brazil-based internet media for which he is an international correspondent. As tension rose higher and higher he called national and international press and also called his dad. Ronnie then tried to intervene and mediate, but it was too late, the shirtless hooded group jumped from the lower floor to the parking lot where the students were to chase and attack them. The baton-holders began to bash one of the doors towards the reception office of the building, then they swung towards Ronnie and sprayed his face with toxic pepper gas. Ronnie said he was an international correspondent and human rights defender and showed his international journalist ID, they responded by snatching his phone and ID, and began beating him with batons and kicked him to the ground. He kept insisting he was working as a journalist and they beat him harder and harder. Ronnie thought he was going to die and begged them to stop. Ronnie remembered the hooded person who ordered them to stop beating him was also shirtless and wore black pants with green stripes (perhaps that is part of the security company uniform, as he mentioned that detail about a few of these shirtless attackers) – they lifted him off the ground and told him not to move. Ronnie insisted that he was a journalist, and they told him to shut up or be bashed again. They watched him. Ronnie felt his hands and eyes burn from the pappergas, and pain on the right hand and many other parts of his body from the torture and beating. Ronnie told them he needed medical assistance, they ignored him. He doesn’t know how much time went by before he heard that another human rights defender was present and he took the risk to get away to seek help. He managed to leave the parking lot, and met his dad and a human rights defender at the reception office. Once accompanied he tried to request his phone and international journalist ID back, but was refused. The human rights defender said lets go, you need to see the doctor now, so the three went to exit the campus. On the way out a police contingent was outside waiting for them, saying they had an order to arrest anyone who leaves the building. Each showed what IDs they had – Ronnie had a journalist association ID in his pocket, but they proceeded to arrest him. In that condition of just having been beaten and needing safety and care, he was instead kept in a police cell for about 36 hours, without medical attention, sleeping on the floor, breathing in nauseating smells, with limited access to food and water. When he was finally to be heard in court, Ronnie was cuffed by feet and hands. He was asked his version of the events, and he told the judge how he was tortured. Having said that he feels even more vulnerable. Ronnie was charged the same charges as the students, and accused of being part of the student occupation. Ronnie is psychologically traumatised and is in fear for his life and needing protection.

Students arrested and smeared

There were twenty students involved in this uni occupation, 4 women and 16 men. They occupied protesting in solidarity with three student activists (Moisés Cáceres, Cesario Padilla and Sergio Ulloa) who have been locked up, demanding that they be freed and the charges be dropped. In those early hours of 25/5/17, students were first chased and sprayed peppergas by masked and unshirted security guards and then police and military entered UNAH without any required judicial orders (police and military are not supposed to enter autonomous uni campuses unless they have a court order to) to complete the eviction and arrest all students. All twenty students were held for 36 hours in the police cells, and charged with ‘provoking damages to the director’s building’ (the office door that the security guards hit, perhaps?). All students were cuffed by their hands and feet as they were taken into court for the bail hearing. The main witness for the hearings against the students is none other than the retired soldier Roger Aguilar Flores who is in charge of the ESPA security team.

As that initial court process was going on, UNAH director Julieta Castellanos spoke for over an hour at the university council meeting, in which Julieta made a series of statements to smear and incite hate towards the arrestee students who occupied. Her statements included that ‘those violent students unless they get controlled are the future of the Islamic State in this university’, she showed pictures of some of these students being student representative candidates saying they are from the Libre political party and showed pictures of Libre and Anticorruption party and PINU assemblies to show that some of these youths attended some of these assemblies.. she made comments saying that the youths who participated in this had psychological problems. She said she would sue the students that dare question her 8 years in her position, saying she will not allow it. And on the use of media by students and by her, she warned, ‘we already know who manages the page and we are going to call because they always say we don’t know who manages the page and we are going to call Mr Vice Director’ referring to Ayax Irias. ‘We are going to commission a TV slot’ against the students, she said, as they had done during student protests in 2016, through Televicentro corporation. Julieta said that there are no agreements to drop any charges. She said, she would not tolerate more protests at uni. The university authorities also went on to send a public press statement that labelled students organised in the Uni Students Movement MEU of UNAH as ‘anarchists and trotskyists’ – naming especially psychology student Marcio Silva – this was in response to a prior meeting in which students told university authorities that they would not accept the prolonging of the mandate of the current authorities that are due to finish in September 2017, since every time students exercise their rights to protest they are repressed violently.

Journalist under threats

On 22.5.17, Ricardo Patiño, journalist and director of the tv news program ‘Telavisión Edición Estelar’ spoke up about threats he has received through social media and that he was physically attacked back on 7.4.17 by a councillor of the Tela Atlántida council of the Liberal Party, Francois Ligeard, and that it was in the presence also of the prosecutors coordinator, the health director and other municipal staff of Tela, and that Francois Liegard afterwards made pejorative remarks against Ricardo on facebook. Through the same social media, the councillor Francois Ligeard made threats to hurt Patiño and another journalist Andrés Abelino Matute. Francois Ligeard has also sent threatening messages to Ricardo by mobile text messages. Ricardo has also received threats from another council employee identified as David Interiano who said on his facebook ‘the one who talks a lot of shits, their days are numbered’. Ricardo Patiño fears for him and his family’s safety and holds the mayor responsible for anything that may happen to them. These threats began after Ricardo began covering news on acts of corruption in the council headed by mayor Mario Alberto Fuentes Morales. He also gave coverage to the communities Mezapa and Pajuiles, who have for 49 days kept paralysed the building of a hydroelectric dam being set up there. Back in May 2016, Patiño spoke up about his TV program in a christian channel being closed because of political pressures from the same mayor Mario Alberto Fuentes Morales.

Garífuna community leader and journalist arrested and charged with land usurpation

On 18.5.17 in the afternoon, a community leader and member of general coordination of Ofraneh (Honduran Black Fraternal Organisation) as well as a Garífuna correspondent for Radio Progreso, César Geovany Bernárdez, after leaving an Ofraneh directive committee meeting, was arrested accused of usurping a land. The land he is accused of usurping is ancestral collective Garífuna land for which there was an illegal sale to the Canadian company Carivida (represented by Patrick Forseth) by the Santa Fé municipality council in 2013. In these times, an ecotourism project managed by Garífuna women of the Guadalupe community was establishing, but which had trouble establishing itself because of a wave of violence then by a group of fugitives who established themselves nearby and committed a series of killings. In 2012 when Ofraneh heard rumours of land sales, Ofraneh sent a statement to the Santa Fé council requesting that any admin processes for such sales be stopped – this was ignored. The Garifuna people have since 2008 placed charges against the Santa Fe council and in 2013 against mayor Noel Ruiz for sponsoring illegal sales of land to ‘involved canadians’, prosecutors never followed up on these charges, but they are prosecuting Cesar Geovany Bernárdez, who has been a major voice against the installation of Carivida’s tourism project on their Garífuna community land. And, the community was of course never consulted about supposed development plans.

Camera person gravely wounded

On 31.5.17, at about 10.30pm, when Televicentro cameraperson René Alberto Ortega (aged 29) was riding home from work on his motorcycle, through the barrio Buenos Aires in Tegucigalpa, René was shot at 6 times, 4 of the gunshots hit his body, 2 shots on his back, one on his neck and one on his left arm. He was immediately taken to hospital where after surgery, he remained in intensive care. It was not a robbery-assault since his motorcycle and objects of value were not taken from him.

Sweatshop abuses

Back in early April 2017, Delta Apparel (US company in Honduras) fired 40 Honduran workers. Of the 40 fired workers, 25 workers (22 women and 3 men) are demanding their jobs back. All 25 garment workers have sustained work injuries like musculoskeletal disorders – without their jobs they cannot access the treatment they need. They need to be reinstated under rehabilitation in work that is appropriate to their health conditions. They were fired with full knowledge of – because of, their injuries. All fired workers had worked for the company for between 10-19 years. The company in its marketing claims, as they all do, to be a ‘socially responsible company’.

Soldiers obstruct journalists and threatened them with prison

On 30.5.17 in Morocelí, El Paraíso, soldiers tried to take the camera equipment of several camerapersons from different medias who were there trying to cover the news. One soldier was for a whole minute holding and claiming the large camera of a journalist who never let go of the camera while others intervened telling the soldier to let go and pointing other cameras. When asked if there was an order to obstruct media, soldiers said no, but continued to try to take journalists’ cameras. Soldiers while herding journalists away from the area made between the lines threats to say that the journalists were going to prison.

Indigenous and black women of Honduras working together

Over 550 women of 6 peoples of Honduras gathered as indigenous and black Honduran women sharing thoughts and strategies on defending their culture, territories and common goods. They travelled to Tegucigalpa and gathered for 2 days. They shared their experiences of persecution faced in struggles against mining and hydroelectricity companies that plunder and marginalise their communities. They spoke up against the racist and patriarchal system which is embodied in the mining projects in collusion with the different arms of the Honduran state. They paid homage to Berta Caceres, her struggle and her emancipatory ideas, and demanded justice for her, 15 months after her assassination.

Politicians’ objection to decriminalising journalism work

Journalists association and groups of journalists campaigned for the elimination of an article in the criminal code, article 335-b which says ‘who publicly or through media or diffusion destined to the public makes apology or justification of terrorism crime or that had participated in its execution or will incite other individuals to commit terrorism or finance this, will be punished with the penalty of 4-8 years in prison’. Congress president Mauricio Oliva Herrera was on the other side of this campaign objecting this decriminalisation move. He gave examples of journalisms he considers unworthy that this law deters – journalists covering that people burnt down a Burger King, or that students occupy the university, or in protest burn buildings, or occupies channel 10 and break its windows .

April 2017 Honduras Coup update

April 2017 Honduras Coup update

Unionists held up, interrogated and threatened at highway intersection

On 15.4.17, melon workers unionists Moisés Sánchez and his brother Misael had left an union meeting and were running some union errands on bicycle before riding home when at a highway interception near the Los Balcanes finca they were surrounded by four hooded attackers armed with guns and machetes – with another two people keeping watch 60 metres away from them. Misael tried to approach one of the attackers and in the process he was swung at in the face with a machete – from which he was deeply wounded. He took advantage of that it was dark and managed to escape and seek help. The attackers had Moisés well identified saying he was in charge of all the movement and that he would pay if he kept going with it. They interrogated Moisés with many questions, wanting to know especially where he ‘kept all the information’. They snatched his bicycle and all his belongings and said, ‘you still haven’t handed me what is most needed, the phone where you have all the information. If you keep going in this you are going to suffer the consequences’. Moisés is the general secretary of a STAS Union of Workers of Agriculture and Similar Industries, and Misael is an affiliate of the same, both are workers for the company Melon Export. No bypassers driving through this intersection tried to find out what was happening and intervene or get help. The brothers live in the La Permuta neighbourhood, their community there responded immediately when they were told of the situation and over hundred people gathered to try to intervene and capture the attackers but they did not manage to, but at least the attackers did leave Moisés after 40 minutes of aggression and interrogation. Misael was on 17.4.17 discharged from hospital and continues to recover from the stab wound on his face. They continue in struggle and call out for solidarity and support.

They have been organising for many months fighting for collective bargaining, and to be paid entitlements such as minimal wage, overtime pay, prorata holidays, long service leave and social security contributions and fighting against dismissal of organised workers, long work days, unhygienic work conditions, lack of security, women being fired for pregnancy and the use of blacklists. They have for many months fought the Ireland transnational Fyffes for these abuses – the melon business was recently acquired by Japanese conglomerate Sumitom and things only look worse for the workers who are mostly women – many single mothers, and for the fight for better work rights with this escalation of repression.

Multiple operations of arrests against organised farmers

In Yorito, Yoro, on 12.4.17, at the early hour of 4.45am, police arrived at the village Las Lomitas and arrested organised farmers Manuel Reyes and Selvin Lozano. The police then went to the village Sabana San Pedro and arrested Olvin Velásquez, Roger Velásquez and Fredy Velásquez. All captures were executed without judicial capture orders. All five farmers are organised in the Campesina Unidos cooperative, and Olvin Velásquez is the president of the co-op. They were on 17.4.17 still detained without bail. They are being charged with usurpation of lands, for 418 hectares of land that the 156 families have had land title to since 1984 in the name of Manuel Colombino Mejía, Esteban Ramírez and Santa Inés Santulín. And the families had for over 10 years lived there and sown maíz and beans for the families’ subsistence there. They had faced a lot of repression in the last 6 months on these lands, including violent evictions by police and army on 1.10.16, 2.1.17 and 3.2.17 – the last being the most brutal with homes and crops destroyed and 8 farmers leaders arrested including Héctor Iván García, Jaime Adalid Castro, Otilio Mateo, Frandy Ávila, and Odilver Reyes. The farmers complain that they have been followed and given death threats by Wilder Omar Domínguez Fugon and his son Wilder Samuel Domínguez Sarmiento who drive around on a double cabin grey vehicle with numberplate DTL7730. State institutions of Land titles and Agrarian reform had disrespected the farmers legitimate land rights in giving land titles to business people. The arrested farmers and the families in the struggle are at high risk

Meanwhile, in Tutule, La Paz, a fourth alert came out on 29.4.17 that an arrested farmer, Carlos Jeovanny López Calix continued to be in custody, with the initial hearing scheduled for 4.5.17 at 11am. Carlos is a member of farmers cooperative 9 de julio de San Pedro, was captured in his home on 28.4.17, the capture order says ‘to proceed to raid his home with capture order, for usurpation of land property of Carlos Arriago.’ However during the hearing to declare not guilty/guilty to the charge, they added two more charges: attempts and death threats against Carlos Arriaga, Carlos Ivanovigch Rodriguez Maldonado and against police officers. There are another 8 members of 9 de julio farmers co-op, who, like Carlos, belong to the rural workers national federation CNTC and have capture orders against them that were pending. The farmers’ crime are working the land and being able to feed their families. Carlos remained detained thanks to the collusion of police, judges and prosecutors who obeyed the supposed landowner Carlos Benjamín Arriaga. Following the hearing, it was updated that he was released after 6 days of being in custody, but on bail measures – of signing at La Paz courts every Friday, of not leaving the country, and of not going to places that are frequented by those who made charges against him, and from having communications with them – this is while the case was ‘provisionally dismissed’.

Indiscriminate arrest of high school students

On 25.4.17, high school students were protesting outside the Presidential House demanding an education reform when a confrontation broke out as students were waiting for a delegation to be allowed inside to submit a proposal for reform. The police said a ‘mob’ threw stones at them and damaged the police tank, and they didn’t identify anyone who threw stones, but the police unleashed dozens of teargas bombs at students and chased them. Five underage students of the schools Jesús Aguilar Paz and Luis Bográn were taking refuge from the teargas 200 metres from the Presidential House, when they got arrested and charged with the damages to a police tank, although they had nothing to do with the stone throwing and police had no evidence otherwise.

Physical attack against prochoice women in demonstration

On 26.4.17, about eighty women organised in ‘Plataforma Somos Muchas’ were outside the congress building, demonstrating and demanding the decriminalisation of abortion in Honduras. They demanded decriminalisation in cases of that the mother’s life is in danger, of when the pregnancy resulted from rape, and when ultrasound shows life threatening genital deformities. The women were met with an attack with stones, sticks, knives, cans, bottles, eggs stuffed with sulphate and waterbags from an organised counterprotest led by young men wearing blue and white shirts and made up of students who are beneficiaries of the 20/20 scholarship program, and government staff. This attack was incited and organised by religious fundamentalists within church and government structures – a few days before the attack cardenal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga made public a statement vilifying these women’s work calling them ‘destroyers of families’, ‘abortionists’, even ‘assassins’, and vilifying abortion rights as ‘the right to kill’. This same and additional name-calling was echoed by the attackers. Evangelical Cofraternity also made public their disregard for women’s rights. Presidential delegate Ricardo Alvarez was amongst the people who made the call out for violent groups to attack the women, as were coordinators of the scholarship program 20/20 – who organised the transport for students and told them participation can be counted towards their volunteer hours.

Doctor of public health system got suspended and threatened, for speaking up about increased service fees for patients are inhumane

On 25.4.17, Dr Denis Rigoberto Chirinos Santos spoke up about having been suspended and threatened. Denis is the president of the HEU (teaching hospital) Doctors’ Association. As he and a colleague had been coordinating a program ‘Family Health’ since seven years ago, he went on the program and on 1.3.17, he said on it that, ‘I am going to speak as the president of the doctors’ association of Hospital Escuela, casually today I realised that the excessive and inhumane fees increase.. that has increased about 200% in some areas.’ That was the first time he spoke to the press about this issue. He was suspended for supposedly ‘having made use of the press to facilitate information about facts and activities of the institution without having obtained the due prior authorisation…in relation to new item prices in the cashier department.’ Denis spoke up because he knows these increases are astounding and unaffordable to many who would lose access to needed treatment and services. He also commented that the hospital has much more fund than budgeted as well as that the increased fees would be insignificant to hospital funding levels. Not only is he suspended, but he receives phonecalls, ‘they call me and tell me to not talk anymore, to abandon the press, to not speak nothing anymore or there will be other types of measures to come.’ They threatened him with complaints against him for sexual abuse to smear him and ruin his career.

Human rights organisation representative attempted against

Hedme Castro of ACI Participa was attempted against. On the night of 6.4.17, Hedme arrived at her home at 10.30pm, coming home after an event for the German parliamentarians mission. She parked her car and went home, and the next day she took her car at 7.30am and drove to the office, and as she was driving by Metromall she felt that the car was losing balance, and kept driving to the office, where when she arrived she realised her tyre was very flat. Two workmates brought in a trusted taxi driver of the neighbourhood to the office to help change the tyre, and they saw that the tyre had a screw jammed into it. The workmates went to a workshop around there and the workshop’s owner took the two tyres to fix – both had screws jammed in. After that Hedme went to drive again but then the car was losing balance again and when she went to the tyres place they found all tyres had screws in them – ALL FIVE TYRES.

Attacks to right to water

International Ecumenical Human Rights Watch reported from the first trimester of 2017 on the violation of the right to water in Tegucigalpa and Comayaguela. The dams supplying water for those living in and around the capital city are storing less than half their capacity, meanwhile 35% of the capital’s residents who live in marginalised neighbourhoods (400,000) don’t receive water in their homes and have to buy barrels of water everyday from trucks. A poor family who get their water supply this way pays around $137 a month to have enough water for basic needs, while a rich or comfortable family with tap water (at least 3 to 4 days a week) pays $65 a month for water. And this is a time when the ‘municipalisation of water’ is topical. ´Municipalising water’ is privatising it, commodising it, rather than working to ensuring everyone has access to it by right. Potable water supply has been reducing because of increasing environmental contamination.

Football fans brutally beaten by cops

On 4.4.17, at about 3pm, young football supporters member of ‘Ultrafield’ of the football club Olimpia, were attacked by military police. The youth Angel Martinez tried to approach the cops to intervene as they were beating, kicking and hitting with sticks everyone who were passing through there. His attempt to dialogue was met with an attack by at least 10 cops in 3 minutes, leaving him only when he fainted and was left in a state of crisis. Those who made the complaint said these practices are recurrent by police who had even shot at members of ‘Ultrafiel’. Security Department said it has been ordered to identify the police who participated in this to suspend the police and investigate this and prosecute the police. See a captured video of this vicious police brutality: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7bNJoLjYUI

March 2017 Honduras Coup Update

March 2017 Honduras Coup Update

Another ‘one year on…’, this time, following the assassination of the much loved indigenous activist, Berta Cáceres

Berta Cáceres, guardian of rivers, indigenous, anticapitalist, feminist, environmentalist activist, a very high profile one, was murdered in 2016 on 2 March. The main source of threats in this time was in relation to her work with the highly persecuted Río Blanco resistance against the damming of Gualcarque river – she was not the first activist to be murdered in this struggle. Yet, this hydroelectricity dam project Agua Zarca of the DESA company with complicity of international finance, has not been closed down. And although eight people have been arrested for her murder and five of these have been refused bail, the lawsuits continue in process and we don’t know what final rulings will be, not to mention that they were all people contracted to execute the murder, none of the power elites with personal interests who wanted Berta dead – and evidence suggest that this includes those invested in Agua Zarca, Honduran officials who receive millionaire bribes for approving such projects, those invested in similar projects whose interest it is to access such permissions easily, international finance for making this possible, and even the US state which provided two of her murderers with anti-insurgency training in School of the Americas. Investigations about those arrested have been reported by journalist – Nina Lakhani, who went through the Honduran armed forces and court documents and published the research in the Guardian on 28 February 2017.

Those arrested and charged for killing Berta

Major Mariano Díaz Chávez and lieutenant Douglas Giovanny Bustillo are the two charged who both in 1997 trained in the School of the Americas (currently renamed Institute of Western Hemisphere for Security Cooperation) in Fort Benning, Georgia, US. Mariano Díaz also then in 2005 trained in ‘counter terrorism’ in IAAFA Inter American Air Forces Academy, located since 1993 in Lackland Air Base in Texas US. Mariano Díaz and Douglas Bustillo are accused of organising and planning Berta’s murder. Douglas Bustillo retired from the army in 2008 and became the security head of DESA dam company. Mariano Díaz, at the time of arrest, was already being investigated for kidnappings and drug trafficking, although that was no obstacle with his promotion discussions that was in process at the time; he was previously deployed for 7 years in the special forces.

They were arrested in May 2016 together with Sergio Ramón Rodríguez and Edilson Antonio Duarte. Sergio Rodríguez is an executive of the Agua Zarca dam project, his colleague, DESA president Roberto David Castillo Mejía is another ex official of armed forces intelligence. In an interview in 2013, Berta Cáceres declared that Sergio Rodríguez had offered her and Copinh bribes, and when these were rejected, death threats and accusations against Copinh began, and she received text messages from Douglas Bustillo of threats and sexual abuse. Edilson Duarte is a hitman declared contracted by Sergio Rodríguez, and was identified as having fired the gunshots on the night.

Another on this hitmen group was Henry Javier Hernández, a retired sniper who worked under Mariano Díaz in the 15th battallion, a Honduran special forces unit based in Bajo Aguan formed and trained by US in the 80s that originated as a counterinsurgency unit for Honduran soldiers sabotaging uprisings in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. These special forces units continue to operate today in the guises of ‘diffusing threats’ of terrorism and drugs. Henry worked for three years in this unit before leaving the army in 2013. He worked in this Bajo Aguan region where 124 land and social activists resisting monocrop companies have been murdered in recent years. When Herny Hernández left the army, he became an informant of the military intelligency until he was arrested in January 2017. There are telephone records that show both Henry Hernández and Giovanny Bustillo were in the La Esperanza community where Berta Cáceres lived, since a few days before she was assassinated, telephone registers and testimonies also showed the two knew each other through working together in private security in the months before Berta’s murder. All three military agents have had involvements in the special forces units, which US had come 21 times to Honduras to train these special forces between 2008 and 2014. Henry Hernández himself was on the night of Berta’s murder at her house heading this operation. Evidence shows those who planned the murder had been watching and had entered her home before and knew where everything was in the dark, and where Berta slept exactly. They also entered the guarded urban area, past the on-duty guard, perhaps with their complicity.

Smear campaigns

Smear campaigns against Copinh and Berta Cáceres had been the context in which she was murdered, these were headed by DESA wih complicity of state, media and business sectors. This sowing of doubts in people’s minds about the characters and organisations targeted were used to create the conditions to assassinate her and get away with it.

Because of which, smear campaigns are extremely concerning – right now there are written publications and videos going around social media that target Copinh, Berta’s daughters and Copinh coordinator Tomás Gómez, accusing these of ‘taking advantage of Berta’s death´, aimed at influencing local and international opinions. They come from national and international power groups interested in plundering territories and common goods.

Others arrested

Months before, also arrested were Dario Roberto Cardona, an ex vice-minister of SERNA (Secretariat of Natural Resources), and Martiniano Domínguez, an ex mayor of Intibucá. They were arrested for irregularities committed with the granting of environmental licence and permission, council permissions and the expansion of the Agua Zarca project. Oxfam researched legal standing of the Agua Zarca and Berta Cáceres case and published a report in Spanish http://oxf.am/ZE4S. It revealed what appears to be an organised network of corruption that facilitated the granting of contracts and permission for Agua Zarca to operate. It showed that within 8 months of Agua Zarca’s constitution that it managed to obtain operation contracts with SERNA and ENEE (state electricity company) for electricity generation, transmission and commercialisation. That SERNA had granted concession and environmental licence to Agua Zarca without having obtained the required prior, free and informed consent. That SERNA illegitimately conceded an increase in the volume of Agua Zarca’s access to national waters of Gualcarque river, plus an extension of 20 years on the operation contract without the constitutionally required approval by the national congress. On 1 March, a Honduran indigenous peoples delegation made two charges of violations against the constitution at the decrees 67-2011 and 63-2011, which facilitated Agua Zarca. Oxfam advocates for the cases of Agua Zarca and Berta Cáceres’s murder to be joined for possibilities of obtaining more definite and concrete results, to definitively end the concession and bring all involved to justice.

International Finance

Right now the construction work of Agua Zarca is on standstill, and some of the finance institutions had withdrawn or temporarily suspended, but not definitively, and there is a lot of pressure to reactivate suspended funds. On this anniversary date, a European delegation demanding human rights for Honduras followed up on one finance institution, Finnfund, in Finland. Finnfund had already previously refused to agree to Copinh’s demand to apologise for the murders and withdraw from the Agua Zarca project. This March 2017, Finnfund was asked to participate in a public dialogue to debate its role in the Agua Zarca project and its responsibility for the murder and why it has not apologised for its involvement in Aqua Zarca or responded to COPINH’s other demands. It refused this invitation.

Other updates

There has also been reports that a military agent had months ago infiltrated Copinh to inform on how they are recomposing and reorganising following the killing of Berta.

2 March was an important anniversary date. Many around Honduras and in many corners of the world undertook commemorative actions in solidarity, as well as also undertaking local and global struggles with Berta in the hearts and minds.

In Río Blanco, in other Copinh and Ofraneh communities and all around Honduras and everywhere, people continue to fight for justice and for indigenous self determination and against the imposed model.

Death threat against community radio Radio Dignidad journalist

On 23 March 2017, to the facebook page of community radio Radio Dignidad of the social organisation Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia, a message was sent, saying: ‘you are going to die like a fish by the mouth you toad of shit, to close down your page of shit, or I will be looking for you all over San Juan Pueblo and around’ . The person who posted it appears on facebook with the name of Ismael Arteaga. The facebook identity says they live in Tegucigalpa, studied in Vicente Cáceres public school and in UPNFM public teachers’ college. That was one of a series of messages, another one contained a photo of Radio Dignidad director María Dolores Euceda, as to communicate to Radio Dignidad that they had identified her as a target. In another message, they warned her, ‘don’t get involved in talking political topics’. There had already been before a history of threatening messages from this same facebook profile of Ismael Arteaga, who demands that information from the media page be removed. There is also a history of MADJ receiving threats including by text messages – for talking about political topics when carrying out journalism. Luis Ramos Mejía and Martín Fernández received threats and intimidation last year.

False alarm arrest’ against human rights defender

On 9 March 2017, human rights defender of Permanent Human Rights Observatory of Aguan OPDHA Irma Lemus Amaya went to the DPI – Dirección Policial de Investigación, to try to place a complaint about a human rights violation, and as she showed her ID, the secretary who attended to her told her there was a capture order pending against her for the crime of usurpation of lands and the police there proceeded to arrest her. This capture order was one that was carried out in 2014, for which the court had then dismissed the case definitively. When she provided evidence that there the capture order is an old nullified one that ceased all effects two years ago, they did release her, but this is not the first time Irma has been harassed this way. Nor that a human rights defender has been arrested ‘by mistake’.

Attack with stones against community radio La Voz Lenca

In the Cruz Concordia community, San Francisco, Lempira, on 8 March 2017, at 7pm, Copinh community radio La Voz Lenca was attacked with rocks thrown while the community journalists were working inside. The rocks were thrown by a number of people who came and threw rocks at the radio’s door. While they were not identified, Copinh affirmed that the rock throwers were sent by current authorities. This is another act to intimidate those speaking up against injustices such as the case of the 5 concessions in the San Juan river between the municipalities of Erandique Lempira, San Marcos de la Sierra, San Francisco Lempira – the mayor Elmer Noel Molina had already given operation permissions to the company beneficiaries.

More Smear campaigns

On 30.3.16, new reports were made of hate/smear campaign targeting Radio Progreso director – Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno – known as father ‘Melo’, at Copinh, and at Salvador Zúñiga (father of Berta Cáceres’s children), on social media networks of Honduras. In the images and texts spread around, the father ‘Melo’ is accused in the campaign of receiving ‘dirty money of drugs and from Mel’, of ‘working with Copinh’ and ‘using Radio Progreso to give Honduras a bad name’. They also accuse Copinh of ‘laundering drug money, and being the main arm of disprestige that the radical left uses against Honduras.’ Those who drive this smear campaign do it through Hootsuite.com – a web and phone app that manages the social media of the persons and organisations to then massively publish images and texts in social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, Instagram, YouTube and Foursquare. The discourse / accusations in the campaign match exactly with those managed by high officials of government against social leaders and human rights defenders, something that has been the norm since the start of the last two administrations. Even the US Embassy had pronounced that these types of attacks are ‘doomed to fail’.

Death threat against radio correspondent of Radio Progreso

In Santa María municipality of La Paz province, on 28 March 2017, indigenous correspondent of social radio Radio Progreso, Esteban Vásquez, was passing through Arenales sector where National party activists had waited for him and as he appeared, gave him this death threat, ‘if you continue your information work, they will assassinate you.’ In this region there are threats of environmentally damaging mega projects that investors want to impose against communities’ will.

Government contracts numerous national party activists for ‘cleaning’

Between hundreds to thousands of National Party activists around cities of Valle de Sula got 3 to 4 months of ‘cleaning contracts’ by councils and central government just before primary elections. They have not been assigned cleaning equipment, in fact the only duty that resembles ‘cleaning’ is removing opposition political parties’ propaganda from street posts and buildings. Their main job though is visiting homes, noting down people’s ID numbers, offering a ‘solidarity pack’ and an allowance for anyone committing to vote for the re-election of those in power now. The staff have to hand in proof of having a list of at least 24 people on this list in the last two months or their salary got withheld. And those who commit to vote have to turn up at the National Party table to vote voluntarily, under their watch presumably, or else they will be take by force to do the same. Those that get paid are paid in cash through Banadesa. Of the little salary they receive, the staff then obligated to return about US$20 of it towards the campaign of the party in government.

Fyffes update:

The melon subsidiary (one of 3 of Fyffes in Honduras) Melexsa – Melon Export SA, dismissed all its security staff affiliated with the STAS (union of agroindustry and similar industries workers). The security staff like other staff organised because their rights were violated; they don’t receive the stipulated minimal salary, or overtime penalty rates, night and holiday work penalties nor days off in lieu for extra time worked. Nor do the employers make the social security contributions it is supposed to, and no life insurance, no education allowance..

February 2017 Honduras coup update

February 2017 Honduras coup update

Another Tolupán indigenous leader assassinated

On 17.2.17, José de los Santos Sevilla was assassinated, attacked by five unidentified persons who broke into his home in the La Ceiba neighbourhood, Orica province. José was the president of the Association of Tolupán Indigenous Communities of Montaña de la Flor. He worked as a primary teacher. He formed part of a network of judicial facilitators. Having been murdered, he joins the over 100 Tolupán people in Honduras who have been assassinated in the last two decades – an extremely high number given that the Tolupán population in Honduras is only about over 20,000. Murders against Tolupán people are linked to companies and related to the Tolupán resistances against mining and logging exploitation in their communities.

Director of Women’s organisation sued for demanding justice for Berta’s murder

Because Centre of Women’s Studies – Honduras (CEM-H) called for justice for Berta and for the impunity of DESA to end, DESA filed a lawsuit suing CEM-H director Suyapa Martínez. DESA charged her for defamation, they are asking her to be fined a million lempiras (about US$42,500).

Smear attacks against Copinh continues, including against Berta’s daughters

At the end of January 2017, in a press conference, Copinh spoke up about recent images that have gone out on social media that incites hate towards the Copinh indigenous organisation, and against Bertha Zúniga Cáceres, one of the daughters of the Berta Cáceres, well known indigenous feminist anticapitalist activist murdered in March 2016. The images accuse those attacked of hating and destroying the image of Honduras, and try to make people confuse the indigenous organisation Copinh with the political party Libre to delegitimise this indigenous organisation. Smear campaigns are also widely used prior to violent persecution to confuse public opinion – like in Berta Cáceres’ case, so those attacked in this way are literally being threatened at the same time.

University director directed bodyguards to attack journalist at work / another attack against protesting students

On 15 and 16.2.17, at the national autonomous university UNAH, there was a symposium on human rights and the judicial system of Honduras, which was attended by UN human rights reps, US Ambassador in Honduras James Nealon, the Honduran Ombudsman and uni authorities. A press conference – national and international – was organised as the first part of the symposium came to and end. Journalist Ronnie Huete took the opportunity to ask UNAH director Julieta Castellanos a question in relation to police brutality in the use of toxic gases inside the campus grounds, in reference to recent repression on campus against a students protest on 9.2.17, on which date three students were arrested and one of the arrestees, whose name has been withheld for security reasons, suffered cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment during a beating he was subject to by a Cobra police. Journalist Ronnie Huete’s question infuriated Castellanos, who called on her bodyguards to use force against him to silence him.

Ongoing: mass dismissals, privatisations..

In the period of October to December 2016, 1250 public service workers were dismissed – 250 from INA Agrarian Department, which has the job of processing land titles for farmers, and 800 from ENEE electricity company. Downsizing was to save almost US$1 million. No statements were made by the institutions on the impact the downsizing will have on social and public services, and on privatisation, or how what few jobs are left are saved for those affiliated with the party in power, or that the savings are to please World Bank, IMF, Inter American Development Bank, and Central American Bank of Economic Integration, so these would give loans, while the many suffer the consequences of privatisation. CUTH workers federation general secretary Joel Almendares asserted that in the last three years or so, over 20,000 public employees have been dismissed en-masse in Honduras and many have been suspended for four months without pay, that there are no opportunities for youths, and highlighted violations to collective contract and workers’ right to union organising.

Miners in Santa Bárbara protest

In El Mochito, miners marched, hugged, cried and prayed. They were on strike for a week, demanding increases in pay and for collective contracts, as despite orders by the Secretary of Work, and many meetings and negotiations, their pay remained starvation wages. Their situation is particularly precarious because of changes in company ownership – the company was sold by Nyrstarr to Morumbi Resources Inc (Canadian mining company) last year, which has committed to selling 100% of its zinc production to American Pacific Honduras which sold Nyrstar 98.04% of shares back in April 2014. Morumbi has taken possession but under the direction of the company Ascendant Resources Inc.

A recap on the Globo Witness report, ‘Honduras: the most dangerous place to defend the planet in’

In reference to 123 defenders of land and common resources having been assassinated in Honduras since the 2009 coup, and of many others persecuted, and of the 90% impunity, it is recapped that this dangerous condition in which to resist and oppose megaprojects from the communities, ‘These are a direct consequence of a lethal cocktail where generalised corruption is combined with interested of big national and international capital, with collusion with politicians and state officials, where there is no practically protected right to prior, free and informed consultation with the communities and there is impunity.’