Honduras coup update – July 2016
July 2016. Yet another assassination against a woman who organised against megadam projects. A gun-in-the-head threat against a youth who already suffer an extremely painful history of persecution for forming part of a community of resistance at Rio Blanco against the Agua Zarca – DESA dam – which in collusion with army and police is responsible for killing Bertha Caceres this March 2016. Massive repression and eviction against a national uni students’ occupation that involved charging 75 students – some suffered arrest and were detained for over 24 hours while others suffered the anxiety of capture orders having been issued against them. Break in and information theft against activist organisation Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia and critical press El Libertador. For details of all this and more, see below
Anti-dam organiser murdered
Lesbia Janeth Urquía Urquía was last seen alive by loved ones on 5.7.17 as she left home on her bicycle. Her body was found in the Marcala council tip on the next day, with machete stab wounds in the head and in other parts of the body. Lesbia belonged to both MILPAH (La Paz Lenca Movement) and Copinh – the indigenous organisation headed by Bertha Cáceres who was killed four months and four days before Lesbia was to be killed, for her work in organising and campaigning against the damming of Rio Blanco. Like Bertha, Lesbia is a mum, she has two daughters and a son. She joined Copinh in 2009 following the military coup and began organising against the damming of the Chinacla river in 2010, when this river was concessioned alongside many others around the country. Most of these concessioned rivers are within indigenous territories and imposed without the required consultation – ironically the state is in the process of staging to appear to address this problem by discussing a bill specifying mechanisms of this consultation, when Lesbia was murdered. The Chinacla river is concessioned to La Aurora SA, which is owned by congress vice president and National Party central executive committee president Gladys Aurora López and her spouse Arnol Castro. This powerful couple backed up by the state and its security forces have been a constant source of threat for those who opposed the dam. The murder also happened just days before a community vote that was organised by MILPAH for the 10.7.17, that was to be held in fifteen different schools, that was meant to give voice to whether the community wants or not the imposed Aurora dam project and for territories to require registration. MILPAH wanted to involve the authorities in this consultation process but this was rejected by authorities which initially tried to talk MILPAH out of organising the consultation and info sessions, and when that failed, the education district department held an emergency secret meeting with school principals making the decision to revoke the permission MILPAH had obtained to use the fifteen schools for the meetings and vote. This boycott was headed by mayor Victor Ventura, by Santa Elena priest Angel Galeano, by district education director René Carcamo, and by Tomás López, who even went to the lengths of coordinating delegates of The Word, to paste up onto poles and walls posters that stigmatise indigenous Lenca people. Murdering Lesbia was a clear message of threat against MILPAH and everyone organising to oppose the dam. Lesbia is not the first martyr… of her indigenous Lenca community, Santa Elena, La Paz; nine indigenous MILPAH members had been killed in 2015. Despite of everything, MILPAH continues to resist, persist and speak up.
Attacks continue against the Rio Blanco community which resists the Agua Zarca/DESA dam
Being in the international radars for having assassinated Goldman Environmental Priza Winner Berta Caceres has not deterred the DESA company from meting out further threats and acts of violence against those who oppose this dam. Back in July 2013, soldiers accompanying DESA guards murdered Copinh leader Tomás García and gunshot wounded his then 17 year old son, Alan, in the process. Now on 23.7.16, at 6pm, when Alan, now 20, was in the community, a man pulled out a gun and pointed it at Alan.
There are a chain of other threats from DESA, hitmen and state security forces during the last months that is being spoken up about now.
- It was reported that one night around midnight, hitmen affiliated with DESA came to the Tejera community and threatened to burn the homes of Copinh members while they slept. It became known that DESA security head Jorge Avila has photos of the Rio Blanco Copinh members to identify and attack them. Jorge has told some people that he is going to find out where certain Copinh members live, in order to go and assassinate these.
- It was reported that another DESA staff had threatened to kill Copinh member Armando Pineda Sánchez.
- There was an incident in April in which a cop, one that said he was transferred from Bajo Aguan to Rio Blanco, was beating up a Copinh member when he told him, ‘I am used to killing people, I have not only killed one; I have a whole cemetery. Copinh members are even easier to kill.’ As he said this, DESA’s security head and two guards watched and laughed.
- There are some land illegally sold to DESA that Copinh members are growing crops on at Vega del Achotal, the land being their ancestral land. At the end of June, beans crops of two Copinh members were sprayed with poison and destroyed
- At the same Vega del Achotal where lenca people persist to grow food on their ancestral land, there have been incidents of threats from Aquilino Madrid, who has ties with DESA and a long history of giving death threats against Copinh members for their opposition to the Agua Zarca project. On 23.5.16, Aquilino Madrid pointed a rifle against a group of 25 Copinh members who were arriving to work on the land there, and threatened a minor there with hurting him if he ever saw him again. On 10.6.16 Aquilino came again to intimidate people working on the land.
- Another recent attack was against Copinh leaders Rosalina Domínguez and Francisco Javier Sánchez. On the night they returned from a trip in Europe where they campaigned for the permanent withdrawal of funding to DESA/the Agua Zarca project (which the finance organisations FMO and Finnfund banks only temporarily suspended), four hooded men went around Rio Blanco asking about the two of them.
- On a recent visit by international press journalists to Gualcarque river, the journalists came in a car and were obstaculised by some branches that blocked their way there, so they simply moved the branches and drove along. When they were leaving the river, they found logs of wood blocking the path at the same place. Higher up they came across another blocked path with huge rocks that weren’t there hours before.
Those in solidarity with the Rio Blanco communtiy continue to call for the permanent withdrawal of funds to the Agua Zarca project from Central American Bank of Economic Integration, FMO and Finnfund. Another bank has been identified to be complicit with the murders and human rights violations is Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, which is registered in Wall Street, is the Offshore Guarantor for the project. There are also campaigns to stop many million dollars of US’s continuous military and police aid to Honduras.
Smear campaigns against those in solidarity with Copinh
There have been smear campaigns on social media against a number of supporters of Copinh – against Karla Lara – a very talented artist who belongs to feminist networks, the national network of women human rights defenders in Honduras and PMSPH – platform of social and grassroots movements of Honduras (networks to which Bertha also belonged to, and she also suffered such smear campaigns), and – against Susy Nuñez and Fabricio Herrera, who collaborate with Copinh with workshops they facilitate, and – and against Claudia Korol, a member of popular education collective Handkerchiefs in Resistance. There are also smear campaigns against Copinh directly with stigmatising fake Copinh social media pages having been set up.
Uni students massively smashed by state forces but stood strong together
Following on from June, a massive students movement and campuses occupations and state repression that began on 1/6/16, lots more struggle and repression continued throughout July.
On 1/7/16, in Tegucigalpa massive contingent of 500 cops, tanks and vehicles requested by uni authorities turned up on campus at 5.45am, blocked all the main exits to not let anyone leave safely, then went inside at 6am and in front of press and human rights organisations executed a violent eviction, wounding one student. They arrested 24 students including two minors then and there, and issued capture orders against 19 others. A number of the arrestees were bruised in different parts of the body from the police brutality. The names of the 24 arrestees are: Alejandra Raquel Flores Sosa, Saul Antonio Marroquín Díaz, Carlos Antonio Castro del Cid, Daniel Abraham Vásquez Díaz, Kelyn Johanna Reyes Carranza, Jenifer Vanessa Flores Sánchez, Kevin Antonio Montoya Pérez, Wagner Eduardo Guillén Fúnez, Reynaldo Josué Madrid Rubio, Hezron Jacos Mairena Cárcamo, José Misael Flores Paredes, Jorge Elías Velásquez Contreras, Alejandra Michel Avila García, Elvin Alberto Flores Alvarado, Ariel Alejandro Salinas Fúnes, Cristóbal Javier Vásquez Díaz, Saire Mayel Banegas Ramos, Allan David Ordóñez Aguilar, Carlos Emilio Flores Sosa, Emmi Noemí Jiménez Zelaya, Roy Arístides Martínez Montes, Roberto Isaac Barrientos Díaz, Andrea María Flores Sosa (underage) and Nelson Daniel Blanco Navarro (underage). Those underage were to have their hearings in the Children’s Court. Police began immediately to gather profiles of the students they had arrested. The names of the 19 other students with capture orders against them issued this date by judge Neptaly Ever Mejía are: Ariel Alejandro Alvarez Valladares, Cinthya Rosibel Flores Villanueva, Jorky Melissa Madrid López, José Adonay Pineda Elvir, Luis Carlos Rivera Lara, Edwin Adalid Santamaría Portillo, Daniela Alejandra Rico Rivas, Gabriela Verenice Cubas Ochoa, Génesis Fabiola Chávez López, Eduardo Enrique Aguilar Oseguera, Josué Isaías Palencia Mejía, Mario Roberto Reyes Tejada, Fausto Manuel Cálix Márquez, Gerson Daniel Mota Turcios, Veanney Sebastián Rivera Aguilera, Kenneth Stefan Aguilar Coello, Jenny Gissel Núñez Palma, Mariela Núñez Reyes and Génesis Aracely Andino Vásquez. All charged (arrested or had capture orders against them) were being accused of sedition, usurpation and damages against the internal security of the state of Honduras and of UNAH university.
The 22 arrested students (not counting the minors, who were not taken to the same court) were arrested around 6am on Friday 1/7/16, and were imprisoned until following their 2pm bail hearing on Saturday 2/7/16. The court and police system were blatantly abusive; out of the pretext of the judge being scared of students reacting, the 22 students were taken in their court each with both of their hands and feet handcuffed together, and as they were asked to declare their basic information to the judge they had a police pointing a gun at each of them. For all they had to go through, the students kept up one another’s morale with the help of lots of solidarity with students, parents, defenders and social activists waiting outside for them. Arrestees were able to laugh, ask to see a football match, and celebrate the birthdays of two of their friends during their detention. When they were released from court that day they were met with many hugs. They were not free though, having hanging over them the charges and bail conditions of not participating in protests, not leaving the country, and signing in the court’s register every week. Meanwhile, the scabby prosecutor had the nerves of arguing that being a student himself, the protests need to stop, because, ‘I feel affected, I haven’t been able to go in and work for a better grade because in any moment there can be a protest and something could happen to me.’
This was not only in Tegucigalpa but in other campuses as well. An eviction was carried out the same date against students at the north in UNAH-VS in San Pedro Sula, and at Comayagua campus as well. Of the CURLA campus, FRU student movement president Alirio Argueta had the CURLA lawyer accompanied by investigative police turn up at his home and arrest him there. In Olancho, three students were charged. And, on 2/7/12, UNAH director Julieta Castellanos announced that there were disciplinary processes against teachers who according to her had supported the student movement.
On that eviction date, one student Flor Raquel Euceda was being disappeared by eviction police. This is her testimony: ‘when I was going to cross the road, a patrol parked on the side of the road I was on, and told me that there was a capture order against me – they hadn’t even asked what my name is! Before I knew it, I was inside the police patrol. I couldn’t react in time, and when I was inside I started to scream and there they began to beat me; they threw two punches at me, one in the eye and the other in the stomach. After that they cornered me to a corner in the back seat. In my satchel what I carried was something to cover my face, some food, my phone and some money. I managed to sneakily get my phone from my bag and hid it in my body so they wouldn’t take it off me, after that they took my satchel. I didn’t carry ID on me, so they told me to give them all my personal information. I refused, and in response, they snapped me. Only the driver wore police uniform. The other was plain clothed …a time came when they parked and left the patrol and left me by myself. In this moment I took out my phone and told who I could of what was happening to me. When I took a photo of the bruise on my eye they came back and took the phone off me but they didn’t go through it and they both sat at the front, leaving me by myself on the back seat … I was getting desperate and so I began to hit the windows of the patrol with the hope that someone were listening. In this moment they began to yell insults at me. They threatened to hurt my family and they told me that for “being rebellious is how women end up in body backs on the sides of highways”. After that, they parked and went to leave again, they left a cheap phone next to the police radio, I didn’t think twice and grabbed it and called my family and gave them more or less the address where I was, and very nervously I put the phone back to where it was … if it weren’t for people speaking up about this in the media I don’t know what would have happened to my life. This is all, I don’t want to keep thinking about the most hard and difficult time that I have lived in my life. I am sorry.’
One of the UNAH students who had a capture order against him is Fausto Cálix. Fausto was at the eviction, but friends helped him escape UNAH and to go on to escape the city as because of the capture order, he had to go into hiding, far from his family. He is part of the MEU student movement. His mother suffered a lot and worried that they could kill Fausto. Fausto comes from La Paz where there is a strong indigenous community resistance against dams. During the days prior to the eviction, Fausto had been followed several times by plain clothes agents who drove cars without numberplates. ‘You can get killed just for being young, and you become even more targeted when you get involved in student movements… they could imprison us, but they will never imprison our ideas, our principles and convictions, for the student struggle and the Honduran people.’
Following the 1.7.16 eviction, the campuses closed and filled with soldiers only to open their doors again on 6.7.16, but not without the campuses filling up with cops. Students also re-occupied. This day, the dean Victoria Zelaya threatened uni student Nery Cruz, who studies chemistry and pharmacy, telling him, ‘you are the one stirring up these building occupations inside UNAH, you will be the next one!’
There was a dragged out negotiation process between uni authorities and students, with students calling for all charges to be dropped, for participation in decisions that affect students, and against privatisation processes. The privatisation processes are driven by international finance organisations like IMF and World Bank. On the authorities’ side, they continued to threaten the closing of the term for many or all faculties as the academic calendar rolled on with protests, repression, and campus closure instead of the authorities ceding to students´ demands adequately.
Another testimony came from the mum of Elizabeth Castillo, who participated in the solidarity protests. Her daughter, Elizabeth, a sociology student has been in exile for over a year because of capture orders and charges against her in addition to death threats by telephone.
There were a total of 60 students charged (arrested or with capture orders) this year from the different campuses in Honduras, and a total of 75 students who by mid July 2016 were under ongoing charges given that there are students with as-yet-unrevoked charges and capture orders from the year before. After many hours and days of negotiation, at last towards the end of July the uni authorities agreed to drop all charges against the 75 students in exchange for the the student occupations not continuing, and a process was set up for the different affected persons to go through and discuss the proposed changes with the authorities, facilitated by mediators.
Broken into – MADJ office and El Libertador office
MADJ – Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia is an organisation that works with communities the struggle against mining, hydroelectricity and logging megaprojects and corruptions and its coordinators undertake courtcases and provide representation and legal support for a number of activists in Honduras – current cases they handle include seeking justice for Berta Cáceres, UNAH students, indigenous Lenca and Tolupan peoples. On 13.7.16, the MADJ office in San Pedro Sula was broken into. The break in was very swift – one person had within five minutes (as captured on building security cameras) taken files, gone through bookcases and desks searching these, took hard disk drives, computers and cameras and fit these within two suitcases. The person did not take any cash, projector or other valuable office equipment lying around. He took only things that held information, including of court cases.
El Libertador is a newspaper that gives voice to stories and opinions against the dominant and powerful in Honduras. On 27.7.16, the El Libertador office was broken into at night. There were obvious signs that they were searching for documents and left many valuable things like famous paintings untouched. In effort to steal information, they took 4 USB sticks, a portable desktop computer, 2 external hard disk drives, 3 company mobile phones, the national tax register of El Libertador and 2 cheques that had been signed to pay bills. To make it look less obvious that they were there to steal information, they also took two camera lenses and a microwave. El Libertador assures that they keep information in safe places outside of the office because of the dangerous climate they are in and knowing they handle people’s sensitive information.
People belonging to MADJ and El Libertador have suffered numerous attacks in the last years. Within 24 hours of the attack against the MADJ office, president JOH smeared human rights organisations in the press, accusing these of ‘twisting the truth’ and saying that ‘we hondurans have to defend ourselves against these’.