January – April 2021 Honduras Coup Update
US state friend-cut the JOH administration of Honduras
During February and March 2021, with the sentencing of JOH’s brother Tony Hernández (who was also a parliamentary member), for drug trafficking charges in the US, the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act in US was passed, and with that, the suspension of aid until corruption is contained and flagrant human rights violations cease. US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price confirmed that the collaborative relationship between JOH and the US state had officially been broken. He said the US will continue working with social leaders and state officials who work to abolish corruption in Honduras.
On 31 March 2021, Tony Hernández was officially given life sentence in court in the US. Many Hondurans attended in the spirit of celebration. TH’s defence attempted to ask for a postponement but the judge would not have it. TH was ruled guilty back on October 2019, so as for delaying, enough is enough, the moment had come. He can and will appeal it, but the sentence is put, – finally.
Somebody wrote on their facebook wall, ‘last night I went out for a while to relax after having finished my week of classes as a nursing student, the La Esperanza Intibuca national police arrested me supposably for not complying with the curfew and transferred me to the detention cell when my body rose without life this morning. Now the police are working to stop other authorities from carrying out an autopsy to determine the cause of my death. I am telling you this because Keyla Martinez couldn’t. She was assassinated by these cowards #JusticeForKeyla #ThePoliceDoesntLookAfterMe. Keyla was 26 years old. On 7 February 2021, police arrested her and a friend who is a young doctor, accused of breaching curfew. She died at approximately 2.30am under police custody. Police tried to dress up her murder as a suicide. They dropped her to the hospital already dead and said she was alive still. The autopsy was carried out and it was confirmed that she was murdered by strangling. Her murder immediately enraged the people of Intibucá – where Berta is from, and people all over Honduras and at least Honduran communities around the world. Keyla has family in Mexico, U.S. and Spain, who made the risk of travelling during these times to attend her funeral and say goodbye.
Immediate and sustained protests for Keyla and equally sustained repression and militarisation
Protests began the next morning with hundreds gathered outside La Esperanza police station on 8 February. Police attacked people with teargas bombs and rubber bullets – this lasted for over 5 hours. Furious people refused to be evicted. One of the people at this protest and hurt there was young Hayleen del Cid, when she put on the song JOH es pa fuera que vas (JOH, its out of here thats where you’re headed). It was relatives of parliamentarian Elden Vasquez and Nelson Marquez who approached her to bash her and her family members there. There is an image of Hayleen with scratches and blood all over her face.
The following day, 9 February 2021, family members were at the morgue in Tegucigalpa waiting for the body of Keyla, when security agents with riot gear on kept passing through and recorded faces of family members present with their phones. Autopsy results came out this day confirming that Keyla was killed by strangling, not by suicide. Meanwhile, in Siguatepeque, when young Wilfredo Alexander Cerrato yelled ‘assassins!’ at the police, their response was to arrest him, for ‘disrespecting authority’. He was to be released the next morning. Protests in La Esperanza were ongoing as were the clouds of teargas in the atmosphere there.
Further protests and ferocious repression happened on 10 February 2021, both in La Esperanza, where a vigil was held, and in Tegucigalpa, were students protested demanding justice for Keyla in the Central Park, five strudents were arrested by the police from this protest, people were concerned for them, unsure where they were being taken to. The arrested students of UPNFM and UNAH were Alex Laguna (aged 19), Rafael Fonseca (27), Eduardo Molina (22), Joel Rojas (29), and Cristofer Flores (35). They ended up spending over 30 hours under police custody before they could see their families. The night in the police cell they weren’t left to sleep in peace; they were tortured. They were forced to run and do ridiculous things that police instructed them to do, inside the tiny cell. They weren’t allowed to go to the toilet. They were insulted repeatedly. Police cordoned off the police station to not allow human rights defenders through, let alone family members, who wanted to check on the students’ welfare and stayed outside pressuring for the students’ release. 30 hours and a hearing later, they were released on bail, to the custody of COFADEH human rights organisation, instead of to their families. Their charges were damages, starting a fire, illicit protest/association with delinquency, and injuries. The parents knew their children were doing the right thing and the police were violating the liberty of expression.
On 24 February and 25 February 2021, students protested and police was filming and profiling students. Hearing began against the five students. Police cordoned off the court and made everyone who was there in solidarity with the students to remain outside, this included the human rights observers. At the conclusion of the hearings, three students’ cases were ‘provisionally’ dismissed. The other two students, Eduardo and Joel, were released on bail, with conditions of signing regularly at the court, not leaving the country, and being under the care and watch of their parents.
On 21 March 2021, one of the five student arrestees, Christopher Flores, spoke up about ongoing persecution, ‘I am being persecuted, intimidated and threatened by the police.’
A low ranking police, Jarol Rolando Perdomo Sarmiento, was charged with the femicide of Keyla, while nothing happens the 18 other police on duty that night. Many other police responsible remain in impunity. The hearing began on 20 April 2021 and Keyla’s family demonstrated outside throughout the hearing days, demanding justice for Keyla. Outside, because they weren’t allowed in. Human rights defenders also weren’t allowed. Kept in the dark. It was over these protests that persecution against Keyla’s family members intensified – police cordoned off the court and reprimanded the family for putting stickers on the walls that say ‘justice for Keyla’, police told the family to ‘respect the police presence’. Police proceeded to rip off stickers that were already on the wall including from the day before, and told them not to stick any more – they threatened the family saying they didn’t know what they got coming, that ‘it’ is starting now.
On 21 April 2021, Keyla’s sister Nancy was driving between the city centre and the court when a motorcycle was behind her accelerating and slowing down. Nancy thought the motorcycle driver must have wanted to go pass and she pulled to one side, but when she looked in the rear vision mirror she saw he was pointing at her with the finger, to say, ‘you will soon see.’. Nancy had a panic attack then, thinking that he might kill her. ‘One dies for demanding justice, and I don’t want to cause more pain to my mamá, I don’t want her to keep suffering and be worried for us, wondering when they will hurt her other daughter. It’s not fair that when someone wants to fight against a system that doesn’t work, she has to do that and be scared for her own life.’ Nancy said she is constantly being followed and there are cop cars parked outside her home, watching her movements.
An international solidarity gathering had been organised via zoom on 12 May 2021.
The cases of extreme police brutality are many, here are more, including more killings and disappearances…
On 27 January 2021, at 3pm, in San Pedro Sula, several FNAMP agents (antigang) in two vehicles without numberplates arrived at the family home of 20 years old Cristian Javier Aguiluz Melgar and was taken away. His dad Geovany got a call at about 3.40pm from neighbours and was informed that the antigang force was raiding his home. ‘The what force?’ was his reaction. Geovanny rushed home immediately and asked what had happened. Witnesses said the agents came and handcuffed his son, pushed him into a van and took him away, and that the agents searched the whole home, and bashed Cristian and took him, saying they needed him for investigation. Geovany went to look for him straight away, he went to every police station in town. Cristian’s whereabouts continue to be unknown. ‘My son is 20 years old, he graduated from high school. He isn’t working right now because last year he had an accident, he used to work with (a home delivery company). My son is fractured on the side of one leg. There is a screw from the waist to the knee. He isn’t even recovered yet. That’s why I hadn’t let him work. We buy him food and everything from the rent we receive.’ Geovany continues to search for his son, ‘police, give me back my son!’.
On 18 January 2021, in Cofradía, San Pedro Sula, 36 years old Wilmer Rigoberto Posas Río was arguing with police and the police took him away. Wilmer’s family started to look for him from early that day, and also went to Cofradía police station to report that he had been kidnapped by police. Two days later, Wilmer’s body was found with only his jeans on, by the highway towards Santa Bárbara. Police declared that the police agents who were on duty that day were under investigation.
On 15 February 2021, Erick Davinson Barrientos Aviles was driving a truck full of stones to work at his family’s hardware store, when his vehicle touched a cone that belonged to the traffic police. They apparently signalled for him to stop and he went on, but they followed him to where he parked, outside the hardware store, where they argued with him and sensing danger, he tried to flee, and the police shot him. Before being operated on in the teaching hospital, Erick texted his spouse the picture of the gunshot wound, and called her to tell her he sent her the photo, she had their baby in her arms when she answered. Erick died that night in hospital. His family left distraught. Erick is remembered as a hardworking, friendly person, and a good spouse. Military police Levis Russi Rivera Benitez is charged for his killing.
On 23 February 2021, in El Oro community in Masica, two youths, Maycol Velasquez Galvez, and Jorge Morán, were arrested for no reason. The neighbours spoke up about the arrests on facebook.
On 30 March 2021, in Villa Nueva, Tegucigalpa, a young nursing student complained that police of patrol 544 had just raided her home, bashing everyone they could find in it, and fired gunshots in front of young small children and cousins. They didn’t have a capture order and the person they were looking for wasn’t there and they arrested her cousin instead locking the cousin up for 24 hours, bashed this cousin, before releasing them.
On 17 April 2021, in La Esperanza, Intibucá, 20 years of Celso Hernández, a member of Copinh (Grassroots Indigenous Council Honduras) was carrying some wood to bring home to his family to cook food when he was arrested and imprisoned, for being poor. Companies that log and take truckloads are never arrested.
Killings and arrests against Garifuna (African descendent) leaders
On 19 January 2021, Garífuna doctor Rony Castillo spoke at a protest outside the prosecutors’ building in Tela, where he spoke up against the regime and the disappearance of the group of Garífuna youths of Triunfo de la Cruz who had disappeared 6 months ago and continue to be disappeared. At the protest a police car was taking photos of the car that Dr Rony Castillo drove. The next day, police intercepted Rony Castillo’s car and arrested him at the height of the Río Salado bridge. The military police gave no reason for the arrest.
On 3 March 2021, well known Garífuna doctor, Dr Luther Harry Castillo, was in grave pain and rage, as he shared the news with the world that three Garífuna leaders had just been assassinated. ‘The narco state is exterminating my Garífuna people. What pain and what powerlessness. They just assassinated our big brother Martin Pandy, the Corozal community board president, and they assassinated two more brothers. A number of others wounded. #StopTheGenocideAgainstTheGarifunas. I feel a profound pain in my soul! Every drop of blood of my people hurt me, every face that disappears, every body that migrates, every cell of struggle in our life that fades away. My (almost destroyed) Corozal people, is once again victim to organised crime, which has set up in clear and permissive view of the security entities in the area. They shamefully facilitate the criminal elements that assassinate our people, extort those of us who set up businesses, and plunder our resources…today, this intimidation that our people is constantly victim to has costed the life of several Garífuna siblings, amongst them, Martin Pandy, who worked every day in his life, yes, this gentle, good willed tireless worker Martin whom we affectionately called Body, they have assassinated him. He not only had a corner shop to help his family but he is the current community president and is one of the most accessible leaders of the community, who worked with youths, with the rastas, with people setting up business, with professionals, with Garífuna leaders outside of Honduras, to work to attend to the needs of all Garífunas. I am witness of his love for the people, for his work, I am witness to his humble nature and his wishes to see Corozal advance. I had the honour to work with him and with the administration that he led in a dignified and honourable way. Thankyou Body for trusting me, for consulting me in every step of the community board, for including me and considering me a leader and a valuable person for your administration. It pains me so much your departure, we already know that they kill our people in total impunity, that they disappear our leaders and kidnap our communities! Whoever remains in the board, will now live in fear. They wil be scared of protecting the communities, because the system has placed every piece in their place, and the main objective is to disappear our people. I will continue with you all up to where we must arrive.’ The community board. Pandy is not the only attacked community president. Back on 18 july 2020, four Garífuna leaders including the community board president of Triunfo de la Cruz were kidnapped by military police, they have not been seen since.
On the same date, on 3 March 2021, Garífuna long time ancestral territorial defender and teacher, Jennifer Mejía (aged 37), was travelling between Triunfo de la Cruz and Trujillo when police arrested her, charging her with land usurpation, when the land she is on and defends is Garífuna ancestral land that had been titled to the Garífuna community since 1903 – Garífuna people had been on the land since 1797. When Jennifer’s sister Marianela, (aged 31), heard about Jennifer’s arrest, she rushed to the police station to pressure for her release and was subsequently arrested herself, at the police station. Marianela is lgbti and involved in the struggle for Garífuna lgbti rights. Both Jennifer and Marianela are members of the Cristales y Río Negro Garífuna organisation. Their court hearing was on 7 March 2021 after several days of being locked up – both Jennifer and Marianela have children. Outside the court, Garífuna community gathered in solidarity and protest, playing traditional drums, dancing, and chanting, ‘we aren’t going anywhere until you give Jennifer back to us.’ The state security with military cordons were standing between the court and the protesters and accompanying human rights observers (who also weren’t allowed in the court) in intimidation. As well as demanding that the sisters be freed, they also demanded that the capture orders against 30 members of the Cristales y Río Negro community be evoked, and for the lives and freedom of the four disappeared Garífuna from the Triunfo de la Cruz community. The sisters were released on bail, but the prosecution against them continue despite having no legal grounds to. Garífuna land title increasingly lose practical application as the state continues to place the business interests of Canadian companies over the rights of the Garífuna communities. There is a good interview here with Marianela: https://grassrootsonline.org/in-the-news/the-garifuna-struggle-in-honduras-they-are-calling-us-invaders-of-our-own-land/
State persecution against peasants continue
On 18 January 2021, in Choluteca, land defender Pedro Chávez who belongs to peasants’ cooperative Nuevo Amanecer El Tulito was just out on the land doing his daily work when Fnamp (anti gangs) agents arrived to arrest him – they threatened to shoot him if he moved. In court, he should have been granted bail, but instead, judge Manzanares decided not to carry out a hearing, and only read that he was to continue in prison while the prosecution against him continued.
One organiser killed, another attempted against
On 21 March 2021, an indigenous environmental organiser who is from Chinda, Santa Barbara, where he coordinated communities in struggle through the MAS Santa Barbara Environmentalist Movement, and in particular, led a struggle against the construction of a dam, Juan Carlos Cerros Escalante, was assassinated with gunshots outside a catholic church and in front of his children in San Antonio, Cortés. A year ago Juan Carlos was attempted against – the attempt was recognised by human rights authorities and protection measures were ordered, but were obviously inadequate and had not protected him from murder. Comrades and family members went to the San Pedro Sula morgue to wait for his body. While grieving, the organisation MAS is also worried about another environmental defender against mining companies, Geovanny Mejía of San Francisco de Ojuera, who had been subject to attacks during January and February.
On 24 March 2021, in Azacualpa, La Union, Copán, organiser against Minosa mining company, Hector Antonio Trigueros, went to a friend’s house where he parked his motorcycle, and a car with numberplate PDP3572 proceeded to crash his motorcycle there. The community recently held a forum against territory dispossession. Hector Antonio had also recently spoken up about Minosa guards being posted outside his home, watching him.
Body of disappeared youth found
The family of José Miguel Hernández Tejada had been searching for him for six months and seventeen days and hoping to find him and had stumbled across at least one other dead body in the journey of looking everywhere they could for him. This search was ended on 20 February 2021 when DNA results came back to confirm that one of three unidentified bodies found in Santa Barbara was the body of young José Miguel. His family who loved him dearly described him as a smart quiet child who had dreams of a bright future. His uncle is a Libre politician.
Community members against chicken slaughterhouse arrested and attacked
On 30 March 2021, 15 community members protested against El Cortijo chicken slaughter house, at the front of the company, were faced with repression by a massive 120 police squad who bashed the community members including two elderly women. The community protested as they have been bothered by the pollution for four years now, affecting their water sources plus the smell from the slaughter house invades their homes and they cannot get rid of the smell, and people in the community have been getting sick. Police arrested ARCAH members Christopher Castillo, Jeffrey Suazo, and villagers Maria Valladares, Michael Aguilar, Victor Fernández, Patricia Godoy and Fernando Hernández. Maria, who is mother of a two months old baby, was pushed onto a vehicle without number plate. Arrestees were kept overnight and released on bail the next day.
Political prisoners – Rommel received his sentence, Jeremías finally released, others still locked up – one of the Guapinol group contracted COVID-19 in prison
During the hearing process of political prisoner Rommel Baldemar Herrera, people have fought for his freedom. On 4 December 2020, after many months of imprisonment in the maximum security prison and then the psychiatric hospital, he was absolved of charges of damages against the US embassy, but was condemned instead for complicity in starting a fire on a few tyres outside the US embassy. On 19 February 2021, Rommel was sentenced to four years of imprisonment and to community work – he continues under custody in the psychiatric ward, where he already does community work, teaching inside the psychiatric hospital.
On 17 March 2021, 64 years old Jeremías Martínez, one of 8 Guapinol defenders charged with damages and usurpation against mining company Los Pinares, was finally released and absolved of all charges, after 27 months of political imprisonment. Others still continue to be politically imprisoned.
Another of the Guapinol political prisoners who continued in lock-up, José Daniel Marquez, was COVID-19 positive on 22 March and had to quarantine in prison isolation.
2 March 2021 marks 5 years since the assassination against Copinh coordinator, indigenous feminist environmentalist organiser Berta Caceres. The demands for justice for Berta continue.
COVID-19 news and vaccines situation
On 29 January 2021, the staff of the Sabá Colón COVID-19 Triage Centre resigned, having not been paid for three months.
On 23 February 2021, it was reported that in the pandemic so far in Honduras, at least 77 doctors and 37 nurses had died fighting COVID-19. Healthcare workers continued to campaign for their rights to have COVID-19 vaccines.
On 22 April 2021, 23 years old nurse Belkis Lara worked in a private hospital clinic that treats COVID-19 where she contracted the disease. Instead of treating her in the same hospital, they transferred her to Tela public hospital where she died and left behind a 4 years old son.
Spokesperson of the Honduran Medical Association, Dr Ligia Ramos, said that there may be well over a million cases in Honduras and 3 to 4 times more deaths by COVID-19 than what official statistics report – funeral houses report many more than the state admits. She said ths situation is overwhelming – there are new strains that might be more aggressive, but there isn’t laboratory work being done to analyse what strains Honduras is dealing with. Doctors are seeing many people getting very sick faster than before and a lot more young people are dying. She said on 25 April 2021 that just 57,639 vaccines had been administrated, but only 2639 people of a specific group had completed the two required doses. Dr Ligia Ramos showed that even pharmacies have written to the government asking for letters of commitment to provide vaccines for the population but the government hasn’t signed any – it is not trying the secure free vaccines for the population, it is continuing on the same paths as always, only looking for profiteering ventures. The vaccines situation is on top of a worsening contagion with recent primary election processes and different holiday seasons, and hospitals are more precarious than ever, without adequate staff, equipment and medicine. Rural areas are heavily affected now as well without health facilities to help.
Another migrant caravan as desperation grows
Impoverishment only grows in the pandemic and on 16 January 2021, hundreds set out in a migrants caravan from Honduras and about 600 were detained at the El Corinto border by Guatemalan army and national police, keeping them at immigration detention centres until paperwork was done to deport each person back to Honduras. Guatemala’s highways were completely militarised with intensified checkpoints under the guise of following COVID-19 containment protocols, but these operations were set up coinciding with the migrants caravan. Meanwhile, guatemalans demonstrated outside the Guatemalan embassy, demanding that their Honduran sibling migrants’ human rights be respected. Several hundreds also left Honduras on a migrants caravan on 30 March 2021.