February 2019 Honduras coup update
Two indigenous defenders assassinated, other campesinos and indigenous defenders suffered evictions and arrests
On 25 February 2019, from the struggle and tribe of San Francisco Locomapa, Yoro, members of MADJ (environmental and social justice organisation), Salomón Matute and his son, Juan Samuel Matute, were assassinated, dying from gunshot wounds. The father and son pair have in the past spoken up many times in this struggle about the aggressions and threats they have faced for defending the forest and the indigenous Tolupán territory; territory that is plundered with the complicity of the police and institutions of Yoro municipality. Salomón and Juan Samuel both were holders of protection measures that failed to protect them from assassination.
On 4 February 2019, at 7am, in La Paz, the Las Torres campesino group in Lepaguare, in San Pedro de Tutule was violently evicted by 40-70 uniformed and plain clothed officers, including launching teargas bombs without warning. The women and children were gassed. There was smoke everywhere and all the families had no choice but to run. The coffee farm and other crops were totally destroyed with chainsaws and machetes. The homes were burnt down to the ground. They are some 30 families who have been in a land recovery process there since 14 years ago growing food -plantain, maiz, coffee, and other crops- there for their loved ones. In the region of La Paz over 700 people have been persecuted, processed or imprisoned for land and territory defence. 90% of people in La Paz are Lenca indigneous.
Left in desesperation, anguish and powerlessness, they subsequently occupied a highway that goes to Marcala blocking the way between Marcala and La Paz, in protest of the violent eviction. They burnt wood and parked a huge truck across the highway paralysing cars from both sides, demanding negotiation.
On 27 February 2019, in a war operation of the state (police, military and courts) against indigenous land defenders, 6 indigenous leaders of the Zapote Semane Yamaranguila community were captured arrested in an attempt to break down indigenous organising. The arrestees were Policarpo Rodríguez (Zapote neighbourhood president), Antonio Gómez (religious community leader), Martiniano Domínguez Pérez (neighbourhood secretary), Celin Leonel Rodríguez Mejía (community security coordinator), Franklin Eduardo López (community helper), and Franklin Gomez Mejía (community helper). They were arrested because this community decided to build a community park with ball games fields, but somebody from elsewhere had arrived wanting to take over the land. The army had been putting up a terror campaign against the community, destroying the community’s flag and yelling at them saying that they army will ‘finish off these “indian terrorists”. The judge Liscien Knight not only denied them bail but proceeded to issue new capture orders against several indigenous people of the community who are hiding in the mountains escaping the heavy military operations. They face charges of robbery of beds, mattresses and gloves, and damages and usurpation, illicit association, etc, for which they have been imprisoned for weeks. The judge and prosecutor told them that if the community handed over its community land they can be freed of the charges.
On 27 February, in La Paz, the more than worrying news had come out that some leaders of the indigenous environmentalist organisation Milpah, which had put up ongoing protests against the building of the hydroelectricity dam (currently named Los Encinos, owned by Arnold Castro, spouse of nationalist parliamentarian Gladys Aurora López), have been profiled for execution by nationalist party activists who are members of the 10th battallion. This came from information from several sources, and that there are already hitmen lined up to kill them. In the past, similar information had surfaced about leaders having been profiled for killing, preceding these being killed, like in the cases of Berta Caceres and Margaret Murillo. In the area, of Santa Elena in La Paz, recently, many (12) rivers had been concessioned. In addition to this information, there had been other attacks. The President of the Honduran Association of Renewable Energy Elsia Paz had been making racist comments on TV saying that the communities who oppose the hydroelectric projects ‘don’t think well because they don’t eat three meals a day’. An aggressor stalked on 25 February the Milpah’s commission of women’s rights member and Nahuaterique municipal committee member Emilia Ventura, saying to her, ‘I have been waiting for you! Bitch, come here you…’. Some national party activists threatened General Coordinator of Women, María Felícita López, including one time when she saw that some people had drawn a skull and wrote her name with the drawing. The same national activists in town had been spies of the army back in the 80s.
Defenders of the Guapinol river: one killed, community militarised, many arrested and charged and refused bail
The Guapinol community had been under a great deal of persecution for defending the Guapinol river of the Botadero Mountain that supply nearby communities with water. The area has been militarised and attacked. Protection measures were ignored as always.
On 4 February 2019, in the Ceibita community in Tocoa, Colon, Gerson Leiva was violently killed during the midnight hours. Following this, the media showed images of Gerson having participated on a TV program with the Inversiones Los Pinares mining company back in September 2018 as a threat to other community leaders of what can happen.
On 6 February 2019,at 9am, the Guapinol community’s entrance and exit were occupied by police and military police who came in five patrol vehicles, causing panic to the community with this increased militarisation.
On 17 February 2019, at 9.10am, uniformed soldiers forced a person wearing a white shirt into a military truck and covered his face so that others couldn’t see who they were kidnapping. People saw the uniformed soldiers beating him. Villagers followed the military truck to try to see where the arrestee was being taken and they saw the soldiers drive towards La Concepcion community instead of any official detention centres. There are concerns about the person’s safety and life, within a context of constant persecution.
On 22 February 2019, from the Guapinol community, two environmental defenders were arrested in the morning when they were on an interurban bus – José Santos Hernández and Arnold Vajier Alemán, and another eleven, including one woman, who have capture orders against them for defending the environment had voluntarily appeared in court.
On Saturday, 23 February 2019, all thirteen defenders were imprisoned, charged with damages and usurpation against the Los Pinares mining company. Names of arrestees are Lourdes Elizabeth Gómez Rodas, Marco Tulio Ramos, Reynaldo Domínguez Ramos, Juan Antonio López, José Eugenio Esquivel Villeda, Juventino Cruz Hernández, Ally Magdaleno Domínguez Ramos, Juan Manuel Cruz Hernández, Juan Francisco Cruz García, José Santos Hernández, Carlos Leonel George George and José Adalid Cedillo Mendoza. They endured four days – over 50 hours – of court, and the whole time there were people outside chanting ‘you are not alone’, and playing Garifuna drums, guitars and sharing poetry and holding up placards in accompaniment. The hearing continued while they were imprisoned because the judge Carlos Irías de León had refused them bail. They had a mix of the following charges: usurpation, damages, occupation of public spaces, starting a fire, robbery, illicit association and unjust denial of liberty, and they were accused of belonging to a criminal group.
Since, despite of the spite the judges showed towards the defenders, there was no evidence to support any of the charges and accusations and the judges felt watched, the judges had to dismiss the case on 25 February at 2am, and release all the imprisoned environmental defenders, their families and friends were outside waiting for them.
Including these 13 defenders, there were a total of 31 defenders on the list of defenders charged by Inversiones Los Pinares, on this list appeared the name of Antonio Martínez Ramos, a compa who had died 3 years ago, long before the alleged ‘crimes’ could have taken place.
Another Environmental Defender attempted against
On 20 February 2019, German Chirinos’s family member was kidnapped by armed unidentified people who forced this family member to disclose the whereabouts of German. The intentions to intimidate his family and to end German´s life are clear. German Chirinos is the coordinator of the environmentalist movement MASSVIDA in the south of Honduras. He has protection measures as a recognised persecuted person.
For saying this land is not for sale, a rock in the head
On 17 February 2019, at 10am, an employee named Sabino Gonzalez of the large landowner Jorge Cassis was claiming to be the new owner of the lands of Playa Blanca and Puerto Sierra and showing these lands to a potential buyer, when community member and land defender Santos Hernández, aged 51, arrived on the scene and exclaimed that the land was not for sale, that the land dispute case is in the court, and Sabino responded by attacking Santos and throwing a rock at his head, wounding him. Santos’ compas of Adepza land defence organisation took him to hospital. Santos had for years grown food on these lands. As well as suffering this attack and the subsequent stitches in his head, back in 2016, Santos was imprisoned for 101 days for apparently breaching bail conditions. After that he was condemned to 5 years and one month in prison together with the compa Abel Perez, charged with usurpation, damages and threats against landowner Jorge Cassis.
Update on political prisoners
The political prisoners Edwin Espinal and Raul Alvarez continue in high security prison and had court on 18 February 2019. The conditions they live in are beyond terrible. Protests were held outside from 9am.
Repression at demonstrations
On 1 February 2019, when human rights organisation Cofadeh had their monthly demonstration protesting assassinations, disappearances and impunity at a plaza in the city centre, eight police officers arrived dressed in riot gear complete with teargas to repress, while saying they were there to give security.
On 13 February 2019, at the UN event launching Spotlight campaign – which focusses on femicides and political violence against women, one might think it is appropriate for Olivia Zúniga, the daughter of the assassinated environmental indigenous feminist and anticapitalist defender Berta Cáceres to be there yelling out ‘Get out JOH! Assassin!’, but such thought is mistaken. Olivia was removed by UN guards. The president JOH was not. UN may have the discourse, but it protects the dictatorship in practice.
On 15 February 2019, in Choluteca, there were protests and the state forces raided homes of people of the struggles in the morning, there were arrests against protesters, including against Elvis Izaguirre.
Immigrants in caravan
On 15 February 2019, a further caravan left San Pedro Sula.
On 19 February 2019, yet another Honduran immigrant died in the journey. His name is Julio, and he came with the second caravan of immigrants during January. He supposedly died from a heart attack when he was in Tecun Uman, the border area between Guatemala and Mexico. When he started to feel sick the migrants around him begged for medical attention for him, but he didn’t get the prompt medical attention he needed and was instead let to die by the medical systems, collapsing to the ground and dying minutes later.
Venezuelan diplomat expelled
On 1 February 2019, the Venezuelan Ambassador in Honduras, Filinto Duran, received a notice at night from Honduran Exterior Relations, that he was no longer recognised as an ambassador and had to leave Honduras with his family within 5 days.
Attacks against human rights defenders
On 19 February 2019, Esly Banegas, human rights defender of the Bajo Aguan region, spoke up about being subject to smear campaigns on social media, with fake names and fake profiles.
On 27 February, police officer Vallecillo and traffic police attacked two ACI Participa defenders.