Honduras Coup update January 2015
Starting yet another year with killing, shootings, a disappearance, threats and judicial processes against those who protest, with ever deepening militarisation using military police, and ever graver privatisation, using model cities amongst other laws.
Political Persecution in January 2015
Environmental, land, and community rights activist killed
On 5/1/15, environmental defender and land rights activist; member of Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz MILPA, Juan Francisco Martínez was found having been murdered violently – he was found with his hands tied by shoelaces of military boots, and his chest punched in on the side where he heart lies, although official autopsy reports are not made available to the public nor to organisations defending Juan’s case. MILPA is involved in defending territory against the building of a hydro-electricity dam owned by Gladys Aurora, the vice-president of the National Congress and nationalist MP. Juan’s son was also assassinated in July, and although there appears to be people arrested for this crime, Juan’s family has since August 2014 received threats of violence. Juan was also someone who worked on ecological farming methods to preserve biodiversity, contributing the the health of the communities and of the forests against destruction by transnationals interests through dams, mines, model cities, etc. His death is likely linked to the land conflict with a group of ‘Central of coffee growers’ which has the support of Santa Elena mayor Victor Ventura who has in turn openly declared himself as against the actions of MILPAH, and in support of the dam project of Gladys Aurora.
Over 15 gunshots fired at La Via Campesina building
On 25/1/15, in the early midnight hours, unidentified individuals attacked the La Via Campesina office in Tegucigalpa, firing more than fifteen 9mm gunshots with the first shot fired at a security camera. It is supposed that it was related to the congress debate towards making military police constitutional – a bill rejected just hours after the attack in congress – because Via Campesina was amongst the organisations opposed to this militarisation and had offered this very building for a press conference to speak against military police. Nobody was in the building during the attack. The office is 10 years old. Since 2009, the coup, this has been the fourth attempt against these Via Campesina buildings. Via Campesina had suffered raids, plunder, and gunshots. This attack adds to the gunshot wounds the building was already marked by. Via Campesina leader Rafael Alegría has also complained about knowledge of plans of attempt against his life.
Young farmer activist disappeared in Bajo Aguan
On 29/1/15, in the Panamá community in Trujillo, Colón, Cristian Alberto Martínez Pérez (19) was last seen at 8pm dropping his pregnant partner at the Baptist church in the community, having left his house on a green and yellow bicycle, black pants, and a shirt that says ‘human rights defenders struggling for land/earth’. Around the same time, he received some calls, after which he never answered again. Christian was declared disappeared on the next day, as his partner waited for him and he never came. Cristian is an active member of the farmers movement Gregorio Chávez (MCGC) and part of the Agrarian Platform. At 3am that next day, a neighbour found Cristian’s bicycle in front of lot 20 of the Paso Aguán farm – property of Dinant palm company with whom MCGC is in conflict. The Paso Aguán farm is surrounded by over 100 soldiers and private Dinant security guards. On 31/1/15, the shirt Cristian was wearing was found on Lot 18 of the same Paso Aguán farm, this shirt was identified by his partner. On 27/1/15, the military had given death threats to and photographed and identified members of grassroots and farmers organisations in this Bajo Aguan region including members of MCGC. This MCGC movement had suffered throughout killings and persecution at the hands of Dinant with government complicity. Dinant PR director Roger Pineda claims not to be responsible and to cooperate with investigations on this case but all signs point to the youth having been closed in in Paso Aguán, where other farmers – Gregorio Chávez (whom the movement that recovers land for food and housing security is named after), Ramón Lobo, and José Antonio Lara’s bodies had been found. Francisco Pascual had also been disappeared from this community.
Gunshots including wounding ones, and death threats against Garífunas (original Central Americans with black/African descendency)
On 11/1/15, at midnight, a group of armed men arrived on the Garífuna ancestral territory of the Nueva Armenia community in Atlantida, firing shots, they also burnt homes that were rebuilt from attacks last August, when the community suffered an eviction and had their homes burnt on the land together with their subsistence crops, and suffered 11 arrests by police.
On 26/1/15, in the morning, hitmen attacked firing gunshots at a group of 40 Garífunas associated with the organisation Ofraneh, when they were going to the Nueva Armenia territory, wounding several people including Jesús Flores Satuye who was shot in the head and in the arm. The attack is over an existing land conflict, where the land is ancestrally Garífuna but was occupied for 8 decades by United Fruit (now Dole), at the end of which, instead of returning the land to Garífuna communities, the state proceeded to concession them to monocrop palm industry business. Jesús was also attacked in January, 14 years before, by Honduran navy agents at the Cayos Cochinos; this case remains in impunity. The Nueva Armenia community continued at this beach, surrounded by hitmen, with wounded people unable to receive medical attention being under siege.
On 19/1/15, in Vallecito, the directive members of the same organisation Ofraneh – Ofraneh coordinator and members of the directive committee, told off a group of supposed farmers called ‘La Aurora’ that are usurping this ancestrally Garífuna cooperative land and had set on fire an extensive strip of land next to the sea. In response, the ‘La Aurora’ farmers gave them death threats, despite Ofraneh members having supposedly been under the protection of an Armed Forces agent in the very moment. The appearance of ‘La Aurora’ farmers coincides with the beginning of the reconstruction of a clandestine landingpad for the use of organised crime that began last decade, which Ofraneh members had opposed and destroyed. This conflict last year had led to the kidnapping of Ofraneh members and the militarisation of the area. The community made complaints against the landingpad but the authorities including agrarian reform authorities had only carried out actions against the community and not the landingpad. The area is strategic for drug trafficking activities and was in the last decade 80% controlled by a cartel managed by Reynaldo Villalobos, and it is supposed that there are deposits of petrol. Being wetlands, the area is also wanted by palm mono-crop industries. The lives of Garífunas in Vallecito are at risk, as the group apparently being led by Mr Pedro Brizuela is being armed, hired by leaders of elements associated with the party Unión Democrática.
Rio Blanco: Knowledge of plans to spy on and kill indigenous defenders against dam project denounced
On 27 and 28/1/2015, a meeting was held in Rio Blanco of Lenca indigenous members defending rivers and territories. They denounced the continued imposition of dams against the Cangel and Gualcarque rivers with concerted efforts by the government, congress, together with the companies – including Blue Energy, Hydrosys (Canadian), Ríos Energy – Capital 3 (US), and DESA – Simens Voithydro. Those who met denounced knowing that spies and hitmen have been hired to ‘eliminate’ those who oppose the dam project; including plans to attempt against the lives of Copinh (indigenous organisation) leaders – including against coordinator Berta Cáceres.
Council police attack protesters against toll increases
On New Years Day, a protest began at the toll booths on the highway to Choloma against the mayor Calidonio’s decision to increase toll fees by 100% – protesters handed out leaflets and drivers participated by paying only half of the new fees or by refusing to pay in protest. Eight council police were called to control the ‘insurrectionists’. The first eviction attempt at 2.30pm was impeded by the support of drivers passing through and by TV cameras’ presence. The police instead made fun of the protesters saying they will sell out like some council politicians had. They also swore angrily. Finally at 3pm the police evicted the protest, surrounding a protester telling him to leave, and then when he refused, they pushed all protesters saying they would evict them anyway and attacked them and tore up their leaflets.
On 2/1/14 from 6am, the protesters began a hunger strike at the toll booth in protest.
On 3/1/14, protesters returned at 6am to continue the hunger strike with a cardboard and a coffin, but council police car impeded these and arrested Ruy Díaz for contempt, confiscating his belonging including things that he protested with such as the megaphone, the cross and the ladder. He was told the arrest was ordered by Mayor Calidonio who prohibited all protests within 100 metres of the tollway, and offered him a chance to be voluntarily arrested and when he refused, the 8 council police took him by force and laughed, reiterating that they already bought council politicians who including are from supposed leftist parties Libre and PAC. Ruy is a retired teacher and was himself a pre-candidate for MP for the Libre party in Cortés.
Journalists persecuted and abuses, one exiled
On 12/1/15, a formal complaint, after which the authorities took no action, was placed of the police abuse suffered by journalist Gabriel Hernández of radio and TV program El Pueblo Habla, when he was filming police who were undertaking traffic operations in the city centre of Nacaome in Valle. A police with surname Sánchez told off Gabriel for filming them, when police was subjecting collective transport vehicles known as moto-taxis to their repressive checkpoint operations. Sánchez insulted Gabriel and tried to snatch the small camera with which Gabriel recorded for his program. At the same time another police with the surname Herrera demanded Gabriel to get permission to film and threatened to confiscate his camera.
On 26/1/15, human rights organisation Cofadeh helped put journalist Ely Vallejo of Channel 36 on a plane because of death threats he received; Ely had been receiving threats after he asked JOH about a corruption scandal called ‘Hilda’s Palace’ which is about the funds used towards an extravagant home built by president Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH)’s sister Hilda Hernández, who is also the communications and strategy minister. on 7/1/15, Ely was waiting for JOH to arrive to the ceremony of the inauguration of Project 21st Century (an infrastructure plan), when a man lurked behind him and asked, ‘is the recording going well?’ – Ely discovered afterwards that he had no images of the event, because there must have been machines used to distort the signals of the recording. The same man who lurked behind him then got onto a motorcycle and stalked Ely when Ely got into a taxi – it was the driver who noticed that they were being followed and tested this out by stopping at the petrol station to fill up and seeing that the man stopped there too; the driver commented to Ely, ‘that is why I don’t like to drive journalists, they follow us’. After complaining publicly about this incident on C-Libre, Ely received more intimidation on social networks and discovered the name of the person who threatened him. Months before this, Ely was also physically attacked by military police in San Pedro Sula during his work as a reporter.
On 30/1/15, there was an exchange of threats, punches, and insults between journalist and director of Globo Radio and TV (a media that although is commercial is known for criticising corruption and human rights violations) David Romero, and politician/presidential advisor Marvin Ponce, as Marvin Ponce asked David Romero to serve as an intermediary to put on advertising of the government house, and as an intermediary on the case he faces against the spouse of prosecutor Rigoberto Cuellar. David Romero refused and Marvin Ponce was also furious at David Romero having called him a shoe-licker and messenger of JOH on radio. With this context, Marvin Ponce went to look for David Romero to ‘talk’, but apparently came shouting and seeming drunk and saying that he was carrying a gun when David was reading a document on air, to which David said, ‘well, shoot me then’, and gave Marvin two punches and left. David said he received seven calls of threat the night before from Marvin for name calling on radio. Marvin Ponce also complained of death threats from David Romero.
Based on a video the journalist Cesar Omar Silva Rosales published related to the killing of a dog and torture within the military, Cesar received a threat from Coronel Avila in the context of a congress session in which the granting of a constitutional status to the Public Order Military Police was in the end not passed – this was on 24/1/15, Cesar was entering the congress to cover the session when he was told by security guards that he was not on the authorised list to enter, he asked Bladimir Baca (presumably a guard) what was going on, who said he would look into it, but Cesar was left waiting for 1.5 hours. As the session was starting and Cesar saw seven colleagues being allowed past by two coronels who were walking down the stairs – Coronel Victor Mario Avila Galeano and Coronel Carlos Andino Cobos, he asked Bladimir again why he was not allowed in. Bladimir responded saying that Coronel Avila decided who goes in and who doesn’t. Coronel Avila is head of military security and a School Of Americas (US based torture and anti-insurgency school) graduate. Cesar asked Coronel Avila why he could not enter and Avila answered with the index finger pointed at Cesar saying, ‘you don’t enter because I don’t want you to and I am the boss here – keep publishing videos of soldiers eating dog…you are gonna find yourself gagged and with your yellow feet in a ditch,’ saying the last sentence twice, and finished saying that this is happening to Cesar ‘for being a big mouth and an idiot’. The video Cesar published on 16/1/15 on Globo TV is of military training showing a soldier after he killed a dog and held the dog’s head in his hand, was obliged by other soldiers to eat the dog’s tongue and brains and part of its head – this soldier vomited and others beat him to make him continue eating the dog. Cesar’s work had involved lots of reporting on social issues that had him politically persecuted many times since the coup. He was captured when covering on the day of the coup 28/6/09, only to be freed with interception from villagers. On 5/9/09, as he covered the protest at the Toncontín Airport, the youth Isy Obed Murillo was shot and killed by the military; Cesar carried the body of Isy, on 28/12/09 Cesar was kidnapped in a taxi and was interrogated, threatened and beaten and then thrown out from a moving car, forcing him into exile for some time. In February 2013, him and his photographer covering a protest action of transport workers suffered injuries and equipment damages.
University suspending students in Tegucigalpa and Valle de Sula campuses who protested privatisation
In Tegucigalpa, on 23/1/15, UNAH (autonomous university of Honduras), announced the case of suspended students as a closed case after not notifying the students’ lawyer of the appeal hearing and when they turned up anyway, not holding the hearing claiming that as the General Secretary was not there the hearing could not be held, receiving only their written brief. The suspended students in Tegucigalpa are: Cesario Padilla (journalism), Dayanara Castillo (sociology), Javier Barahona (sociology), José Luís Herrera (sociology), Sergio Herrera (social work), and Moíses David Cáceres (sociology). The last student, Moíses, was not even at the protest he was accused of participating in because while he wanted to go, he was in meetings with the same university authorities at the time. The students’ lawyer said despite many requests to see the files of the cases, they never did let her.
At the Valle de Sula campus, 17 students were cited for discharge hearings, for having participated in the occupation of the university campus, ten of which had been declared suspended, some for a term, others for three terms. Despite requests, the students were not given a factsheet for the accusations with which to prepare their defences. They were not notified of the decision, instead, their accounts were cancelled by the system and they were automatically suspended. Students protested and demanded due process, while authorities denied that their processes were illegal and said that ‘for the measures of protests the students movement had used, they did not apply the most radical action which is indefinite expulsion’.
A committee of solidarity with the suspended students of UNAH was being called for and formed.
Feminist leader Gladys Lanza convicted for defamation and slander
On 28/1/15, following the final hearing in the courtcase against Gladys Lanza, she was declared guilty of defamation and slander, in a case that started 4 years ago when, in the capacity of the coordinator, the organisation Visitación Padilla Women’s Movement for Peace, at request, took up the case of Lesbia Pachero, who was the head of human resources of FUNDEVI (housing development foundation) who spoke up about having been fired after long months of sexual abuse by the head of Fundevi Juan Carlos Reyes who is also the spouse of Liberal MP Gabriela Nuñez. Visitación Padilla protested with sit-in’s, statements, and managed to pressure industrial courts to order Lesbia’s reinstatement, but this was reverted in the court of appeals, and Reyes used this decision to sue Gladys Lanza. The sentencing which will be finalised on 25/2/15, could be between 16 and 32 months in prison although it may be changed for something else. After the conviction, Juan Carlos Reyes told the press that, ‘I must regret not having been able to fix this matter in a friendly way, that we have had to reach such extremes. At no point did I have the intention of harming Gladys Lanza. What was denied from me, was to restore the honour that she had damaged,’ he said that he hopes she goes over her ways of work, and for her to change these to a ‘modern and scientific way’. Gladys is preparing her appeal. She is a recipient of Inter American Commission of Human Rights protection measures having been a victim to death threats, although the Honduran state never carried out any protection measures despite formally accepting this responsibility.
News briefs from January 2015
Public Order Military Police (PMOP) continues to be funded, although the granting of constitutional status was not given in the congress.
Observers are confused about why the JOH regime first tries to have the congress approve constitutional changes to Military Police and failed (a majority of the congress considered the measure a further militarisation of society), and then announces there will be a plebiscite for people to decide on the same question in the next presidential election in 2017, given that some pointed out that Military Police is constitutional already since article 273 of the constitution mentions that armed forces are constitution, and in the armed forces law, article 16 of 128 was reformed and approved on 22/8/13 to include military police as a special commando of the armed forces.
The new reform not being passed does not end the military police regime, this continues to be funded through the security tax unless congress decides it be stopped. The same security tax will be used to fund a campaign in favour of the plebiscite in the municipalities – JOH claims he is pushing this because PMOP ‘has reduced violence and has widespread support’ without providing any facts to back these. JOH came to power with an iron fist security platform. Military police are soldiers with special police training, officially tasked with making arrests, tackling street gangs and organised crime. According to Centre of Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights coordinator Dennis Muñoz, there are currently 2500 military police in Honduras, costing $1000 per agent per day, and JOH wants 3000 more by the end of 2015. Adding to the militarisation budget always means taking away from the health, education and agrarian reform budgets. The proposed constitutional reform is to further increase militarisation – Daniel Facussé, president of the Honduran Maquiladora Association and relative of the infamous Miguel Facussé, appealed to the congress saying, ‘it is in your hands to raise the Military Police to constitutional status so that no person, no one from the Executive class, has to withdraw from the streets, and that in the end, if we can bring investments we will bring jobs.’ Proposed constitutional changes include letting towns, villages, and ZEDES (model cities) request PMOP or other armed forces to give them security service, and to give executive branch power to declare ZEDES and other areas with PMOP as ‘special security zones’.
First model cities in Honduras to have their plans public this March
At the end of March it is expected that the partner Korean International Cooperation Agency will submit feasibility plans for this multimillion dollar project to build the first model city (employment and economic development zone) on the Pacific Coast. It will cover three neighbourhoods in the Valle region. Once the plan is handed over, the project will be formally launched in a meeting organised by Inter American Development Bank – anticipated to be one of the project’s main investors. Proposals now include building a new port in Amapala town (small fishing town ‘under exploited’ for import and export), a new logistical zone for storing and administering merchandise at specially fixed rates in Alianza town, and opening an agricultural research and development centre in Nacaome, where technicians will ‘trial solutions to food shortages facing Hondurans’. Set to be low tax, low regulation management separate to national authorities, in competition for ‘international investment’.
For a refresher, model cities are thought up by ‘ultra-right-libertarians’, and this idea started becoming a reality following a TED conference given by Paul Romer (model city ideologist) in 2009. He said charter cities are an ideal means to ‘produce wealth and remove fourth world countries from underdevelopment’. The then Madagascar president Ravalomanana was the first taker and the project would have gone ahead had he not been overthrown. The Honduran coup regime of 2010-2014, Lobo, took it up. Cosmetic changes were made so that the model cities project could pass off as constitutional, legitimate and ‘transparent’. To this end, each model cities in Honduras will be supervised by a committed called CAMP – Commission for the Adoption of Best Practices – with the members nominated by the president of Honduras. The same committee will legislate ‘the best international practices’. This CAMP will include amongst others Kakha Bendukidze – the author of liberalisation in Georgia, who created the phrase, ‘Georgia has for sale everything except honour’, Michael Reagan – son of ex US president Reagan, Lars Seier Christensen – founder of Saxo online bank, and Mark Klugmann, who wrote speeches for Reagan and Bush junior and acted as advisor to Chilean president Piñera in the privatisation of pension funds. Their idea is moving away from the Henry Ford paradigm of paying workers enough so they can buy his cars, to getting away with a production model that pays only a subsistence salary, maximising profit and ease of function of business, and minimising what workers receive.
Other pieces of news
- World Bank already invests in and benefits from repression and human rights violations in Honduras through its support to palm company Dinant responsible for killing many farmers in Bajo Aguán, now to continue along this line, on 3-4 February 2015, World Bank is sponsoring ‘Conference on Sustainable Development of Natural Resources’ in Hondruas.
- Executive power introduced a bill Ley Marco del Sistema de Seguridad y Protección Social, that privatises by handing over management of part of IHSS (a social security institution) and of pension funds to the private sector. The changes proposed will have increased costs, and the private model will transfer extra costs to prices, causing inflation – employees have to pay $12.25 a month in contribution, this would go up to $25.20 hitting workers hard. The companies contributions will go up too but they will transfer this cost to consumers. IHSS is already in a bad state with plunder by administrations causing lack of medicines in hospitals, disability pensions not being paid, retirement pensions not being paid to those who contributed.
- A survey of Jesuit radio ERIC-SJ showed that although 7 of 10 vote, 7 of 10 also expressed that they don’t feel represented by the congress and expressed discontent with the system of political parties. Similarly there is that amount that distrust also unions, courts, prosecutors, private companies, government, and private-public-alliances.
- According to US magazine Forbes, three Hondurans are amongst the 12 richest millionaires in Central America/Caribbean – Honduras being the poorest and most unequal country of Central America. The three businessmen/millionaires are: Miguel Facussé, Jaime Rosenthal, and Mohamad Yusuf Amdani Bai.
And, an article following up on the case of the Ahuas massacre involving US DEA against Miskito villagers on the Patuca river: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/29/evidence-the-dea-attempted-to-alter-testimony-on-drug-war-massacre-in-honduras/