December 2020 Honduras Coup Update

Council police killed car washer in a brutal eviction

On 2 December 2020, early in the morning, by Rio Blanco river in San Pedro Sula, council police brutally evicted people who were on the road washing people’s cars to make a living, and in the process, the council police fired at and assassinated 24 years old Rafael Hernández. This eviction would have been ordered by council mayor Armando Calidonio. 70% of the Honduran population work informally in one way or another, like Rafael. This killing shows how the Honduran state treats the informal workers, the news had treated this news as if nothing had happened. The humble workers attacked are from areas that have just been ravaged by the hurricanes in November.

La Paz – police arrested one peasant leader, and subsequently, another peasant leader was assassinated, several lives continue to be in danger

On 12 December 2020 in the morning, in La Paz, indigenous/campesino organisations Víctor Vásquez and José Santos Vigil were arrested by national police and locked up in La Paz cells, with people kept in the dark initially about what charges the police were going to press; the pair had appeared in court already two weeks before that with other charges that were dismissed in court. But, this time, they were charged with ‘forced displacement’ and denied bail after a 6 hours hearing. Victor is on the General Coordination of MILPAH Independent Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz, and accompanied the struggle of Nueva Esperanza Campesina Base, to which José Santos Vigil belongs. The incident the charges came from involved a woman who was apparently caretaking in a property having expressed having felt threatened by the pair. Their lawyer Medina argued that such a charge of forced displacement is inadmissible as the woman wasn’t working where she lived and did not have title for the land. Not only is forced displacement an extremely serious charge implicating 6 years of imprisonment, it exists in principle to prevent the forced displacement by companies against peasants and indigenous communities, not to criminalise peasant and indigenous organisers. In reality the courts and governments should be charged with forced displacement for systematically displacing indigenous and peasant people. An appeal had been submitted, but Víctor continued in prison all this time.

When court hearings were in process, people protested outside the court in solidarity with Víctor Vásquez and José Santos Vigil, one of the people at the protest on 16 December 2020, was the staunch 60 years old activist Félix Vázquez, who was also the Secretary General of Rural Workers Union UTC. Félix Vásquez had been receiving death threats against himself and his family for some time, such that he had spoken less with his adult children for security reasons while caring for his younger children. On 26 December 2020, ten days after attending the protest, at about 8.30pm, four hooded men armed with 9mm firearms and machetes kicked open his family’s kitchen door and broke into his home and shot Félix dead in front of his children. Two of his adult aged children who lived apart and were not home recalled what happened; Gerson was in tears as he recounted how he was on the phone speaking with one of his younger brothers, talking for half an hour already, when suddenly he heard the phone drop, and heard screaming in the background, ‘you could hear they were bashing them, that they said things to them, screamed at them, and I just froze.’ Gerson called his younger brother Félix Benicio Vásquez who was also not at the family home when it happened, to tell Félix Benicio what he knew. A surviving family member who was there said, ‘they put a weapon at my head, I asked them to give me time to ask God to forgive me and they ordered me to shut up.’ The authorities knew about the death threats as he had been reporting them for some year now, but they took no action to protect him. He had also been preparing another document to speak up about recent death threats against himself, his family, Víctor Vásquez and Apolinario Vásquez. In it, he named the persons who gave the death threats, and wrote that the death threats were made because the three defenders oppose concessions of mining, hydroelectricity and logging. Their lives are in danger. People said, ‘we knew that Felix was in the social struggles for land, life and persons; the people didn’t know anything, and through the forums and workshops that he gave people were motivated and grew the capacity to talk, defend and be free’. His children especially spoke of how he always tried his best to help marginalised poor peasants; one of his children said he told his father to lay low and take some distance from the struggle to be safe, to which Félix answered that he would fight to the last minute of his life, and that was what he did. Even on that boxing day afternoon he was in a meeting with el Fondo Cafetero. He had also been organising against the El Jilguero hydroelectricity dam that would affect the water source of 300 indigenous families across several communities. His family, traumatised, travelled to Tegucigalpa to the morgue to wait for their dad’s body. It was the afternoon of 27 December when Felix’s body was given to the family for the family, friends and community to say goodbye to him. Félix was planning to run as a reserve parliamentarian for the region in the coming year. His children loved and admired him as someone who helped those in need and who gave his life for the peasants. Félix’s spouse also died the year before so the children are left without parents. His son demands that the authorities investigate the case, that it doesn’t remain in impunity the way the vast majority of cases of people killed for speaking the truth are.

Human rights defender also in La Paz arrested

On 14 December 2020, police arrested Ermin López in Muyen, Chinacla, La Paz. Nobody knew where he was taken nor why he was being arrested. Ermin belongs to the human rights network REDHIL-PAZ, and because of his human rights work, he had been constantly receiving threats in different areas of the La Paz province.

Arrest against peasant of Bajo Aguan

On 9 December 2020, police intercepted and arrested Francisco Ramírez when he was travelling through Talanga city on his way to Tegucigalpa. He has been arrested before, back on 15 November 2010, as part of the Guadalupe Carney community’s land recuperation process, when military agents and private guards evicted the community in recuperation, committing a massacre killing five peasants in the process and attacked and arrested others including Francisco. He was charged with usurpation, and only in May 2020 did the charge get dismissed against him. When news of this second arrest was told to Cofadeh human rights organisation, Cofadeh tried contacting the police station which did not answer their call; it then sought a writ of Habeas Corpus for Francisco, to know his whereabouts and the condition he was in. After that, Cofadeh learnt that Francisco was being transferred under custody to Trujillo, and Cofadeh proceeded to monitor his transfer and pressure for his release.

Police arrested and tortured indigenous youths

Indigenous leader Salvador Zuñiga said that on 12 December 2020, his nephew and brother, Hipolito Zuñiga and Manuel Zuniga, were travelling to Pimienta to buy molasses when they were stopped by police, required to show their documents, and when police saw that the documents were all in order, police proceeded to accuse them of speeding and told them to pay a fine. The pair refused to pay a fine since they did not speed. Hipolito began recording this interaction on his phone, and police pulled out pepper spray and attacked both in the eyes and at other body parts, attacking also the spouse of one of them, and proceeded to arrest both and took them to the Pimienta police headquarters. Hipolito and Manuel were locked up and tortured for hours by police before finally being released.

Another journalist with social conscience assassinated

On 19 December 2020 in Culmí, Olancho, in the afternoon, unidentified attackers on a motorcycle gunshot wounded 59 years old journalist Pedro Arcángel Canelas, who was taken to a nearby hospital, but did not survive. Pedro was the head and owner of Radio Bambi 97.9FM ‘The Voice of Culmí’, and was a well known voice in the region with social conscience, critical of and opposing abuses and corruption of the state. Before Radio Bambi, he lead a 90 minutes news program of Radio Catacama for many years.

Court decisions on political prisoners

Rommel Herrera, young teacher, was politically imprisoned since 31 May 2019 accused of burning tyres at the entrance of the US Embassy during the protests of the health and education sectors demanding access to free and quality health and education for everyone. He was also accused of US$1.7 mmillion in damages. Initially locked up in La Tolva maximum security prison with then political prisoners Edwin Espinal and Raúl Alvarez (Raúl was stabbed on the streets in November 2020), he had now for months been detained in Mario Mendoza psychiatric hospital as he became depressed and suicidal in prison. On 3 and 4 December 2020, a court process resumed with a solidarity process outside (which also faced militarisation by riot police). It was determined from the examination of available evidence that Rommel could not have set the tyres on fire nor damaged the cameras since footage shows people who are not him undertaking these actions. They saw him placing tyres there, so charges of aggravated burning and damages were dissolved, but replaced with complicity to the aggravated burning, with sentencing hearing resuming on 15 January 2021, with a potential prison sentence of 4-8 years. Lawyers are working to appeal the decision and his mum is hopeful about the appeal. Rommel’s dad was hard struck by the decision to rule him complicit in aggravated burning, having waited so long to take Rommel home and having his heart set on that that day was the day. The following days the human rights organisation was advocating for Rommel to be released on bail to home with his family and be treated as an outpatient, while US Embassy was asking the courts for him to be returned to La Tolva maximum security prison, and the prosecutors sought for him to remain detained at Mario Mendoza psychiatric hospital.

Similarly, on 19 December 2020, lawyers were advocating for the eight political prisoners, defenders of Guapinol and San Pedro rivers, to be given bail and be home with their families having been locked up for between 15 and 24 months. This request was denied by judge Zoe Guifarro of Tocoa court. The defence appealed this decision and demanded that it be reverted within 24 hours. Despite the offer of a bail payment, judge Zoe Guifarro consolidated that decision saying that they needed to be locked up because of the danger of them reassociating with the ‘criminal group’ (the protest camp group to protect the rivers), even though she had herself ruled out the crime of illicit association in their case. That day, families, friends and people of social movements gathered outside Tocoa court calling for freedom for the political prisoners inside. There was an image of a woman with a small girl, each holding a sign, the woman’s saying, ‘freedom for Guapinol’, and the child’s saying, ‘freedom for my papi’. A fast in solidarity with the political prisoners began on 21 December 2021 with Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno fasting in protest and solidarity, calling on the court decision to be reverted. While the families had to ‘celebrate’ Christmas without their loved ones, the court did go on holiday, saying they will not even admit the appeal until 6 January 2021.

Killers of Berta Caceres get bail

On the other hand, on 17 December 2020, the Constitutional Hall of Honduras had given bail to 10 persons accused of the assassination of indigenous leader Berta Caceres, allowing those accused of assassination to go home and be with their families for Christmas.

Profiling at protest

Cofadeh human rights organisation have since 1982 held monthly demonstrations at the Plaza of the Disappeared, and just begun to resume doing socially distanced and masked demonstrations after having continued virtually for 9 months because of COVID-19. On 4 December 2020, like in many previous demonstrations, a security agent who patrols the park was present taking photos of protesters. When one protester asked why he was taking photos, he simply made fun of the protester instead of answering. Something similar happens in most demonstrations there. Those who go usually have lost a loved one to the dictatorships, sometimes a very long time ago. One family was there because their mother had recently died and she always came to this protest so they were coming in her place, in memory of her. A cofadeh spokesperson who lost her brother said, ‘we are not intimidated’.

Covid-19 update for December 2020

On 18 December 2020, it was reported that 41 Health Care Workers at Leonardo Martinez Hospital (San Pedro Sula) including 9 doctors were infected with COVID-19. This occurred in the context of the region being especially hit hard by Eta and Iota hurricanes, and at the same time, the government was reactivating the economy despite the steady spread of COVID-19.

December 2020 saw an extra 14,510 confirmed cases bringing total confirmed cases to 122,763. There were 223 COVID-19 deaths during December 2020, bringing the death toll to 3141. News came out that the Honduran state pays US$331 for each PCR swab using tax money – another sign of the kind of business deals the government makes, and the limited number of tests carried out given that about 30% of those tested test positive, making confirmed cases numbers far lower than actual numbers of infected persons.

Hurricane recovery snippets

On 1 December 2020, the El Poy border continues to be totally militarised, and much humanitarian aid were still not allowed to pass through to Honduras.

Meanwhile, nearing Christmas, the people in the coffee growing regions of El Paraíso continued to work hard repairing roads to be able to distribute coffee harvests from 2020. State and politicians had been absent from these road repair efforts.

Tolupan indigenous people have been amongst peoples heavily impacted by Eta and Iota, having lost most of their corn and beans crops, and all the while continuing to be heavily persecuted for defending forests with death threats and a couple of unexplained killings just in December, against Moíses Castro who used to be involved in organising to defend forests, and against Adan Medina of the La Canderlaria tribe. Many others receive death threats for defending forests.

Images of traditional ‘nacimiento’ model by artist Marlon Rodríguez, of current context of Christmas in Honduras

Organising continues

People continued to struggle, for example in Arizona Atlantida, where an open assembly was organised on 28 December 2020 observing social distancing measures and mask wearing to be covid-safe. In the assembly it was decided first and foremost to oppose any new concessions for mines or hydroelectric dams in the region, and that the Jilamito river is not to be negotiated under any circumstances. They will not allow Ingelsa to dam it, it is water source of 16 communities. Secondly, for the dams already up and running, they demanded that these companies invest resources to recover losses that people suffered with the recent hurricanes, and pay appropriate taxes in general to the council. They also asked electoral candidates to sign a pact to respect the people’s decision.

November 2020 Honduras Coup, Hurricanes and Pandemic Update

November 2020 Honduras Coup, Hurricanes and Pandemic Update

Not only do Hondurans continue to suffer the repression and impoverishment of living under the JOH dictatorship for years following previous coup regimes, and suffer through the pandemic while the regime redirects resources meant for health care and public health to the pockets of politicians and big business; Hondurans are now additionally suffering from two hurricanes that have devastated them. The regime and politicians – who just a week before were visiting communities with their political campaigns – not only are largely absent in rescue, refuge and rebuilding efforts, but actively impeded Hondurans who autonomously organised to help with rescue and food, and equally impeded the entry of donations and rescue volunteers from neighbouring countries. Hurricane Eta arrived in Honduras on 4 November 2020, and Hurricane Iota followed in on 16 November 2020. Amidst the disasters, flooding, and heavy winds that ravaged the people and land and crops, political persecution did not rest in this time; hitmen made an attempt on the life of CNTC (National Confederation of Campesino Workers) treasurer of the Santa Barbara branch, only to five days later assassinate the son of an organiser of the same branch of CNTC. Also in November, ex political prisoner Raúl Alvarez was stabbed by attackers, having been released on bail in August 2019 after imprisonment for 18 months together with Edwin Espinal and towards the end with Rommel. Meanwhile, there have been some absolute heroes this month within communities in Honduras with their autonomous actions of solidarity in both rescue and sharing what they can. All this and more:

Hurricanes’ journey and regime’s response

On 4 November 2020, without any warning from the Honduran government to the people except for a last-minute message, nor measures taken to mitigate damage and save lives, Hurricane Eta travelled into the south of Honduras from Nicaragua while at category 2, causing damage to roads there that had coffee farmers in the region desperate as they attempted to work out how they would be able to transport and sell their just-harvested coffee beans. Eta then travelled on to the northern provinces where it ramped up to category 4. Images flooded social media of people in many areas navigating rivers between their houses which had once been the streets, or worse, trapped on roofs of their homes, stuck waiting for help.

Just as evacuated families contemplated or succeeded in returning to where their homes had been to attempt to start over, on 15 November another hurricane, Hurricane Iota, arrived, starting in the south again on category 1 and reaching category 2 at 8 pm, and became an extremely dangerous category 5 with daily forecasts of rain between 250-762 mm as it reached the northern region of Honduras, devastating lives that were only just attempting to put themselves back together. Iota left Honduras for Nicaragua on 18 November 2020.

Overall about half of the population was affected, and some 94 lives were lost – in some cases bodies of entire families were found and buried together. While impacts were of differing degrees across the country, even the lightest hit parts of Honduras (eg Tegucigalpa, and perhaps El Paraíso down south) had entire communities evacuated or cut off from others due to flooding, landslides, etc. And in El Paraíso, there were people filming others trapped inside a car that was taken by the flood’s strong current – ‘there’s children inside!’ Someone was heard screaming. There were cries for help from everywhere including remote communities, alerts about communities of people in different places stuck on roofs, for one, two, four, sometimes even more days, who needed rescuing, and were desperate for warmth, dry clothes to change into, shelter, food and drinking water, having been without all of these things all those days and nights. Local rescue missions with fisherfolk’s boats worked hard but needed helicopters to help. Where people were trapped together in larger groups of people, there were long lines waiting for boats to come rescue them. There were also people badly hurt and bones fractured amongst them. Under chaotic circumstances, hundreds of people have been reported disappeared. Amongst these, campesino singer songwriter of the resistance Mario de Mezapa and his family, as well as a journalist, and a human rights defender. Thousands of families – many being peasant and Indigenous – lost their crops and their homes, had no time to rescue any belongings, and had to contemplate starting from zero. It was estimated by CNTC peasants’ organisation that 90% of peasants have been severely affected. Lots of roads and bridges were hurricane-damaged and landslide-affected and some places completely cut off – vehicles could not go in or out and there was no phone reception, nor electricity, the corner shops had emptied out and all food sources running out fast in general. Access to drinking water and hospitals was scarce, and if people already struggled to find work under the pandemic, jobs became even more of an illusion with the hurricanes. Trees and electricity lines were blown down and electricity cut off, including for a period of time in Tegucigalpa. Amidst all this, 18 people of the remote Miskito community were shipwrecked as well.

In hurricane refuges – often school buildings – as children play in the playgrounds, mothers sit around wondering what happened to their homes and what their lives are about to become. Others’ homes are still standing but they worry that they can still lose their homes, many of them urged to evacuate as floods head in their direction. As well as dealing with flooding and material loss, many grieve the loss of loved ones, or simply of people they knew, of people like themselves. Others are fatalistic and think if the hurricane should take them, ‘take me then, if I survive this, where would I go? What will I come back to?’ Their survival was near impossible already before the hurricane. Severe weather conditions continued beyond the hurricanes. Even on 24 November there were continuing evacuations of homes in Tegucigalpa, Omoa and Cortés.

The hurricanes also exacerbated the spread of COVID-19 to rural communities where people have no access to treatment. Before the hurricanes, school buildings were used as isolation centres for people who tested positive – with the hurricanes it is unclear whether they were being used for both positive cases and evacuation centres simultaneously. With the hurricane crises, COVID-19 safety measures are not able to be maintained in most cases, at least initially.

Most communities also remember politicians’ electoral campaign speeches just days before the set of hurricanes hit home, such as that of Tito Asfura, National Party candidate and current mayor, who is quoted to have said, ‘we are here to face the problems. Nature is unpredictable. We have enough machinery, tools and staff to be able to face the problems, we have refuges, etc. You can count on us to attend and serve.’ The lack of public assistance in the aftermath was heavily felt.

The state not only vastly absent in rescue refuge and post hurricane efforts but outright obstruct others’ efforts

Immediately, people autonomously organised to help out where they could, in rescue efforts, in collecting food and clothing, etc, but the regime and its police, Copeco (Contingencies Department of the regime), and other state forces worked just as fast to halt these efforts.
• Police arrived immediately trying to stop fisherfolk from taking their boats out to rescue people trapped around Coowle, San Manuel and La Lima on the morning of 6 November 2020, accusing these of not having boat licences. It was in the afternoon when they finally allowed them to use their boats to rescue people
• Also that morning, in Juticalpa, Copeco stopped a local woman who went to drop off food and clothes for people who had evacuated and were taking refuge in the university campus buildings. ‘They made us turn back with all the clothes and food and this is not fair. I’ve come back feeling so disgusted and resentful, we are trying to help, and these people only want to control everything. We had come autonomously, we didn’t want to tell them our names.’
• The regime on 7 November 2020 issued a statement about what requirements donations must meet: that donations must be channelled through embassies, consulates, and become Copeco’s to distribute as it wishes and say that donations are from Copeco! People on the ground who self-organise are asking for the opposite, for people who wish to donate to not do so through any of the regime’s government organisations. They have observed already that at the ICVC (public school building) refuge for instance, National Party activists who have not been affected by the hurricane had entered and left with packages of food and clothing. Similarly, during hurricane Mitch in 1996, government and council officials took what they fancied from donations and only passed on what they rejected.
• In addition to controlling and claiming as theirs all the donations that they had officially allowed through, the regime also runs a Telethon on Honduran TV, a government-based fundraiser, this time in the name of the hurricane. If the government officials and leaders repeatedly and blatantly pocket money meant for healthcare and pandemic mitigation, and mostly spend state money on police and military, what reason is there to trust them with donations in cash or in kind for hurricane victims?
• The consulate in California for example had told a group of people who went to drop off donations that if they don’t agree to the donation being said to be from Copeco, then the consulate was going to make sure the donations don’t make it to Honduras!
• The police also booked a Honduran person who was helping transport people including people with fractures who were evacuating the flooding. Police accused him of fitting more than the legal number of people in his car, completely disregarding the important and urgent rescue work he was doing.
• The regime charged taxes to La Asociación de Hondureños Solidarios from Barcelona, Spain, when the group was sending humanitarian assistance.
• The Honduran immigration and police commissioner Julian Hernández Reyes refused entry to the Salvadorean Green Cross who approached the border with 21 members in two Toyota Landcruisers, at 7.45pm on 7 November 2020. ‘We came on our own initiative and never did we imagine that the Honduran Immigration would require that we had applied for a permit before reaching the border, when our neighbour country needs our support,’ Thousands of Hondurans were outraged that their regime’s immigration did this.
• The regime president Juan Orlando Hernández had the nerve to call for unity, on 9 November 2020
• On the morning of 10 November 2020, traffic police and military stopped, threatened and intimidated 5 trucks from the Patechuco organisation that were driving to the northern area to deliver donations there. A military officer treated them as enemies, taking photos of the people and vehicles at the Siguatepeque checkpoint, in an act of persecution and threat.
• People from El Salvador wanted dearly to collect items for their neighbours hit by hurricane and were left with no choice but to allow COPECO to distribute these – 54 trucks worth of donations. It makes people’s stomachs sink thinking this will not reach the people affected by the hurricanes.
• On 12 November 2020 in the south in El Paraíso, on the Trojes road, riot police and military were quick to arrive at a protest roadblock formed by the community demanding road repair following damages by Hurricane Eta so that their coffee harvests could reach their destinations. Riot police and military immediately attacked the protest with teargas and profiled people using their phones. Police also took no measures to prevent spread of COVID-19 while meting out repression. People did not disperse despite the teargas and the profiling because they desperately needed the road repairs. The regime took much longer – over 8 hours – to send heavy machinery to temporarily reconnect the road there towards the capital city.
• On 14 November 2020 the regime’s electricity department in Francisco Morazan carelessly announced the electricity disconnection effective 8am that morning for up to 72 hours from the El Cajon hydroelectricity dam. The complete evacuation of the banana fields of El Progreso is necessary before such disconnection.
• On 23 November 2020, Copeco and other government officials retained donations that arrived on a Spirit plane – there were specific people expecting to receive these donations collected in the US but who never will. Those who collected the donations felt terrible.
• On the same date, the government lied or greatly exaggerated the activities it had carried out for Eta and Iota, claiming to have cancelled a public holiday on 2 November, and to have carried out 240,000 air operations in 21 days – the air forces have 86 planes, if it carried out that many air operations each plane would have been in operation non stop 24/7 during this period – that would have also meant having the petrol, maintenance and pilots available for all the said operations. The theory doesn’t hold, so it must have included air operations carried out by planes and staff etc coming from elsewhere – but even then 240,000 air operations in this period was not credible.

It is because of rage over these government attacks coupled with a lack of preventative or supportive government actions, that on 10 November 2020 – and very likely other dates – people protested, yelling and angrily throwing things at Copeco vehicles. Copeco is supposed to help but consistently does the opposite, in this and other crises.

What could a government have done to mitigate? Plenty. It could reduce resources to police, military, and the tourism industry, and redirect these resources to infrastructure, supporting small farmers in production grains, devised contingency plans and early alerts. There should have been more refuges organised and people who had evacuated shouldn’t go back to their homes before it’s safe. Even if there were no hurricanes there should have been refuges for heavy rains, which the area frequently experiences. There should have been rescue staff and lifesaving equipment ready.

Solidarity of the peoples – stories of fisherfolk and other heros

Many people did what they could to support those whose lives have been torn apart by the hurricanes. People organised to collect food, clothing and hygiene items to send to people in refuges. Fisherfolk who have boats and people who have other means to help the rescue efforts have jumped into rescuing communities of people. Others collected phone numbers of those who can help rescue or are helping to organise and sent them around to people who know others in need of rescuing. People with trucks, people who are butchers, small hotel owners and countless others have offered up what they had to assist people affected by hurricanes, to transport donations, to contribute to refuges, to shelter people who had to evacuate. Volunteer doctors travelled to remote areas affected by hurricanes to tend to people there. An electrician offered to help reconnect electricity for people returning home after evacuation and to only charge for parts. A group of people called Los Macatanes https://tiempo.hn/los-macatanes-voluntarios-limpian-lodo-sin-cobrar/ offered to help clean mud from homes, asking only food and water for the day in return. As many people asked about the whereabouts of people they were worried about, people went about organising, updating and making available databases of refuges etc on a Family Reunion page to help people locate their loved ones. Churches that practice liberation theology, various organisations, groups of journalists all also collected donations for refuges, from clothing, to bread and coffee, food, hygiene supplies and other items. Peasants organisation CNTC organised distribution of mattresses to peasant members to ensure families could sleep. Journalists’ organisation C-Libre similarly collected items to deliver for journalists affected who were in need. Uni students organised points of collection on social media. Organisations also organised for psychological helplines for example.

Special mentions must go to:

The hero of Río Chiquito, fisher Francisco Zuniga, on 14 November, made twenty trips on an old boat to save 150 people over 2.5 hours in a highly coordinated fashion, taking first elderly people, and then women and children, then the rest, rescuing all 150 people from his community, finishing just minutes before a massive flood storm hit the community that they evacuated from. There were many Francisco Zunigas all over Honduras.

Another pair of heroes are the humble couple Evelyn Flores and Wilson Varela. They were watching a news report on TV, about a family affected by the hurricane in the Planeta neighbourhood: they saw how Franco, Nohemy and their two small children and a 16-day-old baby, had to pick up the baby and child and run as the flood of hurricane Eta approached their home. Franco and Nohemy usually made a living selling lollies at a park that they drove to in an old car they managed to buy over the years – the car would have been lost and wrecked. They arrived to Franco’s parents to shelter together with 3 of their sisters and all their children, sleeping on cardboard and using plastic to cover themselves to sleep at night. Evelyn and Wilson, from a far off neighbourhood, having watched the news story, shook their heads at the conditions the family was in and felt compelled to set out on a journey to look for them. They arrived to La Planeta neighbourhood and went tent to tent looking for them, with grave fear that they would not find them alive. Franco and Nohemy had headed back homewards thinking it was time to go clean it up and live there again but Iota had arrived to ravage the area again. Evelyn and Wilson got onto some floating tyres they found in the water to swim there, almost aimlessly, because how do you just find someone in a situation like this? There were pieces of debris that had blocked the way when they threw their heads down and were giving up, but someone who drove a boat approached them and offered to help navigate this neighbourhood of rooftops peeking up from the water. On the boat they kept coming across fridges and animals travelling through the waters, instead of the people’s faces they kept hoping they would next see. They searched like this for days, looking under poles and plastics, but they did win out and screamed with joy when they saw the family and took the family to live with them in their small home, giving them a tiny room. The Univision news reporter had come to report on the story and saw not only were Evelyn and Wilson sheltering this family, but in total, there were 12 adults and 23 children in their humble home, as they had also gone out to look for Franco’s closest families ravaged by the hurricane, as well as sheltering Evelyn’s brother in law Hector Tacho. In this full house, there is an old boardgame in the living room that people play, and a TV where everyone watches something together in the afternoons and evenings, while in the day, everyone goes out to try to beg or do what they can to bring some food back to the house. Hector for example rescued an ice cream cart found in flooded areas, and went out everyday since to sell ice cream to make some modest cents to bring back to the house so there is enough food for everyone. 10-year-old Nicol said, ‘I feel good here because I’m in a house, I sleep on a mattress, and I feel good’ and 12 years old Suyapa said, ‘it was gross being there ‘cause I felt like I was an animal and they were going to bite me. Here I am good because I’m with my cousins, aunties and sisters’ Here, they share everything, until they can go back to clean their home again. Wilson sells fruits and food for a living, and believes that what he and his family decided to do was the right thing, because he wouldn’t leave any of his own on the street, ‘I don’t have money, but with the little that we have we are helping. It’s not those who are well off who give, but those who have good will.’

Another who had opened her doors was Juana Tabora – she didn’t look for people to refuge, they came knocking on the door of the funeral home she managed in the outskirts of La Lima, as the streets began to flood. That was how the funeral home became an improvised refuge for 30 families evacuating Eta and Iota hurricanes. The funeral home did a lot of burying of COVID-19 victims and the funeral home had closed for a period because the risks became too high, but Juana recalls how in the moment, with people desperate to save their lives, there was no time to think about COVID-19 safety measures initially, although it was very much a danger.

Queer communities also collected money for the needs of trans folks whose needs are not looked after in refuges. They may be put in mens’ refuges where they become objects of hate and abuse. There is no government assistance available to them. But trans refugees in the US also collected and sent money in solidarity.

Elsewhere, as well as fundraising efforts, there is a mobile hospital from Colombia of 12 staff and 26 volunteers with 3 rescue boats and an all-wheel-drive, in addition to Salvadorean Green Cross and many other rescue teams. In Australia a small fundraiser was held and a group of people autonomous organised themselves to source items of need with the money and distribute these.

People are doing a lot, but the need is immense and ongoing, especially for Indigenous and campesino groups.

Honduras Solidarity Network continues to collect funds and is one option if you want to fundraise or send money https://afgj.salsalabs.org/2020hondurashurricaneeta/index.html.

While severe weather continues to hit people including most campesinos, already down, there was one attempt against a campesino leader, and another was killed, both in Santa Barbara

On 24 November 2020, Santa Barbara regional secretary general of the CNTC peasants’ organisation and defender of land and territory, Neptaly Ventura Orellana, found heavily armed hitmen waiting for him after spending some time with the La Libertad group in the Pinalejo highlands. The hitmen shot and wounded him in the legs; Neptaly survived but was left in a very delicate condition. So soon after the hurricanes, landowners continue to terrorise those in struggle like this. Despite such threats, the defenders continue their work.

Days later, 29 November 2020 in the afternoon, Kevin Javier Chacón López, son of the finance secretary of the same CNTC branch, José Nerio López, was in the 6 de Mayo village in Macuelizo Santa Barbara when he was ambushed and killed by heavily armed but unidentified persons.

Garífuna black indigenous defender assassinated

On 24 November 2020, young Laura Carolina Valentín Dolmo, garífuna defender who is member of Ofraneh (Honduran black fraternal organisation), was found dead in the Danto River in La Ceiba city. Laura was assassinated in the context of systematic violence against Garifuna people and persecution against those who defend human rights in Honduras.

Political prisoner stabbed

Persecution equally continued against political prisoners. Political prisoner Raúl Alvarez was locked up for 20 months with Edwin Espinal – Raúl was accused of starting a fire that affected Burger King in the context of the protests against the 2017 electoral fraud. He and Edwin were political prisoners together and towards the end of his term was also in with Rommel Herrera, the young teacher-made-political prisoner from the protests for the education and health sectors, until both Raúl and Edwin obtained bail. On 30 November 2020, Raúl was stabbed by an attacker and hospitalised in Hospital Escuela. His life was in danger and he was operated on at 8.30pm. Just days later, on 3 and 4 December 2020 Raúl had planned to participate in a demo and fast in front of the supreme court demanding freedom for fellow political prisoner Rommel Herrera, who’s accused of setting tyres on fire at the entrance of the US Embassy at the protests.

In the build-up to the protest, human rights organisations were applying for Rommel’s detention in a psychiatric ward to end, and for him to be released home and set up with outpatient services for his mental health. In the process of his court appearance, he got to see his mum, grandmother, brothers and uncle for the first time in 8 months due to the level of confinement under the pandemic. He has been a political prisoner since May 2019. His court case continued in uncertainty.

Hate crime against well-loved queer person in hurricane times

On 8 November 2020, people woke up to the painful and horrifying news that Mía Colluchi was found dead and half naked, thrown in between some shrubs. Mía was a volunteer from the queer human rights organisation Asociación LGTB Horus. Mía is from Playa Negra, Zacate Grande, in Amapala. The organisation wrote, ‘with deep pain, we inform people that our volunteer Mía Zavala was assassinated yesterday in Amapala city, we demand justice to be carried out by the authorities, to clarify this assassination that has our LGTBI community mourning. It’s regrettable that the levels of violence gets this bad in such a healthy place. We demand justice. Mía Collucci was a very well loved person in the Amapalina community. My friend Mía, what a great pain, you don’t deserve to die like this, such a great human being, and above all there were no sadnesses for you, you were born on a day like today, and today you are taken from us. Let’s hope that the authorities play the cards and do not let your death remain in impunity. Rest in peace, my friend.’ The greatest shock was that Mía was widely loved in Amapala. This news meant to queer activists that queer people –even in Amapala – are at risk.

Covid-19 deaths update

During November, the total number of officially confirmed COVID-19 cases in Honduras went up by 10,849, to 108,253 cases on 30 November 2020. The number of COVID-19 deaths for November was 246, up to a total of 2918 in Honduras to date.

One of the 246, is the much loved and admired Francisco Saravía, who died on 24 November while driving himself to hospital to seek help. Francisco is described as an ‘exceptional human, one of the most lucid economists. He specialised in public finances. A committed and hardworking man, very analytical and reflective in the analysis of the national reality, critical and self-critical, and of social movements. He leaves a big hole in the intellectual organs of grassroots movement in Honduras. Professional revolutionary. Rest in peace.’ Francisco is described as unforgettable and a joker. He is another victim of the regime whose life could have been not lost if the healthcare system weren’t completely plundered.

October 2020 Honduras coup update

October 2020 Honduras coup update

Guapinol – siege then murder

On the afternoon of 8 October 2020 around 2.40pm, two police patrol vehicles and two military police patrol vehicles packed full of about 50 police agents entered the Guapinol community-in-resistance. Already, eight community members have been locked up as political prisoners for many months. There are five others in the community who had charges against them, so the fear was that the police were there en-masse to raid the community and pick up these five and lock them up as well.

What was not foreseen was that a Guapinol community member who had been amongst 32 charged on the Guapinol file would be assassinated in less than a week. Whether this is linked to the above siege is not known. Arnold Joaquín Morazán Erazo was at his home in the Guapinol community, on 14 October 2020, when he was brutally assassinated. The Guapinol community defends the rivers and land against mining company Inversiones Los Pinares that has state complicity in imposing mining exploitation, which the community has consistently opposed.

Communities on alert of new colonisation processes in the name of Model cities

Pressure began in September 2020 against the Crawfish Rock community in Roatán, Bay Islands, where the North American company Roatan Prospera would have the concession over about 112 kms of territory and would rule over the community, which was never consulted about this fate. This Black community faces divide-and-rule antics, and are threatened with eviction and looming repression.

The policy stage set for ‘Model Cities’ since 2011, when the Law of Statute of the Special Regions of Development was approved. It was subsequently declared unconstitutional and abolished by the then Supreme Court, only the regime then sacked the judges who formed this court, and the Supreme Court voted again and revoked the unconstitutional ruling. Congress then also approved Model Cities in 2013. The colonising concept involves handing over territory to foreign or national elites and giving them rights to govern over the area and the people who have lived there, imposing the company’s police, education, health, tax, and ‘justice’ systems. Ironically, the would-be first model city in Roatan is to be named ‘Morazán city’, Morazán is the name of a liberal Honduran president whose reforms had led to his execution by conservative forces.

On 3 October 2020, in Tegucigalpa, people organised a mobilisation against Model Cities. Areas at risk of being displaced and colonised into model cities include places in Choloma, Cortés, in Zacate Grande, in Lempira, and in Bay Islands. Governments and companies worldwide use similar shock doctrine tactics, taking advantage of the pandemic as a distraction to push through unacceptable projects and policies.

Land recuperation communities of peasants and Indigenous peasants attacked by police with evictions and arrests

On 15 October 2020, in Siguatepeque, a few Lenca indigenous women of the Achotal community were working on land in their community and were recovering when police arrived and arrested them, charging them with usurpation, illegal logging and turning soil. They were granted bail, but on the condition of not working on the land, despite that being their legitimate right. They also have to sign at the court on a weekly basis. Again, on 26 October 2020, at 5am, police came to this community and violently broke into homes of other Lenca indigenous compas – three women, three men, from the same community, and arrested them. They are Doris Pérez, María Lidia Díaz, Juana Fúnez, Abraham Hernández, Adalberto Mazariego, and José del Carmen Sánchez, and are members of indigenous grassroots organisation Copinh. The six were arrested for defending and recuperating territories in the community, and now await a hearing. By law police are not supposed to carry out raids between 6pm and 6am, nor when they don’t have court orders to raid. They did both.

In Choluteca, on 22 October 2020, police arrived at the campesina cooperative Horizontes del Ayotal in Marcovia, and brutally evicted – without an eviction order – the families involved in land recuperation, tearing up their flag, beating up a child, threatening a woman, and destroying the families’ belongings, and in the process arrested 6 campesinos including one woman and five men. Later that morning, community members put the Honduran flag back up at the entrance of the fields, letting the world know almost immediately that they are continuing their land recuperation struggle. At the same time, another land defender, Dulce Muñoz, is in hiding because of judicial persecution. This land recuperation community is in conflict with Lizeth and Ana Maria Mendoza – the land is state land and had been leased since 1942, but the Mendoza family had not paid the agreed sums to the state. State land means agrarian reform land for landless peasants. There are in total 19 community members who to date face charges for defending this land and territory. This recuperation process began over a year ago.

On 24 October 2020, in the El Progreso region, at 4pm, land defender Orlando Henrrique Canales of the campesina cooperative Rodríguez Arevalo was going home with his family when he was suddenly arrested by police who didn’t show him any capture orders. There was also no legal basis to charging or arresting him – the land is undergoing a negotiation and legalisation process and a payment plan was being drafted. On 27 October 2020 at 4am, news was shared that Orlando was freed, thanks to everyone’s pressure.

On 29 October 2020, at 10.30am, in Quilaperque, La Paz, Lenca Indigenous campesinos father and son José Guadalupe Galeas aged 55 and José Celestino Galeas aged 30 were on the footpath selling firewood that they had collected, when a police patrol vehicle suddenly stopped near them and the police jumped out. From sheer terror, the father and son and at least one other there tried to flee the scene. Police reacted firing gunshots into the air and proceeded to capture and bash the pair and one other – the other, unnamed, was released soon after. People saw from further away that it was police from the San Sebastian police station that captured them. José Guadalupe Galeas and José Celestino Galeas belong to the campesino group 10 de Junio – they have been selling firewood for 7 years to support their land recuperation efforts. Their group are recuperating 25 hectares of land, to grow coffee, beans, and vegetables, for their families to use. In the La Paz region, over 5000 indigenous and campesino persons have been charged for defending land and there are about 50 organised campesina bases that continue to expect that in any moment they can be attacked, violently evicted, persecuted and even killed.

Journalists persecuted

On 2 October 2020, in Nacaome, Valle, journalist Leonel Garcia, aged 60, noticed he was being followed by a 4-wheel drive Nissan Frontier with polarised windows and confirmed he was being followed as he slowed down, sped up, changed directions, and the car kept following him. He finally stopped at a police checkpoint and told the police the car behind was following him, at which point the car did stop following him. However, the next day, as he travelled to Nacaome for his journalism work, Leonel saw the same car following him and he went to the Goascoran supermarket and stayed there for 25 minutes. During that time the car left. He called the police about it, who were no real help – he is on a protection order but receives no real protection, and if anything there is concern that protection measures only increase risk for them as the police are always requesting he tells them his movements in advance, and one would not be surprised if the police are in on it. This was the fourth time he was followed by this particular car, having also been followed by it in March and July, although back then this car had no numberplates. Leonel said that if anything happens to him, Refry Flores and the mayor of Nacaome, Refry’s boss, are behind it.

Leonel reports on the eviction threats and pressures from judicial authorities against 17 fisher families of Zacate Grande, and also uses radio and social media to share this. He also speaks up against the exploitation of rivers and lands imposed against people who oppose, against the lack of drinking water, the plunder of public and healthcare resources, as well as asking ‘where is the money?’ in reference to the plunder by the regime of the resources intended for addressing the pandemic, equally scrutinising council employees being well paid when council has no available resources for residents to use. Leonel did this work with his colleague Gabriel Hernández, who back on 17 March 2019 was murdered on his way home from uni. Leonel remembers that this news hit him very hard that day, just before he was to go on air, Leonel punched the table, and went on leave days after for two months with his family, all also heavily hit by depression and anxiety from the threatening situation in addition to the pain of losing Gabriel. A messenger told him that they “killed your compañero, and you are next.” Those who ordered Gabriel’s murder and those who murdered him have so far completely gotten away with the crime. Days before the killing, both Gabriel and Leonel were offered bribes for silence and they refused, which was the antecedent. Leonel continues with determination to speak the truth and never sell out, without underestimating the danger that this entails. When he was on air, he constantly received calls from public officials making threats against himself and his family. Leonel was also pushed off his media space from 23 August 2020, after they turned down his volume when he spoke words of criticism against the government and council officials and mayor. When he questioned how this had happened, the National Party affiliated channel owner instead told him the price was going up, and also that ‘there’s a parliamentarian who is paying me 10,000 lempiras to take you off air.’

Leonel is well loved for his work, people tell him to keep speaking up, saying he is their voice. His work is supported by individuals and friends, who give him what little they can. He lives simply and eats amongst the villagers. Despite fears of police plotting together with those who had threatened him, Leonel never thinks of shutting up about what conditions the people and he himself live under.

Similarly, community journalist Nelson Humberto Santos, has been speaking up about the terrible condition the roads are in, how the rubbish collection staff have not been paid, and about the council not paying the water supply company, and thereby impacting on the residents’ drinking water supply. For speaking up on these issues, a council employee, whose name he withheld, has been giving him death threats through facebook messages, which happened on 14 October 2020.

Human rights defender suffering persecution

On 5 October 2020, it was reported that human rights defender of Aci-Participa, Hedme Castro Vargas had been very similarly persecuted. Hedme already had, in the previous weeks, noticed she was being watched and followed while doing errands and activities in the city as well as around her home. Recently she noticed a car follow her from her neighbourhood that did not move on when she changed her movements – on this occasion she drove back home, frightened. Days later, her gated neighbourhood security guard told her that a stranger had come out of a car and asked if she lived there, and that the guard had replied yes, but that he didn’t know in which dwelling. She also received a call of threat and insult on her home phone from an unknown number. These recent threats are in addition to attacks over the last 4 years including from police.

COVID-19 cases and deaths update including deaths of health care workers

In Honduras, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 went up by 20,504 in the month of October 2020. The number of confirmed deaths of COVID-19 infected persons went up by 319 in the month of October 2020 to 2672 on 31 October 2020.

Of these 319 COVID-19 deaths during October 2020, at least 4 were healthcare workers.

One of these was Dr Job Gerardo Villanueva, who had worked for several weeks in the COVID-19 ward in Tela, before getting sick and being transferred as a patient to the ICU of the IHSS hospital in San Pedro Sula, where he lost his battle against COVID-19 and passed away on 1 October 2020.

Having lived some 35 years, a pair of twins who worked as a doctor and a microbiologist died days apart from one another – Dr Hector Eduardo Dubon worked on the frontline and died of COVID-19 on 13 October 2020. His twin brother the microbiologist, Hector Edgardo Dubon, died of COVID-19 days later, on 21 October 2020.

The next day, an announcement came out that Dr Luís Enamorado had died from COVID-19 – this news was shared with great pain by Dr Ligia Ramos, spokesperson for the Medical Association of Honduras, who asked people to not go out to bars, discos, shopping centres and electoral campaigns, because three doctors die every week due to the high COVID-19 threat to frontline healthcare workers.

Turmoil of those Hondurans who left in the September migrants’ caravan

On 2 October 2020, a migrant from the caravan towards the US known as Kike tragically fell off a lorry on which he was travelling with fellow migrants. His travel companions were left in great pain, shock and dismay.

On 4 October 2020, 704 Hondurans – 472 adults and 232 children – from the migrant caravan tried to cross the border into Guatemala, and were deported from Guatemala in the process.

Police pretended to investigate disappearance of black persons

On 21 October 2020, 3 months and 3 days since the disappearance of the Black Garífuna leaders of Triunfo de la Cruz, about 10 investigative police and 8 special forces agents and some firefighters under the command of inspector Wilfredo Flores carried out a search in one neighbourhood, a search that should have been carried out within the first 48 hours. They completely ignored accounts of witnesses and any information anonymously shared of what had happened, they also ignored that the Triunfo community suffers threats and harassment in relation to the territorial struggle. The community maintains that the cops know where the disappeared Garífunas are, “they just don’t want to tell!”

September 2020 Honduras coup update

September 2020 Honduras coup update

The Comayagua community’s heart is broken with the assassination of a beloved journalist

On 27 September, at 6.20pm, six months into the pandemic curfew, in Comayagua, 35 years old independent journalist Luís ‘Luisito’ Almendares was driving some relatives on a highway, between municipalities and not far from home, when he was ambushed and hit with four bullets in the stomach, lungs, spine and colon. Everyone hoped dearly it was not going to be his last broadcast as he transmitted on facebook live a 38 seconds video then, calling for help, telling the world what had just happened. ‘Oh, God, oh my Gold, help me, take me away from here. They have just shot me, brothers and sisters, I need an ambulance. I am losing a lot of blood, brothers and sisters, look after me.’ The relatives were hurt too but physically stable. People rushed Luisito to Santa Teresa public hospital where he was operated on that night and people held a vigil outside the hospital hoping Luisito survives, and making known that they knew about the attack and were watching. Following the operation he was set up with artificial respiratory support having had his lungs damaged. Doctors said, given Luis was hit in the spine, that he may not walk again if he lives on. Luisito had an unique style of journalism, primarily using a facebook page ‘Luisito Almendares’ to share news critical of abuses of civil authorities and companies in the region and violent evictions. Luisito received threats constantly. A major and recent one came from the Comayagua Chamber of Commerce, after he published a news piece about how the president of the Chamber of Commerce was forced to resign. The Chambers of Commerce subsequently demanded that he revealed the sources of his news piece, but Luisito stood his ground in saying it was his ethical right as a journalist not to do that. On his facebook page he not only spoke up about abuses, but also made requests there for solidarity assistance for food and medicines for people affected by unemployment, isolation, and lack of healthcare due to state’s laundering of health funds. He asked for help for stigmatised groups including of sex workers. After his operation, he was transferred to the teaching hospital in the capital city Tegucigalpa. This time, a solidarity petition went out for him, asking for blood donations to save his life. However, at 5.30am in the morning following the operation and transfer, Luisito died, 90kms away from home. His body was transported back to Comayagua where his family and community had waited. His funeral was held 8pm that night at a school near his home, where he himself went to primary school as a kid, the school filled with his community, applauding his life and work, and crying in pain and anguish for the loss, all the while, remembering how Luisito was always smiling, despite the constant threats he received because of his journalism work. He belonged to RAPCOS, network of alerts and protection of journalists and social communicators. He was also judicially persecuted March last year for having accused a teacher of intentions to kill a minor.

Massacre against Patuca Olancho’s elderly environmental defenders

Aged 72, 70 and 68 respectively, environmental and human rights defender and teacher unionist and Caritas electoral observation volunteers coordinator José Antonio Teruel, his partner Francisca Aracely Zavala, also a teacher, and Francisca’s brother Marco Tulio Zavala, were having a family gathering on the night also of 27 September 2020 when gunshots intruded and took all their lives instantly. José was an especially passionate lifelong defender of forests, rivers, biodiversity, protected areas and wildlife, his decades of struggle was brought to an end by this massacre against him and his family. As in the case of journalist Luisito Almendares, it was also on that next day that their family received their bodies for burial. Police tries to write off the massacre as a case of murder by personal enemies, covering up for business and political interests that would have been responsible – something easily done when even according to Hondura’s own state authorities, 80% of homicides committed in Honduras remain in impunity.

Repression against ‘Independence’ Day demonstration: 15 arrests, brutal bashings

What Independence? Where is the money? Thousands took the streets, many making efforts to socially distance and wear masks during this pandemic, marching from Tigo Plaza to the Central Park in the capital city Tegucigalpa. The repression began just before 11am, police with pointed weapons chasing people for over two hours.

It started in Avenida La Paz where police chased and arbitrarily captured, bashed and insulted nine young people: Maruel Garía, Dariel Rivas, César Juárez, Haslin Rodríguez, Humberto Cálix, Luz García, Oscar García, Marci González and Daniel Macoy, who were loaded onto a police pickup truck and put behind bars in El Manchen police station. These nine were released about 1pm with the pressure of human rights defenders and organisations. Haslin Rodríguez, a biology student and student leader who was marching with SITTRAUNAH union challenged police orders to herd protesters into a concrete space inadequate for social distancing, and when she went with her boyfriend to buy water at a corner shop nearby she was singled out by police who not only arrested her but hit her in the face and threatened her with, ‘I am going to kill you, daughter of a bitch’. Humberto Cálix told the press after, ‘all we were doing was expressing our love for our land, demanding a better world for our children and our elders’, he recalls being bashed and arrested, and how his face mask had detached from his face while being bashed by police. Daniel Macoy on the other hand was a young sports player who was receiving money for the private classes he gives, when police took his money and arrested him.

Blood stains can be seen after on the streets. Many police batons were out held menancingly by police chasing people. Police’s water tank launched blue chemical water, the colour of the National Party. Along Avenida Cristobal Colon, in front of a private hospital, police launched teargas bombs, without a care for the effects there would be on patients and health care workers inside. The student most severely hurt was by the water tank. 26 years old Cristian Espinoza was shot by police agents with the water tank with pressurised water that impacted directly on his face, causing his eyelids to detach – Cristian was rushed to emergency reconstruction surgery. Because of the repression, Cristian who was there with a group of friends, were together going to head home, but instead, he was hurt and taken to hospital.

Cofadeh human rights organisation was busy checking different police stations in the capital city for arrested young people. They went to Metropolitan 1 where police denied arrestees were there. Cofadeh knew to wait a few minutes to see the truth, that four youths were in fact being held there arrested from the protests, but who were about to be transferred to the Fourth Police Station, so Cofadeh went there to pressure for the liberation of these youths. Amongst these four was a 14 years old kid, and journalist Alex Fabricio Paz. Alex recounted how he had gone to get something to eat when in front of the supermarket in the city centre where the protests were he saw police arresting young people, so Alex started filming, and a police suddenly grabbed him by the shirt and ordered him to delete the video from the phone. Alex refused, thinking it was going to be important evidence for the young people, then police told him they’d arrest him, and pushed him into the police patrol vehicle. Another arrested for being in the protest was Nahúm Pavón, whom police bashed with batons in the back, chest and nose – his nose was at the point of fracture, and internal bruising afterards was noted. Olvin Javier Lagos, 21 years old journalist student who was marching with his classmates, who were all trying to flee and go home when police started chasing them, but they were grabbed by police. Olvin was kicked by police twice, but he heard a police telling other police to stop kicking because there was a camera filming. He felt shaken from it all, but is still very much determined to keep fighting. The few other unnamed included people who were in the protest and others who were passing through. One was 22 years old Emerson Padilla, whowas on his bike going out to buy some charcoal to prepare the family lunch, when police attacked him with batons on his back, he said he would report the police and the police didn’t care.

Alliances of police were obvious as places such as certain churches and the restaurant of businessperson and politician INTUR president and Canal 3 TSI Ana María Villeda opened their spaces up for police to use to hide and station in, in preparation for the repression. It was also seen that police and military had new uniforms and equipment; evidence of state investment into them.

Another migrants caravan set off – a reminder that migration pressures only increase during a pandemic

On 2 September 2020 at 3pm, the tenth caravan of indignados migrants, set off their journey, from the Guadalupe bridges in Tegucigalpa.

Model cities developing during pandemic

In Roatán, Bay Islands, there is a model city developing there called ‘Prospera’. On 12 September 2020, there are reports that terror campaigns by the developers against the people there had began. Journalists had gone there to report on what is happening but public guards blocked their entry, telling the journalists that the road is private and that people are prohibited from going through.

In Zacate Grande península down south where the elite of the country have holiday homes alongside fishing communities that the elites have been working to push out, there is similarly pushes to create a touristic centre that would be a model city owned and governed over existing communities, that would exploit and take advantage of that the largest solar energy park in Central America is there. Already this park had through massive excavation and its hot solar plates that destroyed local ecosystems, eliminated a number of fish species in the area and killed birds that fly into hot structures, compounded by the chemicals disposed into the rivers already by melons company businessperson Miguel Molina. The solar park in addition had increased poor families energy bills five fold. In this context, at the end of September 2020, Zacate Grande community leader of organisation Adepza, Pedro Canales, received the latest death threat; someone came to his home and told him he knew who Pedro was and how the assassination against him will be carried out. This was followed by then seeing one of his guard dogs coming home bullet wounded, the dog shortly after approaching him collapsed and died. His dog was not the first to die this way in the area, two others have been assassinated like that when near the Facusse (Honduran elite) family security guards. Pedro has been struggling in defence of beaches and territories with the communities there for many years, standing their ground against pressure by elites for communities to leave the area, along with the rich’s ambition of having the land free of persons. Two others, Abel Perez and Santos Hernández, had been put behind bars in 2017, being community organisers also. Over 3000 people form the 13 communities that live on fishing and agriculture in Zacate Grande peninsula.

General COVID-19 update for September 2020

In Honduras, total confirmed cases went up from 61,789 on 1 September to 76900 on 30 September, and during the same month, an additional 480 persons died from COVID-19 adding the total death toll to 2353 on 30 September 2020. Amongst these 480 persons who died from COVID-19 in Honduras during September is ‘Moncho’ Ramon Enrique Hernández, a revolutionary musician who is remembered not only for playing music in resistance concerts but also for troubleshooting and contributing to these to make sure they happen, whether by having a missing cable handy or by climbing up a pole to access electricity supply or the provision of a sound system, or filling in others bands being a musician who plays many instruments. He stopped things from falling apart and hugged the world with his light in problem solving. He is remembered for his own music, brilliant musicianship and impeccable ear as well.

Healthcare workers and COVID-19

On 16 September 2020, Dr Samuel Santos, fighting his COVID-19 infection, sent a message from his private hospital bed, ‘I will get up to keep fighting. Without health and education, there is no nation’ he acknowledged that not everyone has access to quality healthcare in Honduras and vowed to fight for a Honduras where all Hondurans have access to quality healthcare, when he gets better from COVID-19.

On 27 September 2020, Dr Manuel Sarmiento Soto died, the loss of his life is deeply regretted, as not only had he dedicated his life to saving lives, but he was a doctor and person who empathised with everyone he had gotten to know.

Courts decide to make more political prisoners

When prisons are high risk, people should in general not be sent to prison. A number of prisoners have died from COVID-19 in prison including political prisoner and high profile journalist David Romero. Instead of working to release more prisoners and all political prisoners, Honduran courts had on 3 September 2020 decided to add to the problem by making the ruling for student organisers for public education, Cesario Padilla, Sergio Ulloa and Moíses Cáceres of UNAH public university, to go to prison. The determination was for them to be locked up in Tamara prison for 3 years, where their lives will be at risk.

Homophobic attack

On 13 September 2020, in Comayagua, a gay person in a red dress on a street bench was seen with blood dripping all over from his arm. He was assaulted inside a bar by a homophobic attacker with a machete. When he approached authorities – judge and police, they turned him away. A health clinic attended to him but charged him 2200 lempiras (US$88).

Gunshots fired at Libre party lawyer

On 13 September 2020, a stormy and rainy afternoon, the lawyer of Libre Party, Benedicto Santos, was driving with open window, happily, from Reitoca towards Tegucigalpa to visit his brother, when he heard a noise and assumed it was related to the storm, until he felt his bottom burning, and realised that a bullet had been shot at him, and had it been two inches higher, they would have shot him in the spine. Since it happened outside a police station by someone waiting and expecting him to drive past, he is sure this attempt against him was by the state. He is a known critic of the state and his travel was partly to see family, and also for political meetings. Examining his car after, he could see at least two gunshots were fired, the other having hit the button for opening and closing the car window.

Police bashed and arrested black young activist

On 1 September 2020, in Sonaguera, Colon, black young Garífuna – Victor Ordonez, for recording abusive behaviour by police, was bashed and arrested by police, in his eye and over the body. Victor also has a father who is a Libre councillor. #BLM

August 2020 Honduras coup and pandemic update

This August 2020, we see Honduran people continue to suffer the lack of healthcare and the militarisation under the pandemic, with stories of majorly blatant examples of the dictatorship’s approach to people, arresting and killing a 74 year old healthy man for ‘breaking the curfew’ outside his own home, disappearing a 16 year old whose family had been involved in ‘Where is the Money?’ campaigns, and arresting a COVID-19 frontline doctor, preventing his delivery of an oxygen tank to a patient who needed it, the doctor being someone critical of the JOH dictatorship regime.

Honduras has the worst Covid-19 recovery rates in the world, at no.184

On 7 August 2020, a report on recovery rates of 184 countries was released. Honduras was no. 184, with a recovery rate at this time of 8.18%, with 70.65% of confirmed cases becoming severe cases. In calculating the comparisons, they take into account the number of confirmed cases, number of recovered persons, how long do recoveries take, what % of known cases became severe cases, and deaths. It can mean there are numerous unconfirmed cases in the community, and also, that more people develop severe cases and many die due to the atrocious healthcare and welfare situation, which also means more people have chronic health conditions in the first place and are more vulnerable to developing severe COVID-19, due to various life conditions.

The confirmed cases like in July, increased by about 20,000 in August, going from 42,685 confirmed cases on 1 August to 61,014 on 31 August. The total COVID-19 death toll was 1368 on 1 August, went up to 1712 by 31 August, showing several hundred had died of COVID-19 during August in Honduras. On 1 August, it was reported that 5694 had recovered in total, and 1374 were hospitalised, 335 of whom are in critical condition, with 43 in ICUs. On 31 August, it was noted that 10,396 had recovered in total, and 909 were hospitalised, 169 of whom were in critical condition. Note the number of persons in critical condition is always far greater than the number of persons in ICU – presumably due to lack of capacity and resources because of laundering of COVID-19 funds.

Another notable point from the Honduran public COVID-19 data, is that on 31 August 1712 new tests were done, from which, 840 new positive results. This very high percentage of positive results suggests that the tests are not freely available and that many more are likely to have COVID-19 who didn’t have access to testing.

So Where Is The Money? A snapshot at the area of Lempira, and of two prisons’ situations

Lempira is an area of grave poverty where many people don’t have access to masks – faced with the difficult decision of buying food/medicine/paying for transport, or buying masks. In Gracias, the capital city of Lempira, authorities had a COVID-19 triage centre set up in the Cultural Housing facing the central park in the busiest area of the city. People in Gracias worried that locating it there would then make the area a hotspot, a place of contagion. The region also has no resources for attending to suspected or confirmed cases, its main hospital having only basic capacities. The Gracias prison began to have COVID-19 breakout in the prison, and in June-July the hospital attended mostly prisoners, using donations and PPE from NGOs like World Vision, not having had state funding for COVID-19. The regime said on 5 August 2020 that the state budget for addressing COVID-19 had gone up to US$200 million, to pay health care workers, for humanitarian assistance, PPE, transport of tests, tests, medicines, training, infrastructure improvements, clinics, mobile hospitals and food packages – but all these areas remain highly inadequate in Lempira and most of Honduras. Testing is not free and accessible as it should be. There have been 126 confirmed cases to date in Lempira, with 6 deaths, three of which died the same week in hospital; all were prisoners. It is not known inside the prisons, the real numbers of infected persons, nor the health conditions the prisoners have been in. Rural communities are much poorer than they were before the pandemic, due to the closure of small and micro markets.

A prison in another town, in Valle de Siria, a prisoner’s family spoke of torture there, of prisoners having been denied water for 7 days, and having gone without electricity, masks, and hand sanitiser, on top of which, they are abused by Tigre forces.

And why so many soldiers?

Generally, under the dictatorship’s curfew in the name of curbing pandemic, violence from police and soldiers is rampant and despicable, such as:

Old man tortured and killed by police for ‘breaking curfew’

On 3 August 2020, 74 year old Rufino Portillo was, like many other days, on the footpath by his home in the Entre Cerros community in Santa Barbara – but on this day, just for being there, police proceeded to arrest him for violating the curfew. ‘But he was at his home, on the footpath, he always spent time on the footpath,’ his family protested, thinking he would be back. Rufino did not resist arrest. Rufino was returned quickly enough, but not alive – the family received a phone call from the police, informing them that ‘he had died’ Not only was he killed, the family could see on his returned body, that he had an eye pulled out, his neck was broken, and there was a deep wound under one of his ears. There were bones broken and bruises all over his body and back. There were people just two blocks from the family’s home who witnessed that the police had been bashing him the whole time that he was under custody inside the police patrol vehicle. When the police finally took Rufino to the hospital, he was dead already. The family had no doubt the police killed Rufino. ‘We want justice, what they did to him, they could do to anybody here,’ Rufino’s spouse added, ‘we are sure they killed him, because they took him all good and healthy from the house’. The community is in solidarity with them and horrified by what police did to their elderly neighbour.

A 16 year old disappeared, in the context of military lock-down

Similarly, and also from Santa Barbara, comes the story of a family and parents actively involved in the ‘Where is the money?’ (campaign against state corruption where immense amounts of state and international funds for addressing COVID-19 are laundered and the poor majority have no protection nor healthcare) – the family’s 16 year old son José Miguel Hernández Tejada, was forcefully disappeared on August 12. In El Carreto community, that morning at 7am José walked his mum Lizeth to a point where she got picked up to go to a training session for the National Register of Persons, not knowing she might not see him again after that. José went back home to have breakfast. His grandmother sent a cake with him to take to the home of his uncles and aunties since he was going to the urban centre Las Vegas where the aunts and uncles live. He left on a black and orange yamaha motorcycle that morning, with the cake in his backpack. His mum was worried when at 6.30pm she hadn’t seen or heard from him. She texted him, ‘José Miguel, where are you?’ She could see the Whatsapp message wasn’t transmitted – he mustn’t have been in reception then, so she wrote to her nephew who lives where the cake was to be dropped, and she started to really worry when he said he hadn’t heard from her son at all that day. Lizeth then contacted the son’s girlfriend, who also said she hadn’t heard from him. That night at 11.30pm, Lizeth called Las Vegas police station, asking them if they had arrested a minor on a motorcycle because of the curfew, she really hoped they’d said yes – because that would mean knowing where he was at the least, but they said no. She couldn’t sleep that night. She kept hearing motorcycles that night and hoped each one was her son coming home. She waited for 9am to be able to report her son as disappeared, since the law stipulates that a person needs to have been disappeared for 24 hours first. She went to Las Vegas Police Investigative Department. They made her wait 40 minutes before attending to her, despite her visible desperation. The family and community tirelessly searched for José Miguel for five days, looking at sides of highways, talking with people in Las Vegas. Its through their own search efforts that they know he was last seen by someone who lives in Las Vegas at about 9.30am that morning. Lizeth tried to push the police to investigate properly by going to the Santa Barbara Prosecutor’s office three days into this ordeal – but there, she learnt that the police hadn’t even entered the report of the disappearance into the system. Cofadeh human rights organisation also helped apply pressure by putting in an Habeas Corpus, but authorities acted without urgency, waiting till 7 August to name an executive judge for the case. Cofadeh also notified UN. Nine days past, on 12 August, Lizeth made another formal report, this time to prosecutor Hector Gomez, and was horrified that he wouldn’t receive her report because forced disappearance ‘wasn’t a crime’ – so her next complaint was against him to the CONADEH human rights commissioner, and to ask CONADEH to report on the disappearance.

José Miguel’s parents say he is always helping people, and never stops to think twice before helping someone in need. He was a student. He loves and repairs motorcycles, and dreams of becoming a great motorcycle mechanic.

Weeks ago, young Garífuna leaders were also forcefully disappeared and this continued throughout August. Garífuna organisation Ofraneh emphasised that this was not an isolated case. There are many people disappeared during this time where the military is in control of the streets, and there is systematic violence against Garífuna people in the process of the dispossession of their territories by businesses and industries.

More police abuses

On 6 August 2020, on the streets of Boulevarde Fuerzas Armadas in Tegucigalpa, police confiscated cloth puppets from people who were using them on the streets to ask for money.

On 8 August 2020, there were reports of police intimidation and abuse against Guapinol community villagers who continue to oppose mining alongside compas who have been locked up as political prisoners for a while now.

In Choloma, Cortés, police threw a tear gas bomb at a minibus with passengers inside, without a care for the lives of the passengers.

On 20 August 2020, teachers unions protested outside the congress against the regime’s moves to cancel the school year and not pay teachers’ salaries. In response, Tigre special squad and police cordoned off the congress.

On 24 August 2020, Omar Elvir was riding with a group of cyclists from Sector 8 – it was unclear if the cyclists were in a protest action but Omar sent a public protest message by yelling out ‘get out JOH!’ at a checkpoint at Emisoras Unidades, for which he was arrested and taken to Manchen police station.

On 31 August 2020, in Sonaguera, Colón, police bashed young Garífuna (black) guy, Victor Ordoñez, for being there recording the abuse police were committing against people, leaving his eye swollen and face bruised. Victor is the son of municipal councillor of Libre party, Rosalio Ordoñez.

Health care workers dying and persecuted by police, and bare militarised hospitals

Public hospitals in Honduras are absolutely maxed out in their capacity. Healthcare workers continue to speak out about not being paid and about lack of PPE, of workplace harassment and work overload. At least 31 doctors have died with covid-19 in honduras to date.

Hospitals were becoming militarised. On 2 August 2020, a doctor arrived on his shift, expecting to be given a KN95 mask, a hospital scrub, gloves and surgical boots, as normally happens, but instead, found the military in charge of the hospital and particularly in the equipment. The soldiers checked his name and noted that there were no known COVID-19 patients assigned to his ward areas yet that day and gave him only the mask and not other equipment. Luckily, this doctor carried some back up equipment with him and did not have to work underprotected that day.

On 5 August 2020, of Santa Cruz de Yojoa, a frontline doctor who had since the beginning of the pandemic fought hard to save patients’ lives, Pablo Enrique Ulloa Caceres, died of COVID-19 in the midnight hours. His death left great pain for his parents, siblings, nephews, nieces, children and other relatives.

But are doctors whose lives are so at risk due to high doses of COVID-19 exposure highly regarded by the regime? They should be, but there are so many stories that have reinforced that they are not only not well regarded but are outright persecuted when they speak up about the reality of the health care system.

On 11 August 2020, a frontline doctor for COVID-19, the first doctor to evaluate COVID-19 patients in Honduras, Dr Marco Eliud Giron, was driving and carrying an oxygen tank and was heading somewhere to fill the oxygen tank and then deliver it to a COVID-19 patient who was in a critical state and urgently needed the oxygen tank to literally save this person’s life, when a taxi hit his car with force that almost knocked his car off the highway. Dr Marco Eliud Giron reached for his black mask to talk to the taxi driver and in that moment the passengers in the taxi approached the traffic police nearby and accused the doctor of threatening them with firearms (the mask). The next thing Dr Marco knew, his car, with himself and the mask and oxygen tank inside it, was being towed by a police tow truck, the traffic police having 100% accepted the taxi passengers’ version of events and paid no attention to the context either. Without having talked to him yet or looked inside his car, the Security Department already posted a press release to say ‘a doctor’ had been accused of threatening a couple with a weapon. While being towed, Dr Marco live streamed using his phone to show what situation he was in and also to contact people for help. It was only when the truck stopped inside a locked up parking lot that police approached him and he asked, still videoing, where they were. They were at the Metropolitan Traffic Police Squad and there, the video switched off and Dr Marco was taken into custody, subsequently transferred to a police cell in Core 7 in Tegucigalpa together with other cellmates. They were 22 long  hours under custody, people worried for his life, advocates demanded that he received medical evaluation due to having been in a car crash. It was with the pressure of Cofadeh and a private lawyer, and from people protesting outside the court in solidarity from 7am, that he was released the next morning about 9am and transferred to IHSS hospital to check on arterial pressure complications, at the request of COFADEH. Inside the court, he declared, ‘if you are going to arrest me, do it, but stop torturing me.’ At the time of release, prosecutor Lesly López was still analysing the police report and unable to confirm what charges were to be laid. Dr Marco Eliud Girón had spoken up about death threats and political persecution since the 2009 coup, having always been a voice of critique against the dictatorship and its corruption, the newest fact being that when president JOH told the world that he had COVID-19 and was being treated in Hospital Militar (literally a private hospital for his family), he was actually being treated there for an alcoholic disease he has. Dr Marco Eliud Giron was sure that his arrest happened due to an order from JOH.

The next day, on 13 August 2020, another doctor who speaks up criticising how the regime is managing the COVID-19 crisis including the money laundering of COVID-19 funds, Dr Ligia Ramos, a committee director of Medical Association of Honduras CMH, spoke up on Twitter about police harassment and persecution. There was a police patrol vehicle PM-518 sitting in front of her house and the officers inside it came out to take photos of her home. They stood so close that her dog reacted barking at one of them. On Dr Marco Eliud Giron’s arrest, Dr Ligia Ramos said that he was released because there was no evidence to accuse him and she was sure that the whole scene and arrest would have been orchestrated to terrorise doctors who have spoken up about the atrocities of the JOH regime. Last month, she plead for maquila factories to be closed down to slow contagion, these being major clusters in Cortés (maquila workers have their own set of demands related to their health, and their livelihoods and welfare). She belongs to the Platform for (Public) Health and Education in Honduras, and practises as a dermatologist. Back in 2015, she had received death threats from national party activists via facebook.

On 14 August 2020, in Barrio Abajo in Tegucigalpa, Dr Juan Cálix died from COVID19, he was an intern in IHSS hospital, and a teacher at the Luis Bogran Institute public high school

On 16 August 2020, Dr Maria Angelica Milla, together with lawyers Gracia Maria Bertrand and Pablo Gómez, were painting ‘Where is the money?’ on a public surface near the Olimpica stadium in San Pedro Sula (a message that continues to be painted all around Honduras), when the trio was arrested by police. Police claimed that it was not for graffiti, but for breaking the curfew, as it was not her day of circulation, and she only had exemption when travelling for work, but they did not consider her painting those words her healthcare work. Since people immediately activated pressure using social media, all three were released not long after their capture, instead of being held for 24 hours as threatened.

On 27 August 2020, the saga of state laundering of COVID-19 funds continued and with the public budget further ventillators were bought for the military hospital in case JOH’s family got sick, while public hospitals have many dying without access to ventillators.

Journalists under threat

On 1 August 2020, Radio Globo journalist Marvin Neptalí Ortiz was driving by Suyapa Boulevarde in Tegucigalpa towards the radio station when the front left wheel of his car fell off – an incident that could have killed him or others and would have been pre-planned by somebody doing something to his car during the night. This occurred exactly 15 days after Radio Globo director David Romero died after having caught COVID-19 in prison and received delayed hospitalisation. Marvin knew it was an attempt against his life because of his work.

In Villanueva, Cortés, another journalist Rony Pineda in the north of Honduras continued to receive constant death threats. ‘I had to shut up to save my life, I got out. I had to sell my equipment because of fear. I felt that if they saw me with my equipment my life would be at risk.’ The threats started two years ago, with gunshots as he walked on the streets and could sense he was being watched. Rony used to use a camera and a drone to capture aerial videos to put on his facebook page ‘Así es Dos Caminos City’, he had already stopped updating it from June 2019 due to the threats. Rony used to cover protest actions in the region. Another time in 2018, while he was covering a protest, and took a photo where police pointed their weapons at the protest, a police tried to snatch his camera, and did snatch and destroy his mobile phone. He managed to share the photo on social media and it went viral, but that also caught the police’s attention who followed his personal facebook and left him death threats there, including under the name of Armando Chirino, who had a photo of JOH on his profile picture. One of the messages was simply, ‘I am going to kill you’. This month, on 17 August 2020, he received facebook messages that attach pictures of his family and car, saying, ‘I don’t have to push you to give me your address, I already know where you live, where you work, who you get along with,’ and then attached further photos of people he is close to. The persecution always ramped up after he speaks up about things that happen in Dos Caminos. Later during August, Rony was on the road when a big car hit him and threw him onto the road. This was the last straw for him, knowing they really want to hurt him and his family. He silenced his page. His relatives might seek asylum. He needs this reality of his life there to change.

Pushed through logging, COVID-19 times

As in many parts of the world, the regime uses a Shock Doctrine and pushes through extractive projects. The latest case is of Minera Aura Mineral mining company, logging forested land against the Azacualpa community, placing people’s health and housing at grave risk. The community asks for solidarity in raising their voice, ‘today its us, tomorrow it could be your community’.

July 2020 Honduras Coup and Pandemic Update

July 2020 Honduras Coup and Pandemic Update

 

Living under a dictatorship regime where global and national capital, together with regime leaders, continue to profit through laundering and exploiting the people and the land – when you put a pandemic into that equation it’s a disaster, as we can see in Honduras. Government offers no protection for its poor majority, the money officially designated for healthcare doesn’t translate into actual healthcare, and there is no welfare to enable people to stay home, but the military is controlling the streets and spreading the illness. Communities and organisations continue to campaign for the ‘Where is the money?’ campaign, with voices reverberating from zoom conferences, to managing to stage large letters across highways, printing the question on roads for drivers to see, and on walls for passers-by – people must have found holes in the militarisation. They paint their pained words about losing increasing numbers of fellow Hondurans to death from COVID-19, lives lost due to government’s greed and lies. This July 2020 we saw many attacks against people and organisers, and we continue to see that on the other hand, big businesses that don’t even have environmental permits are free to move around, operate, and act in ways that are harmful to people and environment. And similar to discourse familiar to all of us worldwide about balancing the economy over staying home, this regime, like others, is broadcasting that the nation only has a chance of surviving the pandemic, if ‘development (mega) projects’ of mining, logging, energy etc go ahead and if people also put up with low wages (not to mention threats, killings, and arrests to impose opposed projects) so that large profits can be made from them. International development finance organisations also continue to ignore the violence meted out by capital and by the regime and fuel this fire, passing loans to the regime and ignoring cries from communities who dream of a different kind of ‘development’.

 

COVID-19 update

 

On 1 July 2020, there were 20,262 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and a total death toll of 521. By 31 July 2020, the confirmed cases went up by more than double, with 42,014 confirmed cases, and the death toll a lot more than doubled, having reached 1337 deaths to COVID-19 by this date. During July daily new case numbers ranged between 406 and 1042. Remember the lack of welfare available to people, the very real daily economic pressures to work, the overcrowding of family homes that may also have poor access to water, making self isolation impossible, and on top of that, energy bills and grocery costs only increased, public staff as usual are paid months late, and thousands of other workers lost their jobs. And as well as COVID-19 and the dictatorship, people are dealing with tropical storms, and dengue.

 

Prisoners, political prisoners and COVID-19 contagion inside prisons. David Romero dies of Covid-19 in prison.

 

By 18 July 2020, contagion in the prisons had become severe, and a high profile anti-coup anti-corruption journalist and director of Radio Globo – David Romero, who was politically imprisoned from the 2015 defamation case against prosecutor Sonia Gálvez (found guilty and sentenced to 10 years as of 28 March 2019), had died from COVID-19 in prison, after having had COVID-19 symptoms for five days. He was only finally hospitalised on 5 July 2020 when his partner and fellow journalist Lidieth Díaz spoke up about his need to be in hospital. David suffered several respiratory strokes before dying in hospital on 18 July 2020. David was someone who spoke up against the dictatorship. David was also someone who was accused of rape against his daughter. Whether as a martyr and political prisoner, or as someone who abused his daughter, he should not have been denied healthcare, nor exposed to the pandemic contagion inside the prison. Following his death, there was a caravan of people demanding justice.

Davir-Romero

By around the same date, there were 1055 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Honduran prisons from ‘fast tests’, and a further 838 confirmed COVID-19 cases from swab tests, and cases were identified in 20 of Honduras’s 28 prisons, within a total prison population of approximately 22,000. At least 25 people had died with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in prison, like David Romero. There were other deaths in prisons too in the same time period, from massacres for instance – 11, including 7 women, died from having been killed by others. Amongst the prisoners are a large portion of people who have not yet been sentenced after having been denied bail, including the eight political prisoners of Guapinol, the young teacher Rommel Baldemar Herrera, and young Victor Castillo. All their lives are at risk and campaigns continue for political prisoners to be released before more of them die – at this stage only one political prisoner had been released since the pandemic began. The conditions during isolation due to lack of visits are severe, as are reports of increased torture by military forces inside prisons.

 

Outside, the streets are also under military control and there has been a number of forced disappearances under conditions of curfew.

 

Organisers and human rights defenders persecuted under pandemic conditions

 

Young organiser threatened, killed

 

Marvin Damián Castro Molina, a 29 year old organiser who organised young people’s networks in Valle and Choluteca, who is well known in social struggle scenes, had received death threats, and had told the authorities about these and the fear he had for his life, about one week before 12 July 2020. On this date his family saw Marvin take a call, then they didn’t see him again and people began looking for him. On the next day, 13 July 2020, his body was found in the Sacamil River in the Agua Tibia community. He had been bashed in the head and then thrown into the river. The same afternoon, his grief stricken family, friends and compas buried his body. Marvin was the president of the Pespirense Youth Network, which coordinated the Pespirense Development Association of Honduras, and was also the youth committee coordinator of MASSVida Environmentalist and Social Movement of the South For Life.

Marvin Damian Castro

Where are the Four Black Garífuna Leaders Abducted and Disappeared by Police?

 

On 18 July 2020, at 6am, a group of armed men wearing bullet proof vests raided and pulled out four Garífuna compas and siblings from their own homes, including Triunfo de la Cruz community leader and community committee president Alberth Sneider Centeno, Milton Joel Martínez Alvarez, Suamy Aparicio Mejía and Gerardo Trochez.

 

Early on 20 July 2020, the Garífuna Triunfo de la Cruz community self organised and made noise about the disappearances by barricading the CA13 highway, demanding that the five be released alive. This community faced threats of repression from the police that day, and saw the police militarising and getting ready to repress instead of seeming to investigate the disappearances. For many nights, the Triunfo de la Cruz community faced terror and intimidation from vehicles entering the community in the nights with heavily armed people inside. On 21 July 2020, neighbouring Garífuna communities protested in solidarity with the disappeared compas of the Triunfo de la Cruz community also barricading their points of the C-13 highway, and at 10.20am, the Sambo Creek community had been protesting since early that morning holding up signs, burning tyres and expressing their demands, when police charged at and chased them with batons and teargas bombs. Protesters said ‘we are showing the rage and pain that we feel with the abduction of our brothers of Triunfo de la Cruz. We don’t know if they are alive or dead, all we know is that they were kidnapped by people in police investigative uniforms who arrived to that community in four cars’.

 

The Garífuna people of Honduras have suffered a lot of killings and attacks. They know it comes from when Miguel Facussé, the palm giant, was alive – he flew in a private jet with Rafael Ferri over the Tela Bay areas, and they talked in the air about their dreams of placing 5 star hotels, touristic golf clubs, etc all over to squeeze out maximum profits. They dreamt happily except for the part where they knew that there are Black Garífuna people who have lived in these places ancestrally who would not willingly be dispossessed of their lands to make way for these capitalist ventures gearing towards rich tourists. However, these two powerful rich businesspersons had under their thumbs the dictatorship regime that supplies them with requested laws, hitmen, soldiers, finance and lobbying in order to attack Black people, destroy their land titles, divide Black people, contaminate the rivers, etc. In the case of the four disappeared 1980s-death-squad-style on 18 July 2020, all four were members of community land committees. The regime tries to create rumours about the four having simply travelled to other countries. The people know better. They know from reports from different provinces of Honduras about armed groups that have been created to during this COVID-19 lockdown period to eliminate land, environmental and social defenders who are in the way of capitalist and dictatorship projects. Because these groups exist, and because streets are under military control with COVID-19 curfews, during lockdown, it is clear the military either carried out the abductions themselves, or knew about the movements of other armed groups and let them pass through checkpoints asking no questions, and therefore are responsible by association.

 

On 30 July 2020, four bodies were found in Tela Atlantida. People demanded autopsies… they could be Alberth, Milton, Suamy and Gerardo, but they may well be other people, with violent deaths not uncommon. This is occuring in the context of the global Black Lives Matter (BLM) struggle, and Garífunas lives are Black lives – GBLM.

 

University security worker who struggled for collective work rights assassinated on his way home from the demo

 

On 13 July 2020 – as reported by students of UNAH, CURLA campus in La Ceiba – 51 year old security guard Oscar Obdulio Turcios Fúnes who worked at that campus and belonged to the SITRAUNAH university workers union, was participating in a protest on campus demanding the backpay of unpaid salaries, for their contract conditions to be fulfilled, to be supplied with PPE and to be able to work in a socially distanced environment. Protest organisers asked people who could not attend the protest because they were staying home, to send messages to the radio, tv, and on social media, demanding that workers at universities and hospitals and schools be paid. It was on Oscar’s way home after the protest that he was murdered.

Oscar_Obdulio_Turcios_01 

Death threats against indigenous organiser

 

During July 2020, the women’s coordinator of MILPAH – Lenca Indigenous independent movement of La Paz Honduras, María Felicita López, had received a death threat on her mobile phone, with the message, ‘you will die, daughter of a big bitch’. On 24 July 2020, the attacks escalated from telephone death threats (she had received many attacks and threats before that message), to encountering hooded persons armed with machetes on a road that she and a relative were going to pass through. This is in the context of increasing attacks against Indigenous peoples in Honduras.

 

Indigenous land defender sentenced to 4 years in prison

 

On 29 July 2020, Pedro Amaya, a Lenca Indigenous defender who was arrested for and when working on land that was supposedly forestry land. He was preparing the land to grow corn and basic grains to feed his family. He told the court, ‘I was working on this parcel of land, like my ancesters had taught me to. To produce on land like this is an ancestral practice of my people and is not a crime.’ The judge saw his standing up for his Indigenous rights and ways as a defiance that must be punished and sentenced him to four years of prison – human rights organisations are fighting to appeal this.

 

Hate crime – trans human rights defender killed

 

On 14 July, unidentified people who drove in a grey tourist van without numberplates through El Arbolito, Barrio Plazuela in Tegucigalpa that night approached and shot several times at Scarlett Cambell and fled the scene. Scarlett was a trans woman and sex worker, and before she was shot, she was on the street with other compañeras looking for sex work clients. Scarlett was rushed to hospital but died in hospital hours after being shot.  Scarlett belonged to the Rainbow Dolls Association, and was a well-known trans women’s rights and human rights defender especially in relation to the access to health services and equal opportunities. In Honduras, so far in 2020, 11 queer persons have been assassinated including 5 trans people, 5 gay men, and 1 lesbian.

scarlet-cambell-696x788

 

An organiser who organised against state plunder of COVID-19 funds died of COVID-19

 

On 15 July, human rights defender Agustín Díaz Medina died in the Gabriela Alvarado hospital due to COVID-19. Agustín was involved in organising to protest the corruption of the dictatorship having plundered hospitals and made them bare of resources meant for dealing with COVID-19. It was likely that Agustín had received inadequate care in the hospital – low on supplies, beds, oxygen tanks, tests, staffing, and protection for staffing. Agustín had been part of social movements for a long time, he was part of the National Popular Resistance Front FNRP when the coup began. Many are very sad to lose him.

Agustin-Diaz-696x497

Police arrested youths for having protested against police having fired gunshots

 

On 20 July, in Ceibita, Santa Barbara, a group of youths were gathering on the community football field when police fired gunshots in the air in a show of psychopathic endangerment. When the youths Marco Stanley Zamora Fernández and Oscar Danilo Cáceres protested in outrage about the police intimidation and having put their lives at risk by playing with their guns, the police’s response was to arrest them. Other youths managed to flee.

 

At least 4 health care workers died of COVID-19 this month, rural health care workers are in desperation, health care workers in general are gagged, and one frontline COVID-19 ward doctor who was involved in organising was fired

 

On 5 July 2020, Dr Luis Reyes Jerezano died of COVID19.

dr luis reyes jerezano

On 6 July 2020, the Medical Association of Honduras urged for the maquiladora (foreign-owned factory) industry in San Pedro Sula to be closed, with the region having a high number of infections and the health system there under collapse.

 

On 12 July 2020, the Medical Association of Honduras grieves the loss of another colleague, María Elena Espinal, who worked in the laboratory of Hospital Del Sur.

Maria Elena Espinal

On 15 July 2020, paediatrician Oscar Arturo Ney Rivera, who is affectionately referred to as Dr Ney by the community, died of COVID-19. The community also grieved the loss of another very good doctor.

dr oscar

On 16 July 2020, Dr Adalberto Mejía died in San Pedro Sula of COVID-19, and was the ex-director of Santa Barbara hospital.

dr adalberto mejia

Health care workers in isolated areas are especially desperate, with inadequate space, equipment, PPE, staffing, etc, to attend to patients with COVID-19. For instance, in La Mosquitia, the hospital has 12 COVID-19 patients admitted with 5 in a critical state, without any access to oxygen tanks.

 

On 17 July 2020, in Cortés, there was official state communication from the region’s area health director, Dinorah Nolasco, prohibiting the region’s health coordinators from giving information to human rights defenders, journalists and even prosecutors, about conditions of the health systems, unless they were on a designated list of 12 people whom she had nominated to be spokespersons, gagging everyone else who works under the terrible hospital conditions.

 

On 28 July 2020, Dr Angel Lenin Flores, a frontline worker in the COVID-19 ward of Leonardo Martínez hospital, San Pedro Sula, Cortés, was fired after having spoken up with other colleagues about the inadequate PPE – including masks – for entering the COVID-19 wards, about overdue wage and allowances payments, and about supervisors who yell at, laugh at and insult the frontline workers. He received a letter from the head of ‘development of human talent’, Dinora Caballero Merino, advising that his contract at the hospital was not going to be renewed as of 1 August 2020. He had seen it coming that he was going to be fired for speaking up. Them firing a frontline worker under extreme pandemic conditions for protesting is ludicrous. Before being fired, he worked around the clock under an exploitative and inhumane rostering system. As well as extremely overworked, their work was also extremely dangerous, the COVID-19 ward team having had several healthcare worker deaths from COVID-19 already.

 

Two assassinated journalists

 

On 1 July 2020, at Residencial El Naranjal, La Ceiba, a journalist German Gerardo Vallecillo Chávez (aged 41) and cameraperson Jorge Posas (aged 27) of the local Canal 45 TV station were assassinated, during curfew, by attackers with firearms. Working in a region heavily hit by COVID-19, German Vallecillo ‘Vallecillo Junior’, who has a dad – also a journalist, with the same name, worked hard to promote actions of solidarity and against stigmatisation of people who have COVID-19. German was very much seen as an ‘influencer’. German’s father was expecting to have lunch with him this day, because it was German’s birthday and the plan was to have a family lunch celebration. He was very popular and received many birthday greetings on facebook at 7am that morning and at that time he wrote that he wouldn’t be able to answer all the messages in one day even if he were to dedicate the day to do that. German never came to lunch. Before lunch that day footage emerged from video cameras showing armed men in another car intercepting the vehicle Vallecillo and Posas were in, shooting at both of them several times – they both died immediately. Five suspects had been arrested for the murders. The father said he forgave the assassin of his son.

German-y-Jorge-periodistas la ceiba julio 2020

 

 

Journalist arrested for kindness

 

On 23 July 2020, in Omoa, Puerto Cortés, journalist Mauricio, for having been kind and inviting two people to have breakfast on him, the pair having returned to Honduras after being deported from the US, was arrested by police.

 

Police inaction on persecution against journalist

 

On 26 July 2020, in Nacaome, Valle, journalist Leonel García was driving home after visiting his daughter at 7.30pm when he saw that a white Nissan car registered to Nacaome council was following him. When he was at the police highway checkpoint, he reported that he was being followed to the police, describing the car behind him. When the police spoke to that car behind him, they only asked him who the car belonged to, and let him drive on without further questions.

 

Journalists who died of covid-19 this month

 

On 2 July 2020, well loved journalist, Francis Jackeline Bojorquez, of Choluteca, died in hospital during the night with suspected COVID-19. She had worked in Radio América, Radio Valle for over 25 years. Quite a few journalists had been infected with COVID-19 in the region.

journalist francis jojorquez

Earlier on the same day, midday of 2 July 2020, the journalist who is the head of Hable como Habla (HCH), Pablo Gerardo Matamoros, died of COVID-19 having been diagnosed as COVID-19-positive two weeks before. Quite a few journalists of HCH had made public that they were infected with COVID-19, with some that had recovered already. HCH has been, in the last few years, very notorious for their support of the dictatorship and repression, against dissent.

hch

On 26 July 2020, print, radio and tv journalist, who last worked at Centro de Noticias tv station, Edilberto Zelaya, died with suspected COVID-19, at the National Cardiopulmonary hospital of Tegucigalpa.

edilberto zelaya periodista covid julio 2020

Other news

 

Penal code repealed

 

Finally and officially, on 3 July 2020, the much protested penal code was repealed in parliament.

 

Previous regime president wife guilty of corruption crimes might escape imprisonment

 

On 23 July 2020, Rosa Elena de Lobo along with Saúl Escobar, who had been charged with corruption crimes plundering over 16 million lempiras that were supposed to be spent on social welfare, was sentenced to 58 years of prison, but she is freed on bail while the sentencing court revises sentence measures in future court hearings.

 

June 2020 Honduras coup and pandemic update

June 2020 Honduras Coup Update

Police shot and killed a guy after he did not stop at checkpoint

Riner Argueta Oliva

On 21 June 2020, it was 1.30am, 38 years old Riner Argueta Oliva was driving to his plot of land to get ready to do work there, but he never made it to the land. As he drove, passing the turnoff for Corral Viejo community where a police checkpoint was getting set up – the checkpoint was still putting up cones and still waiting for all the police to arrive to staff it – police unexpectedly signalled for his car to stop. Riner’s brother Adrián said his brother ignored the signal, because he knows about all the police killings and abuses, and would have been suspicious about getting stopped when they have not finished setting up, and drove on. When police saw that he was not stopping, police gunfire was shot, first at his car tyre, and then at him, at the driver’s seat, from behind. Like the news around the world of BLM police brutality stories, locally, people knew of others who have been killed by police for things like driving without a licence or riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Witnesses saw that it was the Tigres police operation head Agent Corea who fired the gunshots, but instead of putting him behind the bars, his subordinate police officers Elmer Castellanos, Melvin Murillo, Ruperto Rodríguez and Alex Andara were locked up without bail accused of the killing, whilst Corea not only walks free but had organised himself as a protected ‘witness’ against the other police for the murder of Riner. Two days later, his families and friends gathered in a demo, grieving, and demanding justice for him and for others hurt and killed by police in the area.

Police bashed transport workers in protest

On 23 June 2020, in El Polvorín, San Pedro Sula, workers of transport sector were demonstrating and demanding their right to go out and work to be able to feed their families during this COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Police heavily repressed the workers, who showed no signs of being even a little combative – despite which the police showed no mercy and savagely threw the workers to the ground and kicked and bashed them with batons with no human considerations for them.

El Libertador Newspaper director learned of plans to kill him

On 2 June 2020, an alert came out, that Jhony Lagos, a journalist and director of the El Libertador newspaper, had heard from high ranking police and soldiers about plans to kill him coming from dark forces of executive power. His sources told him to take extra care and strict measures for his safety. He was told that his name is on a black list that was given the go ahead two months ago. He had known that he was being followed. El Libertador is a newspaper that was founded 17 years ago that publishes stories of resistance, human rights violations and state corruption. Jhony said that if anything happens to him, his family or workmates, that the Honduran state is responsible for the attack. The state recognises him as a persecuted person and officially he receives protection but many who received such protection had nonetheless been assassinated. Jhony and his partner had suffered a lot of persecution and attacks over years.

Political prisoners

COFADEH human rights organisation continued throughout June and prior months in advocating for the release of all groups and individual political prisoners in relation to their imprisonment exposing them to COVID-19 contagion risks. These requests kept getting knocked back by the courts. On 2 June 2020, this risk directly affected the largest group of political prisoners – the eight environmental defenders of Guapinol held at Olanchito prison, where the first case of confirmed COVID-19 at this prison was admitted by the Honduran authorities. Despite this, the Guapinol political prisoners remained locked up throughout June, and meanwhile, the mining company that they organised against, Inversiones Los Pinares, and Ecotek of Lenir Pérez and Ana Facusse, continued operating in impunity and causing contamination to the rivers and protected area of Montaña de Botaderos National Park.

In Tegucigalpa, Rommel, the political prisoner of the struggle for public health and education, a young teacher charged with burning tyres outside the US Embassy, had been locked up for one year now, having spent the first five months in maximum security prison, and was subsequently transferred to Mario Mendoza psychiatric hospital with anxiety and depression. Rommel is getting worse in hospital, and with the pandemic, his family had lost contact with him because of strict controls, that had also disallowed their families from passing him food through the staff. The family only receives news of how Rommel is doing from the hospital security staff. His initial hearing was scheduled for 16 April 2020, but that was suspended indefinitely because of the pandemic, leaving him in limbo, leaving his family extremely worried about him, wanting his imprisonment to be be all over so he can be reunited with his family and begin to heal.

On 16 June 2020, 1624 prisoners were released on bail or had their sentences commuted, or were released for health reasons, due to an outbreak of COVID-19 in the prisons. None of the political prisoners were included in this release.

On 21 June 2020, it was reported that there had been over 120 confirmed cases amongst inmates in prisons in Honduras, and about five had died, with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 (prisoners are also affected by dengue, flu, chicungunya and TB.

On 27 June 2020, the first political prisoner was released during this pandemic, Felipe Esquivel was freed and had reunited with his family, with everybody wearing masks. Felipe was imprisoned since 19 December 2020, when military police raided his home in search of his partner, Aleida, an organiser of Bastion del Sur, and arrested him instead, for opposing the JOH regime, when they couldn’t find her. Felipe is relieved and happy to be with his family, having lived with daily uncertainty along with other prisoners in the Choluteca prison for the past six months. ‘Being enclosed in a prison like the case of being in Choluteca prison, is an odyssey, because the conditions are inhospitable and everyone longs for support there. Thanks to Cofadeh and my family, I had this morale and emotional and also legal and sometimes economic backing, so I thank Cofadeh for also having been with us, I am very grateful’ Felipe said that the last 3 months were the hardest, and he took the opportunity to speak up about the subhuman conditions that are lived in the prison. ‘It is a very difficult situation because the threat of the pandemic outbreak that was looming was with us prisoners, who don’t have even the minimal protection, not even a simple disposable mask, the government didn’t give us even that, and some medias said that they had already given us masks, hand sanitiser, and all that to the prisoners. I am a witness and I can declare to whereever that they never gave us even a mask, let alone hand sanitiser. The medical attention is bad, shocking. You had to go buzzing a gate three to four consecutive days in a roll to be attended, and when one arrives to where the doctor is, they tell you that you don’t have anything, you are fine, some compas have high fevers, and the doctors would tell them that they were okay too. Also, the overcrowding is a very difficult situation that is lived, I have information that the prison was designed for 400 persons and in this moment there are more than a thousand, that means that in many prison cells 30-35 sleep on the concrete floor, there are not even foam mattresses for them to sleep peacefully and rest. Everything is hard. The water is very limited during the summer, they need an extra water well there.’ Around that date, over 300 prisoners were sick, families weren’t allowed to bring them medicines, and amongst the sick prisoners, are some of many sleeping on concrete floors, and there may be COVID-19 cases amongst them too. That nightmare and epoca ended for Felipe, but there are other political prisoners still locked up and cannot see their families.

COVID-19 Update

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Honduras increased drastically from 5362 cases on 1 June 2020 to 19558 cases on 30 June 2020, with likely many more unconfirmed cases because of limited access to testing. By 1 July 2020, total number of COVID-19 deaths in Honduras reached 497.

COVID-19 deaths of health care workers

Since the beginning, sad news of deaths of Honduran health care workers had occurred every ten or so days. Many others including high profile front line doctors have tested positive (with over 800 health care workers having tested positive by 19 June 2020).

On 1 June 2020, microbiologist of HEU teaching university hospital in Tegucigalpa, Julio Licona died in his home, on this day, the JOH regime announced an ‘intelligent reopening’ of the economy – easing restrictions within the formal economy.

Julio licona microbiologist

On 19 June 2020, anaesthesia technical specialist Carlos Dubón, died from COVID-19.

Dr Carlos Dubon

On 20 June 2020, Dr Alexis Javier Reyes Amaya, who was in 2010-2012 the president of the Medical Association of Honduras, had died of COVID-19, having declared, ‘I caught it serving the people’, and while sick, he called out for people to feel no shame in having caught COVID-19, saying that the shame should be felt instead by those who contract the PPE supplies that never arrive to the hospitals’ Alexis never stopped to struggle in defence of public health and against the indifference of the JOH regime that never ceased to launder funds that are meant for enabling the safer provision of health services.

Dr Alexis Javier

On 28 June 2020, Dr Carleene Hurst of Choluteca, also died of COVID-19.

dr carlene hurst

The working conditions of health care workers in Honduras continue to be appalling, with evidentially far from adequate protection.

Journalists affected by COVID-19

On 31 May 2020 in Cortés, sports journalist Jacobo Carías who was COVID-19 positive and had kidney problems died, after having been denied dialysis treatment on 25 May 2020. He was sent to get blood and chests exams first – that he had to pay for. He was sent for exams because the dialysis department was not treating patients suspected of or positive COVID-19 and he had a high fever. Morever, results of tests can take up to 15 days, placing patients, like Jacobo, at risk.

Jacobo Carias periodista

In Choluteca alone, about 15 journalists had caught COVID-19.

JOH and other politicians hospitalised

On 16 June 2020, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández announced that he and his wife had tested positive to COVID-19, along with two others who worked for them. The following day, the 51-year-old JOH was hospitalized after doctors determined he had pneumonia. As he had planned and got approval from the congress, he was treated in the military hospital with doctors dedicated to his care (with far greater care than other Hondurans in critical conditions including frontline health care workers), and was put on a drip of microdacyn, azithromycin, ivermectin and zinc that his government is promoting. He was released from the hospital July 2.

There were questions about whether JOH might had strategised to avoid a special congress session on 25 June 2020, a session that some legislators had called for to abolish the penal code the social organisations have protested against for a long time. During the same zoom session, with 67 parliamentarians participating, it was announced that the congress president was also in a critical state, tubed up to breathe, also being attended to in the military hospital.

On 28 June 2020, a vice parliamentarian, lawyer Rafael Arita, of Copán, died of COVID-19 in a private clinic in San Pedro Sula.

Where are the hospitals we bought?

That is one of the questions on the lips of health care workers. Amongst the COVID-19 projects the Honduran government had contracted on 13 March 2020 was one of US$47.4 millions for seven mobile isolation hospitals. On closer look the hospitals were to be built in Turkey but paid for by US company ELMED. The described hospitals are exactly those manufactured by SDI Global LLC, whom ELMED had sought a quote for, but never made the purchase. These hospitals were nowhere to be seen in Honduras. SID Global LLC management committee president Michael Murphy gave an exclusive interview to ElPulso.Hn media, in which Michael complained about ELMED and its director and owner Axel G López, in US and Turkey. Of the budget, while no hospitals had been sent to Honduras, nor signs of them being on the way, there was on the other hand, little doubt that the flights and hotel quarantine in US had been spent for Honduran officials organising this ‘purchase’.

On paper, there are many contracts, with many companies, but hospitals continue to be sites of contagion for health care workers and patients, and there is never adequate equipment nor PPE’s. Frontline worker Dr Osmin Trovar said, ‘There was not even one new diffusion pump, nor monitor, I had to find monitors from other hospital areas. The pressure gauges for oxigen I had taken them from the dengue ward, from paediatric wards, from the internal medicine wards’ The name of the government COVID-19 response fund was also meant to address welfare needs to help contain the pandemic, but the demands of transport workers and market workers continue to be, ‘let us work to feed our families.’ They would also be very happy to be assisted to carry out their work safely and use PPEs. Or stay at home if the government provided what their families needed for survival until the pandemic is over. Neither of these are provided, and 50-60% of the economy of Latin American countries are of informal economy, so the desperation is extreme.

M-004

And, this above is a picture of the 4th quarantine centre for returned migrants (from Mexico and US), from the Honduran government’s own promotional website. Is this a place where migrants would safely be able to socially distance and be free of COVID-19 after 14 days to reunite with their families, or is this where those who hadn’t contracted COVID-19 yet would catch it from others and then perhaps go home with COVID-19?

 

May 2020 Honduras coup and COVID-19 update

The month of May began with 899 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 712 active cases, 75 dead and 112 recovered. On 27 May 2020, a doctor and ex minister of health during the Zelaya administration, Carlos Aguilar, who works as a pneumologist at the Torax hospital with COVID-19 patients, announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 and hopes to recover soon and return to the frontlines with fellow doctors and nurses there. On that date, there had been 188 lives lost to COVID-19. May ended with 5202 confirmed cases on 31 May 2020 with a rapid growth in confirmed cases for a small country.

May Day 2020 is an unusual May Day in the world when most people are in lockdown, such was the case in Honduras. Smaller protests took place, of hospital radiologists protesting about lack of PPE and stressed about catching COVID-19 on the frontline, while the mythical pandemic state spending and donations remains unseen to healthcare workers. Workers in general had been protesting for weeks by this point about the lack of work and food in the context of non existent welfare and day-to-day survival, a situation that only worsens as a list of 170,000 job cancellations by companies was being signed off by the state. Also protesting was Maricruz, the mother of one of the political prisoners, Rommel, who demanded the release of all political prisoners and also expressed her solidarity with Silvia Castillo, whose son, Tomás Castillo, a dreamer of the resistance, was murdered by state security agents on May Day 2016.

COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons, and, what’s happening with political prisoners?

There had been campaigns since the onset of COVID-19 to release political prisoners, now there is the added danger of COVID-19 contagion. But, even to the end of May 2020, when COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons have begun to become reality, the Honduran state had ignored cries of organisations including the UN, and released none of the political prisoners. It also must be noted that most prisoners, including all current political prisoners, have not been convicted and are languishing in severely overcrowded prisons for up to years before their trials slowly come to a close.

The first COVID-19 outbreak was in El Pozo maximum security prison in Santa Barbara. There, on 20 April 2020, a 52 years old inmate was watching TV with his cellmates when he suddenly started feeling sick, and died in the cell. It was days after his death in prison when the authorities tested his body for COVID-19 and days after the test, found and announced that the inmate had died of COVID-19.

He was not the only one from El Pozo prison to die of COVID-19. A fellow prisoner was taken from prison to hospital for Leukemia treatment – officially having provisionally tested negative to COVID-19 prior to initial transfer to hospital on 31 March and again on 11 May, to then tested COVID-19 positive on 14 May 2020 (although results were received 21 May) at which point he was transfered to Thorax Hospital for TB treatment – there was news that he recovered from TB on 21 May – having been diagnosed with TB in November 2019, but then on 27 May 2020, he died of COVID-19, presumably having caught COVID-19 while in hospital under custody.

In Tamara prison in Francisco Morazàn, a new prisoner aged 40, following his admission into the prison, tested positive for COVID-19 on 15 May 2020 and a prison emergency had been declared. By 21 May 2020, six other prisoners began to develop respiratory symptoms, having been exposed.

The courts ordered the closure of El Pozo (that held 1000 plus prisoners), the temporary closure of Tamara prison, for staff to take extra measures to prevent spread, and to make sure any prisoners taken to hospital are properly isolated to not be placed at risk of COVID-19 in hospital. Courts also ordered the prison department to distribute PPE supplies to all prisoners (authorities say they do that, but all prisoners do get is a roll of toilet paper each, no soap, no sanitiser, no masks), as well as COVID-19 tests for all prisoners and immediate isolation of any COVID-19 positive persons. There was a prison population of 22,007 in over 25 prisons in Honduras, with prisons operating at approximately 200% over capacity, some worse than others. What’s more, rather than a reducing prison population, the police state had arrested many people retaining a portion of them in the prisons, adding to the already severely overcrowded prison population amidst the pandemic. Only a total of 500 prisoners have been given bail to, only after having been exposed, but also selectively, not having been where the prison outbreaks were, upper class prisoners of corruption/white collar crimes have also been preventatively released.

The only method of preventing COVID-19 outbreak in prisons had been a punishing one, – denying prisoners from receiving visits since mid March.

There are twelve political prisoners. Some have risk factors. The prisons are appalling but COVID-19 makes the prisoners’ vulnerability skyrocket. There is limited medical attention available to prisoners which is rarely accessible in moments of need, with only one doctor for every 1000 prisoners – and political prisoners have even less access because prison authorities use withholding medical attention as part of the torture against them. All but one Guapinol environmental defenders have health problems (eight in Olanchito are held together with two others in a small 12 square metres prison cell with bunk beds); 42 years old José has hypertension, 30 years old Kelvin also has hypertension and had developed a urinary tract infection, 48 years old Porfirio has eye problems and had developed allergies while in prison, 28 years old Ewer has migraines, and 20 years old Arnold has allergies that got much worse in the last months, 28 years old Orbin has asthma, only José Cedillo seemed to not have health complaints. 63 years old Jeremías is held apart from other Guapinol political prisoners, in La Ceiba prison. Jeremías suffers from advanced gastric ulcer and needs special food, which he doesn’t get access to since the pandemic, as his family ususally sends him food but prison authorities have begun to not accept this. Jeremías has reflux and cannot sleep lying down, and had also developed a prostate infection while in prison. There are also political prisoners in other prisons, Rommel is held at Mario Mendoz psychiatric hospital, Carlos Tinoco is in juvenile detention in Francisco Morazán, and Victor Castillo and Antonio Felipe Esquivel in Choluteca prison. Choluteca prison is extremely overcrowded, with 1500 men and women contained in a prison with capacity for 600 prisoners, not to mention it gets as hot as 42 degrees celsius inside in summer, and inadequate access to food, water and medical attention, and the prison being in danger of fires because of poor condition of electrical circuits.

In Antonio Esquivel’s case, he was captured in December 2019 when the police raided their home in search of his partner Aleyda, leader of Bastión del Sur organisation. Aleyda had not been able to see him since before his capture, as she had been in hiding prior to COVID-19, and was herself captured (and given bail) as soon as she came out of hiding to survive the pandemic. Visits were cut off then but Aleyda had been dropping off food parcels for Antonio because of his dietary limitations. She had found the receipt of food packages to be increasingly limited and arbitrary in the name of COVID-19 safeguards. On 13 May 2020 Aleyda came back home with the food she had brought to the prison to drop off for Antonio, only to be told that she can only bring canned foods, and that arbitrarily some items like flour, milk, oats and fried chicken weren’t allowed, while beans, rice and pastas were accepted. Canned foods are prohibitively expensive in Central America being an imported food available only at supermarkets for the middleclass. Aleyda returned with another food package on 18 May 2020 with 25 green bananas and a packet of cheese. The officer made a sly comment about if they were trying to make a green bananas business in the prison, allowed them through, but not the packet of cheese. Antonio suffers from reflux, headache and a lot of desperation.

And meanwhile, firefighters attended to a fire on 24 May 2020 at the women’s prison in Tamara.

Other countries in the region for which there are campaigns for the states to release political prisoners are Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Estados Unidos, Guatemala, México, Paraguay and Perú.

Political persecution, police and military brutality, and some other invisible consequences under COVID-19

Murder of a thermoelectricity security guard

On 1 May 2020, young security guard Edwin Noel Sacaza Flores of the Garífuna (black) Sambo Creek community was murdered inside the U.S. owned La Ensenada thermoelectricity plant of Laeisz group of Benjamin Hirsch (who lives in Florida US). Edwin was an employed security guard of La Ensenada. He was killed inside a container, by strangling or suffocation. He was without weapons that he carries for work. The Garífuna Sambo Creek community went to protest his murder outside the La Ensenada plant where over 40 police also militarised, in defense of the plant. That night they continued to protest outside the morgue in La Ceiba. Garífuna people are outraged knowing that there will never be investigation nor justice, they will never know the context of Edwin’s murder. The community had fought against the plant’s installation itself, which was imposed without consultation with the community; they were only told it was going to be built in June 2018 and that the building would finish end of that year, and it were to be built between the Nombre de Dios Mountain Ranges National Park and Cayos Cochinos of the Bay Islands. It was also built without an environmental licence, using the highly contaminating Bunker C. It had just begun operation on 5 April 2020. During May 2019, three generators were burnt in another station, San Isidro, of the Laeisz Group – the cause of which had been inconclusive. What is known of La Ensenanda plant is that it had already begun polluting; the bunker had escaped to a nearby creek that goes out to the sea, killing fishes and other sealife, harming beaches and tourism in the region, plus Bunker C is highly toxic and emits particles and can destroy the Sambo Creek and Corozal community. The plant emits a toxic smoke that hits Corozal community worst. The plant is also built on unstable ground that can collapse. It is a disaster in all the senses, even capitalistically, it makes little sense, being one of the most expensively priced fuels in Latin America. The Garífuna people demand that there be investigation, and the plant be closed. They also protested against the plant back in May 2018, marching 34 kms from Jutiapa to La Ceiba, only the press never resounded what they did.

Cuanto-vale-la-vida-de-un-Garifuna-en-Honduras

Police brutality under COVID-19 curfew

On 3 May 2020, in Arenales, Trojes, El Paraíso, police bashed up villagers of the community who were simply heading home. There are photos of one of the villagers’ back, showing marks of beatings.

On 4 May 2020, in Pavana, just 21kms outside of Choluteca City, police arrested José Dolores Rodríguez for breaking the curfew, so the people who were worried about him, including his brother Jamie Enrique Alvarez, followed the police patrol. However, at the Santa Elena COVID-19 checkpoint, The police patrol stopped, came out, and without saying anything proceeded to bash and arrest the brother Jaime together with José. The community checkpoint only permitted José and Jaime’s mum Elena Alvarez to continue following José and Jaime – others following were stopped. Elena was told that her sons would be held for 24 hours. Jaime needed medical attention and there was a medical examination offered by police but they knew that such exam inside the police structure would not help him and waited until after his release (expected 2pm the next day) for medical attention.

On 8 May 2020, in the La Era neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, the community was questioning whose graves the state was digging and how a certain renal patient who was to be buried there had died, as they saw the digging of multiple graves at their local cemetery. Did the renal patient have COVID-19? Are all these graves for COVID-19 deaths? Are there a lot more people dying from COVID-19 than the state is admitting, covering up lives lost like missing cookies from a cookie jar? The answer to these questions given by the military and police were tear gas bombs that they launched at the community.

On 14 May 2020, in Pespire, Choluteca, mototaxi drivers protested the lack of work, as they had been without income to sustain their families for two months already – they have mortgages, they need to buy food, pay loans and electricity bills, and they asked, ‘why are the shops open but transport services are unauthorised?’. The military and traffic police attacked them arresting three drivers, damaged their small vehicles, and beat up two of the drivers protesting and launched teargas bombs. Videos of the repression against the drivers, women and children present had been shared on social media. ‘Councillors have been receiving advanced payments, what about us? Who will pay the damages caused by police and military?’ All they want is to work, and to be given equipment to work safely in the pandemic, to transport people with everyone wearing masks. They began the protest at the central park, and when the mayor did not come out to negotiate, they blockaded the Panamericana highway, stopping cars that are authorised to circulate (eg trucks, medical vehicles). The laws are meant to protect people from contagion risks, but repression and confrontation from the military exposes people to contagion risks.

Also on 14 May 2020, Francisco Celedonio Ramírez, a survivor of the 2020 El Tumbador massacre of landowners against peasants, was out doing agricultural work, when police used the pretext that he was breaking the curfew to arrest him and took him to the Trujillo courts, accusing him of what they always accuse peasants, of usurpation. Celedonio personally was wounded in the massacre ten years ago and had facial wound that healed over almost ten years and scars that will remain forever. He is one of many peasants who joined landless peasant movements to recuperate lands knowing that their bodies become body shields for the land they try to recover. In addition, the Guadalupe Carney community where he had struggled and lived, in particular, was in the 80s the CREM- regional military training centre and was a scene of horrific human rights violations in the Bajo Aguan region in those times, so recuperating this land, which began in the year 2000, was a struggle to reivindicate hundreds of victims of soldiers and landowners in those times. This day when he was arrested happened also to be the 20th anniversary of the Guadalupe Carney community – usually there would be a massive public celebration, but because of the pandemic curfew, the community limited the celebration to a sharing chain, where needed items are passed onto those who need them. In contrast, the police and military never respected efforts to prevent contagion, having never stopped patrolling the area. There are concerns that the state is renewing persecution against him using police and courts, reviving previously resolved charges. His hearing was set for 16 May 2020.

As well, on 14 May 2020, in Danlí, El Paraíso markets, police appeared and began checking documents and arresting people, when Officer Ledesma targetted young mobile phone accessories street vender Noel Alexander Velásquez López who was on his way to getting more chargers from a friend’s place two blocks away to sell. The police swung at Noel with the baton and grabbed him by the neck and arrested him. People around including Noel’s brother Franklin who sell the mobile phone accessories with him tried angrily to intervene and confront the police. Noel and Franklin’s family live on what they earn each day in the informal economy. They contacted a lawyer they knew who pressured and obtained Noel’s release that afternoon. Police claimed that Noel’d disrespected authority and that it was not his circulation day according to his ID number, as justification for the arrest.

On 16 May 2020, in Zacate Grande, Faustino Mejía was, like other days, collecting dry wood on a field of peasant recuperated land that the palm magnate Facussé family claims belongs to them and had fenced off, – the Facussés called the police and officers Euceda and Rodríguez arrived and arrested Faustino. Faustino was then locked up at the Puerto Grande police station. Villagers including teenagers mobilised and went to put pressure on outside the police station and obtained his subsequent release.

On 16 May 2020, at night time, in Guarizama, Olancho, in the context of a small community church gathering young Miguel Padilla just returned to the gathering having gone to walk his spouse there in the dark, only to see his brother-in-law had been arrested by military police for no reason. For daring to question the military police why they had arrested his brother-in-law, they turned to him, said, ‘what’s with you?’and began to bash Miguel, twist his arms, and further bashed him at the police station parking lot in front of the police, beating him in the spine and caused his ribs to fracture while his brother-in-law was being placed in a cell. Miguel learnt later that his brother-in-law was under arrest because he dared approached the military police and ask them to tone down the flashlights of their vehicles as the bright light was impacting on their activity. Miguel was on bedrest for at least 8 days, he was in such a state he could not even go to the toilet by himself and required his spouse’s help. ‘I’m here recovering bit by bit, I don’t feel very well, I don’t have the medicines that I need, because I can’t even work. What’s more I am parent to two twins – I had 3 children but one died 5 months ago. My twin daughters are 6 years old…the doctors told me that I cannot work in this state’, the family depends on the income from his work with machete from which he earned only U$6 a day. With his injury, his family is left with no income, and were also forced to stay elsewhere, in fear of further attacks by the military police and police.

On 20 May 2020, Heydi Amaya needed to go out to do errands. In Honduras, people are told which day of the week they are allowed out depends on what number their ID numbers land in and it was her ‘circulation day’. In order to be safer from contagion, Heydi asked her brother, Roberto, to drive her, but for him to stay inside the car at all times. Their first police and military checkpoint encounter was okay, she explained the situation and they let them through. They quickly went and did the errand, and were on the way home, but when they passed through outside the police station, two police agents stopped them, and Heydi proceeded to explain, but they refused to listen. Police said to them, ‘Get out of the car’ and grabbed Roberto by the chest to throw him into the police station, while the car was still turned on. ‘Whats going on?’ Heydi protested, ‘Let him go!’ ‘Get out of the way,’ they ordered and hit her in the face. Roberto then said, ‘don’t touch her, she’s a woman’, and 8 other police started to attack and kick him. Heydi then yelled and the police started to attack her neck, ‘don’t bash me, this is a crime, I will call the human rights organisations,’ ‘You are under arrest’. The siblings were taken and locked up without any hygiene measures to safeguard them from COVID-19 contagion, to the contrary, they ripped the mask off Heydi’s face. Heydi managed to let her family know and they placed pressure immediately and the siblings were released 3 hours later, although only on the condition that they signed a declaration saying they were charged with throwing rocks and breaking a window. They signed because they needed to leave quickly to get medical attention. During the ordeal, Heydi heard a police tell another, ‘take a photo of them and give me the photos..’this worried Heydi and Roberto, since they are being threatened with retaliation for resisting and possibly also for their community and political work.

On 24 May 2020, in Nueva Esperanza, Las Flores, Lempira, people witnessed military police shoot and kill Ovidio Gutiérrez, and how they left him there on the footpath and fled. Ovidio was someone known by the community to have mental issues, and also, as a humble person, who never messed with anybody.

Ovidio Gutierrez May 2020

Attacks – including one murder – against community members who are obligated or self-organised to control traffic into their communities to minimise COVID-19 risks in their communities

In Plan de Flores, La Paz, the community COVID-19 checkpoint refused police entry into their community – in retaliation, the police tried to arrest them but the community managed to disarm and hold the police and called other police to come take them back to the police station. When other police did arrive for them, in the form of 8 patrols, the police joked when handed the bag with the police’s gun and bullets inside, calling it a ‘solidarity bag’, but it wasn’t funny, in fact, bullets to the bodies, and not food, is precisely what the Honduran government gives to the population. The police also started putting out made up videos and stories about what this checkpoint did to the police (photoshopped so they are tied to the posts) to try to justify past and future repression. The police came in a plain car from Gracias, Lempira, gave false names, and gave death threats to those on duty at the checkpoint. In this checkpoint, people are obligated by the National Party to participate in a ‘volunteer’ roster to make sure nobody enters. The ‘volunteers’ are not paid, are not given PPEs, and are threatened with fines for not participating.

On Saturday 9 May 2020 three police patrols arrived at the Jutiapa community COVID-19 checkpoint, and the community members carried out their established routine and asked everyone to get out of their vehicles and proceeded to fumigate the tyres and windows. One police in particular, officer Gómez, got offended and punched the community member – 18 years old Cesar Arnulfo, in the chest. When Cesar tried to run, the police handcuffed Cesar, and continuously beat him. People around yelled at the police to let him go and to stop hurting him and yelled to others for help. The police threatened to arrest everyone there and pushed Cesar into the police patrol vehicle to take him to the Danlí police station. People from El Obraje community took direct action in solidarity and followed the patrol vehicle and managed to block the road ahead of the police car, in an effort to force the police to abort the arrest. Another police ordered this police over telephone to release Cesar – which officer Gómez and other officers he was with complied, but not without first telling him that the police will kill him if he talked about what happened. The scarier part for Cesar is that one of the agents who threatened him is from his community. With officer Gomez, this was the first time Cesar had seen him, but he will never forget his face. His ribs were fractured from the beating and his head felt wrong, and an arm was dislocated – his mum (who is also part of the community COVID-19 watch effort) recounted after.

On 12 May 2020, at the Las Pilas COVID-19 (self-organised) checkpoint of the Puerto Grande committee in Zacate Grande, landowner Pedro Lazo, who works for for the infamous murderous palm magnate Facussé family, arrived at the COVID-19 gate there on his motorcycle with a woman on the passenger seat, and ordered organised peasant, human rights defender, and community radio activist Elía Hernández to open the gate. When she insisted that this was not the process to seek passage through the gate, he angrily asserted that he will go through the gate as many times as he pleases, ‘because I work for the Facusses’, and told Elía that ‘since you started with the organised peasants, you act like you own this place, and now you are with the COVID-19 screening committee you act like you own Zacate Grande,’ and at that point he said that he was going to kill her and chop her in pieces and bury her some place she won’t know. That wasn’t the first death threat she received and she continued to be subject to intimidations; on 20 May 2020 Elia was on a lote of land bought by her sister but that was under Elía’s care, when a relative of Pedro’s, who lives opposite that lote, told her she had to ask permission ‘before stepping her big foot’, and when she argued, Pedro’s grandad further told her he will not give her permission to cut a rotten log that is in between the two properties. On 21 May 2020, since her and others are under police protection order as recognised persecuted persons, she went to the police to complain about these new threats and harassment and almost immediately, someone in her community told her that the Lazo family already found out she had gone to the police about this. The police also did not want to receive her complaint. She is worried about her and her family’s safety. Elía, aged 34, belongs to a struggle for land, territory, and the local beaches to be free of landowners.

On 20 May 2020, at night, 3 unknown hooded men entered the home of Edwin Fernández, member of Ofraneh, (black garífuna fraternity organisation) and head of the committee in the Río Tinto committee to close the community and prevent the entry of COVID-19 and protect the garífuna community this way. They demanded for Edwin to hand over the key of the security gate of the Rio Tinto community in front of his family, and when he refused, they shot him dead in front of his children. The Río Tinto community only began to have a road connecting the community to the outside world since a relatively short time ago, having been completely closed off by African palm plantations before that. It is imagined that the attackers are connected with organised crime in the region. This is in the context of many killings against Garífuna people, and the Garífuna communities, with 47 recent killings. The Garífuna communities had self organised an emergency plan to watch all their entrances and exits, as well as community information, the making and distribution of masks, community food kitchens and pantries, and continual work to strengthen the immune system of community members through education and access to food and medicines. As well, they organised systems to attend medically and spiritually to people who may have caught COVID-19. They had also organised a network to accompany women and children who suffer DV and sexual violence during this time of social isolation. The Garífuna people in the midst of the attacks and pandemic have taken and continue to take transformative and autonomous actions to care for and defend life.

Edwin-Fernandez

On 24 May 2020, in Valle de Angeles, Opatoro, La Paz, police patrol PN-551 arrived at the community checkpoint from San Pedro Sula. When the villagers told them they could not go through since they carried no hygiene equipment and did not observe social distancing protocols. The police got angry and proceeded to ram their vehicle towards the villagers so villagers had to take action to retain the police.

Some of the disappearances during COVID-19

Back on 7 April 2020, a 33 years old mother, Karen Rivera Saldívar, was trying to get to San Luís in Santa Barbara when she couldn’t find the transport that could take her and was stranded, because of the pandemic. Karen also couldn’t find transport to return home. While stuck, she became disappeared, with unknown whereabouts, until 19 April 2020, having been disappeared for 12 days, when her dead body was found. A further 17 days after her body was found it was taken to the San Pedro Sula morgue – her brother and dad had identified her body but the body was not taken to where her family is for burial: in the middle of COVID-19 the authorities told the family they would send the body to the family if Karen’s elderly and sick mother travelled to San Pedro Sula city (a major COVID-19 hotspot and without public transport, knowing too that this family is poor and have been without income since the pandemic began) for a DNA test. Even if she could somehow afford a long taxi ride to do that, they would still have had to wait 3 months for the DNA test results. ‘It’s really sad to not be able to say goodbye to her, without the means of bringing her here’, Karen’s mother said, ‘I am a mother of five children, one of my children had already been killed before Karen, two years ago, now they kill her, leaving me only 3 children.’ Karen’s 11 years old daughter stays with Karen’s mother, and her 12 years old son will be with his father. It’s a painful time made a lot more painful.

On 8 May 2020, at the El Espino border, two Cuban women, Mariluz Muñoz Valdez and Yanaisa Gonzales were detained by border police and kept under inhumane circumstances with benches to sleep on and no food given and no measures to prevent exposure to COVID-19 while under custody. They had subsequently disappeared, last seen under custody having been taken to an unknown direction.

On 15 May 2020 Cofadeh human rights organisation placed a habeas corpus demanding the Honduran state to put Denis Eduardo Maradiaga Molina to a court hearing and to release him if there are no grounds for his detention. 28 years old Denis, turning 29 the following week, was arrested on the night of 20 April 2020, when he was going out with friends that night and him and his friend Luís were captured during the curfew. Since then his mum and the rest of his family have searched desperately for him, not knowing where he is detained, if he is alive, if there are charges. Cofadeh sought for an executive judge to go to each prison and hospital and check if he is there. To date, over 11,000 people in Honduras had been arrested for being out during the curfew, with an average of 300 a day.

The corruption pandemic in Honduras

With the pandemic contracts made without tendering, some information surfaced about how money was laundered by the Honduran state in the name of addressing COVID-19. It included buying overpriced N95 masks with over 57 million lempiras, at prices considerably higher than market price, as confirmed by research by the Health Department. The regime also brought in Breas Vivo 65 ventillators on a presidential plane on 17 March 2020 in a publicity stunt – but since then, cardio-pulmonary and biomedical experts have confirmed that the equipment is no good for use with COVID-19 patients, and that the equipment is incomplete anyway, with cables and sensors for monitoring patients missing. They sat unused in the Torax hospital warehouse. The regime had also contracted on 10 February to have a building company establish a triage space and renovate two observation wards and renovate the space to prevent contagion, at the Torax hospital. However this job was not completed and what was done was done poorly, so 5 million lempiras were used and the hospital, is not as it should and needs to be, purpose built to prevent contagion of COVID-19. Between the mentioned contracts, over 20 million lempiras are mispent and many lives lost and placed at risk at present and into the future. To 17 April 2020, the total official COVID-19 budget in Honduras is US$3,448 millions, around 80% of which in the form of future external debt.

Long protested Criminal Code on virtual vacation, soon the be current

Pushed through under the table and in dictatorship conditions, the criminal code which criminalises protests, makes ‘public disorder’, ‘disobedience to authority’, ‘meetings and illicit protests’ and ‘terrorism’ crimes and decriminalises sexual violence, corruption and organised crimes, had been protested against for the past two years. It was to officially become current on 10 May 2020, but was going through at least 45 days of ‘virtual vacation’ before becoming current, having already had two extensions of 6 months, with pressure to stop the law on one hand from protests including even from the UN, and for it to come into law on the other hand, with the political class’s commitment with organised crime.

And not to forget too, the JOH regime is a drug trafficking-state

Another thing that keeps getting put off is the sentencing hearing of the New York court of Tony Hernández, JOH’s brother, found guilty of drug trafficking and carrying weapons and lying to court. It was postponed for the fourth time, now to 29 June 2020. It is known that the brothers had received a million dollars from the Sinoloa Cartel for JOH’s presidential campaign and court paperwork showed JOH had collaborated in the trafficking scandal, of tonnes of cocaine. In part of a slow sweep DEA is planning against a number of actors in this drug trafficking case, the Manhattan Federal Court had on 30 April 2020 accused the ex police head of Honduras, Juan Carlos El Tigre Bonilla, of drug trafficking, weapons possession, using official position to protect drug trafficking charges, and also known was his involvement in the murder of a rival trafficker. Prosecution have said that it will be investigating and pressing charges against many others, including JOH, although, DEA head Mike Vigil believes that prosecution, while collecting more evidence, will wait until JOH’s presidential term finishes, around November 2021, to press the charges.

April 2020 Honduras Coup and Pandemic Update

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

Iris Argentina

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. 

A re-cap.. 

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.

april 17 honduras

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.

March 2020 Honduras Coup Update

March 2019 Honduras coup update

 

At the beginning of this month, people commemorated that 4 years had passed since Berta Caceres the indigenous feminist environmentalist and anticapitalist leader was murdered, and continued to question how those who had ordered the murder were getting away with this. A teacher and writer who lived a life critical of the dictatorship regimes was murdered. Meanwhile, another school is left with no teachers. The pandemic also arrived in Honduras this month, devastating a people already hungry, lacking healthcare access, and militarised, bringing about a much worse state of affairs.

 

Four years after they killed Berta Caceres

 

2 March 2020 marks the passing of four years since the assassination of indigeous defender and leader Berta Cáceres who fought to defend the Rio Blanco River from DESA hydroelectricity company, and had been a prominent social leader since her youth, against patriarchy, colonisation, and capitalism. People from different organisations (even the UN was there) travelled to La Esperanza to gather over a weekend in the Utopia Centre of Gathering and Friendship of Copinh’s, undertaking a range of activities beginning with the screening of the documentary ‘Desenredar el ser’ (Unchain the being), and ending with a march around town at night with fire torches. While 7 people have been sentenced as perpetrators of the murder, people continue to call for justice. They demand that those who organised the murder in affiliation with state forces – the owners of DESA company, who are members of the Atala Zablah family – be put behind bars. The family members in question are: Daniel Atala Midence, Jacobo Atala Zablah, José Eduardo Atala Zablah and Pedro Atala Zablah.

 

Anti coup anti dictatorship teacher and writer murdered in his car

On 6 March 2020, in the city of Santa Barbara, beloved teacher, writer, and an antagonist against the JOH and previous dictatorships, Victor Manuel Rodríguez Paz, was driving his car. Victor was going to take one of his four children to school, when unidentified attackers in another vehicle stopped him and fired at least 24 gunshots at his car. 18 of these gunshots shot through the front side of the car, and six at and past the driver’s door, squarely aiming at Victor’s body. Victor died in his car. The attackers fired all these gunshots, and fled. Police came and cordoned off the murder scene. Hours later, forensic medicine came and transported his body to the prosecutors’ morgue. Victor was a teacher at La Independencia public school where he had taught for the past 15 years, and before that he taught at Dolores college. His fellow teachers and admin staff and students are all in shock and miss him dearly. Victor was very dedicated, committed and responsible with his work. He had written four books, and the city’s students read them in class. Victor was always at the marches against the coup and the dictatorship and was affiliated with the teachers’ unions Copemh and Colprosumah. Of his four children, the youngest is a one month old baby who won’t know their dad except through others and through his books. Victor’s brother was murdered two years ago, and his father murdered ten years ago.

 

Education sector local struggle in Arenales

 

School was also still on, on 10 March 2020, but not in Arenales community, where the Lenca Lenca indigenous people decided not to send their children to school, after barricading the highway the day before demanding that the Education Secretary Bueso address the problem of the school not having teachers.

 

COVID-19, militarisation, and famine unfolds in Honduras

 

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on peoples already in turmoil is beyond massive. Such as in the case of Honduras, which has been living under dictatorships since 2009, where the people are in struggle and bloodily persecuted. Where 64% of the population live in poverty and most people live under the informal economy, and what their families eat each day depends on what they have earnt that day, making stockpiling impossible. A good proportion of Hondurans also rely on remittances from family members in the US, and the US is hit severely by the pandemic, likely cutting off such remittances as survival for these family members become more difficult. It’s impossible also to practise isolation and frequent handwashing within the homes because people live in overcrowded conditions; most people share rooms, and a lot of people, like those in the capital city, often have no water coming out of their taps, with irregular water service because of dried rivers and dams from extractive projects. The hospitals are as bare as they come in terms of staffing, medicines, equipment, and PPE because the dictatorships have stripped these bare, rediverting health funds towards electoral campaigns and otherwise into pockets of those already rich.

 

While real numbers are unknown – the first confirmed cases in Honduras appeared on 11 March 2020, with two cases. One of whom was a 4 year old child who had returned from Texas, in the US. By 16 March 2020, with confirmed cases going up to three from two, and the addition of three suspected cases, a curfew and lockdown was announced to start at 10pm that night. The regime announced the measures that were to last for one week, and a ‘package’, that was approved behind closed doors back on 13 March 2020, of US$500 million (from congress, CABEI, executive, EU, etc), claiming that the regime will build 94 hospitals in 6 months, provide equipment – including obtaining 100 ventillators – and staff these hospitals. But there are no mentions of fixing up existing hospitals, and it was announced that there would be no tendering process – so it had in effect signed itself a blank cheque, to pass funds to JOH’s allies, and further privatise the health sector, while not channeling the money to address the pandemic and the needs of the population during this pandemic, protecting only those who are well off.

 

With the curfew and lockdown, in the cities with the confirmed cases (this list increases over time), people were told to stay home, and the streets were filled with police and soldiers to impose this. Within 24 hours, the regime took advantage of the pandemic curfew in Choluteca and on this first morning of lockdown and curfew, had 10 unmasked police (in the context of the pandemic) surround the home of political activist Aleyda Huete and arrest her without a capture order. The police had for months been persecuting Aleyda, aged 50, who is a leader of Bastión del Sur, a social organisation in the region that organises against the dictatorship. The region has been impressively solid and belligerent in their weekly protests for what must now be three years. Back on 19 December 2019, the police had raided her home looking for her, and when they didn’t find her there they took her partner Felipe Esquivel instead. When Felipe refused to give up information on his partner when interrogated, he was held as a political prisoner ever since. Aleyda had been in hiding for three months away from her home and family, and must have just returned when she was captured because of the pandemic. Aleyda would also currently be a political prisoner, except a massive bail of US$1000 was scraped together for her release. Aleyda is to appear in court starting 31 March 2020.

 

Another measure the regime rushed to introduce at the same time as the lockdown was the conversion of the sports stadium Villa Olimpica into a place to confine people with confirmed COVID-19, laying out the gym with makeshift beds. No more was heard about its use during March 2020 by people with confirmed COVID-19, but a group of 25 who travelled to Honduras from neighbouring Nicaragua were forced to isolate themselves there rather than in the homes they were going to. They feared that while they were there the regime would admit people with actual confirmed COVID-19, and expose them to the virus. Neighours of the stadium also protested, because the stadium had two nursing homes very close by, and also because the stadium is an inadequate space for people to look after themselves or be looked after in. The regime has access to hotels and to military buildings with facilities, and these should be given.

 

Initially during the lockdown, even supermarkets were closed. However, softdrink workers union STIBYS denounced that softdrink workers were made to keep working and not provided PPE. Similarly, workers in monocrop industries were not provided PPE. After the first day of lockdown, deemed essential services such as hospitals, pharmacies and supermarkets were left open along with softdrinks production and distribution. There was panic buying, by those with the means to. Most people normally rely on markets, street vendors and corner shops for their daily needs, because it is more affordable, and as a form of mutual aid, too, since the supermarkets belong to the elite of the country. Markets were not allowed to exist during the pandemic, people weren’t even allowed to sell things in front of their homes.  

Within days, people could bear the hunger no more, and protests began sporadically. On 23 March 2020 in a neighbourhood usually alive with street vendors in Tegucigalpa, there is an image from this day of some burning tyres illuminating the night and kids jumping up and down chanting, ‘we want food!’. Similarly, on 23 March 2020, there were protests around and reports of police abuse, teargas bombs and arrests began to flood in. People in Comayagua who protested demanding food were attacked. People in the relatively empty market streets in Tegucigalpa had a police patrol pass through, shoot teargas at them, evict them and then drive on. Many others, mostly out looking for food and medicine, were arrested and bashed by police, who refused to listen to people’s reasons for being out. The most shocking case of this day was of police arresting five guys who were approaching a pop up soup kitchen for a feed outside the Ramon Ayaya Amador housing complex in Comayaguela, Tegucigalpa. Women who belong to the Iniciativa Mesoamericana organised and were serving food there in effort to share food at a time when many are starving and struggling. The arrestees were Luís Sierra, Yimy Paguada, Wilmer Hernández, Wilmer Alejandro Hernández (son of Wilmer Hernández), and Edilberto Girón López. Police took them to the police station and threatened the women serving the food with ‘we will come back for you’. The women regretfully packed up and stopped sharing food and went back to their homes. They also quickly got Iniciativa Mesoamericana to place pressure on the police to release the five, as did human rights organisation Cofadeh, and achieved their release relatively quickly.

 

The problem is, even at this time when US$500 million is poured into supposedly addressing the pandemic, not only is the health system rotten and not getting extra supports, there are no supports to help people stay at home. The only welfare package heard of is the meagre US$4 food aid package (for which US$40,000 has been assigned), which is only given to those who are poor AND show support for the National Party. People who make a living by selling things everyday say, if you won’t give us food, at least let us work and sell things to feed ourselves. Initially, the lockdown was said to be for one week, but as each week passes, another week of lockdown and curfews is announced. So protests have continued, as have cases of people being arrested while outside of their homes, mostly seeking essential services of food and medicine – the tally of COVID-19 arrestees quickly went up to over 500 – some obtained bail or were otherwise released, others remain locked up. When questioned by the media, about when they will be released, police official Zavala said, ‘when the emergency is over’, and to other questions such as, ‘is the detention registered? Are they processed in the prosecution? Are they given food and treated with dignity? Are there measures of safety and sanitiation? Can they communicate with their families?’ There are no responses from police. What’s more, there are images circulating of arrestees forced to undergo military training and forced labour. There are grave concerns for the welfare and lives of those arrested, at a time when prison must be the least safe place to be.

 

On 26 March 2020 there were 52 confirmed cases, and the first case of someone with COVID-19 having died. With this backdrop, in Marcala, La Paz, a councillor Marlon Calles who had been persecuted for some time for being against extractive projects, was harassed. The Health officials arrived at his house to inform him that he and his 64-year-old mother are suspected of having COVID-19 and must undergo testing. His mother had an emergency surgery recently and the pair have had to travel to hospital in Tegucigalpa 153 kms away on a routine basis, and it was on account of the frequent travel that they were named suspects. This did more than make their blood boil – it made his mother Paula faint.

 

On 27 March 2020, in the neglected and isolated area of Brus Laguna, Gracias a Dios, in the context of the curfew and the police suspecting a youth of not complying with the curfew, the police shot at the kid. People are of course outraged and say they would set the police station on fire.

On 29 March 2020, two weeks from the first confirmed case, there were 139 confirmed cases, from which 3 had died, and 3 had recovered. In Opatoro, La Paz, human rights defenders who were designated ‘assistants’ in their communities were ordered by council director Celin López to participate in a roster to watch that nobody unauthorised drives through the entrances to the town. They are obligated to do this, undertake 12 hour shifts, they are not paid, they are not even provided with food let alone masks or gloves, they are not facilitated with a place to rest during their shift, they are not even treated with dignity, and instead are belittled and made fun of. There are people in the community who are in solidarity with them though and bring them food.

 

On 30 March 2020 there were 141 confirmed cases including 3 healthcare workers. Remember that workers do not have access to adequate PPE, there are no N95’s for healthcare workers or hospital cleaners, but white collar state and parliamentarian employees do have access not only to special masks but disposable overalls. Stories continue to be heard of people protesting and being repressed, such as in Cholutecas, where people organised in Colonias Unidas (united neighbourhoods), protesting to demand water and food, and instead received state teargas bombs, shot in the street between their homes.

 

On 31 March 2020, there were 9 deaths from COVID-19, including the first healthcare worker to have died from COVID-19 in Honduras, Dr Denise Roxana Murillo. She was seen to have recently pled on facebook to Hondurans, please stay at home, even if you are hungry, drink water. It was only two days before when she felt symptoms and decided to self-isolate at home, and the next day when her condition worsened she was admitted to hospital and drips were attached to her body in an attempt to keep her alive, there was not adequate equipment available in the hospital to stabilise her, and she died. This same day, as Radio Globo journalist Lidieth Díaz was driving to work, a group of police detained her and threatened with confiscating her car and licence.

 

The month wrapped up with a lot of questions of just how the US$500 million is being spent, and also, like in Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, while the regimes of the world take advantage of the pandemic and divert attention, what are they covering up and pushing through? President JOH’s brother’s sentence for drug trafficking. Hospitals obviously continue to be in a shocking state. Lots is spent on teargas bombs against hungry people. What concessions are dished out to what industries? What is being more privatised?

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