Cases of persecution in August 2015
Attacks against the fire torch movement; one youth killed, protests violently repressed, and a doctor and politician receives death threat for supporting the marches.
On 17/8/15, in Bonito Oriental (Bajo Aguan), around 1-2pm, young Elmer Ávila – a local leader of Indignados, was assassinated by two hooded men firing shots at him inside his own home as he was playing piano for and in front of his little two years old daughter. He was also someone who led a music band that played in the Indignados marches, and someone who volunteered in the Colón medical brigades cutting hair. Buried the day after he was killed, he is fondly remembered by those whose lives he had touched for his solidarity and social commitment, for his calmness and for always doing work for the community.
On 26/8/15, as different communities and cities across Honduras held protests occupying streets and highways, security forces used violence to disperse of each. In Tegucigalpa, riot cops used teargas bombs, shields and batons and beat protesters, including against known indignados leader Miguel Briceño, who was beaten in the back by police and soldiers. Police also towed away vehicles protesters used to block the streets, including of another known indignados leader Ariel Varela, whose car was damaged by the police tow truck. Activist and social analyst Tomás Andino was also amongst those beaten by police this day, he asserted that while there has been a period of dormancy in Honduras, that the vibes and conviction is there broadly to pull off the start of some general strikes and actions.
On 18/8/15, Dr Ligia Ramos, who is part of a medical team that has been attending to protesters on hungerstrike in Tegucigalpa as well as being a Libre politician, reported a series of death threats from someone under the facebook name of José Federico Coelhoto Lagos, in relation to her continued participation in the Indignados. The first message: You don’t have much to go Ligia till you go into history as a martyr… Second message had references to continuing to be idiots and how it wasn’t long to go until some streets ‘cleansing’ as there is ‘so much vandalism’. Third message: tell me what you will, very soon the candles march will disappear, keep going this way. Fourth message: tell me what you want, insult me, nothing would free you or the rage that would fall upon you and you will try to hide, but whereever you are, you will be captured, keep behaving beautifully the way you are. Fifth message: I’m not scared to die for my ideals nor for my country, I have my soul ready. ‘José Federico Coelhoto Lagos’ has on his facebook photos in which he poses with Honduran president JOH and with the Valle de Angeles mayor Wilfredo Ponce. On his facebook wall the things he shared are passionate supports for the national party. His facebook name does not appear on registries.
Taxi driver leader who spoke on TV against JOH killed
On 18/8/15, at 10.45am, Taxi Drivers Association of Honduras Ataxish leader, Oscar Castillo, was driving to work in the Guadalupe neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, when he was attacked with gunshots by two unidentified persons on motorcycles who fled after shooting. Oscar was taken to hospital by another taxi drivers leader Pedro Gómez, where doctors tried to revive him but he died. Just days before he was killed, he appeared on Canal 36 criticising the state public security policies. He said on TV, ‘we don’t know what is happening, if it is that JOH has the wrong information, or doesn’t check the news, or people around him don’t tell him how things are, we don’t know which of these. But we are going to be clear here, there’s no beating around the bush, the one at fault for the situation we live in in this country is the president of the republic for not taking actions.’ He said that ‘there is no money’ is no excuse because of the security tax everyone pays, and given that the situation affects no only taxi drivers but over a million users of public transport and taxis. Back in March, before 13 year old Soad Nicole Bustillo was assassinated, she appeared on tv in a protest speaking up against the president too blaming him for the schools’ terrible condition.
Back on 16/7/15,in Planes de Santa María, La Paz, where farmers members of the Juan Almendarez Bonilla cooperatives were occupying 24 hectares of land, while they were expecting to negotiate with someone who claims to be gaining land title over these lands, they were instead ambushed by a massive contingent of Marcala police who came pointing guns, used a strong chemical spray hurting people’s eyes, stole voice recorders and telephones, and beat people with batons, kicks, and punches without restraint, including towards children, elderly and pregnant women, and forcefully took under custody 22 persons and 2 babies placing against them (not the babies…) charges of land usurpation. Whilst the most vulnerable were released on bail 48 hours later – four younger farmers aged 11, 13, 14 and 17 and 75 years old María Melesia Hernández whose arm was bruised from the police beating having been knocked to the ground, and who begged for the then-almost-9 years old Nery to be dropped home – but who was ignored and Nery was left in the waiting area of the police station during her arrest. Two women with children aged 3 months and 5 months were also imprisoned with their babies. Those released on bail suffered as the everyone else did during the initial two days of detention, torture and starvation. The youngsters described how they and others were made to lie on the ground looking at the sun for two hours, handcuffed, while being insulted (yelling racist and victim blaming comments) for half an hour. The 14 year old said when he couldn’t cope any more they hit him in the head with the baton. Everyone was searched on the ground and police took what little cash people had. More than 39 days after the arrests, three women and eleven men continue to be imprisoned – one of these a journalist Samuel Antonio Vásquez of La Vía Campesina, who does not belong to the community but came as a reporter – defendants brought all the documents requested to the hearings, but the judge played delay tactics to keep them in prison for longer by asking for further documents from football teams, etc, and adjourning. Two other pregnant women were released on bail after having been locked up for 20 days – one of these suffered an abortion days after because of everything she was subject to, having been arrested and beaten when 4 months pregnant. More broadly, in this province of La Paz, 612 farmers currently face charges for occupying land.
Those leaking from inside persecuted…
On 7/8/15, it was reported that ex-sentencing judge Dimas Aguero Echenique is under threat for having told press the story about how judge Teodoro Bonilla had pressured him under orders of JOH to sentence journalist David Romero to a prison term. Judge Melvin Bonilla is under judicial persecution – investigation by Supreme Court – for having told newspaper La Tribuna that judges are afraid to do justice and administer law with lack of independence given by the context.
Similarly, of the state Revenue Department DEI, employee/applications developer Darwin Barahona was summoned to a discharge hearing for having released information to citizens about the impact of the 1.5% tax on rent and new billing regime. Darwin is the president of the department’s workers’ union.
Health authorities, embarrassed about photos published in the newspapers of newborns being put in cardboard boxes in a hospital in the north coast of Honduras, and of generally poor conditions, instead of acknowledging and addressing atrocious conditions, have announced that they will find out who published the photos and take actions against these.
High school student and child activist singled out for arrest and imprisoned overnight
Oscar Montecinos has listened to lots of Silvio Rodríguez since he was a baby, was known as the child of the resistance from 2009. He has published two books since called Pencils in Resistance (which he dedicated to all children whose parents died in the resistance from the repression), and Men and Women who fight their whole lives. He is now 16 and in high school and is the vice president of FREGES – Frente Revolucionario de Grupos Estudiantiles de Secundaria. On 10/8/15, he and other student leaders went from classroom to classroom in their high school, Héctor Pineda Ugarte, to encourage fellow students to partake in a national students protest that day demanding free public transport to and from school when wearing school uniforms – and to support the uni students’ mobilisations. Doing so, he and other leaders were called into the deputy principal’s office and told to stop disturbing students – at that point him and another student leader decided to go to UNAH on a mobilisation. It was when he and other students returned to this school to get their classmates, that the authorities closed the gates so students inside couldn’t leave and some students broke this gate in response. While police forcefully stopped everyone’s protest, Oscar was abruptly singled out as per the wishes of his school’s authority and arrested by police late that morning. The school and police did not contact his family, but when they knew, they came and brought him food, which the police delayed in giving him. He ended up being kept in the police cell overnight for 24 hours, in a cell that stunk of urine and had no light access. He was accused of destroying government property (the gate, which he did not partake in breaking), and of threats against a neighbour who filmed the protest, also by other students not including himself. Oscar was made to go through a conciliation process about these charges. This is not Oscar’s first arrest, he was in March arrested along with other high school students in the protests against the extending of school hours – from those protests four high school students were assassinated.
Human rights defenders gravely threatened
On 18/8/15, a stranger with a dark helmet came to the gate of CODEH human rights office, and when a lawyer answered the door, he asked her for ‘the kid’, and warned this ‘kid’, that, ‘I am a hitman, don’t do anything because I will kill you’, and snatched his phone. This kid is 22 years old human rights defender of CODEH, Jorge Fernando Jiménez Reyes. The next day, the hitman came back to look for him despite the reports made to authorities about his ‘visit’; it is believed that state agents are involved in this attempt against him. Jorge is passionate about helping victims to human rights violations, and has a long chain of attacks against himself since 2009, including 26 illegal arrests between 2009 and 2012, threatening messages on internet, being watched, two kidnappings, direct threats when he goes to demand the release of victims by offending authorities. He always works tirelessly and responsibly. He has protection measures the state is supposed to implement to protect him but doesn’t.
On 19/8/15, Eulogia Garcia Gonzales of Zacapa, Santa Barbara, received threats from the father of her cousin’s then-ex-partner and killer Gerardo Barahona Castellanos who is behind the bars. The threat is to make Eulogia into pieces and disappear her. This is in addition to collusion from Maura Cruz Reyes who is now claiming to own the home Eulogia and her family have lived in for over 20 years. Eulogía is a feminist and Lenca defender and has little children, who are worried for her.
Sabotage in attempt against another UNAH unionist
Uni lecturer and journalist Elizabeth Zúniga of the CURLP UNAH campus, who drives her car to work and parks it in the campus carpark everyday, began noticing after work one day a strange noise that the car was making on 12/8/15. As it was intensifying and worrying her, she commented to her workmate Hilda afterwork about the noise on 14/8/15, who suggested taking the car to a mechanic. As she did so on 15/8/15, the mechanic Walter Castillo advised her that the car had three screws loosened on the front left tyre, something that could have provoked against her and others a fatal accident. This wasn’t the first time something like this happened on this campus carpark. The first victim was Héctor Motiño, to whom this happened to July last year – it didn’t kill him, but it was an attempt against him as part of a chain of actions of persecution, and he WAS recently assassinated through other means. Another colleague who works night also had this happen to them, but who did not report this out of fear. Elizabeth is a mother of three, and fears for her life. She is an union activist, and has been victim to defamation, discharge hearings, unfair dismissals, abuse and threats.
More repression at the national university campuses
On TV, on Canal 10, UNAH director Julieta Castellanos and vice director of students organisations and associations Ayax Irías stigmatised sociology lecturers, saying that sociology lecturer Roberto Briceño is the sociology coordinator and that he punished students for not taking part in the protests against corruption and impunity and that he also teachers at Héctor Pineda Ugarte high school and incited students there to mobilise on 22/7/15, and that sociology lecturer German Bu was rallying students in the plaza, and makes sociology professors to punish students who don’t protest. Briceño said Castellanos lied.
From prior mass students arrests, in the Valle de Sula campus, the charges against the twelve dental students were finally dismissed on 10/8/15 due to lack of evidence against them. In Choluteca, charges against students Juan Carlos Amador, Norberto Cardona and Tatiana Hernández Quintana were also dismissed. In the CURLP campus, three more students received usurpation charges from prosecution – Henry Orlando Rodríguez, Josué Nahúm Gutiérrez, and Ana Jackelin O’Hara. In Tegucigalpa, students charged continue to face charges and hearings. This is on top of reports by student organisers of being persecuted in other ways – On this campus, the head of security consultant contracted by Julieta Castellanos is Roger Aguilar Flores, ex member of 3-16 death squad in the 80s and retired soldier, who is a witness criminalising students, although with his record, students fear more than a possible prison term. One charged student leader, Cesario Padilla who is also a human rights defender, reported being followed by two on a motorcycle on 2/8/15, staying a while at a park near his home, and appearing again in the same place on 6/8/15 watching the movements in and out of Cesario’s home. Those following him look like hitmen. Students more generally complain of harrassment and constant photographing by private security staff of UNAH. Four+ guards have followed a group of five students profiling these as leaders of Mesa Amplia de Estudiantes Indignados – once the students realised they were followed, they ran and hid. Student organisers complain that whenever they enter UNAH buildings, some guard recognises them and follows them and records where they go and with whom they make contact, and that these guards carry 9mm weapons and wear bullet proof vests and are ex military/police. The same always appear when there are student organising activities to take photos at whoever facilitates.
State withdraws protection against journalist under threat
Journalist Esdra Amado López, who has police security assigned to him as ordered by Inter American Commission of Human Rights as they recognise the persecution against him related to his work at Cholusat Sur, received a letter from the police telling him that this security is being suspended from him because of restructure of the police department. Cholusat Sur also received a letter on 25/6/15 from the national telecommunications commission Conatel saying if Cholusat Sur’s director (Esdra) did not tune down in their speaking up against the government that Conatel will proceed to close the station. This is on top of the indirect threat from JOH vía judge Teodoro Bonilla who pressured ex sentencing judge Echenique to put journalist David Romero in prison, for it to also be a message for Esdra Amado López.
Organisation of American States ignores indigenous leaders’ request to meet about their human rights
Honduras Human Rights Defenders Network sent a letter to Luís Almagro, OAS diplomat, demanding for him to meet with indigenous Lencas and Tolupanes to discuss the guarantees in applying protection measures OAS’s human rights arm, IACHR, had granted them. After the unanswered letter, they waited, staying overnight outside where Almagro was. They did not get to meet with him – they wanted to highlight the constant risk and vulnerability of the realities in their communities, with the Tolupanes having suffered 6 killings for opposing mining and logging, and the Lencas grave persecution for opposing the damming of Gualcarque river.
Bajo Aguan farmers — slow ‘justice’… unresolved cases, Chabelo jailed unjustly for 7 slow years
With 130 people killed in land conflicts in Bajo Aguán since 2009, where the vast majority of the victims are farmers, a state investigative commission is now 16 months into its existence. Farmers don’t see any results, the commission says farmers’ families don’t collaborate out of fear of persecution. Human rights organisation Cofadeh with sponsorship from EU though, is trying to assist grassroots human rights defenders of the region. A number of farmers organisations through these are being provided with laptops, videocameras, mobile phones and security cameras and monitors for their human rights defense. And Guadalupe Carney’s community radio Stereo Orquídea that was taken off air 1.5 years ago when unknown persons invaded their building and took the transmission equipment, before which the radio was already threatened by government pressures with suspension of their signal, is finally back on air as Cofadeh/EU provided them with the needed equipment.
On the other hand, Bajo Aguán’s political prisoner of 7 years Chabelo Morales is finally outside the prison and in his home, having done a third of the time sentenced for murders he had not committed in a revenge against a police/landowning family of Henry Osorto’s that he did not participate in. Yet, in this time, not only had he lost precious days, weeks, months and years, but part of his face, some speech, some teeth, part of his sight and part of his nose, and his lips and tongue had been cut. And now at home, he is in need of healthcare he cannot afford, having fallen from a hammack and hurt his hip, having arterial pressure, and difficulty walking. Chabelo continues to receive death threats from Henry Osorto, and because of this cannot leave his home alone or do work that he had previously done such as selling ice cream. His current ‘freedom’ is not secure in any way; a hearing process that is 10 days long continues, and is scheduled to conclude on 9/11/15.
Reform forcing work onto prisoners
A new approved bill will push forced work onto 14,000 prisoners, to ‘cooperate’ with costs of keeping them imprisoned. The bill also rules that in maximum security prisons, prisoners are to receive sunshine in cages.
Public employees – laid off, not paid off, and a protest sprayed off by riot cops
On 4/8/15, when public employees protested unpaid salaries and dismissals of at least 12,000 public employees this year, using burning tyres and rocks to stop traffic, they were forcefully dispersed by riot cops using water tanks. Amongst the 190 dismissed by SANAA in the last 8 months who had not been paid out (and the debt had been declared by the intervention commission to be unpayable), fifty elderly staff had been desperate and sick and needed this money for healthcare. SANAA which is being privatised to private banks involved in money laundering has also run out of chemical to treat water for capital city homes.
Community protest against blackouts and electricity privatisation evicted by cops
In La Ceiba, on 12/8/15 communities protested the rationing of electricity and intensifying blackouts, burning tyres and occupying highways – they were evicted by police. Blackouts have gradually worsened from 10 years ago due to government wanting to privatise electricity instead of fixing up issues. Even hospitals are affected, with blackouts endangering lives.
News shorts from August 2015
- As a distraction to make believe that there is a point to representative democracy, ‘anti-corruption-politicians’ put out a bill asking the congress to make a referendum or not to see if people want a CICIH (a demand of the fire torches movement to set up an UN-led commission against corruption in Honduras). Not surprisingly, the congress voted against it (66 against, 58 for) and so the bill is not carried. Social analyst Tomás Andino asks how a disruption to status quo is possible through a majority in congress? He argues that the only way out is through grassroots struggle, and that it is time for a general strike, to build onto what farmers, uni and high school students and indigenous compas and public sector workers are already doing – occupying buildings and highways, and that the grassroots should not wait for leaders to make the calls.
- Dialogue, another synonym for quieting protests and fomenting sense of belief in leaders of the governments and ‘society representatives’, began as facilitated by Organisation of American States. Its representative Biehl del Rio said there’s a lot to do, and that the JOH government lacks credibility, but that there are no reasons to doubt the JOH government – a government that has admitted that about $150,000 of its election campaign in 2013 was funded by this corruption scandal robbing $350 million from IHSS social security institution of the workers. Biehl del Rio also pleaded for Hondurans to resolve issues ‘peacefully’, alerting to having witnessed a soldier wounded by a rock thrown, but implying that the rock thrower is ‘an infiltrator’, given his approval of the fire torch movement being a peaceful one. JOH also, instead of facing up to a mobilisation that had turned up at his door demanding his resignation, chose to flee the heat in the face in a helicopter.
- In a related uncovering corruption scandal, ex Natural Resources Department Deputy Minister Darío Roberto Cardona Valle was found guilty of plundering $200,000 from IHSS and was asked to pay this back – he said he couldn’t because he had to split the plundered amount with prosecutor Rigoberto Cuellar. Cuellar denied involvement in receiving bribes and said that Cardona lied.
- This month, as environmentalist and indigenous organisations protested outside a San Pedro Hotel as an international mining summit and negotiations were held inside between government and investors, mining council president Reynaldo Ekónomo claimed that he understood and respected people’s concerns about social and environmental impacts of mining but that they are mistaken because the new mining companies involved (with 400 companies present from 28 countries) are respectful of people and environment unlike past ones (!). The summit promoted the sale of territory, with 950 sites being explored nationally. The environmental network highlighted that not only is the mining industry not transparent and very harmful, and communities never consulted, but they are also not important to the economy and don’t provide nearly as many jobs as they’d like to make people believe, with 2000 currently employed in mining companies nationally.
- Nurses are also owed $2.5 million by the government and hospitals lack attention and medicine
- People are demanding the approved Social Protection Law to be abolished as it is set to privatise health in Honduras, ‘there’s an attempt against the right to health of Hondurans when it leaves open the possibility of contracting private services. Many banks are going around buying hospitals, clinics, etc, … this is an attempt against workers’ health’ José Luís Baquedano (a worker organiser). The bill’s proponents claim the reforms are to address overcrowding of health services and claim to address people’s limitations to paying for health services.
- A bill to reform the new penal code reforming many parts of criminal law raises concerns particularly about the cyber crimes reforms – to limit people’s freedom of expression in expressing opposition to the government on social media such as facebook and twitter. Its Nationalist proponents said it is bad interpretation and that the reform is not meant to censor, but to get people who commit crime under other people’s identities causing injury to these, and against child pornography in social media. However, practices of committing crimes under other people’s identities on social media in Honduras is not said to be common.
- El niño and its lack of rain brought severe drought and a food security crisis affecting 13 provinces of Honduras. Governments make no mentions of farmers’ proposals for food sovereignty, it boasts of having created a taskforce to give immediate assistance to families affected, to count them and note their immediate needs. JOH sought aid from the international community, $8 million for relief rations, and another $27-$30 to extend provision for 45 more days. JOH’s sister and minister of strategy and communication Hilda Hernández made a public appeal to Hondurans not affected by the drought to ‘adopt’ Honduran families affected.
Links to articles
Solidarity between black struggles in Honduras and in the U.S.:
http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2984333/honduras_garifuna_communities_resist_eviction_and_theft_of_land.html black lives matter in US linking Garifuna struggle against migration push and displacement
Interview with Karen Spring: Honduras ‘Indignados’ Lacks Structural Critique. Is the Fire Torch movement revolutionary..?