September 2016 Honduras coup update
Known cases of political persecution in September 2016
Barber assassinated after criticising Honduran president, mayor and parliamentarian on his own facebook page
On 25.8.16, Wilder Arony Gonzales (25), a barber, was assassinated, he was shot by attackers who fired shots from inside a moving taxi without having said anything beforehand. This murder happened in front of the Hacuna Matata barber shop in the Pizati neighbourhood. Back on 7.8.16, Wilder wrote on his facebook criticisms against president JOH, and the La Ceiba mayor and MP. Wilder wrote:
‘Look mr president, I am Wilder Arony Gonzales Valle, I am from La Ceiba, and there’s something I want to say to you, with a lot of respect, before you were to keep seeing the people of this country as the handkerchief that you carry in your pockets, ‘coz it’s better not to do something about the crime rate in the La Ceiba city because you don’t let people have better job opportunities not with those little jobs of the green code, I am a barber and it worries me that yesterday in the Pradera neighbourhood they killed a colleague of mine, and that with the inept team of the prosecution and police and all the farce that you have the honour of presiding. You only shelf away cases. Please don’t forget it was the people who chose you to preside this country, please don’t destroy it and trample on this country with your so called welfare packages and promises of better jobs, not with your miseries. Teach and educate the people, to hold their heads up high so that mediocre people like you don’t spit on their dignity. It makes me sad to see my people walk in so much poverty, this being the fault of people who have no shame in stealing and manipulating laws to their favour. Remember mr president this position is for 4 years. Help out, since your salary in your pockets is a lot, help this people and the new generations will thank you for it. Have a beautiful afternoon Juan Orlando Hernández #JUANORLANDOHERNANDEZ #RODOLFOIRIASNAVAS #CARLOSAGUILAR ‘
Back in March 2015, the 13 year old high school student Soad Nicole Ham was also assassinated after criticising JOH publicly, having appeared on TV doing so.
Violent eviction against farmers occupation with gunshots and beatings, several wounded including a baby
On the morning of 28.9.16, at 5am, 210 families belonging the farmers cooperative Nueva Ebenezer began recovering several hectares of land of the Remolinos Cooperative that is under illegal possession of large landowner Reinaldo Canales. Within minutes of entering to set up camp, the families were violently attacked by private security guards of Reynaldo Canales. Two women and a baby and a child were wounded – Reina Mireya Figueroa (46) had a gunshot hit her in the right leg, Gregoria Hernández was beaten in many parts of her body, baby Yader Said Velasquez – only nine months old, was beaten and bruised in the face. Details about the wounded child was not made public.
Indigenous Tolupán defenders forced to go into hiding
On 21.9.16, a meeting took place of Tolupán tribal council representatives, in which the directive committee, which consists of people who had been facilitating the sale of the territory and natural resources of the community, broke their previous agreement to protect Tolupán indigenous territory in this meeting. Indigenous defenders already received death threats from business people of the region. They were furious and called the directive council out for selling out. Because of the death threats, five indigenous defenders – Ramón Matute, Celso Cabrera, Santos Matute, Jamil Matute and Consuelo Soto, found themselves forced to leave their homes to go into hiding. They all hold protection orders from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in recognition of that they are persecuted and their lives are in danger.
Ongoing attacks against Copinh – arbitrary arrest, file stolen, finance organisation FMO made a shameless ‘report’
2.9.16 marked 6 months since the night indigenous Copinh coordinator and tireless organiser against the DESA killer-hydroelectricity dam, Berta Cáceres was assassinated.
At 2.20am on 8.9.16, Copinh community radio member Olban Milla was leaving his home to meet up with other Copinh members to travel to the capital city mobilisation demanding justice for Berta, when he was arrested by police. He was released afterwards without charges, because the arrest was arbitrary even in the state’s own game. The protest was to put pressure on the court as the hearing was taking place of charges against the ex vice minister of natural resources SERNA, Jonathan Laínez, for having granted DESA the concession to Agua Zarca in violation to the indigenous peoples’ right to consultation. Copinh calls on the immediate imprisonment of all public officials involved in authorising the Agua Zarca project against the will of indigenous people on their territory. This and similar concessions given had led to repression and terror campaigns against indigenous people, and this includes the assassination of Berta Cáceres.
Then on 29.9.16, Judge María Luísa Ramos was driving home from court at night in her car, and was for some reason carrying the judicial files of Berta Caceres, when unidentified persons drove in front of her to block her path, ordered her with a gun pointed to stop and open the window. They got her to get out and they drove away with her car. There are reports however, that the car re-appeared only minutes later, showing they were interested in the files, and not the car. Court authorities told through twitter @PjdeHonduras that they have a copy of the file and that the extracted file will not cause any delays or ‘limitations’ in the court processes. The file had been classified to the degree that the victims were not given access to read it in violation of their FOI rights. The case in question of the file was for charges for assassination against Berta, against Douglas Bustillo, Mariano Díaz Chávez, Sergio Rodríguez Orellana, Edilson Astilio Duarte Meza, and Emerson Duarte Meza – all affiliated with DESA or the state security institutions.
Months ago, FMO temporarily withdrew its funding to DESA before when it was feeling the heat of the campaigns, not because it regretted having been one of several dirty development finance companies that funded DESA and its murder of activists who get in the way of the imposition of the dam project. Recently, it ‘sent a mission to investigate the situation’ – without having included in this investigation talking with the family of Berta Cáceres, and ‘reports’ that Copinh and community activists acted outside of the law and were violent, that the responsibility institutions like FMO and state organisations and DESA were not to the degree named by human rights organisations, and that the Agua Zarca project is instead, a magical solution to the community’s problems, and recommended for it to be reopened. Copinh, needless to say, is infuriated by the FMO report. The reality is the opposite. Violence, coming from DESA and the state, had been systematic and included the assassination of four Copinh members, and hundreds of cases of intimidation and aggressions by security guards, police and military against the communities. Plus, another money that the project brings simply enriches the wealthy. Copinh calls for the immediate and permanent withdrawal of finance to the Agua Zarca project by FMO, Finn Fund and CABEI. As succinctly as Berta would put it, Copinh questions the imposition of projects in the name of ‘development’:
So-called “development” has meant assassinations, aggression and repression against the Lenca people. What kind of development has to be implemented with the barrel of a gun and indignity?
Education Minister told principal – remove the students’ Berta Cáceres mural, or be suspended
On 7.9.16, Education Minister Marlon Escoto threatened to suspend the principal of Instituto Central Vicente Cáceres if he did not remove a mural that students painted to highlight the struggle of Berta Cáceres in defence of rivers and forests. Escoto is ex Libre activist, current national party activist. The mural is known with the name of ‘Berta, martyr of the nation’ with the line ‘whoever does not love their country does not love their mother’ in this month of September in which Honduras celebrates ‘independence’.
Environmentalist subject to smear campaign, activists get death threats
On 1.9.16, environmentalist and indigenous rights defender Ana Miriam Romero, who has been awarded the Front Line Defenders prize, spoke of how the National Party president and congress vice president Gladis Aurora López pays people to harrass activists and give them death threats. Ana said that she herself ‘prefer to die struggling and not on my knees to the state’. There has been a smear campaign against Ana, accusing her of having gone overseas to learn guerrilla tactics, ‘terrorism things’, and to bring money and weapons to arm her guerilla – when she went to Ireland to receive her Front Line Defenders award. Her local church and some community members also spread rumours saying she had affairs with men in an attempt to hurt her relationship with her husband. Church leader father Ronald of Santa Elena started rumours against her saying she is seeking international funds for personal rather than community benefit. Father Ronald is a supporter of the construction of the hydroelectricity dam on Rio Chinacla, and goes around with the same leaflets that the mayor has to promote the building of the dam.
Persecution against journalist for covering students’ struggle
On 8.9.16, as students occupied an admin building of UNAH to demand an end to the repression against their comrades, Telesur in English correspondent Gerardo Torres covered this. A day later, Gerardo was accused of having led the occupation as an ‘outside agitator’, in an electronic media led by journalists who work for UNAH director. Gerardo denied this accusation, he was there as a journalist.
Incidents of journalists being assaulted and having their car stolen after work
On 30.9.16, Canal 11 journalist Guillermo Paz Manueles was arriving home from work when he was assaulted and beaten by two armed men who then stole his car, in the Las Colinas neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa. As well as reporting for Canal 11, Guillermo also leads the La Entrevista program in which different political and social topics are discussed on weekdays, in the Grupo R-Media channels.
On 19.9.16, journalist Belinda Rodríguez of Canal 51 was kidnapped for a few minutes and had her car stolen near where Guillermo Paz had his car stolen.
Smear campaign against Honduran and international human rights activists and journalists
Smear campaigns continued, this time through an article in social media on the website Nos Queda Claro (It’s made clear to us), in which human rights defenders and journalists were mentioned as being affiliated with one of two oppositional political parties – Libre and PAC, and were stigmatised, as agents whose focus is to ruin the reputation of Honduras in the international eyes, because ‘they hate Honduras’. Those who were focuses of this smear campaign were EFE photographer Gustavo Amador, Reuters photographer Jorge Cabrera, El Libertador director Johny Lagos, University of California academic and New York Times columnist Dana Frank, Spanish journalist and correspondent of New York Times Alberto Arce, director or Radio/TV Globo David Romero, human rights NGO Rights Action co-director Annie Bird, The Guardian freelance journalist Nina Lakhani, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales, Telesur in english correspondent Gerardo Torres, and artist and composer Pavel Ñúñez.
Rockmelon company and subcontractors abuse workers
A new rockmelon season is about to begin but those rockmelon workers who have been organising in the STAS unions to push their employer Fyffes (Irish company) and their three subsidiary contractors to stop violating their workers’ rights, do not think their contracts will be renewed. The rockmelon workers are mostly women and many are single mothers. María del Carmen Erazo (47) works there and has been for ten years. She is a single mother with four daughters, the eldest two, aged 24 and 22, work with her there. María was fired along with 20 others in April for starting a union chapter at their workplace, and were told clearly that union organising was the reason they got fired. Some who stayed on took on union organising despite the almost certain imminent dismissal. Working in solidarity, the new committee gathered evidence for 92 workers – including María, to take the company to tribunal for not paying the benefits workers are entitled to. They get less than the minimum wage, get no long service leave, nor overtime pay, nor holiday pay, nor sick pay; people go to work sick because they can’t afford a day’s less pay. People lose their whole lives to work because hours are long and hard and the company doesn’t provide transport to pick up and drop off workers on starvation wages who instead spend hours walking to and from work. There are many other dodgy things. María’s sister was fired for being pregnant – something that happened to many others. People also get fired for having gotten injured at work! And then, there is the blacklist.. one of the bosses snapped at an union organiser, saying, ‘you are in deep shit for getting involved in the unions. You are blacklisted and you will never get a job again’. There are also OH&S problems, like of 100 women having gotten poisoned by herbicides and chlorine being applied on a field next to them. Many don’t speak up, because they are afraid of impacting on the job security of other family members working for the company. However, there are many staunch and adamant that things need to be changed and continue to fight for them.
Shell has just acquired BG and is about to drill
In 2013, BG was given by the Honduran state a concession for exploration and possible exploitation of petrol over 35,000 km squares. The deal was announced in 2012, then in 2013, events occurred as follows in this order: On 27.5.13, a contract was signed between natural resources department of Honduras SERNA and BG. On 5.8.13, SERNA sent a letter to indigenous organisation Ofraneh to propose beginning supposed consultation. On 15.8.13, congress approved the contract signed between SERNA and BG. So, without consulting, BG began exploration work. Now, in February 2016, Shell acquired BG, and announced it will begin drilling the continental platform, to finish exploration work that BG began. This step is making a terrible thing worse because Shell has a particularly shocking human rights record that has included the assassination of activists.