May 2016 Honduras coup news update
Resistance activist killed on May Day
Tomás Enrique García Castillo is 36, was 36. His mum holds the picture of him. Tomás lived for his ideals and belonged to the resistance. On May Day, 1.5.16, he went to the mobilisation and he never came back home. When words went out that an unidentified person was at the prosecution morgue, Tomás’s older brother went to look for him there but was turned away by staff who told him that Tomás was not there. On 5.5.16, Tomás’s mum Silvia who lived with Tomás went to the same morgue after seeing in the newspaper a picture of a body who had clothes on like her son’s, and this time they admitted to her that the body of Tomás Enrique García Castillo was there, that it has been there since 1.5.16. ‘They killed Tomás because he was someone who wanted a different country, he fought for a better world, his thinking was that of social struggle, he was a member of the security of the Resistance, but as the Libre party formed, he distanced himself, we felt he needed to lower his profile, because already in 2010 he was attacked in an attempted kidnap and he had to leave the country, but he didn’t want to leave…he believed in struggling within his reality’. Silvia said Tomás had finished studying law and was finalising paperwork to graduate. Tomás is remembered for his tender smile, tranquil outlook and solidarity, ‘he believed that power is in the streets’. Following the attempt against Tomás in 2010, his uni compas recall how he told them not to be scared, that their convictions and ideals went before anything else, that ‘it is worth it because this struggle is for the Honduran people so that there are changes, so that this hierarchy stops to exist’. Silvia who raised Tomás is a high school teacher, who shares her values of social struggle with her children and with her students. She swears to keep fighting for a different world and to never be silent about his son’s assassination.
Attacks including attempts against lives of indigenous Copinh activists
Two months on from the assassination of indigenous organisation Copinh coordinator Bertha Cáceres, attacks are continuous, especially against those of Copinh who show everyday that Bertha had not died, that instead, she multiplied.
On 6.5.16, a Colomoncagua Copinh leader, Alexander García Sorto was leaving his home to meet other Copinh members to go together to travel to Tegucigalpa for a mobilisation there when he was surprised with a gunshot that hit his left shoulder, in an attempt to kill him. Alexander began to run, and managed to escape further gunshots fired at him. Alexander’s attacker is a security guard and ex-soldier who had attacked Copinh members and had just at the end of April given Alexander a death threat and verbal abuse, in reaction to Copinh members having painted a mural to keep alive the image of Bertha Cáceres. The Colomoncagua community fight to defend the Negro and Chinacla rivers against damming, the damming being driven by Gladys Aurora López, who as well as businessperson, is also the congress vicepresident. Police captured the attacker following Alexander’s report, but then they released the attacker on bail. The attacker is wandering around freely and tells people in the community that he is going to finish assassinating Alexander. Alexander has been discharged from hospital and is in obvious danger.
On 8.5.16, as the new general coordinator of Copinh, Tomás Gómez Membreño and others travelled towards Tegucigalpa for a mobilisation on the next day, soldiers in an army vehicle followed the Copinh vehicle, drove in front of them, braked suddenly and hard, then hit the Copinh vehicle in a dangerous curve in the road with the intention of making the Copinh car skid off the road. The Copinh driver managed to maintain balance and for all inside to escape unharmed from this attempt. Weeks before this, outside of Tomás’s home, gunshots were fired. Threats against Copinh members in Río Blanco also continue, including of having their homes burned.
On 9.5.16, in the city, in the earliest of hours on the day of the protest against Bertha’s assassination and the state’s twisted investigation and calling for the dam project on Gualcarque river to be stopped forever, presidential guard and police proceeded to attack Copinh activists, attacking these with teargas bombs, beating them, and arbitrarily arresting Javier Gonzalez Gómez, Junior Muñoz Amaya, Jesús Vásquez and Walter Isaac Mena. Two of the arrestees were minors. All were released later.
On 13.5.16 , as a mobilisation of several days began, at the Chorrera Aspera community in San Francisco de Opalaca, Copinh compas including Chepe Vásquez were attacked by repressive forces contracted by DESA, with stones and gunshots. Politician Edgardo Casaña who speaks in support of Copinh’s struggle, had all his car windows broken there. At the same time, a mobilisation of almost a thousand going from Agua Sucia to Chorera Aspera headed by the elders’ council and Bertha Cáceres’s daughter Olivia, were threatened by a group of paramilitary.
Prior to this mobilisation of several days’ walk going to Chorrera Aspera and to to Gualcarque river from different places, the parish priests were attacked for having been active in helping spread the word about the walk and protest. Both Father Efraín Romero of San Francisco de Opalaca and Father Daniel Corea of San Pedro Zacapa received death threats from a hitman Olvin Mejía, someone very close to the damning dam company DESA who is linked to Bertha’s assassination and had given her multiple death threats before she was killed, and who is known to have killed others. On 12.5.16, father Daniel Corea, in addition to the death threat, he suffered an attempt against his life by unrecognised hitmen.
On the night of 18.5.16 during a visit from the Bajo Aguán Radio Orquídea collective and the Norweigen commission of human rights observers joining in with the La Voz Lenca community radio collective of Copinh, as they sat around the kitchen area outside at 10.30pm talking about the intense everyday situation in Bajo Aguán, one Copinh compa was alarmed and told others to be quiet, when they realised that there were three armed persons in military clothes lurking around the Copinh building Utopía. Copinh members told everyone to go rest while some Copinh members stayed up to keep watch, but sleeping was near impossible under the terror knowing they could be attacked. Radio Orquídea was just re-opening at this time, having closed before after their transmission equipment was stolen.
Constant attacks against Copinh is evidence that the ‘justice system’ does not have under control a number of powerful people, entities and institutions that are behind having killed Bertha and other Copinh leaders. Those not accused by the system who should be include directives and owners of DESA, and financial and other institutions that had contributed to DESA. While funds for DESA’s dam project appear to be drying up, with US $40 million currently unavailable for the project, the financiers FMO, CABEI, Finnfund, etc have only ‘temporarily suspended’ the funds rather than definitively. Similarly, Voith Hydro ‘suspended’ its US$9.2 million contract and with that the supply of three turbines for DESA’s dam. While the fact that arrested suspects for the assassination include DESA employees can mean that financial institutions don’t have excuses to resume funding, DESA spokesperson Roque Galo is arguing that Doughlas Bustillo for example is a subcontracter rather than direct employee of DESA and are pushing to use this to minimize responsibility of DESA to revive the atrocious project.
DESA was created in 2008 by the Atala and Faraj families who are coup supporting business families. The Atalas own the BAC-Bamer bank and the Ficohsa financial group companies. The Farajs own Diunsa shops chain and La Colonia supermarkets. DESA president is David Castillo who is a graduate of US Westpoint USMA US military academy, and is a military intelligence specialist, and the advisor of the Honduran Armed Forces; links like this like in many other projects makes clear how the attacks by army against activists opposing the companies happen.
USAID is one entity that has financed DESA and not admitted to it or suspended funding. Through MERCADO program, it signed an aid agreement to strengthen the Agua Zarca dam project; the agreement was signed with Sergio Ramírez, one of five people charged with murdering Bertha Cáceres. Similarly, SERCAA is a Honduran state unit that as well as designing security strategies to combat organised and common crimes, is supposed to investigate threats against defenders, journalists and justice operators. It has done, needless to say, a job which has a goal of legitimatising the justice system; making it look like it is imprisoning a few of many responsible but leaving many state, institutional and company actors off the hook.
Attacks against international observers accompanying copinh
At the Copinh protests on 9.5.16 to speak up on Bertha’s murder and against the DESA dam that had her killed, as well as repression by teargas bombs, beatings and arrests, there was a xenophobic attitude against international observers present by the state forces. After this, the government began both officially and informally a smear campaign against international observers. Formally, it sent around ‘instructions to the intelligence department as well as migration department for these to identify the foreigners who have been participating in violent protests or inciting violence’ – this was declared by the minister general coordinator of government, Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro. Informally, from 10.5.16, a smear campaign began on facebook, internet, WhatsApp ad other social media – they shared information about international observer Giulia Fellin that they could have obtained from confidential information collected by the immigration department. Immigration control had stepped up to fit in with the cold war strategy, taking photos, videos and compiling photos and abruptly demanding and going through people’s documents in public places. Observers who subsequently protested and or visited their respective embassies seeking some protection were faced with intimidation by intelligence agents. Giulia for one, who has accompanied Copinh, approached her embassy only to face immigration staff who requested her passport and documents. International observers are at risk because there is a strategy of smear first, attack after, that the government uses.
Resistance journalist attempted against for pointing at more of Berta’s killers
On 2.5.16, hitpersons tried to kill resistance journalist Felix Molina after he had earlier that day published previously unknown information about the company DESA, making more links about who has been responsible for murdering Bertha Cáceres. Felix has programs on Mondays at Radio Globo and at RDS radio and is the director of Alter eco, an alternative media organisation, Felix is also the technical advisor for AMCH, Association of Community Medias of Honduras. He has noticed unknown persons following him. This day, he published a number of very revealing notes in relation to the people behind DESA and their relationships with government and army, including at 6.32pm. It was 6.45pm when he was on a taxi to go to a shopping centre in the city and there was a couple of young people who were juggling at the traffic lights who suddenly demanded Felix’s phone (which was not visible). He passed the phone straight away. The woman then pointed a gun at his face and told him ‘you won’t get past today’ and the man yelled to the woman, ‘shoot! Shoot!’. Felix turned his body and they shot four times hitting both his legs and the driver drove away when he could and the attackers ran off. Félix was losing lots of blood and begged the taxi driver to take him to hospital and not just leave him at a hotel which he was going to do. The taxi driver hesitated but did take Félix to hospital, to which he arrived at 7pm. Félix lost lots of blood, stressing out his renal system and made him vulnerable to heart attack, but the gunshots luckily impacted muscles instead of bones or important blood vessels. Félix had been attacked before, in 2009 when he was the director of the program ‘Resistencia’, he was intercepted by heavily armed persons who beat him and took his phone. ‘I want to continue practising journalism without fear, and keep living without fear.’
So what did he write? That Minister Pacheco Tinoco has family inside DESA. That DESA president Roberto David Castillo Mejía who is an intelligence and counter intelligence soldier graduate of West Point in 2004, was appointed in 2008 in state electricity company ENEE as technical advisor and then as Coordinator of Management Control, was found out for receiving double salary as ENEE staff and army staff, his company sold overpriced equipment to army, and he is a direct nephew of Ceiba National Party MP Rodolfo Irías Navas. That DESA’s founding shareholders in 2009 are Roberto Antonio Abate Ponce, Vanny Isidro Abate Ponce. That the DESA Administration Council formed in 2010 was composed of Jorge Fabián Corea Lobo (president), Félix Rolando Alvarenga Castillo (secretary), Francisco Ayes Callejas (special executor). That in November 2011, DESA’s capital went from a tiny US$1250 to between US$2.5 million to $7.1 million. That at that point, large investers entered with monstrous amounts of capital – PEMSA represented by Gerardo Carrasco Escobar, and Inversiones Las Jacarandas SA de CV represented by José Eduardo Atala Zablah. The DESA assembly was then constituted with José Eduardo Atala Zablah (president) and Roberto Pacheco Reyes (secretary). DESA Administration Council was constituted with Roberto David Castillo Mejía (president), Jacobo Nicolás Atala Zablah (vice-president), Jorge Corea Lobo (first vocal), Roberto Pacheco Reyes (secretary), Tanya Romero Baca (backup vocal), and Pedro Atala Zablah (back up vocal), and Karla López Matamoros (society commmissioner). That legal representatives of DESA have included Carolina Liseth Castillo, David Gerardo Agurcia Mercadal. That concessions granted by SERNA, the environmental and natural resources department, in favour of DESA, were the 1661-2009 resolution dated 14.12.09, and the 283-2010 resolution dated 22.1.10. And that those captured for murdering Berta Cáceres, although are retired soldiers, have links with current soldiers, that this becomes an issue of paramilitarism.
Government closed down Globo TV
On 22.5.16, the Honduran JOH government, through its telecommunications commissioner Conatel, made an order for cable companies to close down Globo TV. Globo TV has exposed countless corruption scandals. This is in addition to already having sentenced the director of Globo, David Romero, to 10 years of prison for his work, having been declared guilty of defamation against Sonia Galvez Ferrari, the spouse of General Attorney Rigoberto Cuellar. They also said they will be taking 21 other TV frequencies off air, allegedly because they failed to renew their licences.
Anti-corruption journalist loses his programs
On 30.5.16, journalist Ricardo Patiño Munguía who spoke up about council corruption scandals involving bribery and council workers not having been paid for months, received a call from Father Santos Enrique Reyes, the head of Rebaño Compañerismo Cristiano church which owns Angel TV Channel 27, telling him that sorry, his weeknights TV program Todo en Noticias Edición Estelar has been cancelled. The pretext Santos gave was of pressures coming from church elders and fire station captain, but Ricardo knows it is because Enrique is scared of losing the contract of US$1500 the TV station has with the council, as a broadcaster of a council program. It is also no coincidence that at the same time Ricardo got dismissed without being paid out from his weekends position at Tele Progreso where he directs two music programs for lack of funds.
Honduran activist in US dragged out by security
On 6.5.16, in New York in US, a Honduran woman whose name is not revealed was removed by security protesting, at an event that promoted the election of presidential precandidate Hillary Clinton for the Democrats party. The woman kept screaming including as she was being removed ‘you killed Berta! You killed Berta!’ for having made the coup possible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2qogtFHAz
Honduran activists in Europe threatened
This month in Denmark, outraged by Honduran JOH and his spouse having spent US$300,000 on a private jetplane to fly from Tegucigalpa to Europe to attend the world fashion summit ‘Copenhague Fashion 2016’, two young Hondurans camped outside the fashion show yelling, ‘criminal! Criminal! You are a criminal!’ ‘you killed Berta Cáceres! you have your hands full of the blood of Berta. You spent 3 hundred thousand dollars on a plane to come here. You are an assassin!’. They held placards, with the words ‘where are the millions of IHSS?’, ‘The deaths of IHSS?’ and ‘for 17 minutes, this is the luxurious Jet that carried the president Hernández of Tegucigalpa to Europe’. The youths who travelled two hours to demonstrate, asked to remain anonymous, they had begun to receive threats from the Honduran government. It is awfully blatant, Copenhague Fashion 2016’s disregard for human rights, as it ‘announces its final program..from fashion icon Miroslava Duma to none other than the President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández’.
Gunshots and prison sentences pointed at farmers, farmers, their homes and their crops uprooted
On 11.5.16 in the morning, in Tutule, La Paz, twelve police patrols and eighty soldiers arrived with bulldozers violently evicted the 50 families of the 9 de julio farmers cooperative community. The contingent fired live gunshots wounding Johnny Alfredo Mejía Torres and Edwin Murillo, who were hospitalised, and they chased everyone else who including women and children were forced to run and try to hide in the mountains from the troops. Once having cleared people away, the contingent proceeded with their bulldozers to destroy houses and crops on the 84 acres of land that the families have lived and worked on for seven years. Coffee, fruit trees, beans and family plots were destroyed. This attack was carried out in favour of local politician Carlos Arriaga, who says the land is his. The same time that this happened, five patrol vehicles arrived at the home of Wilman Chávez, the secretary of La Paz for CNTC rural workers’ federation. They came to arrest him, and have laid charges.
On 16.5.16, twenty-five organised farmers arrested and accused back on 21.8.12 have been summoned to hearing on 6-10.6.16, accused of damages and illicit protest, at a time when their lawyer Antonio Trejo had won in court with the farmers their lands of Trinidad, Despertar and San Isidro, only for the decision to be overturned the following day and for a mass arrest to take place against the lawyer and twenty four organised farmers. The case against Trejo himself had been dismissed, since they can’t try someone who has been assassinated; he was murdered a month after the arrests. The lands were dispossessed from the farmers twelve and twenty months after Trejo’s assassination. Today they face court, being on the accused side of so-called justice.
On 26.5.16, about 6.30am at the Panamá community of Bajo Aguan on the outskirts of Trujillo, Jinson Aldin Alfaro Almendares (23) of Gregorio Chávez farmers organisation was working on the land when hooded green-uniformed security guards of the neighbouring oranges company Cofruco arrived and immediately began to shoot at Jinson. Jinson was shot in the back and hospitalised in Tocoa. The attack was reported but nobody has been arrested for this attack. Cofruco is right next to Dinant palm oil company also, another highly predatory company responsible for deaths and disappearances in the area. The day before at 11am, hooded and heavily armed men surrounded the home twenty metres away, of the Agrarian Platform coordinator Jaime Cabrera. Both Jaime Cabrera and Santos Torres, both living in Panamá community, spoke up about being followed and having death threats against them.
Land defenders of Zacate Grande imprisoned for being poor
On 19.5.16, Zacate Grande villagers Abel Pérez and Santos Hernández attended court at a hearing for revising their bail conditions, in the process, the judge Iris Amanda Hernández ordered their imprisonment for breaching bail. The pair together with another, Tomás Cruz, were charged on the Easter week in April 2015 for doing something they did every year – clean up around the beaches and parking lots around Easter time and collect parking fees from visitors. They carried out this work for fulfilling basic needs of their families. But landowner Jorge Luís Cassis Leiva had the police take them into custody and release them on bail, and bail conditions were imposed from August 2015, with charges of usurpation, threats and damages against Leiva. The bail conditions were ludicrous given their economic conditions; they had to travel from Playa Blanca to Isla del Tigre every week to sign at the Amapala court – the trip costs US$15 per person, and they are on wages of US$5 a day, meaning three days of work every week just to fulfil requirement of going to sign at the court every week. The judge went through and saw that they had not meticulously complied with this, ignored their reasons, and enforced their imprisonment during the prolonged and delayed hearing process on the charges. Abel, Santos and Tomás are subsistence fishers and farmers. They are also defenders of Zacate Grande, organisers of the organisation Adepza, fighting to recover land. In addition, Abel belongs to the community radio collective La Voz de Zacate Grande, and in July last year, formed part of a hunger strike demanding a CICIH – international commission against corruption and impunity in Honduras. Underlying all the land conflicts of Zacate Grande is that you have communities who have lived there for generations but they have not been given land titles because they lived on state land. However, Cassis, and his like: Facussé, Gutiérrez, Nasser, JOH, Malespín, have come and given bribes and obtained murky titles, and given some of the poor families token jobs and money to turn these against other poor families who defend land. Cassis wants to evict over half of the Playa Blanca community and not allow people of Puerto Sierra go to the beach or to San Lorenzo and Tegucigalpa. Him and other elite families are expanding with sights on selling lands to investors for building ZEDES, model cities.
Top down education policy overturned due to protests from high school students and families, but not without having students assassinated in the process
The education department tried to impose a policy requiring high school students who wish to graduate to give evidence of having given 100 hours to tutor two illiterate persons whom they had found somehow. While obviously not against literacy programs, students and families protested the dictatorial nature of the policy which does not take into account people’s circumstances and there were massive protests that made authorities uncomfortable and unable to push their agenda. They did as they always do, attack big protests with gases and capture some students like on 6.5.16 when students occupied a road. Authorities also accused teachers union Copemh and its leader Jaime Rodíguez of organising the students protests which were spontaneous and not driven by Copemh at all. Education minister also punished some school principals for not controlling protests of students with discharge hearings and temporary closure of three high schools. Despite winning this battle in the end, during the protests period of March to May 2016, at least six high school students have been assassinated, it is likely that this is linked to their participation in the protests and student organising. These students are: Raúl Rafael Bonilla (16) and Elier Santos Vásquez Sánchez (17) of Saúl Zelaya Jiménez school who were killed in Comayaguela on 16.3.16 and 26.4.16 respectively. Jorge Orlando Andino (18) and Amilcar Flores (19) of the Instituto Superación San Francisco were both assassinated on 30.4.16. Eduardo Medina González (16) and Anthony Banegas Fúnez (16) of Héctor Pineda Ugarte school were both assassinated on 5.5.16.
Abuses against visitors to those imprisoned
There are over twenty people imprisoned in the facilities of the First Battalion of Infantry, those imprisoned there tend to be high profile cases of persons who will be extradited, the journalist José Luís Galdamez, the few major officials charged with fraud in the IHSS scandal, etc. The prisoners get intensively searched twice a week. Their visitors that include women go through a degrading and excessive search process against them too and once inside are locked with a padlock inside from 9am to 4pm. They go through several military checkpoints, a hooded soldier asks them to take off all their clothes including underwear and do sit-ups naked to ‘prove they haven’t hidden weapons in their bodies’ – something easily detected with metal detectors they had to walk through already. The body search involves touch checks of breasts, hair, and all clothing. It is extremely degrading to be made to go through all that to be able to see someone.