Cases of political persecution in September 2015
National protests on 1/9/15 massively repressed with arrests, teargases, gunshots, and persecution against journalists
To begin the month, on 1/9/15, in different parts of Honduras, highway occupations took place against corruption and with added demands of local struggles. In anticipation of the called out protests, one week before, repression was ordered and authorised beforehand, as shown in a leaked memo of FUSINA military force – it called its agents to ‘execute policial and military operations to guarantee order and security like the right to freedom of movement in their sectors of responsibility, and notified commanders nationally to take necessary measures to guarantee order and citizen security in response to opposition groups to the government, and referred to organising groups as having the goals of destabilising the government and causing chaos. Heavy repression was then unleashed in the eviction of these protests, with grave cases in Yoro and Colón in northern Honduras.
In El Progreso in Yoro, at about 7.30am, a large contingent of Fusina agents began to attack people blocking highway, unleashing teargas bombs and beatings, and culminating in arresting 16 protesters, and in wounding some, although details of its magnitude is not known. Journalists who covered the atrocious scene also became targets of this state violence. Dunia Montoya of Revista Vida Laboral was covering with a camera, and other journalists with respective devices, as police and soldiers began to beat people. The state agents wanted Dunia’s camera, Dunia refused and they started to beat her with the baton hard in the hands and legs, threw her to the ground, and with hard boots, kicked her in the face really hard three times. From this Dunia was hospitalised with fractures in her right shoulder, and her work equipment broke. Dunia is also the spouse of resistance journalist and Libre party politician Bartolo Fuentes. Gerardo Chévez was with Dunia, he was recording with his phone for Radio Progreso – the state agents confiscated Gerardo’s journalist ID, then they went on to beat him in places that left pain but no scars, and grabbed him when he tried to flee – Gerardo is a recipient of IACHR protection measures as a persecuted journalist. Eddie Andino of Canal 6 was hit with a teargas bomb in his right knee when he was transmitting live, and Román Paz of Campus TV had a teargas bomb thrown to his feet and another in his face, almost damaging his face – he also had his ID confiscated.
In Tocoa, Colón, the region with massive land conflicts, militarisation, palm expansion, and assassinations mostly of farmers, farmers protested corruption, unfulfilled promises to pay for farmers’ land and falling palm oil prices that impact on farmers’ livelyhood. These protesting farmers were dealt very heavy state repression, as often happens. This 7.30am eviction by army and police was with live gunshots, intense teargases and beatings with baton (ten were victims to beatings), some protesters were bullet wounded, the gunshots also hit the car of COPA (Aguan Grassroots Organisations) which was being used in the protests. Sixteen were arrested accused of sedition, altering public order and damages. Arrestees included women and older folks, they were taken to court at 8am, their cases adjourned for appearing again on 1/10/15. Some of the arrestees’ names are Joaquin Amaya Mendoza (Orica, Sabá, Colón), Arnulfo Socorro Alvarado (La Confianza), Clemente Espinoza (Trinidad), Seylin Marili Flores García, Luciana Flores (Aurora, Víctor Manuel Martínez (Salamá), Herber Flores (Sitraina), José Ricardo Velásquez (Confianza), José Ramón Flores (Lempira), Oscar Alemán (San Esteban), José Henríquez Motiño, Mateo Amaya and Mario Cruz. State agents weren’t just attacking whoever happened to be in front of them either, they had a list of leaders they were hunting down in the Tocoa neighbourhood – Vitalino Álvarez, Yoni Rivas, Jaime Cabrera, and others – persons whose being persecuted is recognised by the Inter American Commission of Human Rights. These same leaders were being falsely accused by Xatruch III military operation head René Jovel Martínez of firing shots against the buildings of the 15th battalion of Infantry in Río Claro, Trujillo – these leaders were previously victims to discrediting and false press statements by previous Xatruch head, Gérman Alfaro. Fired gunshots during these protests were only from state forces. Apart from protesters, targets of the gunshots also included the community, churches and homes.
Like in El Progreso, some journalists daring to transmit live in Colón were very brutally attacked by state forces.
Cesar Obando Flores, correspondent of Radio Progreso, who captured how the state forces got there before the protesters, and after telling people to move and warning to throw teargas bombs, they launched the bombs and fired gunshots. He was at a distance reporting all this when an agent launched a teargas bomb at his feet, prompting him to run. A hooded police chased him and a military police pushed and knocked him to the pavement and beat him in the stomach, elbows, and broke his phone. Colleagues helped him get back on his feet and he made a run to flee. A police wagon began chasing him. A hooded police told him this happened to him because he was transmitting live. Over the next twenty minutes, he ran sixteen blocks, chased by three police who kept yelling, ‘stop running’, he finally ran into a house and left through another door and got a taxi to take refuge at the human rights commission office. An anonymous journalist of LNC Honduras was reported to have been hurt also.
Another journalist, Denis Arnaldo Ramos (Canal 35 correspondent of Colón News) was also covering his highway occupation on 1/9/15 when five cops attacked him and tried to snatch his work equipment and beat him in the arms and forced him onto the police pickup. When he asked why he was being arrested, they took photos of his ID and of him – he made a complaint of this incident at the human rights commissioner. He was days before noticing a police patrol parked outside the radio station he was working in – Radio Stereo – and was there for 3-5 minutes watching and looking at his motorcycle. Days after, a patrol T-85 came to his home and confiscated his motorcycle, he went and spoke with Subcomissioner Lanza to recover his motorcycle. Again, on 18/9/15, at 9am, he was riding his motorcycle to the highway near the farmers neighbourhood, when members of patrol 3.0 detained him accusing him of not wearing a helmet, and confiscated his motorcycle and keys and handcuffed him and took him to the police station. The officer in charge there reacted to ‘being treated like a delinquent’ and threatened to send Denis to prison for defamation while yelling at him and inventing crimes against him. Denis was interrogated and asked about farmers groups and if he knew Vitalino Álvarez or the MUCA president. He had handcuffs on until he was released midday that day. Denis is trying to move to a safer place, into hiding, and is worried about his family. Denis is a critical, committed journalist, and has also been victim to discrediting campaigns of some colleagues.
Two days after the 1/9/15 protests, on 3/9/15, protest participant and farmer Eliseo Rodríguez was assassinated, his body was found in the farm of the Ebenezer Cooperative of MOCRA. Eliseo was working on the field when at 7am, hitmen fired shots at him with high calibre weapons and he was killed.
Violent evictions including killings against those in land occupation struggles
The Comolagua community in San Juan Ceguaca, Santa Bárbara, is affiliated with Copinh indigenous organisation, and has been since April in a land recovery process. On 2/9/15, the community was invaded by a group of armed individuals, who without saying anything, threatened and fired gunshots forcing those occupying to leave the fields being recovered. Afterwards, these hitmen who receive orders and are protected by the system, proceeded to burn crops and belongings of this community of 25 families. This land has a long history. In 1972, 25 landless families occupied 82 manzanas* of land that belong to their ancesters but from whom they had been landgrabbed. They obtained community title as the Jardines del Valle cooperative. Miguel Ángel Ríos manipulatedly joined in the cooperative and began to change its regulations from within to suit him, and went on to use this to confiscate and take over lands of other families one by one. When families responded with opposition, Miguel Ríos had the support of his brothers and the then ex MP Mario Pérez in making threats against and intimidating anyone who tried to recover the lands. The community started a land recovery struggle in 2009 and were violent evicted, and again in 2012 (evicted 8 days later with gunshots of Mario Pérez on behalf of the Ríos), with the latest occupation having started on 28/4/15, in which the community went inside the fenced land and put up tents and flags, and the Ríos brothers reacted firing shots at everyone. Copinh activist Lilíam López was given death threat with a firearm, and was insulted.
On 23/9/15, just outside of San Pedro Sula city, in the Regalo de Dios neighbourhood in Villanueva, Cortés, a violent court-ordered eviction including gunshots was carried out over eight intense hours by a continget of 200 military police against families who have occupied for three years on 12 manzanas of land where they have built homes and cultivated crops to feed their families. People responded to police’s initial force and aggression pulling people out of their homes, with rocks and sticks, and cops pulled out guns (something their superiors denied theirs having carried afterwards) and also shot masses of teargas. The gunshots hit sixteen years old Fernando José Castro Ramírez, who died, and two of the M16 bullets of military use that people picked up from the state’s attack were then placed on top of Fernando’s body. Bullets also hit a parked car. A 9 months old baby was gravely hospitalised affected by teargases, but did survive and pull through. Many others had trouble breathing and some fainted. Twelve people were arrested in the eviction. Many were wounded.
On 23/9/15, In La Paz, a police and military contingent evicted families of the 9 de Julio Cooperative from their base in Huertas, Tutule, La Paz. The contingent arrested a mother together with her four children aged 15, 12, 10 and 2 (in her arms). The contingent also after evicting the families, went on to destroy homes over more than 50 members of this co-operative, and 15 manzanas of coffee and 4 of maize
Also in La Paz, on 21/9/15, 15 farmers of the Juan Almendarez Bonilla cooperatives including women who on 16/7/15 were arrested and imprisoned in an eviction from the land they recovered, were finally released after more than two months of being imprisoned and sleeping on the prison floor in a tiny cell. They continue to face charges of usurpation of land, environmental crimes, theft, sedition/terrorism.
Garífuna (African descendent indigenous Honduran) communities evicted for model cities they don’t want
On 10/9/15, the Puerto Castilla community was evicted towards building a model city, as promoted by the self-proclaimed landowner Dennis Weizeblut Oliva. He owns about 5 manzanas in the urban part of the community. Back in May 2014 he ordered a violent eviction against a community protest there, which was carried out by police and military, with masses of teargases. The naming of the area which is Garífuna land as a tourism development zone had turned communities lives into nightmares.
The day before, on 9/9/15, the Cristales Garífuna community in Trujillo was threatened by a heavy contingent of police and military as the community continued to occupy the Cristales bridge, to pressure the mayor to speak with them about where funds go with the project called Barrio Modelo. The community is also demanding that the installation of oxidation facilities next to the Socorro Sorrel school be suspended, and for the structure of the worn bridge on Río Cristales be worked on, and for landgrabbing against community lands pushed by model cities to stop immediately.
Uni unionist harrassed for speaking up about having survived an attempt against her
Elizabeth Zúniga, lecturer and union activist at CURLP campus and a journalist, spoke up on 17/8/15 about having found her vehicle with screws unscrewed from her tyre – an attempt to kill her and others and make it look like an accident – was then called on 1/9/15 to a discharge hearing for having spoken up. Her colleague Héctor Motiño also had the same thing done to his car and survived, and also faced a chain of discharge hearings as part of a long persecution process – but was eventually assassinated this year. At Elizabeth’s discharge hearing she was repeatedly asked to give the facts of why she spoke up.
Courts not on side with journalists
Journalist David Romero’s appeal to disqualify judges dealing with his case for being determined to rule him guilty instead of examining his case and evidence and then deciding – this appeal was rejected by Supreme Court, saying there were no grounds for the appeal, despite testimonies proving otherwise. Romero uncovered much of the IHSS scandal.
Another journalist Julio Ernesto Alvarado appealed the decision to suspend him from practising journalism, this appeal was also rejected, on 4/9/15.
Advocacy organisation email account hacked and contents stolen and deleted
ACI-Participa, Association for a Participative Citizenry, a human rights organisation, made public that their yahoo email account has been hacked and now opened a riseup one. The yahoo account was hacked on 22/9/15, using Fishing and other technologies, information was stolen and erased afterwards – organisation contacts, files, folders, emails sent and received. There was a law passed in 2012 known as Ley de Escuchas, that facilitated this, legalising the intervention of emails and phone calls.
Union office evicted inside hospital
On 6/9/15, Hospital Escuela, the administration of which changed from the health department to the UNAH university director, evicted the workers’ union office inside that has been there since 1978. The justification given was that the space was needed to attend to more patients. They pulled apart the office. Staff did not speak about the eviction for fear of being dismissed.
Youth accused of killing a lawyer complicit in the massive IHSS fraud and in scandal cover-up killings
Lawyer Eduardo Montes was killed on 16/9/15. Eduardo Montes is the lawyer of the family of Lena Gutierrez, politician known for her involvement in the IHSS scandal, and particularly for her family’s company that produced fake medicines made of flour that they supplied the hospitals, and profited heavily from it. The person captured is young engineer Rigoberto Andrés Paredes Vélez aged 28. His legal rights to due process and to be treated as innocent unless and until the courts find him guilty was violated, as he was not given a chance to speak with a lawyer until seven hours after his arrest despite the overseeing of the process by a human rights commissioner, prior to which, he had given testimonies to police, who then spoke to the press. Legally, occurrences before someone had a chance to speak with a lawyer first should be nullified. Further, nobody being arrested is supposed to have been subject to abuse and threats but as we all know many do have this experience from those arresting. Security guards stripped him of his shirt when he was taken by force, which was used to tie his hands to his back.. He was also then put on a bullet proof vest for protection but then without saying why this was taken away. He was also not attended to by a forensic psychiatrist until 9 hours after his arrest. He told his story without holding back any of the truth. He said, ‘it wasn’t me, it was the people’, spoke of people close to him who had died and suffered because of the IHSS scandal, and how the lawyer, although not the only one doing it, was sending to kill people – protected witnesses in the IHSS case for example. He asserted that he is saving lots of people by stopping the lawyer from sending to kill more. Rigoberto said it was a personal decision, that nobody asked him to do anything. Rigoberto is son of writer and poet Rigoberto Paredes who when alive wrote of always finding his son in the library, how that was paradise for him, and of how he read a lot of history and of how, as he learnt of the violence through the literature, cried. His dad wrote of him learning love and tenderness through poetry. He is also the son of writer Anarella Vélez, who said that she knows his thinking and his rage, and that if he weren’t in this country he would not have been in this situation, with inequality and injustice hitting him very hard. She declared that as long as she is alive.
Early in the morning on 23/9/15, the home of Rigoberto Paredes Vélez and Anarella Vélez was raided in an extreme show of militarisation. Investigative police closed off the entire block around their home, which is also Café Paradiso (a cultural centre and place of solidarity fundraising concerts and events), taping the whole area off with yellow tape saying, crime scene, keep out. Agents stopped the press from entering, only human rights defenders were allowed closer. They were searching for evidence on the Montes case, – prosecution is going for evidence of premeditation/assassination, while Rigoberto’s lawyers argue it was not planned and was a homocide instead (shorter prison term than planned assassination). When Anarella and the lawyer learnt about the raid, they went to the scene as quickly as they could. The investigative police over some hours went through everything in the house, confiscated CDs and a computer in a poor state for the information inside. Anarella pronounced that her son is victim to the cruel system in which they live, and sworn to commit herself towards changing this system to a more humane one.
Hate crimes against lgbti leaders continue
On 11/9/15, Jorge Alberto Castillo, who is an lgbti activist and founder of self-support group Renacer (re-birth), who has always struggled to have roof, love and food for those who live with HIV who have been cruelly rejected by their families, was near his house in the El Manchén neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa when he was assassinated.
On 18/9/15, at midday, as mothers walked their children to school, Gloria Carolina Hernández Vásquez, known also as Génesis Hernández, who is associated to the Apuvimeh HIV/lgbti organisation as Jorge is too, was near her home too when she was kidnapped by men on a grey van and a green one, and driven to near the Las Torres neighbourhood, taken off the car with her hands tied. She was put up against the wall, insulted for her sexual orientation, then one of her captors shot her twice in the head from behind and ended her life, her body fell to the ground.
News Shorts from September 2015
As ‘dialogue’ unfolded in Tegucigalpa facilitated by Organisation of American States with the corruption crisis and mass mobilisations in Honduras, it became more obvious that OAS representative John Bieh wanted only for the ‘democratic’ image of the Honduran regime to be restored, his definition of democratic states being ones that have been restructured to having dominant groups of power hold private control – something happening in an extreme way in Honduras and to different degrees, everywhere in the world. Biehl also proposed for Centro de Estudios de Justicia de las Américas to diagnose and make recommendations about strengthening constitutionality and justice in Honduras, something that grassroots organisations argue against saying CEJA only promotes superficial changes also.
JOH government also agree that maintaining its image is vital. So much of that it spends more than quarter million dollars a day on advertising and self-promotion. It also charges media companies high taxes, and then turns around to create a law and offer them the option of paying such debts not with cash but with the equivalent value in advertising. At the same time, as re-election has been legalised, JOH was not timid in publicly expressing his wishes to remain in power for 50 years. Meanwhile, many farmers eat only once a day, two tortillas with salt.
The IMF agreement of $189 million loan over three years signed with Honduras was criticised by Center for Economic and Policy Research. Its plan is for the GDP to go up by 6.5% in four years while imposing ‘structural reforms’ in the shape of privatisations, pensions reforms, and dismissals in the public sector, hitting rather than ‘trickling down’ to the poorest harshly. The plan correspondingly encourages a heavy dependence of direct foreign investment, such as attracting model cities. IMF warns the regime of likely resistance, and whispered that it is best to carry out the reforms before the 2017 general elections.
In tegucigalpa on 23/9/15, in the morning, 150 buses striked demanding the government to pay a subsidy they have not paid in 3 years and 9 months – a measure that was agreed to compensate buses in a climate of rising petrol costs to not increase the bus fares. The buses blocked the roads in the main roads of Comayaguela.
*1 manzanas = 1.72 acres