April 2020 Honduras Coup and Pandemic Update
This month – the 4th-8th weeks of COVID-19 in Honduras – saw the Honduran state blatantly continue to prioritise money laundering of resources said to be for addressing COVID-19, and continuing to shoot people with guns and teargas bombs. These were aimed at people self-organising to close off their communities from danger, and people protesting because they are left to starve.
The month opened with the congress passing an actual policy on April Fools’ Day to dedicate the military hospital and four doctors to attend specifically to the dictator JOH and his family in case they catch COVID-19, knowing that if they receive the medical care made available to other Hondurans, they may as well be dead. The file of this policy is decree HMC-DHM-2020, file 449.
Update:1 April 2020:
219 cases, 14 dead, 3 recovered.
1115 illegal detentions, 2 suspicious deaths, 20 tortured,
45 aggressions against human rights defenders,
7 journalists beaten and arrested, their equipment confiscated, photos/videos deleted
16 protests dispersed violently, 60 evicted by discrimination, 2 illegal home raids
over 900 cars confiscated —– all between 16 and 31 March 2020.
Hospitals continue with severely inadequate equipment, staffing numbers, and PPE.
7 community human rights defenders and 2 journalists arrested and locked up overnight
At 4.30pm on 1 April 2020, in Santa Bárbara, there was a road block of soldiers and community volunteers that had been going for a week to stop all cars travelling from Cortés from entering Santa Bárbara due to about 75% of Honduras’ COVID-19 positive cases being in Cortés. An especially horrific case from Cortés is that of a 13-year-old girl who would have caught COVID-19 while in hospital, giving birth, as a rape survivor. It was in this context, at the road block, that a number of community leaders were advocating for some small vendors from within Santa Bárbara (Colinas) to be given passage to be able to sell their goods in the city centre. Given that they don’t come from Cortés and they need to feed their families, and the place they come from is under a higher level lock-down, the leaders said ‘let them in to come sell their things.’ And as they were there, advocating and negotiating, police from inside their patrol vehicle suddenly began launching teargas bombs at them and chasing them. The police, lead by Officer Alvarez, ended up capturing 7 community leaders including a 17-year-old kid, and 2 journalists who were there filming the repression – Edward Fernández of Más Canal TV, aged 26, and Roger David Iraeta, of Canal 6 Internacional, whose son saw the police bash him in the arm and handcuff him. In addition the journalists had their cameras and phones confiscated and their recordings of the violent eviction deleted. The arrestees were locked up at the police station from 7pm. In the last hour of that day, the outraged community self-organised about a hundred people to break the curfew together and marched to the police station in solidarity with those arrested demanding they be set free. The police also responded by shooting teargas canisters at these people. It was about that time that the police said they would release the arrestees, when paperwork was completed. The first to be released was the seventeen-year-old, but not until a parent came to fetch him. The rest of them weren’t released until six in the morning. They were held overnight for 14 hours, and police took no care to prevent COVID-19 contagion at any stage of the arrests. When the prosecutor examined the cases, they actually agreed that it’s the police who should be charged, especially appalled by their arrests of the 2 journalists. Why were they appalled by the arrests of the journalists and not of the human rights defenders? Because the law is crazy and permits journalism work to be carried out in the streets during lockdowns, but not human rights work, and prosecutors, at best, interpret the laws only.
Sugar cane company guards opened fire on campesina (peasant) families, killing one and wounding six others
On 2 April 2020, at 4am, before the above arrestees were released in Santa Bárbara, another horrific scene was unfolding in Monjarás, Choluteca (southern region of Honduras). At Los Chachos, 60 families have been in a land recuperation process there making homes and growing food to feed their families, in conflict with a monocrop sugar cane company, ‘La Grecia’, on land that should be state agrarian land as it was unused prior to the families setting foot there, but had been occupied by La Grecia’s guards. In that early hour of the day, ‘La Grecia’ private guards arrived firing gunshots and proceeded to destroy everything they could see, even the milk that children were carrying. From their gunshot attack, seven campesino people were wounded, amongst these, a campesino leader couple Iris Argentina aged 50 and her spouse Jacinto Avila. Iris Argentina did not survive the gunshot, she died in hospital at about 2pm, while her spouse Jacinto did survive, but lost his companion forever. Their journey to the hospital also was not an easy one – human rights defenders came to take them in a vehicle to seek medical attention, and as they were driving away there were gunshots aimed at them, fired by La Grecia guards of Crae’s Seguridad security company. Police were in the area at the time but did nothing to intervene, and when campesino leader Leopoldo went afterwards to the police station to place charges against La Grecia and Crae’s Seguridad, police turned him away saying they had orders to not attend to the public.
Update: 4 April 2020
IMF signed a US$140 million loan to the Honduran regime for COVID-19 – in addition to blank cheques already signed to the detriment of Hondurans, who will pay it back with interest and receive only imaginary things in return, up to a budget now of US$3,254 million.
Mass arrest against pharmacy workers
On 5 April 2020, accused of breaking the curfew this Saturday, police arrested many workers of pharmacy Siman who turned up to serve people who need medicines, to earn wages, and to obey their employer.
Update: 6-13 April 2020
The JOH regime also continued to use sports stadiums as places of quarantine, a group of returned Hondurans are placed in an ambulance and transported to the Jose Simon Azcona Sports Stadium on 6 April 2020 until their quarantine period is over.
An international campaign was happening at the same time calling on the release of 11 political prisoners including those of Guapinol – Human rights defenders visited the cell of Guapinol’s anti-mining political prisoners and saw they are cramped into a very small and excessively hot space without adequate ventilation. Honduran prisons were always terrible, but in this pandemic they are at high risk of contracting COVID-19. The Honduran supreme court seemed to have denied the bail the lawyers applied for because their lives were at risk, although it hasn’t been explicit about that particular file. At the same time, it is known that the courts are considering the release of the assassins who murdered Berta Cáceres – Sergio Rodríguez Orellana, Douglas Bustillo, who had been found guilty and sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment, and David Castillo, who has been locked up for 4 months while the hearing continues (in his case his lawyers are the ones using delay tactics to manipulate evidence and public opinion). This is not to mention that there are others from the Atala family who had ordered her murder who are still yet to be charged.
8 April 2020: 312 cases, 22 deaths, 6 recovered
11 April 2020: A commander of the 101 infantry brigade of Choluteca, Rosevelt Hernández, was fired for having refused to implement the regime’s policy of delivering emergency food packages only to National Party supporters. He was the exception, though, and this policy continues.
12 April 2020: The JOH regime requires teachers to return to classes without the appropriate sanitary conditions nor the necessary PPE or hygiene facilities available. Teachers’ unions call on the Education Secretary to quit harassing teachers to go back to school, or to provide schooling electronically – the regime has not ensured the school children’s families have food, let alone laptop computers.
13 April 2020: 12 doctors and 17 nurses in Honduras are not in quarantine after having been infected with COVID-19, of these: 3 are in ICU, 2 others are hospitalised. Since Dr Denise Roxana Murillo’s death at the end of March, 2 nurses have also died of COVID-19. There are protests by healthcare workers who demand PPE and ventillators, and tests for doctors and nurses who have worked in COVID-19 hospital rooms. Nationally, testing has been running on a limit of 96 tests per day. Although CABEI donated about 26,000 COVID-19 tests, they could not be used because they did not come with required reagents, so they may as well be imaginary.
Community protesting the conversion of a school into a COVID-19 isolation centre attacked with gunshots by soldiers
On 18 April 2020, a Saturday night in the San Isidro neighbourhoood, La Unión, Lempira, the community was, in protest, occupying a school that the mayor Giovanny Reyes insisted on turning into a COVID-19 isolation centre. Mayor Reyes responded by sending the police in; soldiers attacked the people with gas and then entered the school firing live gunshots.
Update: 18-24 April 2020
18 April 2020: Honduran congress accepted Cuba’s offer to send a medical brigade to Honduras as it had to China, Italy, Spain and Venezuela, to support local healthcare workers and doctors to help flatten the curve. Along with Cuban doctors, the plane that arrived brought Honduran doctors and medical students too, who were also ready to work.
20 April 2020: 457 confirmed cases, 46 dead
24 April 2020: 591 confirmed cases, 55 dead
In a theatrical act by the Honduran regime, 3 high executives of the contingency department COPECO were fired for fraudulant implementation of millions of dollars of funding, purchasing overpriced equipment and medical materials that aren’t even useful in confronting COVID-19. One example is a load of thin paper disposable masks bought at US$5 each. A show to pretend the money was intended otherwise. Meanwhile, in real time, more people get infected, without real hospitals to go to or real tests to check if they have COVID-19, or real medicine. The regime is simply doing what it has always done, laundering through the health sector, like the IHSS money laundering case to fund the electoral campaign, back in 2011, with subsequent electoral fraud in 2017. One of the current lies was that the regime was ‘buying a hospital from Turkey’. The Turkish government clarified that there is no such transaction, but that if only the Honduran government had asked for one they would have been so happy to donate one.’ Since such a transaction does not assist in money laundering processes, it was never actually considered.
Soldiers delivering food fired teargas bombs and gunshots at protesters for asking for equitable food distribution
On 23 April 2020, in Las Metalias, Tela, Atlántida, a group of soldiers were distributing tiny food provisions named ‘bags of solidarity’, when a group of outraged and starving villagers protested occupying the CA-13 highway, asking why they weren’t given any. The soldiers didn’t speak of the orders they were given to only give provisions to National Party supporters. They simply pulled out their weapons and fired teargas bombs and even gunshots at the protesting villagers, wounding two people with their bullets; one in the head and one in the arm. The soldiers also arrested five villagers.
Military shot at brothers who self-organised a roadblock to keep their community safe, one was killed
On 24 April 2020 in the afternoon, in El Paríso community, Omoa City, Cortés, like in many other communities, there was a community self-organised checkpoint to screen movements into the community. It’s important to note that this is in the context of being in the province with the highest infection rate. Three brothers were at the checkpoint working to limit infection risks in their community when military police came and fired gunshots at the brothers, two of whom, Marvin Rolando Alvarado Santiago, and Héctor Arturo Alvarado Santiago, were admitted to hospital with gunshot wounds – Marvin Alvarado, aged 33, died in hospital. The other brother, Ronal Alvarado, was also bashed by the military police. The police charged and locked up Héctor and Ronal, who survived the military police attack, for trying to defend themselves against the police attack, and their grieving family who went to lodge a complaint that day about the police murder of their son were turned away and told to come back another day. 33-year-old Marvin was described by his family as a dad of two children, the fourth of 5 siblings himself, a good son, a friend who always acted in solidarity, and a hardworking man. Marvin was buried on 27 April 2020 at 4pm, in their community’s cemetery. His family and friends cried and held placards demanding justice as they walked with the car that carried Marvin in a coffin. Marvin’s sister said one of the soldiers who killed her brother is named Josúe Alvarado.
Police officer attacked self organised community roadblock leader for asking him to wear a mask
In Zacate Grande the community had preventatively self organised to control entry into the area using a volunteers’ roster, to try to make sure any visitors wore a mask to reduce chances of them bringing COVID-19 into the peninsula. On 24 April 2020 at about 4.30pm, a police officer wearing plain clothes and travelling on a motorcycle came, expecting entry. 30-year-old Derlin Roberto Corea Cabrera was one of the community members at the site, and asked the police to at least wear a mask, as a condition of entry. Instead of accepting the condition, Officer Lagos attacked Derlin, hitting Derlin in the head and kicking him in the back, and even pulled out a gun and fired 3 shots near him, and snatched his mobile phone before leaving. It was after 6pm when Derlin went with others to place a complaint against Officer Lagos at the police station. Derlin’s companions were not allowed in the police office to ensure nothing happened to Derlin. Officer Lagos himself was on duty so the placing of the complaint was not possible, so Derlin asked for his phone back, which he received, but the phone was no longer working. After that, Derlin’s family looked into taking him to a medical clinic or to hospital 30kms away, to assess his head injury
Police attack and arrest two friends monitoring the entrance to their community
Similarly, in Barrio El Zapote, El Mochito, Santa Bárbara, people from the community organised to watch the entrance of their community. On the morning of 24 April 2020 also, between 7.30am and 8.30am, a group of police arrived on the scene and began to approach the young Oscar Machado. Oscar’s response was to pick up his phone and start filming and transmitting live on facebook. The police’s reaction to that was beating him until he let go of his phone, starting with grabbing him and kicking him in the arm and elbow, then slapping him in the face repeatedly, and finally cornering him with the police patrol, and having police reinforcement spray him in the face with pepper spray – this did make Oscar drop the phone – he felt like he was going to suffocate and like he couldn’t breathe, and he could not open his eyes, and in that state, they kicked him in the back. His friend Eduardo Vásquez grabbed the phone quickly, and the police kicked Eduardo in the shoulder, and subsequently launched teargas bombs forcing others at the community watch point to disperse, before shuffling Oscar and Eduardo on to the police patrol, taking them into custody at the Las Vegas police station. The police also confiscated everything they were using at the community watch point – a chain, 3 spray bottles, ice cream cones, and a jar they had put there to collect money to help an elderly woman who was sick. Oscar had marks from the beatings on his back and arms and his chest hurt. The two friends were yelled at by Officer López at the station, who gave orders to go through their phones, and said things like, ‘serves you right for filming’. Officer Aviles threatened them, ‘I want to see you again on the street and you will soon see what will happen to you.’ They were in lock-up from 8am to 11am. On release those who support them took them to a health centre for first aid, medical supervision and pain medication. Oscar was referred to an orthopaedic specialist, to check for injury to his right wrist.
COVID-19 fears drive middle class attacks against the poor
The markets in Comayaguela were burnt down making an impossible situation even harder for stall-holders. JOH had from the beginning spoke badly of markets (economic spaces and food sources of the poor) as spaces of massive contagion, not saying the same of supermarkets (economic spaces and food of the rich in Honduras). His discourse sparked fascist/nazi elements to act out of fear and hate, and set fire to the markets. (Ignorant) middle class Hondurans can be overheard saying, ‘I hope all the sellers there catch the virus’, and calling market sellers ‘ignorant’. This was not the first time fascists had set the markets on fire.
Community radio member and environmentalist kidnapped
On 26 April 2020, in Las Américas, Esparta, up north, MADJ (regional environmental and social justice organisation) member Alex Cabrera was last heard from when he was with the radio team at 6.30pm, speaking up about the fire in Sorocón, and was subsequently kidnapped by men in plain clothes around midnight. Alex’s family were very outraged and worried. After midnight, a human rights defender achieved contact with him
Police attack a kid for not wearing a mask
On 26 April 2020 at the turn off to San Isidro, Copán, police and soldiers assigned to the Protección municipality of Santa Bárbara attacked a kid there, apparently because the kid didn’t wear a mask. The police officers who attacked him were driving police patrol #PN321, the youth is a community member of Protección.
Update: 26 April 2020
661 confirmed cases, 61 dead, 69 recovered
Small business owner goes on hunger strike
On 27 April 2020, Roberto Contreras of Power Chicken in San Pedro Sula went on hunger strike as not only had he needed to close doors, but the subsequent power bill was mysteriously increased despite not operating. He also received tax bills in this time. He expressed wanting to keep his staff but was left without this choice. The pain of it all drove him to begin this hunger strike.
Many communities and villages around Honduras have self-organised to watch the entrances to their community and decide who enters and under what conditions, based on their assessment of the risk and on what they have agreed on as a community. Some communities are stricter and are not letting police and state officials through, some let them in on the condition that they wear masks. In many cases these community efforts have been brutally attacked by the police with gunshots and arrests, as detailed earlier. There are stories of indigenous people making masks for their community, organising from the bottom up. There are also stories of people not allowed back home by their threatening neighbours after having spent time in the high risk areas, despite having organised to quarantine themselves in their own home. People are also left to fend for themselves, without food packages (which are miserably inadequate too) unless they give in to supporting the National Party, they are without wages or earnings, still having to pay for water, electricity, petrol and food, with basics and sanitary items sold at inflated prices from shops that are near empty because of the hoarding by the wealthy. The various indigenous peoples are hit worst of all, with terrible living conditions worsened, because of lack of access to resources – eg roofs that are held up by wood planks that get blown off by the wind, being risky for families – and conflicts with mining and other industries threatening their lives and contaminating the environment that their livelihoods depend on at the same time. Their access to food also depends on the rain coming, so they have to harvest crops during this time, and the state has no welfare contingency for them. They echo the cries of the urban poor, ‘we won’t die from coronavirus, but we will die from hunger’. While quarantine is enforced upon people, it is not enforced against mining companies that continue operating unchecked.
Earlier in April, a UNAH university group of experts projected that, left unchecked, the cases in Honduras would increase to 16,558 by 30 April, in contrast to the JOH regime predicting that the curve would be flattened by this date. UNAH predicted that cases would peak in mid June with 2,800,000 infected (approximately one third of the population), and that the curve would flatten mid September. The below is an update of confirmed cases on 17 April 2020. Actual cases would far exceed official counts of confirmed cases, given that less than 100 tests are available per day. According to these official statistics, more than one in ten confirmed cases in Honduras is ending in death. And of these first four/five weeks, of the 46 COVID-19 deaths, 2 are of the 20-29 age group, 8 are from the 30-39 age group, and 10 from the 40-49 age group. These statistics are likely to show both that cases are much more widespread than confirmed, and also reflect on the plundered state of the healthcare system.
More and more, people who are fed up with the terrible injustice and official lies, and not being fed otherwise, are slowly taking streets in different provinces of the country literally driven by hunger for food, and thirst for justice and for water, in demand of respect.
As curfew has been extended week by week, the last news in April was that curfew would be extended to 3 May 2020.