November 2016 Honduras coup update
51 uni students charged, 8 uni students expelled, … lecturers dismissed.. tension escalates, bulldozer used against students wounding 3, danger to lives felt
At the National University of Agriculture, UNA, in Olancho, on Saturday 19.11.16, many students began occupation of the university demanding participation in making decisions that affect them, and protesting actions of the Marlon Escoto authority (who they ask to step down) in failing many students and condoning sexual abuse by some lecturers against students, other problems within the veterinary medicine faculty, delays in students graduations, the arbitrary and politically motivated expulsion of eight students in and unfair mass dismissal of 17 lecturers in the days prior. The university vice-director Carlos Manuel Ulloa is whom students seek to replace Marlon Escoto as director – Carlos was suspended as the vice-director in August. The students seek a restructure of courses and to prevent a crisis in the university foreseeing that this would hurt the poorest students most. From the beginning of the occupation, police had threatened to violently evict students, and more students got expelled once they come to be recognised as one of the students fighting for changes; Marlon Escoto ordered the expulsion of 79 students and threatened to cancel the third academic term.
The repression and terror campaign against students and confrontations between students and police only escalated as the occupation continued. On 22.11.16 conservative daily newspaper La Tribuna published a video on its website showing an incident where uni authorities used a gigantic bulldozer to attack students. You can see on the video that students were trying to maintain a line and not back down as a bulldozer advanced towards them and towards a fence. The bulldozer did not stop when it had come up against the wall, the driver with the bulldozer wounded three students <http://www.latribuna.hn/2016/11/22/video-muestra-crisis-educativa-la-una/>. It is also reported that hitmen are threatening the lives of students involved in the occupation.
On 23.11.16, the prosecutor Keyri Johana Montalván Acosta issued capture orders against 51 students (file 137-2016) – there are over 800 students who are part of this occupation. She is charging these 51 students with the crime of occupying a public space of a state property, in prejudice against the state of Honduras and the state electricity company ENEE. With the capture order, are conditions of detention and secrecy. The 51 students are: 1. Gerardo Alcides Alvarez García, 2. Ana Cristina Amaya, 3. Elvis L. Aparicio Morales, 4. Melvin Javier Arita E., 5. Nancy Vanessa A. Bejarano, 6. Roy Orlando Arita Mejía, 7. Daron Josue Artola M, 8. Tomasa del Carmen Ayala D, 9. Oscar Orlando A Funez, 10. Marco Antonio Barahona Santos, 11. Roger Francisco Benítez Pineda, 12. Laura Denisse Berrios, 13. Ingrid Celeste Bustillo M., 14. José Abraham C. Mendoza, 15. Erlin Arel C. Padilla, 16. Angel Noe Carranza Pineda, 17. Edwin Joel Cerrato Zelaya, 18. Edin Oney del Cid Gomez, 19. Jose Alberto Discua Cruz, 20. Mario Antonio Duron Castellano, 21. Keny Mauricio Funez, 22. Lillian Esther García, 23. Greysi Areli Cerón Sanchez, 24. Maria Iveth Andino, 25. Dalma Yanel Inestroza Martínez, 26. Nancy M. Isaula Rivera, 27. Edgar Joel L Moreira, 28. Erlin Josue Lemus del Cid, 29. Luís Miguel Martínez Matute, 30. Darwin Enoc Mejía Montoya, 31. Deidin Armando Mendoza, 32. Elias Antonio Nuñez Mendoza, 33. Nolvin Roel Osorto Espinoza, 34. Julissa Kensy Palma Flores, 35. Edas Humberto Paz Sanchez, 36. Mario Fernando Pinel Gradiz, 37. Kevin Samir Ponce Raudales, 38. Erwin Omar Ramos Diaz, 39. Josselin Paola Ramos Dubón, 40. Alex Noe Reyes Doblado, 41. Edil Fernando, 42. Diana Gabriela Reyes Zúniga, 43. Ana Karina Rivera Najera, 44. Josselin Mariela Rivera Paz, 45. Luís Alonzo Rivera Zepeda, 46. Roger Edgardo R. Molina, 47. Lenin Alonzo R. Betancourth, 48. Allan Jasser R. Chavez, 49. Edras Rodimiro R. Mejía, 50. Sergio Alexander Romero Soler, 51. Elvia Elizabeth Rubio Arita.
The prosecutor also ordered for the occupation to be immediately evicted and sought the nomination of a judge executor.
Police, navy and court target and attack Garífuna community members at request of Canadian company that stole Garífuna land
On Garífuna land of the Guadalupe community, after three years of being left vacant and idle, fifty Garífuna youths recently decided that it was time to take back land that belongs to their community from the Carivida company that forced their community off the land since. The fifty youths started a land recovery occupation, organising rosters of cooking, cleaning, clearing and security. They were set on their dreams of building their homes and livelihoods there, ‘how is it possible that our people had to abandon their lands and die of hunger? As the young people we have the duty of doing something, for the life of our community and to stop the illegal sale of our lands’. For weeks coming, the police patrols in the area had been increasing. On 10.11.16, when Medelín Davíd Hernandez (28) who has a capture order issued against her since 3.11.16 for her participation in the occupation, was gathered there with five of her comrades chatting away, four full police and navy patrols arrived and entered the land without saying a thing, and began to chase the five youths and handcuffed all of Medelín’s comrades. Medelín resisted arrest to try to buy time for people from the community to come help them out. When she tried to call Ofraneh Garífuna organisation’s coordinator Miriam Miranda, a woman police stopped her grabbing her by the left arm and twisting it with force towards a handcuff position, from which Medelín struggled. The woman police called out to two male navy agents, who came and grabbed both Medelín’s arms but Medelín was determined and managed to break free from their hold and she threw herself onto the ground. It was then that Medelín’s 6 year old son began to cry and scream for the agents to let her go. The agents forced all the six youths into the state security patrols. They had Medelín held down on the vehicle floor, and beat her in the ribs and twisted her arms and insulted her. Medelín persisted in speaking up and telling them not to treat her as if she were a delinquent when she was defending Garífunas’ right to recover their ancestral land. The patrols took the youths to the Trujillo lock-up-cells. However, at Trujillo, the other youths were released while only Medelín was kept, and for many hours, ‘they locked me up in a cell that was very wet and dirty, and they refused to give me a foam mattress to sleep on. But I didn’t care. I knew that they weren’t going to break me, and that sooner or later I was out of there,’ Medelín was brought before a judge after the many hours of cell time and she was released but with bail conditions imposed of not going near the land recovery site and of not leaving the country, ‘They accuse me of usurping a land that is ours. This is completely inconceivable. It’s disgusting, since they are practically dragging me out of my home.’ At court, Ofraneh’s lawyer obtained Medelín’s release. She was not the only one who had a capture order against her, there are three other community members including Celso Guillén who is an ex-president of the community council. Celso said he is taking security measures, not only against the impending capture, but also to safeguard his life, because he knows in this situation that their lives are in danger. Medelín only went from strength to strength, she said the police persecution only served to strengthen her convictions, because despite of everything, she never felt alone, she felt the unconditional support and accompaniment of her community, family, and of the organisation Ofraneh. ‘We need to be united, because the plan of this government is to become owners of our lands, our beaches and mountains, and selling these to the highest bidder. But they won’t achieve this. We are going to continue recovering lands and territories.’
These police abuses against Medelín and others originated as requests that came from Canadian businessperson Randy Jorgensen, who owns Carivida. Carivida stakes claims on some Guadalupe community land. Randy Jorgensen is also known as porn king, being the founder of Adults Only Videos – the biggest porn chain in Canada. The story of the conflict with Carivida started in 2000, when the community was beginning a project of community tourism on 3.3 hectares of land to address their economic situation and began to prepare the land and build the cabins for this, but they had problems with the building materials that meant the project’s inauguration was delayed for some years. In this time they looked for a caretaker while they sought more adequate building materials, but the caretaker went on to fraudulently, in complicity with the local judge and council, obtain the community land’s papers and sold it illegally to Carivida’s general head and legal representative. This is one part of a broader story of dispossession against Garífuna communities on the north coast of Honduras. Garífuna community lands, and there are 100 km square of these, are territories that are by law supposed to be protected from sale to foreign investment. However between 2007 and 2009, despite the communities’ resistance, and in disregard of the laws, Randy Jorgensen’s private and Honduran state mafia kicked the community out of Río Negro where his company Grande Trujillo Autoridad S de RL built the Banana Coast wharf for cruise ships, and his other company Life Vision Developments forced out communities off Cristales, Santa Fé, San Antonio and Guadalupe, for vacation homes and mega tourism projects – Life Vision Developments became the biggest real estate agent in Trujillo with over 600 hectares of seaside land. Both Grande Trujillo Autoridad and Life Vision Developments are financially backed by a Canadian investment group called Fast Track Capital. It was the end of 2009 that the Trujillo council declared that the project was useful and necessary and passed a resolution to compensate people who had to moved. However the families were not compensated and they were paid crumbs and left on the basis of threats.
In 2010, the Garífuna community placed charges against Randy Jorgensen for usurping their lands, and applied for courts to completely nullify the illegal sales contracts of the community lands to Jorgensen. The charges were official from the end of 2011, but four years went by before the first preliminary hearing was even scheduled. On 13.11.15, judge Victor Manuel Meléndez provisionally dismissed the case. The Cristales y Río Negro community’s legal representative as well as the prosecutor appealed this, and in March 2016 the La Ceiba court of appeal ordered for the case dismissal to be revoked. It was until 20.10.16 that hearing process formally began and Jorgensen had bail conditions of signing at the court every 15 days and of not leaving Honduras while the hearing process continues. On the other hand, the Banana Coast cruise ship wharf is itself not doing well in this big business with dramatically less cruise ships deciding to continue to schedule trips to Trujillo every year. Pressures continue though, in Guadalupe and other communities, ‘they continue trying to convince the whole world that this is development, but for whom? They come from other countries, they consider us second class citizens, they marginalise us and make themselves owners of our lands to create their tourism projects. This is development only for the rich, and more poverty for our people.’
Human rights defenders arrested
On 5.11.16, about 8.30pm, words went out that for having refused to pay the unjust highway toll at the Zambrano tollway 35kms from Tegucigalpa, Sandra Marybel Sánchez and Karla Lara were arrested and taken to the military police detention centre. Sandra Marybel Sánchez is a wellknown journalist with a critical voice and human rights defender, and Karla Lara is a wellknown singer songwriter of the resistance with an incredible voice and a human rights defender. Earlier that day, five others were retained by police after they participated in a mobilisation that called for security for transport drivers.
Smear campaigns against human rights organisations including Cofadeh and Honduras Solidarity Network
In November, a number of attacks were made in the form of smear campaigns against human rights organisations, with Cofadeh and Honduras Solidarity Network especially under attack. The attacks were made through press statements from regime president Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) and on a blog called Defensores de Honduras.
JOH on 10.11.16 said in an interview with journalist Renato Alvarez that human rights organisations ‘receive funding from criminal groups’ and only carry out work in the interests of these groups; JOH horrendously said that those that human rights organisations say are the human rights violators are the actual victims whose rights need protecting! Then on 18.11.16, JOH made further complaints to the press about human rights organisations, saying that they influence international judgements about the country’s human rights situation. He also said that the human rights organisation’s coordination is associated with the operation of organised crime in Colon (Bajo Aguan).
JOH’s accusation about Cofadeh and paramilitaries in Aguan gives us some clues as to who might be behind the dubious website Defensores de Honduras (defenders of Honduras) – which has very few tabs and only two articles published, and claims to belong to a group of farmers struggling for human rights. The very few articles feature an article called ‘who protects the hitmen of Bajo Aguan’ – in Spanish and in English, in which it basically claims that the human rights organisations Cofadeh and Honduras Solidarity Network protect one guy the articles say to be an ex farmers leader responsible for the assassinations in the area, who apparently also has links to drug trafficking, and that the organisations only exist in addition to push their ‘extremist political views’. One article is about this supposed hitman who is responsible for the many murders of Bajo Aguan. Another is called ‘Terrorist Cells Amongst Ourselves – Defenders of Honduras’ – the website has tabs such as the ‘farmers’ struggle’ – yet the only articles that exist are about a supposed situation of ‘in-killing’. The facebook page is less blatant to try to appear to be a human rights page – it said it is there as farmers demanding justice for the deaths in Bajo Aguan, and actually called for justice for environmentalist Berta Cáceres and others killed in between sharing those articles of theirs to place confusion in readers’ minds. Similarly, the article accused Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) of ‘sharing the same extremist ideas of Bertha Oliva (of Cofadeh) and Rafael Alegría (of La Vía Campesina and politician of Libre party). The articled featured a photo of Bertha Oliva as the coordinator of Cofadeh and of Karen Spring as the coordinator of HSN. Not only are these smear campaigns disorientating for people trying to understand what is going on, they also often pre-empt attempts to assassinate the people being smeared.
Meanwhile, in Bajo Aguán
MUCA farmers movement calls out for human rights accompaniment because they are sure assassinations will continue, and they call for justice. They pointed out that the agreement with the government in 2010 now shows itself to be full of empty promises – agricultural machinery, housing, health, education and human rights – none of these have been guaranteed in practice. Families are struggling earning US $4 a day, with which they can’t even cover the land rent they are supposed to pay. There was supposed to be disarmament of Dinant staff as previously announced but death threats with weapons by Dinant security have only intensified. Eg, in the Panamá community, Agrarian Platform coordinator Jaime Cabrera and his family receive constant threats. Their home is constantly surrounded and watched by soldiers.
In the name of coming inside a home to fumigate, public health staff enters and snatches laptop with info of activists
On 14.11.16, as the spouse of Gilberto Ríos – FNRP resistance International Relations coordinator and communications commission member, and coordinator of Libre Party – answered the door, a man dressed as a public health official said they were going inside to fumigate. As the spouse went to find and check with Gilberto, this man made this way inside, snatched the laptop computer and fled. The laptop carries many files of photos of social leaders, journalists, minutes of political minutes, communiques, documents and registers or documents of communications with all the countries of the world because of Gilberto’s work within the FNRP. This information theft has made precarious everyone who has had contact with FNRP through Gilberto. There is a witness to this laptop theft at risk. The investigative police has not touched the case four days on from it.
Update – Copinh
Months since the assassination of Copinh coordinator and Goldman prize winner Berta Caceres, charades continue with the Honduran government at times trying to deceive people in believing that they are working to bring about justice – ex vice-minister of natural resources Darío Cardona Valle has been captured and imprisoned while his hearing continues – he was initially given bail on 11.10.16 but this was revoked; he is charged with abuse of authority for having authorised an increase in the capacity of the Agua Zarca Dam project (which Berta campaigned against) without having first consulted the Lenca indigenous community.
Further attacks on indigenous peoples‘ right to consultation
It is contradictory that this November, the Honduran state at an Inter American Commission of Human Rights hearing on ‘Situation of Indigenous peoples and right to consultation in Honduras’ recognised that it had violated indigenous rights to consultation, and points to that there are officials being judicially punished for having given environmental licences for extractive projects without consulting indigenou peoples, yet at the same time be introducing a new law that removes the very same legal responsibility to consult indigenous peoples. A new bill has been introduced, taking from a model from Perú where it had caused many social conflicts – the new bill proposes to reform the law so that the state has the final decision on consulting indigenous peoples or not in an given project, so indigenous people could in law simply have access to information sessions but not consultation. The pressure for this reform came primarily from UNDP UN-REDD program – a program of ‘forestation’ that has driven out many indigenous communities around the world. Not consulting has been the norm in practice, changing the law would simply allow the norm to continue without any legal avenues to appeal to.
Transport company owners and workers flee
Because of widespread desperation, the security situation of drivers of buses and taxis has become worse with drivers assassinated, being subject regularly to extortions, burning of vehicles, etc. Many from this sector are fleeing. While wealthy transport company owners have to option of abandoning their lot and obtaining political asylum in other countries more comfortably, the many poor drivers flee without papers and seek new livelihoods precariously. Instead of taking responsibility for addressing this condition, JOH distracts people saying it is all about drug traffickers.
Students obligated and manipulated to promote JOH’s reelection
On 3.11.16, students in Comayagua received a whatsapp communication telling them they had to go to the Comayagua central park that day at 1.30pm without being told what it was for. When they were there they were told by Marte TV that they would be filmed into a video demanding for scholarships to continue, saying the slogan ‘we want this to continue’. They were told this participation would count towards their community work hours. They felt disgusted when they found out later that they had been used to make a re-election campaign video for the current JOH regime.