Cases of political persecution in July 2015
Repression against hunger strikers
A hunger strike began in June by people of the Indignados/fire torches movement where many mobilised in the afternoons, demonstrating the discontent of many with corruption by the Honduran state, particularly with the massive scandal of IHSS (state department of social security and health care for workers) where to fund the National Party’s election campaign, officials used various means including creating false companies that send sell fake medicines made of flour for example to the IHSS hospitals. Hospital staff counted 2880 deaths attributed to this massive plunder of over US $300 million. So this hunger strike was to place pressure on particular demands against corruption (principally for UN to set up an anti corruption mission/office in Honduras) and to call for justice. Participants of this hunger strike, who are from different parts of Honduras including many Tolupan indigenous participants from Locomapa Yoro, have been subject to repression and persecution.
The hunger strikers suffered an eviction alert on 2/7/15. And despite the security department human rights advisor coming to visit and assuring hunger strikers that there was no eviction order, the regime did evict them on 7/7/15 at 6.30am forcing them to move further away from the Presidential House, using police – over 100 agents – including of FUSINA operation, an operation that is supposed to deal with ‘organised crime’. These agents violently pulled off security fences, destroyed tents and leaflets.
State forces were again aggressive when on 16/7/15, before 8am, hunger strikers tried to come closer to the presidential house. As people walked towards the Presidential house, 30 metres from the door, the heavily armed contingent of 300 police and military with shields and metallic batons and water tank with toxic substances began pushing and beating 21 people including 2 women already very weak from having been on hunger strike – Melvin Urbina, Stanley Johnson, Cristian Castro, Gerson Suazo and Ángel Hernández all fell to the ground from the pushing, the last two were even taken away in ambulance to hospital, but came back to join everyone at 11am. Human rights defender on hunger strike Wilfredo Méndez was asked by an agent, ‘please lawyer, don’t do this (walk forward) to me’, his response was to keep walking forward and affirm his reasons for protest (for the people, and the police are also people..), and said if anyone on hunger strike were to die, the blood is on JOH’s (regime president) hands and Honduran people need to see that as a call for insurrection. Police beat and wounded him, and others.
When the contingent was too tight for anyone to move forwards, hunger strikers not hospitalised sat in the middle of the streets and human rights defenders and independent press and accompanying protesters stood in a wall between the contingent and the hunger strikers, using their bodies in solidarity.
There has also been evidence of persecution against individual hunger strikers:
Within hours of joining the hunger strike, Ciprodeh human rights organisation director Wilfredo Méndez received news that outside their office, which is in a residential area, a dead body was thrown onto the street – something that may be a message of threat to Wilfredo. He also noted that on 18/7/15, an unidentified person went into his hunger strike tent, put some things in it, including some unidentified liquids in bottles. Something that he said had happened to other hunger strikers also.
And those of Locomapa, who are indigenous Tolupanes, came because they are very much impacted by corruption – their community in defence of their territory, forests, rivers and mountains have been heavily persecuted by hitmen paid by landowners who have support and complicity of the politicians in government. By heavily persecuted, we are talking about 7 indigenous defenders having been assassinated in the last 9 months and defenders living in total state of terror in their communities while the hitmen and their contractors wander around freely in front of police. Of Locomapa, one of the leaders who joined the hunger strike is Sergio Ávila. Literally all seven Tolupanes who joined the hunger strike from 30/6/15 have been ordered protection measures by Inter American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR), because of the threats they live, although that does nothing to protect them. On 8/7/15, at 10am, while in hunger strike, Sergio received a call from his daugher Yeny who told him, ‘dad, they killed the horse and they told Chechito (Celeo Luis Avila Romero, his youngest son, who is 25) – if you don’t want to die get off the horse because otherwise we will kill you’. Chechito resisted and they wrestled until Chechito was thrown off the horse and left running. The three armed hitmen killed the horse. Sergio feels that they did this in intimidation in relation to their participation in the hunger strike.
July ended with about 27 on hunger strike; 7 from Locomapa (Tolupanes), one from San Pedro Sula, one from Tegucigalpa, two from El Progreso, two from Bajo Aguán, two from La Ceiba (including one Garífuna), two from Sonaguera Colón, one from Santa Bárbara, one from Nacaome, two from Intibucá, one from La Mosquitía, one from Tela, and 4 (Tolupanes) from another part of Yoro, in Candelaria.
Force, and multiple charges against university students on strike
Dental students of the autonomous university UNAH, in the Valle de Sula campus, began to occupy their campus from 1/7/15, protesting to overturn reforms that would make studying to become dentist more exclusive with a strict entrance exam, and make students have to study more years by limiting the number of subjects they are allowed to take each term – and less even for students’ whose marks are not great. They also protested the poor conditions and infrastructure they are learning to be dentists in, with rusted equipment and lack of sanitation. Instead of ceding to their demands, the UNAH director Julieta Castellanos told them to stop protesting, and cancelled the term for the Valle de Sula campus dental students, and threatened that if they continue their protest, the cancellation of the term will expand to include others. Julieta Castellanos’ response sparked other campuses to organise against her tyrannical approach. The Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba and Comayagua campuses began occupations on 13/7/15 and the Copán campus joined in two days later, adding to these demands, demands for greater democracy in running the university (currently there are ‘student representatives’ but handpicked by UNAH director Julieta Castellanos), and against the criminalisation and persecution by the university authorities. Shortly after that, violent militarised evictions were carried out and 19 students were charged with illegally retaining public spaces nationally.
The charges began in the middle of July
Those accused from the Valle de Sula campus are Sayra Yossira Rodríguez Sánchez, Consuelo Eudoxia Melara Regalado, José Daniel Morales Amaya, Edwin Dionel Molina Vásquez, Heydi Dariela Paz Navaro, José Lís Peña Tábora, Jenifer Nicole Rodríguez Sánchez, Marco Tulio Rubí Callejas, Saúl Ovet Alejandro Córdova Morales, Hugo Armando Lemus Mejía, Mario Roberto Orellana Hernández and Marcio Lennín Mondragón Cardona – in Marcio’s case he is a 4th year dentist student with a speech condition who was treated for epilepsy since he was 17 and has had three epileptic fits since starting uni; but Marcio persists, although the completion of his course is threatened by the reforms for not having marks above 75%. As well as having disability, he also lost his dad to assassination in an assault four years ago.
There were four students charged from La Ceiba.
From Tegucigalpa, charged students already had a history of persecution by the university. Cesario Alejandro Félix Padilla, Moíses Cáceres Velásquez and Sergio Luís Ulloa Rivera were arrested and briefly politically expelled last year; they were expelled in 2014 for participating in student protests and appealed this in court and the court ordered the annulment of their expulsions. They formed the Committee Pro Human Rights Defence in UNAH to document violations against students after that, but have once again found themselves the primary targets of the authoritarian UNAH administration, in collusion with justice authorities – prosecutor René Montalbán told the press that he considered the students movement demanding democracy in running UNAH a ‘criminal organisation’ and is seeking prison terms for the students. Judge Wendy Rivera, then, within minimal notice – under 24 hours – summoned Sergio Ulloa Cesario Padilla, and Cesario Padilla and ruled bail conditions until their final hearing on 5/8/15, and issued a capture order against Moisés Caceres for not having turned up to the hearing when he never was served a summon. The students’ lawyer applied to have the judge disqualified from their case with documented irregularities. As well as a potential prison term, Cesario Padilla fears for his safety, having been persecuted and followed for a while now. He emphasised that the uni has a security consultant, Roger Aguilar Flores, who was in the 80s linked to the 3-16 death squad, who is these days at the students assemblies taking photos and sussing out people’s identities and movements. It was also leaked that UNAH authorities are attempting to obligate teachers to take that policing role also, to enter occupations and make lists to pass to the authorities. Another student charged from Tegucigalpa is Andelso López, who is a social work student as well as president of section 1 (Tegucigalpa campus) of the Sitraunah UNAH workers union.
If being charged is not dirty enough, this is accompanied by media campaigns to smudge the names of student activists. Julieta Castellanos did not accept to meet with students, except on television in a facilitated talk show Frente a Frente where university authority representatives spent a lot of time talking and left very few minutes for students to talk about their situation and needs. In the programs, the UNAH representatives dropped names of students charged and shared confidential information about them such as their marks and if they had repeated or were slow in completing their studies, and their political affiliations, to attempt against their reputation. They also spent about $80,000 on a ‘full colour article’ in major papers that similarly exposed students’ personal information. They painted the dad of Cesario Padilla as a resentful frustrated journalism teacher at the uni, and made references to Magie Trejo Ayala being the daughter of social leader and Libre party member Silvia Ayala, in some denigrating tone.
The first eviction was against the Tegucigalpa campus on Sunday, 19/7/15. The night before three armed police entered the occupied sports complex and threatened the youths, saying, ‘with this shit come fire and you kids won’t withstand that.’ At 7am that Sunday, Cesario, Sergio and Moisés’ judge Wendy Rivera arrived in a police vest executing the eviction with a contingent of over 600 police, tanks with teargas, high calibre weapons, shields, gas masks – half of this contingent entered with Wendy Rivera. The forty students unsurprisingly decided to leave. As they did, intelligence agents in plain clothes (as confirmed by Security Department spokesperson Leonel Sauceda) compiled profiles against human rights observers and accompaniers and took photos of cars that transported students to a safe place. Judge Wendy Rivera confirmed there were no damages to the buildings – something authorities had accused students of.
The eviction against the Valle de Sula campus on 22/7/15 was no less drastic. At 6am, over 1000 soldiers and police (observers counted over 30 police patrol vehicles of 15 cops each, 12 military police vehicles, a water tank, a riot contingent, 2 convoys full of soldiers and snipers in the east part of the campus as well as infiltrators) with high calibre weapons came as the court notice for students to leave expired. Students said they will leave with the condition that security forces not be allowed to enter so that they can leave safely. Two police were authorised to facilitate the eviction. They also asked for the use of some vehicles to leave safely. Ending these 21 days of occupation, students read a statement resenting the Castellanos authority’s authoritarianism and as they left, demanded that the dentistry academic period be restored by 23/7/15.
That same day, in Tegucigalpa, high school students of schools including Instituto Técnico Honduras, Inst Héctor Pineda Ugarte, Jesús Milla Selva, Normal Mixta, Escuela Nacional Bellas Artes,Inst Superarción San Francisco and Inst Hibueras, simultaneously occupied their schools in solidarity with the demands of uni students, and at the same time reiterating their demands for furniture, and for quality rather than quantity in their education. Education Minister Escoto responded by telling school principals to put their schools in order, or be called to discharge hearings if their schools don’t fulfil the quota of 200 days of classes. Police came to evict students of Inst Héctor Pineda Ugarte, who decided to walk away.
Students did not call it a day. In Tegucigalpa marches inside the buildings continued following the eviction, and in Valle de Sula, students reoccupied on 30/7/15 as authorities continued their abuse and authoritarianism. It was pointed out that Julieta Castellanos used to be part of social movements – there are photos of her supporting hunger strikers against corruption a decade ago. Since being an official, she attacked students movement, her being now a prominent part of the corrupt government, despite this government having since killed her son. High school students of Inst Técnico Honduras also occupied their school before the teachers made it, on 28/7/15 from 6am, their demands included fixing up the sewerage as the contamination is causing the spread of dengue and other illnesses vía mosquitos and making kids sick, and also for student control of the hiring of the snack foods booth of sweets and drinks.
Journalists killed, intimidated, and threatened with very imminent prison
On 3/7/15, journalist and owner of Canal 67 and an associate of the Taulabe cable TV company in Comayagua Joel Aquiles Flores was driving when hitmen on a motorcycle sprayed Joel with at least 29 bullets killing him immediately. The motorcycle was abandoned 3 kms from the crime scene.
On 19/7/15, Globo TV correspondent Cesar Silva and reporter Giovanni Sierra were reporting the eviction against university students in Tegucigalpa when they saw a police analyst Coello take photos of journalists, human rights defenders and student leaders at UNAH and of the cars they travelled in. They surprised the cop from behind and began asking him why he took photos of the cars that the youths travelled in, to which Coello replied with, ‘stop fucking about’. When Silva insisted with questions asking if he got there the night before in secret as students organised the occupation, Coello smacked at Sierra’s video camera causing it to not turn on for a few minutes though it recovered after that. There were cops, judges, police commanders and police spokesperson commissioner Leonel Sauceda around. Sauceda intervened and walked Coello away to a police vehicle, and announced that his colleague was doing criminal investigation work and that Coello was being harrassed by journalists and that Coello hurt nobody.
The hunt against Globo director David Romero heated up in relation to investigations and revelations he broadcasted about the massive plunder scandal where over US$300 millions were robbed from the social security institution IHSS to fund the election campaign of National Party and in bribes for the many involved in channeling the funds and covering up. Prior to this a court case began against him by the spouse of the prosecutor Cuellar, Sonia Galvez, who charged him with defamation, for having announced her having used her spouse’s position to channel funds into a law firm of her and Cuellar. Romero had also publicly denounced evidence he has that Rigoberto Cuellar received a $250,000 bribe to turn a blind eye to the IHSS plunder case. The case of defamation relating to the law firm had suddenly sped up with the IHSS crisis being public, and he was suddenly summoned on 22/7/15 to appear the next day. Romero revealed knowledge he has that the judges in charge of his case had orders from judiciary council vice-president Teodoro Bonilla to find him guilty and send him to prison, and not only from Teodoro but from president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández. Judges of the court who did not agree with the order were remoted.
At court on 23/7/15, the counts of charges against him suddenly went from 15 to 48 counts of defamation. Romero was accompanied by lots of people in solidarity who knew that he was going to be sent to prison, that there was a vehicle ready to take him to prison, and they had conviction not to allow that. They got fired up, pounded on the gates, knocked down the doors of hall number 4, flooded into the sentencing halls and interrupted the hearing, which got postponed ‘to increase security measures’ – this day their force was such that police admitted they were uncontainable. As well as prison threats him and his family also receive death threats and military intelligence agents constantly watch around him home – and his spouse Lidith Diaz is also a Globo journalist. Those who interrupted the hearing rescued him and took him to the offices of National Commission of Human Rights Conadeh and they demanded for him to be able to stay there indefinitely. That night, 30 people camped overnight outside, while his two children and a colleague were inside with him. He made known that he has recordings that he had not been able to share for security of his sources, that once he interviewed someone and broadcasted it, and within 24 hours, this person was killed. The other source found out and asked him not to proceed to broadcast their interview, so he left that.
Lawyers/human rights defenders with touchy cases remain in limbo and suffer repercussions
Renowned women’s human rights defender Gladys Lanza was condemned to 18 months of prison or house arrest for ‘defamation’ (advocating for a woman who suffered sexual abuse, harrassment and labour rights abuse by a high state official). There has been no response so far to the appeal placed at the end of April, while Gladys continues in limbo.
Another judge transferred and faces repercussion is sentencing judge José Dimas Agúero Echenique. Angry, disgusted and insulted, he made a public declaration about the interference with judicial independence. He was heading the case of David Romero after several judges could not do it and had to postpone due to illness. After one hearing, he was approached by the court’s general inspector, who told him he wanted the hearing to be held as soon as possible, instead of being set for October; Echenique responded that the proposal was damaging to his judicial independence, and showed him the door. After that, he was receiving messages from judiciary council vice president Teodoro Bonilla’s assistant, requesting that he went to Teodoro’s office. He had a hearing at 2pm so he said it could be a fair bit before, or it could be after. Teodoro called Echenique directly then and agreed for a 4pm meeting. This meeting began with conversation about being friends and asking what position Echenique wanted, since he wanted change. The conversation went like this when Teodoro made references to the David Romero hearing:
‘Yes, but this hearing will begin on 11/6/15, I am in charge of this hearing.’
‘Look, what I need is for you to help me to see what happens, look, its that the man wants the journalist condemned.’
‘To whom are you referring to as the man?’
‘No, well, the president of the republic, Juan Orlando Hernández. But he doesn’t just want him condemned, he wants him behind bars, so that he can serve as an example, of threat for the other idiot.’
‘So its the head of David Romero in exchange for presidence of the court?’
‘No, I am going for president, and for the friends there are, a good salary and retirement.’
‘I want you to tell me if you can help’
Echenique sat there looking at Teodoro, and said, ‘we will see what can be done, look I have to go back to the office’, and left. Echenique didn’t help Teodoro, and quickly, the judiciary council organised a judge to replace Echenique.
A gunshot attempt against protected witness of the IHSS scandal
On 25/7/15, the only protected witness (anonymous) of the Astropharma case where this pharmaceutical company of congress vice president Lena Gutierrez, was created supplying not only overpriced medicine, but flour instead of medicine, suffered in the morning an attempt, in the La Granja neighbourhood in Comayaguela. Police took the wounded to hospital, and was transferred to IHSS hospital. He was shot five times, including one shot that wounded his head. He is receiving medical treatment and strong security measures.
Attack against indigenous livelihoods
The mostly Lenca indigenous vendors of the ‘Quemado’ market in Intibucá were at the midnight hours of 22/7/15 under alert of a threat of eviction that was to involve soldiers and riot cops, to comply with the wishes of the Intibucá mayor Javier Martínez. Council sent to stop the building of a market without consulting people violating indigenous rights to consultation. The spaces vendors want to use, the council wants to use for something else and sends police to abuse, steal, insult and threaten people who live precariously and in terror. The spaces the council expects vendors to use has contaminated black water run through it.
On 24/7/15, Garífuna community Nueva Armenia is once again threatened by the intervention of hooded hitmen with long weapons, who have illicitly appropriated community titled land, in the context of palm plantations expansion and increased control by organised crime, with authorities either folding their arms or acting in favour of the palm companies and organised crime.
Farmer face another re-militarisation
On 2/7/15, the Paso Aguán farm in Colón is again on alert as they denounced that the farm is once again militarised. This act of intimidation against leaders coincided with a protest and cultural event conmemorating the third anniversary of the assassination of Gregorio Chávez who lived in this community, something that caused raged and pushed the community to organise to reclaim land.
News briefs of July 2015
Channeling the rage: a question of strategy
The indignados and hunger strike continue strong, but inside social commentators are analysing it. On the one hand, the movement, at least the Tegucigalpa part of it, being heavily middle class, is reflective of the increasing polarisation where those who have enjoyed an okay standard of living now feel the worsening conditions directly affect them too.
It is also apparent that within the movement, there are pushes in two major directions; one is that there are leaders, whom, like the politicians try to control the agenda to demanding superficial reforms and centralising the struggle by creating a national coordination where each locality would be represented by elected leaders in each place. The difference between demands of leaders and popular demands are apparent in that people on the streets screamed regularly chants as ‘no to dialogue!’ ‘JOH get out!’ as opposed to only pressuring for the UN and government driven CICIH anti-corruption commission. The other argues for autonomy and horizontality – this camp criticises including that demanding UN intervention is giving the control of the situation to systems that preserve the status quo, and argues that Hondurans need to organise themselves for an insurrection, with a general strike as a starting point, recognising that the battle ground is on the streets and not in the congress, and could go into developing legal mechanisms but when the power becomes within the grassroots.
There are concrete examples showing how that all official (government, governments, institutions) changes and involvement won’t bring real change. Even US embassy expressed that the protesters with torches are correct in protesting non-violently against corruption (while affirming that US-Honduras diplomatic relations are great) and pledged $2 million towards an anti corruption commission. They further manipulatively used the same symbol of torches for their US independence day celebration at the US embassy in Tegucigalpa, and this was attended by major Honduran politicians ‘left’ and right. United Nations and Organisation of American States have shown their willingness to collaborate with the government in any anti-corruption commissions and government initiated calls for dialogue, but they view as the director of such commissions, the Honduran government, and come invited by the same.
While politicians such as ex president Lobo claimed they have no part in this scandal, and that they support investigations and justice processes, there are lots of stories of those guilty getting away with it; congress vicepresident Lena Gutiérrez’s family’s company Astropharma that is infamous for its parttake in this scandal including of selling flour to pass for medicine, had the police spokesperson Sauceda claim that Interpol have he Gutiérrez family on red alert – but this is not reflected on the Interpol website. Ex-head of the plundered institution IHSS Ramón Bertetti Osorio has just been pardoned by court for charges of having received bribes in buying ambulances at high prices. To appear legitimate, president JOH has to appear to take action, but condemning at least five big fish – he has a list to choose from. To look like congress takes people’s demands seriously, a bill was discussed about if to hold a referendum or not about installing or not a CICIH UN commission against corruption as demanded, they discussed it, and the referendum idea was voted down. Its not just politicians either that were involved in this scandal, but banks too, like FICOHSA, which used open bank accounts to hide where funds move from and to. In 2012, over US$139 millions were moved through FICOHSA mysteriously over a number of transactions.
Meanwhile, there are fewer and fewer medicines and supplies in the hospitals. Hospital Escuela for example is into there last month’s supply of anaesthesia with 600 bottles until running out.
The soundtrack of these mobilisations: Give me the power – Molotov, and Matador – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
Corruption is never limited to IHSS
It was just uncovered that US$5 million was plundered from the Program of Solidarity Packaged, which had been received by families when they showed support for the National Party in power, instead of reaching the most marginalised as they are supposed to. They contain rice, beans, corns, cornmeal, and coffee.
There is uproar over the first dame Ana García buying a home in Miami in the US, that Globo TV and Canal 36 say had a price of over US $2 millions.
When it came out that there was no public tendering process prior to a contract the government made to hire 250 police patrol vehicles with US $70 millions, JOH ordered secrecy around this piece of news. There are also reports that having more soldiers do police work has increased human rights violations by soldiers, although police also familiarly committ human rights violations.
In La Ceiba, in the IP property department that has the role of supposably speeding up land titling processes and avoiding corruption including using World Bank investment of $100 million, in the name of eradicating corrupion that has worsened since the beginning of IP a decade ago, it has been announced that BITCOIN will be introduced for record keeping. There is a lot of silence about this and little is known of consequences. The management and data has been handed to FACTOM Texan property that uses blocks of bitcoin. Honduras will be the second country globally to use bitcoin for property management.
There has been strikes but no general strike yet.
Some uni and high school students have been striking. Taxi drivers in San Pedro Sula striked against high registration costs, toll payment and dangerous work. There had been marches in response to public sector dismissals in the last months – SANAA department had around 400 dismissals and ENEE energy department around 1500.
Model cities, aid and free trade between Honduras and South Korea, Japan and Taiwan…
JOH travelled to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan and returned to boast about agreements signed for projects, while notibly not mentioning the model cities proceedings in South Korea although this has progressed and was prioritised. Initial questions of whether the current crisis in Honduras would throw the Korean company POSCO (Daewoo affiliate) off committing to model cities there are quickly made irrelevant when we look at that not only has POSCO been put out of action because of its own corruption scandals by executives but has Daewoo to continue its dirty work, but POSCO and Daewoo were also the companies that in 2009 tried to implement model cities in Madagascar, and were in the process of appropriating millions of hectares for free, the process interrupted by a coup in Madagascar. POSCO is also accused of mass human rights violations in Odisha, India, where it was going to build a metal work plant, and evict 22,000 people in the process. It shows POSCO/Daewoo are not shy to corruption and human rights violations, and have handed over a feasibility study for the model city including port construction in Amapala.
For more details about contracts relating to electric cars, charging stations, taekwando teachers and this ridiculous quote, ‘violence is one of the serious social problems facing Latin American countries, and I think taewando is the most effective tool to solve the issue.’, hydroelectricity projects, arts teachers, bridge construction, see this article: https://honduprensa.wordpress.com/2015/07/29/juan-orlando-hernandez-visits-asia/ . In a separate source, JOH apparently also signed agreements in relation to security (drug trafficking and organised crime), poverty eradication and improvement of bilateral relationships between the presidents, exchange of technical knowledge in law application, exchanging intelligence about crimes, and strengthening ports and airports security.
Another culprit financing the development of dam projects in Honduras is ARECA – project accelerating investments in renewable energy in Central America and Panamá, which is made up of – UN Development Program, World Environment Fund and Central American Bank for Economic Development. This time, for a loan of $80,000 to do a feasibility study for a Rio Blanco-Los Puentes dam in Santa Barbara.
Standard and Poor upped their grade of Honduras from B to B plus. saying there is improvement in fiscal situation and stability of public debt, confirming the results of recent evaluation of IMF mission, and encouraging more loans to the government and companies of Honduras.