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.