April 2015 Honduras coup update
News of political persecution from April 2015
Stabbed to death – partner of Tolupán community leader who defends territory against mines.
On 5/4/15, at 10pm, Luís de Reyes Marcía (49) was pulled out from his home… it was 2am when Luís was found dead with multiple stab wounds to his throat and neck – his throat was slit, his guts were outside of his body – his family saw him like that. Luís’s partner Consuelo is an indigenous Tolupán leader – Consuelo was granted protection measures for the threats she received in relation to her opposition to the imposition of mining projects on their community territory – beautiful, mountainous, forested territory, in San Francisco, Locomapa, Yoro. Luís and Consuelo together made a complaint to the police recently about death threats and threats to destroy their crops. The family had only returned to this territory of theirs on 22/2/15 following living 6 months of exile. Behind the murder are hitmen paid for by businesspeople and powerful people of the region.
Lawyer and resistance activist assassinated by hitman
On 24/4/15, at night, Héctor Cruz Castro (60) was driving at the entrance into the municipality La Lima in the north of Honduras when his car was intercepted by another car and he was assassinated – he was a resistance activist and a lawyer, who also gave classes in some high schools. His compas are left with only good memories with him of struggles for freedom and justice, and of his work as an educator. He is also dearly remembered by close friends and family.
Military police kills female mango seller
On 24/4/15, Karla Maritza Alvarado Gómez (28) was selling mangos at a corner at the Kennedy neighbourhood, when a council police and a military police called for her attention and a police shot into the air to intimidate her, and then fired the second shot at her – she was taken to hospital, where she died at 6.30pm.
Pressures against lives of Garífunas
Garífunas are indigenous and Afro-descendent Hondurans, and they are in resistance against landgrabbing. Of fifty Garífuna communities in Honduras, three have been displaced – Miami, Vieja Armenia and Puerto Castillo. More are being pushed out by palm monocrops, mining projects, tourism complexes, model cities, drug traffickers, and urban projects pushed by the government and transnational companies. Many Garífunas pushed out of their lands end up in the US – there are 75-90,000 Garífunas only in Bronx, New York. All Garífunas are threatened in this environment of displacement of losing their ways of living, their ancestral territorial rights, their ways of sharing the lands.. This month they suffered the following attacks:
During the first weekend of April, as the state officials and shareholders were enjoying their Easter holidays at the Indura Beach and Resort in Tela, outside, near this exclusive hotel, police and military came to evict hundreds of families who had lived on the land for decades, the forces attacked and repressed as the families resisted. The contingent also attacked journalists who came to cover this attack and resistance.
On 29/4/15, Ofraneh (Honduran Garífuna organisation) coordinator Miriam Miranda spoke up about the harrassment by National Telecommunications Commission Conatel against Garífuna community radio staff, ‘they are coming to the community radios, supposedly to investigate if they have licences, frequencies, etc, but we believe that they intend on closing the community radios.’ The harrassed community radios are: Radio Lamalali Bajama, Radio Sugua, Faluma Bimetú, Radio Waruguma, Radio Lumalali Giriga, Radio Brisas del Mar, Radio Durugubuti, and Radio Wagia.
On 30/4/15, the entire Barra Vieja community has been summoned for a court hearing on 12, 13, and 14 May, accused of being usurpers of lands that have ancestrally belonged to them. This community is based just metres away from the Indura Beach and Resort complex, between the Caribbean sea and the Los Micos Lagoon in Atlántida. The community is under permanent eviction threat, and are being criminalised for defending their territory. This current pressure is due to Indura Beach and Resort’s expansion plans. The community, which has been there since 1902, lives fishing and sowing a few crops, lives in humble, basic and difficult conditions without basic services, declared that they would die before they would leave their homes. Landgrabbing pressures have also come from the Bahía de Tela project and from the ENP – national port company.
Where is Donatilo Jímenez? University unionist and resistance activist, unseen.
On 8/4/15, Donatilo Jímenez started the day as normal, he dropped his children at school, and another of his children at uni, where he works, and so he went to work too. He works in the maintenance department of this CURLA uni campus. At 11.30am, he was driving the work tractor with Miguel Meza, Alirio Argueta and Ramón Antúnez, when an accident happened and one of his workmates hurt their hand. Presumably to deal with what happened, Donatilo went to some other buildings in the uni saying he would come back soon. When his workmates realised he wasn’t to be back soon three hours later, they went to the maintenance office to report what had happened. It was later that the CURLA security staff revealed that Donatilo’s car, which had polarised windows, sped past the parking lot without waiting for the revision of security (there has been strict vigilance on campus that identifies every car going in or out), something he had never done before. That night, his car was found abandoned in Las Delicias neighbourhood with the car doors open. He is the coordinator of resistance front FNRP in the 1 de mayo neighbourhood. He also belongs to the Libre political party although he always refused to be a candidate whenever offered.
Before his disappearance, Donatilo let his family know that there had been hostilities with the high authorities of UNAH, based at the Tegucigalpa campus, as well as with the internal security of CURLA campus where he works. Donatilo is a union and social leader in La Ceiba, having worked on this campus since 18 years ago. He was the Sitraunah uni workers union’s section 3’s president in the periods 2008-2010 and 2010-2012 and there are elections coming up in June again.
Donatilo’s spouse Sonia Martínez complained of silence…silence of responsibility and complicity… she hears the silence loudest from the UNAH authorities, which she complained had made no efforts to contact her about what had happened. Sonia complained of silence from ESPA company – a security company contracted by UNAH director Julieta Castellanos which has written in the contract that ESPA coordinates with the university authorities ‘some special operations in specific cases when required by UNAH’. ESPA staff work separately to UNAH security staff – ESPA being contracted has been an expanding part of privatisation processes, ESPA is headed by an ex police, Luís Armando Zuniga Elvia, who is known to abuse labour rights of its workers, and UNAH security staff have together with Donatilo received death threats back in 2011 – two UNAH security staff were actually assassinated that year, and the then CURLA director was attempted against. More regretfully, Sonia notes silence by Donatilo’s workmates too, something that especially cuts as she knows Donatilo had accompanied many workmates in their struggles for better conditions. Donatilo’s birthday came and went too, his family did not spend it even knowing where he is, or whether he is alive. His union demands his re-appearance alive.
Bajo aguan farmers evictions
On 7/4/15, at 5am, out of necessity, a group of 200 farmers organised as Movimiento Ebenezer entered to recover land that became state land after it was confiscated from narco group Los Cachiros, in the Remolino community in Trujillo, Colón. At 2.30pm that afternoon, a heavy police and military contingent came saying if they didn’t leave, they were to be forcefully evicted. As the soldiers and police prepared their riot gear and loaded their tear gas bomb launchers, the families left to avoid the attack.
On 17/4/15, Global Day of Campesina Struggle, 184 families of farmers’ movement MARCA accompanied by the Agrarian Platform recovered La Trinidad Farm in the midnight hours on these 569 hectares of land, but as they did that, at 6am, 20 army agents under the command of Military Police Armando Díaz arrived and used threats, intimidation and pressures to demand the families to leave the land, forcing them to set up outside instead. The land was legally handed to the community on 29/6/12 after a win at the court with lawyer Antonio Trejo, who was then assassinated on 22/9/12, and the community was violently and illegally evicted in May 2014 by Xatruche members and police, in favour of landowner René Morales. Army agents and Oleopalma security guards remain on the Trinidad farm.
Bajo Aguan – human rights defender under threat
On 7/4/15, Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Honduran state to provide protection measures for Martha Ligia Arnold Dubond and her 5 children, in recognition that they are at grave and urgent risk as she is persecuted for her activities as a human rights defender in the Bajo Aguan region – where lots of deaths and disappearances had arose from land conflicts since the coup. Her work is mostly accompanying and defending farmers who have been arrested, and denouncing publicly the human rights violations lived in the area, of complaints of acts of sexual violence, and monitoring updates of the public authorities.
Repression continues against high school students – expulsion of students and a principal, massive amounts of teargases..
While social organisations pressed charges against president Juan Orlando Hernández and education minister Escoto as responsible for the assassinations against the four high school students in March, in April, the regime’s continued its accusations against media and journalists, human rights defenders, some oppositional politicians and NGOs, for ‘organising student protests’ and for ‘lying’ (eg in saying that the killing of students were by death squads doing social cleansing), as being out just to ‘damage the country’s image’ to ruin its chances of getting loans from World Bank for example, with the UN Universal Periodic Exam coming up. These accusations and commentary had come from Presidence Secretary Reinaldo Sanchez, head of Security Department Julián Pacheco and Foreign Minister Arturo Corales. Meanwhile, after claims to having found and jailed the assassins of 13 year old student Soad, there is now nobody behind the bars for killing her – the taxi driver accused of complicit to her killing had the case provisionally dismissed due to inadequate evidence, while the prosecution and security secretary continue to insist that the evidence was adequate. On the other hand, Escoto continued on his story that the student protests were led by local gangs, given that there are 30,000 gang members in the public schools, and schools become a recruitment ground for gangs with kids joining as it is the safer option. There are gangs, but as a student who kept their name secret told the press, the reality was the opposite; local gangs gave instructions for students NOT to protest, because with protests, police flood in. Escoto just finds gangs a convenient to blame for both organising the protests and indirectly, having killed the students. At the same time, he did not give serious consideration to students who protested the change of hours because of fears about going home at night within this violent context, despite ‘such a concern about gangs’.
Repression against high school students continued in April.
Education Minister demanded principals of schools on strike to expel school students. Some principals complied: eg in Escuela Normal de Occidente, there are students who participated in the protests under threats of expulsion, with disciplinary proceedings in process, and Escuela Normal Mixta Pedro Nufio in Tegucigalpa expelled four students identified as student leaders. Not all principals did that though…
On 13/4/15, as Instituo Técnico Honduras students protested Minister Escoto’s suspending of their school principal Nelson Cálix for a year for having spoken up against repressive forces launching live gunshots inside the school against the students – Cálix publicly said he disagreed with the protests but that he has a duty too to the students’ physical wellbeing and disagreed with the intolerance of the government – for this, Cálix was accused of negligence because he ‘allowed the protests to continue and therefore interrupted their learning processes’, by refusing Escoto’s ordered gunshots. The students said they protested despite their teachers advising them not to. This protest against Cálix being suspended itself was heavily repressed by military police as ordered with written authorisation by the Education Department; neighbours saw agents with teargases and anti-riot shields charge into the school buildings in this Kennedy neighbourhood to attack protesting school aged students. Police and military police chased school students inside the school, capturing and attacking these and attacked these with heavy amounts of teargases, students fought back throwing what they could – and the teargases in turn affected many children in the primary school Roberto Sosa of the same neighbourhood – see photo.
As the teargases immersed in the computer lab, the teachers panicked, children cried, parents saw what was happening on TV and rushed to rescue their children, and a Red Cross ambulance came. Two newborns were also in danger as they lived near the school and inhaled the smoke.
Not allowed in – censorship
On 24/4/15, as an army event was held at Hernán Acosta Mejía Air Base celebrating 84 years of its foundation, soldiers held a strict list as ‘ordered by superiors’, of journalists from which medias were not allowed inside to cover this – that list included Canal 36, Globo, and Canal HCH – these are private media companies whose journalists have more consistently criticised the regime and gave coverage to social issues and human rights violations.
News Briefs from April 2015
More privatisations and ‘development’
- Model cities – privatisation of cities – are moving along more: The feasibility study and plan had been carried out and handed over to the Honduran government by the Korea International Cooperation Agency – KOICA. KOICA will also be giving some loans. There is interest from South Korean and Japanese companies for the first model city, which will be a port in Amapala Nacaome from which a dry canal will be built to the Palmerola Airport in Comayagua as a base for model cities. The other starting point for model cities is Alianza, Valle. Places that Honduran government is targeting to privatise via the model cities scheme are: Choluteca, El Triunfo, Palmerola, Ocotepeque, Gracias, Quimistán, Cuyamel, Puerto Cortés, Bajamar, La Ceiba, Punta Castilla, Sico Paulaya, Santa María del Real and Santos Guardiola. JOH had promoted to EU to buy these areas for national and international finance centres, logistics, ‘autonomous cities’, special economic zones, agro-industries, tourism, and mines, and is heading to Asia, to for example open markets for rockmelon exports.
- The extended school day reform is a measure coming from IMF demands, which increases work of teachers without recognising the increased take-home work, forces new increased hours on students on the pretext of including values education in the curriculum ‘to combat violence and child migration’ with reactionary ideological arguments, and ignores the security and transport problems the reform causes – though potentially partially addressing these concerns to stop the protests. In the long term as teachers are practically forced not to have more than one timeslot (eg morning and afternoon classes) due to overlaps, then to change school timetables to only 7am-3pm. To force students to comply with his orders for reforms, Escoto and JOH officially gave orders for police and army to use teargases against school children. In response to human rights reports such as those of the use of death squads against school children, President of the Commission of Congress Budget Francisco Rivera demanded immigration control against NGOs that ‘denigrate Honduras’ saying that they are risking development funding like from IMF, while these ‘Honduras who live elsewhere’ earn money ‘causing damages’.
- Congress illegally approved without quorum the privatisation of rubbish collection of San Pedro Sula a ludicrous contract to Holding Eléctrica Centroamericana, previously Sulambiente. The contract includes a success bond of $1 million an recharge of 8% on service, and an increase of over 200% in rubbish collection rates. Social organisations urged the congress not to approve.
- Pressures from IMF leads to layoffs of about 400 this months from SANAA sewerage and water tubes department. Overall it was announced that from the same pressures, 20% reduction will take place from the public sector overall (currently 212,000) before 2015 ends, which will mean 43,000 will lose their public sector jobs.
- A nurses’ association warned that JOH intends to sell 10 public hospitals to NGOs, ie, NGOs led by people close to politicians-in-government. It will mean the government wipes its hands clean of its obligation to provide health services, while more people will have to pay and buy their own medicine, and the attention may be no better.
- To ‘improve economic conditions’, government is seeking a loan of $297 million from Bank of China to finish a dam project against the Patuca river, the longest river in Central America. The initial stage has already been completed with a Petrocaribe loan of $50 million. The next and last stage is to build a 57 metres high retaining wall, and a building to house the 104 megawatts turbines. There had been community protests by those affected by the construction demanding the promised compensation, in response to which the government is saying ENEE electricity company will pay according to capacity (which it has none.., mostly because it pays ludicrous rates to thermal energy companies and because it does not chase up the many unpaid bills of big companies), but asks the affected small landholders to wait and settle on a global agreement / stretched out payment plan. This dam project is called Patuca III and its implementation was paused due to lack of funding. With the expected loan, the Honduran government is aiming to pay and contract Sinohydro for the job. Sinohydro is the world’s biggest dam builder and a Chinese government owned company. The same company that the indigenous Río Blanco community with the support of Goldman Environmental Prize winner Berta Cáceres managed to kick out from Río Blanco having resisted heavy persecution that had included assassinations. Berta herself won the prize in recognition of her courage to continue resistance despite the dangerous persecution. Río Blanco continues to resist the imposition of another dam company that was working with Sinohydro, called DESA.
Imposing neoliberalism and increasing militarisation goes hand-in-hand…
- Washington sources denied that U.S. plans to ‘put a new military base’ in Honduras, but names aside, all facts remained equal – To the existing US base (where the military coup against Honduras was carried out) with 800 US soldiers – 500 permanents, 250 US marines are being added as an ‘unit’ (rather than a ‘base’), it is to be with the same war weapons – heavy helicopters and a caramaran, with the same name of Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Taskforce – Crisis Response, and the same date of being ready between June – November 2015, like what US has in Africa and Middle East, and they are using the same pretext as before, of humanitarian assistance (response to natural disasters with hurricane season coming up, and apparent community services) and war against drugs. They also revealed that they will be holding training exercises with Honduran soldiers, and will be ‘building schools’. JOH said he asked for US operations in Mosquitía and in Colón.
- A navy ‘hospital’ ship called ‘Comfort’ made up of mostly US navy military medical staff with a few medical specialist volunteers sailed into Honduras, apparently to attend to medical issues of hundreds of Hondurans. It was US Florida senator Bill Nelson who made that announcement and said that they were going to send the ship last year but it couldn’t come because of the security issues, but that it is coming now ‘in recognition of better security’.
- 513 more trained military police were put out onto the streets. This adds to the already existing 6 X 500. As legislated, the plan is to have 5000 altogether.
- Honduras sends soldiers of their airforces for ‘peacekeeping´ in Haiti. 35 soldiers are going now in support of a Chilean contingent in peacekeeping, re-establishing order and governability as part of an UN stabilisation mission, Minustah. Another group of Honduran soldiers will also go as HONCON for the food transportation of the mission.
As always, reports on increasing human rights violations
- It was reported that between 2010 and March 2015, there are at least 89 lawyers who died violent deaths, 94% of cases remain in impunity
- In the How Many More? report, it reported that between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental campaigners had been killed in Honduras – that is the highest rate in the world when looked at against population sizes. 75% of assassinations of environmentalists happen in Latin America. Overall, last year 47 (40%) of environmentalists killed were indigenous, and the killings were related to mining, agricultural and hydroelectric projects.
- Freedom House reported that freedom of expression in Honduras is steadily getting worse, in relation to a heavy increase in assassinations and intimidation against journalists as well as seeing newly passed laws such as ‘Law of Official Secrets’ which facilitates accusations and censorship against critical voices in the press, and in reference to legal accusations against a journalist
- There are debates now about restoring obligatory military services in Honduras. The arguments put forth are that with increasing crime rates, it is preferable to have army pick up the kids that would otherwise be recruited by gangs and organised crime.
- JOH is pushing for forced labour of prisoners: it is about to become law to force each prisoner to give a minimal of 1200 hours per year of their labour towards building, reconstruction of state infrastructure, preparation of materials, and production of bricks, stones and other building materials.
- UNAH is imposing repressive academic reforms, in which having lower grades averages means a lower amount of classes (eg 2) one is allowed to miss before they fail.
Human rights evaluations (Periodic Universal Exam of Human Rights) with the UN are coming up on 8 May 2015. Good human rights reports are needed to justify receipt of loans from World Bank for example. Congress president Mauricio Olivia told the press that he trusted it would go well because the congress approved a special law for the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and justice operators, and that some Inter-American Commission of Human Rights representatives commented to him about the achievements in human rights in the Lobo and JOH regimes that got Honduras off the ‘black list’.
For the same intention of cleansing the image, Honduras signed with EU (for the EuroSocial Program) an agreement to fight against corruption, whilst, it was just reported, that over 35 Honduran mayors and local politicians are under investigation for criminal connections and with drug trafficking.
Authorities announced that drivers found in cars without numberplates would be fined and might have their cars confiscated. The fines are between $20-$30, and there was to be in one week an operation to confiscate cars found without numberplates. There are 130,000 uncollected numberplates. Some have permissions not to use numberplates.
Forced migration, to other Central American countries. Many Honduras displaced by the insecurity go south, to live in Nicaragua, Panamá, and Costa Rica, for greater security and greater work opportunities.