April 2016 Honduras coup update
News of persecution from April 2016
Attempt against yet another uni lecturer
History repeated on 29/4/16 as UNAH lecturer, Fausto Umanzor, who is one of the lecturers who defend the rights of their comrades and students, found his car that was parked at the campus carpark of UNAH-CURLP had its tyres screws loosened intentionally to cause an accident for him and whoever with and near him. This is the fourth case of attempt using this method at this carpark in two years. The first case was against Héctor Martínez, who had since been assassinated. All cases occurred under the watch of ESPA security company which is contracted by UNAH director Julieta Castellanos. The contract specifies on page 7, clause 7, part 11, that ESPA is ‘to coordinate with the authorities of the University City and its regional centres some special operations in specific cases when they are required by UNAH.’ In Hector’s case, there was a sworn testimony of ESPA staff that indicated clearly that the attempt was perpetrated by ESPA members under the protection of the director Alina Molina, who herself has protection further up. Julieta never investigated Hector’s case to prevent subsequent cases.
Threats and attacks against those who seek justice for Bertha Caceres, for the closing of DESA dam project
To recap, Bertha Caceres, the 2015 Goldman Environmental prize winner and indigenous leader, was an enormous mobilising force in the indigenous resistance against DESA company’s hydroelectricity dam. Bertha was assassinated following a chain of death threats since 2013 including by persons paid by DESA (for a chronology of the threats, see this link – http://hondurasresists.blogspot.com.au/2016/05/antecedents-of-assassination-summary-of_26.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+HondurasResists+%28Honduras+Resists%29).
People mobilise and chant, Bertha did not die, Bertha multiplied. Melissa wrote a beautiful piece ‘Signs that Berta is alive, flower of Azalea’, about how Bertha multiplied..
Some pictures of one of the protests: http://www.rel-uita.org/galerias/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=709Itemid=1
Those who are multiplications of Bertha had in April suffered a series of attacks for their resistance.
On 4 April 2016, around 150 indigenous farming women of Bertha’s organisation, Copinh, who travelled from mountains and villages where they fought for rivers, mountains, and body and land spirits, began camping out at the front of the prosecutors’ building in the capital city and making themselves heard by splashing red paint on the building’s walls and chanting ‘you have your hands full of blood of our compañera!’ From the beginning, prosecutors’ department guards and police were aggressive towards Copinh youths over the banners the youths hung on the building.
On the second day at 11.20am, Copinh members were hanging a banner that had the image of Berta Caceres when two soldiers and a police saw and proceeded to drag Copinh activist Gaspar Sanchez inside the Prosecutors Office where they for three minutes bashed, punched and kicked Gaspar all over the body. Outside the office Copinh members protested with rage pressuring effectively for Gaspar’s release. During that time and scramble, another Copinh member Selvin Milla suffered a cut to his foot. Within minutes of all this, 120 riot cops and soldiers arrived at the offices with a police tank, to intimidate everyone. Two weeks before this, Gaspar had spoken in a press conference speaking out against Bertha’s murder.
MADJ – Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia, has also been very vocal about Bertha’s murder, for which its coordinator Martín Fernandez and other members including Luis Miguel Ramos received a chain of threats and acts of intimidation. On 29.3.16 and 7.4.16, a group of soldiers who hid their identities invaded the family farm property ‘Torogoces’ of Martín Fernández which is used for training, meeting and recreation for activists. On 29.3.16 there was a training planning taking place and 50 soldieres invaded the land and didn’t leave when they were asked to, instead, stayed for two hours, filmed inside the farm and forced those present into interrogative interviews on camera with them. Soldiers also flew in a helicopter close to the ground to intimidate. On 7.4.16 soldiers tried to search the MADJ coordinator’s family car and intimidated others present. At the same time, MADJ coordinator Martín and member Luís Miguel Ramos run a radio program on MADJ community radio Radio Dignidad speaking up on social issues called Tertulia de la Tarde. Topics had included the secrecy on the investigation of the assassination of Berta Caceres, and about corruption inside the government. Both Martín and Luís had, while on air, received threatening phone calls and text messages (including from 9535 8384 and 9694 1758), saying they are ‘talking too much shit’.
Over three days in mid April, over 1200 people from 130 organisations and 22 countries joined Honduran activists in a gathering to remember Bertha, demand justice, workshop ideas and strategies of solidarity and struggle against a predatory dominant model they are fighting to be free from. This gathering started in Tegucigalpa on 13.4.16, on the morning of which, comrades from Bajo Aguan (where farmers live in permanent and bloody conflict with palm oil giants) were travelling together to join the gathering, when police arrested José Santos Chávez on the pretext that he has a capture order from 2014 for usurpation and damages to property charges. José was transferred twice, ushered to a court hearing, then released on bail conditions of signing at court every Monday. José is the brother of Gregorio Chávez, a farmer activist who was assassinated. José’s nice is currently the coordinator of the Bajo Aguan Human Rights Observatory.
This gathering for Bertha ended on 15.4.16 with a spiritual ceremony and visit to the Gualcarque river – the river the Rio Blanco community accompanied by Bertha Caceres fought to resist its damming by DESA and its international financial and institutional backers. The gathering travelled in seven large buses, some minibuses and small cars. The police didn’t let them drive up to the dam area, so they mobilised on feet to the river, for their final ceremonial activities, swim, and to leave demonstrated that DESA must leave. As the many finished and at 5pm were walking back towards the vehicles, twenty armed men the police had known about, and who were paid by DESA, ambushed gathering participants and attacked and chased these with machetes and firearms, and throwing rocks. From this horror, more than ten were left wounded. Honduran activists from communities of resistance across Honduras including Copinh – Vitalino Alvarez, Consuelo Soto, Sotero Chavarría, Asunción Martinez, Marleny Reyes Castillo and Raúl Guevara were left with injuries and wounds. Sotero is from Copinh, he was threatened with his full name, and was hit with a rock. Telesur cameraperson Ezequiel Sánchez was beaten and threatened with that ‘we are going to cut you into pieces if you keep recording’. Of a free media organisation Subversiones, Mexicans Heriberto Paredes Coronado and Aldo Santiago López were also threatened with machetes. Spanish accompanier Luís de Terán had a leg fractured from having been beaten up. In the process, these men sent by DESA threatened everyone they could, but particularly pointed to Tomás Gomez Membreño of Copinh, saying, ‘lets attack him, he is the one who is left’, adding to the many death threats he already received. Survivors of this aggression identified including hitmen who had at different times given death threats to Bertha Caceres and other Copinh members.
It was most blatant that those representing DESA had no quelms in admitting that they killed Bertha, and turned it into a threat. They were heard to yell to everyone, ‘we have killed the fly, and now only the commoners remain’.
Police was not only in complicity by not letting the vehicles through, but were present because DESA had asked for police protection during this days of protest. DESA sent a public statement on 12.4.16, saying that people will be protesting at the site, and that given that ‘the past protests in front of the dam building site had finished in violent acts destroying machinery and things inside the project and cultivating chaos between our neighbouring residents’, DESA called on ‘the support of the national police’. They did this as they planned this ambush in coordination with the police.
Two weeks after all of this, Berta’s family and family of struggle found out like the rest of us, reading the news that four people, who are contracted by DESA and member and ex-member of the Honduran army, had been arrested for having planned and carried out the assassination of Berta. The state never engaged with those who demanded justice most closely, being people very close to Bertha, to ask them what they know, what they want. The state tried very hard to claim it was a crime of passion, or that it was internal conflict and other activists on the same side of struggle killed her. It was only when they realised there is no way her murder could be but DESA and their powerful accomplices that now they have arrested four people from these circles. Given this context, while her family agrees that those arrested would have been involved, they are sure there are many others, and that those who gave the orders are amongst those getting away with it. The family wants for Inter American Court of Human Rights – which has expressed willingness to do this should it be invited to do so by the Honduran state, to lead an independent investigation process for the case, but needless to say, the Honduran state ignores this request. So far, the family and movement’s number one demand has also been side stepped – the permanent cancellation of the concession and all finances to DESA, and the taking of responsibility by those who have concessioned and financed (CABEI, FMO, Finnfund, Voith-Hydro Siemens, World Bank – there had been suspensions of funding, but not definitive cancellations) the murders of activists against the Agua Zarca dam project – Berta Caceres, Tomás García, William Jacobo Rodríguez, Maycol Rodríguez (15) and Baudilio Sánchez.
Taking responsibility would mean acknowledging the role the institutions have played in the murder of Bertha Caceres and attacks against many other indigenous, human and environmental rights defenders everywhere. Not only to acknowledge though, but to really question the roles of such institutions in maintaining power differences everywhere, in reinforcing the system, while supporting the continued hostility against whoever dares to dream of a better world and better ways of relating with one another. Taking responsibility would mean to not act like the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, who have shamelessly referred to the assassination of Bertha and ‘incidents like that’, as necessary in what institutions like the World Bank are trying to do. He simplified it to that ‘everybody needs energy’ and so some institution must be heroic enough to venture into the controversial to fund including energy projects where there are communities opposed to them, and where the company kills community leaders to push the project ahead. Jim Yong Kim made these comments at a theological seminar in New York City in April 2016. Jim Yong Kim sounds like he may be not too bright, but when it comes down to it, he defends the World Bank position, because of his financial and career investment in it.
Its not about what kind of energy is good or bad, rather, who controls the process.
Hydroelectricity dams are generally bad because they are owned and controlled by private interests for private industrial interests, not community controlled for community energy use. As such, even solar panels can be damaging to communities. In Los Prados, Namasique, Choluteca in the south of Honduras, Norwegian company Escatec Solar demolished and logged various hectares of land turning land into solar parks – causing constant deforestation, decreased water sources and loss of territories dedicated to growing basic grains affecting villagers.
Repression against indigenous market stall holders in Bertha’s province, Intibucá
From 28.4.16, indigenous stall holders of the indigenous Intibucá Central Market are on alert of a possible eviction against them. The court made the resolution illegally, ignoring the community open meeting’s decision to have the market continue.
Police beat and arrest human rights defenders in context of militarisation in Lempira
Lempira is heavily militarised, as a result of which many suffer abuses from police and soldiers but most do not speak out about these abuses. On 5/4/16, police beat up human rights defenders of community radio Radio Taragual, Eleuterio Pérez and Bernardino Pérez, who were checking out and taking footage of a scene of police arresting two men who had an argument with a neighbour. Police took Bernardino’s phone and deleted photos and recordings he had of police aggression. Bernardino was beaten in the abdomen.
Death threats against ex-police-commissioner for having spoken about corruption
Ex police commissioner Maria Luisa Borjas who has made some public complaints in the last years about abuses within the police force and is an active member of Libre political party, has been receiving death threats .
Snippets of other news from April 2016
- Regime president J.O.H. expressed his desire to close the National Police, but to use as a pretext to replace the police force with Military police, as a step to changing military police’s status to being constitutional.
- Honduran Cardenal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez, who is of the infamous Opus Dei, is in the black list of 12 cardenals who have complaints of sex abuse against them. Others are Leonardo Sandri – Argentina, George Pell – Australia, Marc Quellet – Canada, Timothy Dolan – New York, Sean O’Malley – Boston, Donald Wuerl – Washington US, Peter Turkson – Ghana, Tarsicio Berto and Angelo Scola – Italy, Norberto Rivera Carrera – Mexico, Dominik Duka – Czech Republic. They are all considered candidates to be the next pope – current pope Benedicto 16th has complaints against him in management of sex abuse scandals in churches.