June 2017 Honduras Coup Update
This June 2017, 8 years since the military coup begun, the repression is heavy against uni students and the continued struggle in Río Blanco to kick out the hydroelectricity dam project Agua Zarca and demand justice for the murder against Berta Cáceres and for many other grave abuses and murders there. Another farmers group was evicted very violently with the full force of state, this time in La Paz. A journalist was assassinated after constant death threats. State official, politician and church leader all speaking publicly hate speech and smearing and attacking groups – student activists, marxists, lgbti persons, and others.
Parent of arrestee student who participated in solidarity protests and media interviews, murdered at his door
On 24.6.17, at 5.30am, Roberto Antonio Gómez was assassinated with gunshots just as he was about to leave for work, at the door of his home, in the neighbourhood Brisas de Valle in Tegucigalpa. He is the dad of Andy Gómez, one of 20 uni students arrested and charged at an uni students occupation on 24.5.17. Roberto accompanied his son participating in court solidarity protests together with other students’ parents and other student compas. There are photos of him holding up a placard which said, ‘I want my children to have a public education that is quality, without repression or authoritarianisms. Roberto had participated in different meetings with human rights defenders organisations that support the students’ movement. He participated in media interviews at the protests, for HCH he said, ‘we are against this downtrodding of the university that is trying to take away the rights of the students, and we want this to resolve in the best way – through dialogue.’ His murder is comparable to that of 13 year old high school student Soad Nicole Ham, who was interviewed by the media where she spoke up about lack of furniture in classrooms and called on the president JOH to get out, before she was found assassinated on the streets of Tegucigalpa.
A verdict of guilty ruled against 3 uni student activists
Cesario Alejandro Padilla, Moisés David Cáceres, and Sergio Luís Ulloa were charged with usurpation in 2015 for having been organisers in a student protest in opposition to a detrimental academic regulation reform at the UNAH university. When students regrouped in 2016 to keep fighting to defend public university education, uni authorities responded by arresting and charging 103 students – the authorities and students ended up negotiating and the agreement made included with withdrawal of all charges against protesting students. This agreement was witnessed including by UNHCHR because of the immensity of the persecution against students. Despite this, uni authorities failed to fully comply with this agreement by continuing the charges against Cesario, Moisés and Sergio, culminating in the grave ‘guilty verdict’ ruled by the Supreme Court on 7.6.17 for the usurpation charges they got following student occupation protests. UNHCHR affirmed the graveness of this in violating international human rights standards, and in opening way for criminalisation of different groups of rights defenders. UNAH of course does not respond regretting what it does, instead, in its public statement in response, attacks UNHCHR for ‘not having gathered all relevant information’ in forming its position, insinuating particularly that the student protests are ‘violent’ and that UNHCHR in failing to ‘recognise that’ is contributing to the ungovernable state of affairs and messing with processes of forming ‘responsible citizens’.
UNAH: charges plus now expulsion hearings
Not only were the 20 students arrested and charged for their solidarity protests with other students who were judicially persecuted before them, but to add insult to injury, on 16.6.17, they were all summoned to expulsion hearings, and are so threatened with being expelled from uni.
One of these 20 is Henry Orlando Rodríguez D Vicente, who was in 2015 charged with sedition by UNAH legal rep Horario Baquedano under instructions of UNAH-CURLP director Alina Molina, and academic secretary Rogelio Alvarez. The same charged him again in 2016 and made a capture order against him for ‘usurpation’, from which he was freed through the legal work of NGO lawyers. He was then this year again arrested and charged and given bail conditions, and now summoned to an expulsion hearing on 16.6.17.
Another of these is José Manuel Gonzales Serén, a Lenca indigenous journalism student who participated in the students’ campus occupation. Not only is he summoned to an expulsion hearing, but as a scholarship recipient, he had this scholarship cancelled by the uni authorities on 26.6.17, which cleared stated that the cancellation of the scholarship was because of his involvement in the occupation of the university.
Students’ solidarity protests again evicted violently, several students arrested
On 16.6.17, UNAH uni students in both San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa city campuses camped from the night before occupying UNAH buildings in solidarity with 26 compas who are facing expulsion. Students from both campuses suffered arrests, teargas cans being launched at them and being chased:
In San Pedro Sula, police arrived at 3am and asked students to leave by 6am. When students were still there at 6am at the uni gates, police approached the students and the students asked to see the eviction order from the court. The prosecutor accompanying the police replied saying no eviction order was required (this was untrue and the eviction and subsequent capture were illegal), and called on a large riot squad of the police and began evicting students. Seeing so many cops, the students fled inside the uni buildings, and the prosecutor gave the order to capture the occupation participants. Police under sub-commissioner Nuñez initially hesitated to carry out the order to capture students, but proceeded to do so when the order was given a second time, and captured at least one student.
In Tegucigalpa, there were lots of riot cops and teargas cans. Many were massively affected and suffocated by teargas including people who were receiving treatment in the dentistry and nutrition faculty buildings and the students and educators, as well as the human rights defenders, journalists and camerapersons who accompanied and gave coverage to the student protests. This day, in Tegucigalpa. 6 students were arrested.
Security guard attempts against student the way they previously did against staff
In the last few years, a number of incidents have been reported by activist staff (including one subsequently murdered by other means) of the uni that security contractors of the uni would put holes in their tyres while they are parked, to provoke accidents to involve the targeted ‘trouble-making’ person as instructed by officials of the uni. On 27.6.17, a student spotted an ESPA (UNAH contracted private security) guard putting a hole in another student’s tyre and began filming this – when the guard realised he was being filmed, he fled quickly. Days before this, students had made a demand for ESPA’s contract to be stopped given that students had on different occasions been identified by security guards, their demand was followed by ADUNAH educators’ associations then demanding the same. Students also demanded the end of military presence on campus, given that this military presence puts lives at risk.
More death threats against copinh members
Death threats against Copinh (Council of indigenous and grassroots movements of Honduras) members had been constant and intensifying, as had dealing with these people who threaten them being armed. This is in the context of the community and Copinh members continuing to defend their territories from being invaded by people linked with DESA who are everyday pushing still to impose the ‘Agua Zarca’ hydroelectricity dam. On 21.6.17, in the morning hours, a number of armed men again threatened Copinh members while they were working the land at la Vega de Culatón. One of the armed men threatened with killing at any moment the children of Francisco Javier Sánchez, the coordinator of the Río Blanco indigenous council and member of the general coordination of Copinh. Copinh’s complaints to the authorities about the threats and the destruction of their cornfields fall on deaf ears while those making the threats continue to walk around freely, and receive backup security by police even. The lives of Copinh members at Río Blanco are at high risk, especially when they are working on their ancestral territories in la Vega del Achiotal and la Vega del Cuatón, as they are the places DESA has invaded to try to build the dam project. The context to this is that the Madrid family from another province of Santa Bárbara, had illegally plundered Lenca territoriy and sold part of this to DESA, and DESA staff have since been threatening Copinh members including Berta Cáceres before murdering her. One of them threatened with ‘fixing things’ with Berta and warned about watching out for consequences. Franklin of the Madrid family has in particular pointed firearms at Copinh members in Río Blanco, and has fired shots to the air near Copinh members while they work on the ancestral territory.
Update on Berta and Copinh’s case
More than 15 months following Berta Cáceres murder and a bit over 4 years since the beginning of the Agua Zarca dam project imposed against community wishes, the preliminary murder trial continues. The lawyer representing Copinh and Berta puts forth that Berta’s murder was not planned months before, but, rather, since the beginning of the DESA project as the organised opposition begun. The state had not made much information available regarding the investigation, and that Berta’s murder – as well as the plundering of land with threats and coercion affecting others also, involved the complicity, coordination and participation of state security forces, parallel structures and hitpersons linked to DESA, and used security systems, the building of a network of informants, the following and attacking of peoples. At the same time that this trial continues and defendants’ lawyer makes their shameless attempts to discredit all witnesses on Copinh’s side, the finance organisations are also trying to appear to be ceding to the demand of ceasing finance to Agua Zarca through mainstream articles that speak of their decisions to abandon the project (eg FMO and Finnfund as published on Guardian on 4.6.17), while none of the banks (FMO, Finnfund, CABEI) actually made any official declaration towards such commitment.
Massive eviction against farmers in La Paz
On 13.6.17, about 6.30am, to evict 22 farming families of the farmers group 23 de febrero occupying 168 acre of land, came 150 national police in 3 military commando operation (Cobra) trucks carrying many teargas bombs, which they launched without mercy. On this land the families laboriously nurtured the land and grew maíz, beans and coffee – all this was slashed off by the military and the civilians that were with them. These 22 families have been occupying these state lands that were not privately owned for 6 years, prior to their occupation the land was unused for over 30 years since the death of the person in possession many years ago. Out of the blue, with complicity by the council mayor who also harrasses members of the farmers’ group, papers suddenly appeared in the last months naming the siblings Iris Avila and Dario Avila as owners of these lands – it was they who sought and obtained the eviction order. This farmers group that was based at the la Piedra community at the Tepanguare village in the La Paz province belonged to the CNTC rural workers national federation.
Journalist murdered following constant death threats
On 15.6.17, journalist of tv channel 45TV in the Ceiba city in Atlántida, Víctor Funes, ‘the people’s journalist’, was assassinated the moment he arrived home. It was 4.29 am in the morning of 15.6.17, a security camera captured the precise moment of the assassination of journalist by a person who drove a motorcycle whose face was covered by the security helmet. Víctor was the director of the ‘Nocturnal Panorama’ program on channel 45, running 10-11.30pm at night. With his assassination there are now 67 journalists who have been assassinated in Honduras from 2003 to date. He received death threats, almost daily, from unidentified persons who called or texted his phone. One of the threats was in April 2016 when he transmitted a video of an assassination of a driver on Cristina transportes intercity buses, carried out by a woman. Funes received threatening calls demanding that he stopped speaking about this topic. Funes also had won internal elections in national party as an MP candidate.
Uni authority, politician, and evangelical pastor smearing and spreading hate
Uni authorities on 23.6.17, the same time as the hearings against students they had initiated began, launched a smear campaign in the media against student activists Mirta Gutiérrez, Héctor Ulloa and Kevin Ramos. They released a video to stigmatise these on mainstream media, portraying these as adversarial to the uni authorities.
On 24.6.17, parliamentarian and cartoonist and TV program director Darío Banegas published a homophobic cartoon on newspaper. Through the cartoon he spreads a message of hate towards lgbti persons, already heavily stigmatised to the point where between 2009 and now, over 240 persons of lgbti background have been murdered, with a number of cases substantiated as killings driven by hatred against sexual diversity.
Meanwhile, evangelical pastor Evelio Reyes also made hate speeches in the media telling people not to vote for politicians who don’t share their faith and values – and proceeded to spread hate against those who are outside of traditional heterosexual marriages, those who seek decriminalisation of abortion, and those who seek to redistribute wealth and ‘thereby attempt against private property and free competition and fair profits’. He said, ‘don’t vote for immoral, homosexual and lesbian candidates who corrupt God’s model.’