June 2016 Honduras coup update
Ex-soldier reveals: Honduran army had orders to kill Berta Caceres, and many other social activists
As published in the Guardian, ex soldier Rodrigo Cruz revealed that there were two long hitlists with names and photos of the social and enviro activists given to two elite army units in Honduras – to the Xatruch and Fusina forces.
Rodrigo’s own history and how he came across the hitlists:
Currently exiled and in hiding, Rodrigo, aged 20, enlisted in the army in December 2014. He trained for three months, was assigned to the 7th battalion of military police, attended two specialist training camps including the infamous Tesón course where his trainers included US and Colombian military advisors; the course is known for the leaked video – one of horror, which gives a glimpse into how torture is used in military training: ‘The video…showing a soldier after he killed a dog and held the dog’s head in his hand, was obliged by other soldiers to eat the dog’s tongue and brains and part of its head – this soldier vomited and others beat him to make him continue eating the dog’. Rodrigo himself was hospitalised twice with dehydration during this training but managed to finish the training and was in October 2015 one of sixteen chosen to serve in the Xatruch force. Sometimes towards the end of last year when Rodrigo was driving in a Jeep with his commander was the first time he caught sight of the lists as they fell out of the commander’s vest. He saw them for less than half a minute, it was long enough to notice that faces of organised farmers’ leaders were on it – he recognised Juan Galindo, Johnny Rivas and Vitalino Alvarez of Bajo Aguan. Juan Galindo was assassinated already in the end of 2014 after a long chain of persecution. When Rodrigo saw this list, he held back from reacting. Rodrigo was again shown these lists one Tuesday night in December 2014 after a football match; his 24 year old now anonymous commander showed everyone the list, told them that there is an order to kill those on the hit list, that this order comes from the joint chief of staff, and that he was under pressure from the Xatruch commander to comply. He told the unit members that he was not willing to go through with the order, ‘as the targets were decent people, fighting for their communities’. He soon deserted the army and fled and exiled. About ten other unit members have also disappeared, they are feared dead. Rodrigo is in fear for his life. Before fleeing without his papers (because the army held them) while on assigned extended leave, Rodrigo was assigned to work with the Xatruch commander for ten days. During this time he recalls having been waken up in the middle of the night to transport black plastic bags with bodies inside to the Tocoa river, where his colleagues emptied out human remains over the bridge. Rodrigo also saw in this time a torture room near a military building in Bonito Oriental, where, ‘I didn’t see anyone but there was fresh blood, a hammer, nails, a chain and pliers in the room’. It’s been reported that military police have approached neighbours of Rodrigo’s family home in Honduras asking if they know where Rodrigo is.
Berta Cáceres, who was subsequently assassinated in March 2016 (for which four suspects have been arrested linked with the army and the dam company DESA) was on the Fusina hitlist. The Fusina unit received training from 300 US marines and FBI agents. It was revealed in El Heraldo that those implicated in killing Berta would have each received US$2,200. The Xatruch hitlist had on it including leaders of the Bajo Aguan farmers’ movements. Bajo Aguan farmer activist Vitalino Alvarez said, ‘the rumours, are, I’m now top of the list.’ Vitalino is 52 and has survived four assassination attempts since 2010.
Cases of persecution in July 2016
Lgbti leader assassinated
On 1.6.16, René Martínez, president of a San Pedro Sula lgbti community organisation, was last seen alive leaving home with an unidentified person. On 2.6.16, having been killed, his body was taken into the San Pedro Sula morgue with evident signs of strangling and torture. René coordinated an outreach centre. He sought to fight for lgbti rights through the existing systems of power, participating as a party activist of the party-in-power National party. For context, between 1994 and 2008, an average of two lgbti persons were murdered each year, and from the year of the coup, 2009, lgbti persons murdered rocketed to an average of 31 a year since.
Uni students protesting privatisation faced bullets, teargases, beatings and court cases
As uni authorities imposed privatising changes without talking with students, students organised in opposition, and for having done so, UNAH is started this semester with international headlines and images including of a student with a fractured face. On 1/6/16, students occupying the uni were repressed as per UNAH orders with teargases, pressure tank, rubber bullets and police beatings. Teargases were so intense that outside the campus, homes in the university neighbourhood were affected. Amongst those hurt this day was human rights defender Félix Cesario Padilla.
As students’ occupations continued, and student solidarity came in many forms from food and goods to leaflets to support from social networks, in the midnight hours of Monday 6/6/16, students closed the gate and some covered their faces stepping up the struggle and security. From early on 7/6/16, eviction threats and a smear campaign began against the students. It was at 10am that the campus was militarised heavily and students were suddenly completely surrounded with no gates or exits left unguarded by police. Even the neighbourhood outside was militarised. Police began a hunt to capture any student who passed through, and they arrested ten, but as community members around protested and intervened, they let these ten go, adding that they were not on a list of students that were on their to-capture-list.
As student occupations continued in the following days, students were accompanied by the solidarity of Copinh indigenous communities – since UNAH is where children of poor communities go to study. There was also solidarity between students of different faculties with supporting activities of doco watching, banner painting and meetings. Teachers also expressed solidarity with the students and called for the persecution to cease.
On the night of 17/6/16, in the midnight hours, authorities used psychological torture against occupying students, having turned off the power, and having cars drive inside and outside the campus in intimidation.
On 18/6/16, as students continued occupying several buildings, there were death threats and persecution reported from UNAH authorities and security guards – using firearms, against students of the MEU student movement.
UNAH had prepared a list of students to capture for the police back on 7/6/16. This list included a number of students that uni authorities have judicially persecuted in the previous years who were not even participating as activists in the protest this year. This is to the extent that amongst those charged this month was Dayanara Castillo, who actually had because of past years’ charges and persecution by uni authorities, fled Honduras and went to study in Costa Rica, where she is now. Another student who was not in town at the time of the protests who had previously been charged was again charged is Sergio Ulloa. Josué Velásquez and Cesario Padilla are others who were charged with the same crimes they had been charged with last year, who already have unfinished trial processes for these and have preexisting bail conditions weighing upon them. Cesario said he had not slept for 12 days stressing over what can happen in court – for him the judicial persecution began 3 years ago. Cesario graduated in journalism and was at the protests covering them as a journalist. Moíses Cáceres, a sociology student who has also previously been charged by the uni, was carrying out the role of human rights observer during this month’s protest. Another charged now is Izhar Alonzo. Three of the six charged students have been imposed bail conditions of not participating in any protests, and of signing every fortnight at the court.
As this month closes, as well as students being charged, UNAH director Castellanos is also not listening to students and dishing out an order for police to evict the students’ occupation inviting the police to unleash violence against students, as well as cancelling entire terms of study period against students of dentistry, Honduran history, sociology and social work, with threats to do the same for everyone else. And, as they always do, Castellanos began to accuse MEU of having organisers who are graduates and outside agitators.
Repression against anti tollway protests
As the Honduran state was imposing a tollway in go through El Progreso, massive protests were held in opposition on 4, 8 and 11 June – these were violently repressed with teargas, cops beating up protesters and journalists and arresting protesters who have set tyres on fire for the road block. The most severe repression was reported on 11/6/16. Protesters faced attacks by a contingent of 500 police and 100 soldiers who carried 300 teargas bombs at 6pm despite not blocking the road at this time. As the state forces unleashed their violence against people, to the benefit of the tollway company COVI – a company that received concession to collect money forcefully from people using the highway but had not contributed to building the highways themselves, they fired teargas bombs and chased people. Protesters fled to find refuge in homes and shops. Security forces arrested two and wounded dozens. Daniel Morales was one of those arrested and beaten by police. Daniel is a young maths student at UNAH-VS. Police beat Daniel in the head with a baton and threatened to torture him. Danelia Menjivar intervened and protested the attack and arrest against Daniel, for which the police hit her head with a stone, making her have to go to hospital and receive four stitches in the head. When the protest finished, Libertad Digital journalist Victor Ordoñez was with Linda Donaire at a neighbourhood shop having some snacks to relax after the police teargas attack, when suddenly more than 20 police arrived and beat and dragged Victor and Linda to the tank, with the intention of arresting both. Victor was beaten with the baton 30 times and had three wounds in the head having been hit with sharp objects – he was taken to the hospital and then he was charged. It doesn’t end here. As Radio Progreso was reporting on the arrest and attack against Victor, police attacked both Radio Progreso journalists Lesly Banegas and Gerardo Chévez. Police was especially savage with Gerardo, throwing him to the ground and kicking him while he was down, and snatching his journalist ID and mobile phone.
Days after this protest, council closed the building of the tollbooths by ADASA company saying it was being carried out without council permission. There was a smaller group of protesters on 22/6/16 but that still managed to block the highway, which faced at least 50 cops and riot cops. By the end of the month, the government was against the tollway going through El Progreso, probably not because of the initial protests, but because private businesses represented by Chamber of Commerce became against the tollway too, because it hurt business interests. Businesses carried out a day’s strike on 23/6/16, and by 25/6/16, the higher ends of government agreed not to have the tollway there.
Almost four years later: Bajo Aguan farmers declared not guilty
Twenty-four organised farmers including two women and the since assassinated farmers’ organisation lawyer Antonio Trejo, were charged back on 21/8/12 with illicit protests and damages to state property. This very dragged out court battle finally finished with the court declaring the farmers innocent of all charges, on 7/6/16. The farmers and lawyer Antonio Trejo fought to have the lands La Trinidad, La Despertar and San Isidro recognised as the farmers’ collective land. This was awarded for what felt like an instant, and then almost immediately overturned. Then, the farmers were mass arrested and charged protesting in Tegucigalpa, and their lawyer killed weeks later.
Globo staff being let go
As a consequence of the Honduran government having arbitrarily taken Globo TV and radio off air since 20/5/16, Globo stopped earning advertising contracts and found it was not able to go on paying its staff and began to dismiss staff – to date Globo dismissed 14 staff: three journalists, eight camerapersons, two operators, and a news editor. Globo announced that dismissed staff would be reemployed should the situation resolve; should Globo goes back on air.
Not surprisingly, the model cities committee of Honduras has as its president a member of a neonazi political party
This president is Barbara Kolm, and she belongs to FPO in Austria. The model cities committee has 21 members, four of which are supposedly Hondurans. Most hold ideologies that are labelled right libertarian. FPO is neofascist. Its founders have links with Nazies. The party obtained lots of votes in the last election, and had launched the ‘patriotic spring’, to strengthen alliances between xenophobic political parties. That the president of the model cities committee of Honduras is racist and fascist is also played out in that one of the prime targets and victims of proposed model cities are black hondurans – Garífuna communities.
Documentary video to check out
COPINH – UNRELENTING REBELLION —
“COPINH is an organization of communities to defend our territories, our cultural, ancestral, spiritual rights.” (member of COPINH) The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) has been fighting, resisting, and building alternatives for more than 23 years. It is an indigenous organization that fights neoliberalism, patriarchy, and racism, an organization that seeks justice, dignity, and well-being for than 200 communities in 6 states.
The documentary shows the diversity of their struggles, and their courage.