Honduras coup update – May 2018
This May had repression including of May Day protests around Honduras, and lots of attacks against defenders of land, environment and territory including one murder, a number of political prisoners released on bail but a few remain locked up, attacks against journalists, and the congress moves towards making compulsory both military service and bible reading in schools..
Repression at protests
The May Day protest repression of 2018 was said to be one of the worst in Honduras for decades. Around the country, as well as fighting for workers’ rights, workers were calling for freedom for the political prisoners and for two disappeared comrades (following arrest) – Rolando Vindel and Gustavo Morales – to reappear, and for justice for compas who have been assassinated, and for JOH to get out, still, and already. Not long into the marches, people were attacked by security forces with teargases – teargases so heavy people could not breathe. The people there included children, older people and pregnant women. Similarly, security forces chased and bashed people – people including women, children, older people, people with disabilities. People showing solidarity with others targeted in the repression became targets themselves: 26 years old Esdras Meza tried to help a woman who was choking on teargases when he got ambushed by 6 security forces agents who grabbed him without saying a word to arrest him. He tried to break free saying he was just trying to help a woman but it was other human rights defenders’ presence and another organised worker who physically pulled him away quickly that managed to de-arrest him. And young journalist Jorge Merlo tried to film police brutality when hooded uniformed agents proceeded to hit his camera. A foreign journalist who is a correspondent in Honduras for New York Times, The Guardian and MinnPost was also capturing records of police brutality when he was attacked by police, he was heard saying, ‘I am press, you are going to beat me…don’t beat me, I am the press.’ Many street vendors – mostly of food, had the food they were selling and equipment they were using confiscated by security agents. The attack in Tegucigalpa lasted for ninety whole minutes. Three protesters got arrested and locked up from Tegucigalpa, their names are Pedro Angel Trochez, Cristian Alberto and Gerson Anual Irías. The council building was set on fire – only perhaps it was not the rage of people who set it on fire, since the people who burnt the buildings did it as police and military watched and the agents barely moved to intervene – there were lots of police and soldiers around since the city was heavily militarised – so it was allowed to happen to later pick up other people and accuse them of this ‘crime’. In Tegucigalpa, the protest was evicted before they reached the central park where they read the workers’ proclamation every year. In Choluteca, Choloma and San Pedro Sula, protests were also heavily attacked by security forces with teargases and beatings.
On 4 May 2018, the monthly rally – first Friday of each month since decades ago – of Cofadeh human rights organisation, was held. Relatives of disappeared political activists stood with their lost loved ones. Military police came too – they came to intimidate people photographing them to profile and scare them.
On 18 May 2018, in Choluteca city, a protest against electricity fee increases started for barely twenty minutes when the military police began to attack people – including children and older people – with water tanks and teargases. There was a confrontation lasting over 2 hours. In the process, uniformed agents gave death threats against defenders and journalists including against journalist Johana Arecely Contreras of Mega Red Nacional – they also threatened her with putting drugs in her house to frame her and lock her up – this is on top of 4 other threats she has received this year already. From this protest, five were arrested and held until their initial hearing the next day.
On 29 May 2018, activist Hugo Lopez was to appear in Ocotepeque courts – at risk of being imprisoned by the dictatorship.
Attacks against the earth, environment defenders, indigenous people and organisers
On 3 May 2018, the Pajuiles community that has a camp blockading the construction of a hydroelectricity dam of Hidrocep that would damage the mountain ranges and contaminate the Mezapa river, woke up this morning to militarisation – a contingent of 200 police in 3 convoys and 7 patrols were there at the camp armed with shields, bullet proof vests, teargases. The agents brutally attacked people who have laid down on the road to block machinery. Businessperson Hawit representing the Hidrocep company was also there to watch the security contingent attack people and he was there filming people’s faces using his phone, as were some of his body guards. When community member Gustavo Norberto Lopez Melgar filmed police violence and violent eviction, however, he was arrested. Only the day before, eleven persons (including one woman) of the organisation MADJ in this Pajuiles struggle appeared before a judge, being charged with coercion against Hidrocep.
On this same day, from La Paz, the Las Huertas Lenca indigenous community, Tutule, the Lenca and campesino leader Carlos López Calix was charged this day by prosecutors with land usurpation – this is after him and another comrade Samuel Edgardo Lopez Martinez having been locked up for four months from 18 July 2017 last year when judge Hugo Danilo Torres Perez decided on denying them bail. The pair were given bail again on 11 November 2017 with bail conditions that isolated these and impacted on their subsistence. On 18 February 2018 they were no longer two people facing the same thing together – Samuel’s life was abruptly ended, after having been followed by a police patrol and then found dead. Given these circumstances and the impending hearing, alone, Carlos and his community are in fear of what can happen. In La Paz, at least 700 people of 49 campesino bases have charges against them. Carlos’ farmers group, that he has not been able to participate in due to bail conditions, are having it hard – some comrades are gone, and their base has been evicted at least 26 times. Yet they do what they can, support one another, and get by with crops of chokos, oranges, cassavas, coffee, fruits and veggies.
At another farmers group also in Tutule, La Paz, there had been capture orders against 8 farmers, 2 of whom had been captured – Luis Alfonso Tejeda Orellana and Arturo Salinas… and Yecenia Padilla Orellana had voluntarily submitted herself to the court – the three were in court then on 10 May 2018 before judge Hugo Daniel Torres, who formally charged these with usurpation against Rosario Dominga Reynoso. The farmers are affiliated with the farmers federation CNTC. In La Paz there are over 40 land recuperations going on of hundreds of families, many are harassed, threatened, persecuted and charged.
Just outside of Tegucigalpa, at La Tigre, on 8 May 2018, the hitmen fired gunshots at Cecilio Figueroa, assassinating him. Days before, Cecilio himself and other relatives have placed complaints as there was already an attempt of assassination then, but the authorities did nothing to prevent this subsequent assassination. Cecilio was a social leader who had received threats as he organised defending this protected area of La Tigre, and spoke up about the warnings that his community would be evicted. La Tigre, is the only source of water and lungs (forest) left of Tegucigalpa and surrounding areas. It is an area looked after by ancestral people of these lands. There, they grow fruits, veggies, and flowers, that are sold in markets in the city. The threats began when they heard and responded to notifications from the Forests Department that they would be evicted. The eviction is driven by the government towards the building of a model city or other such ‘development’.
On 9 May 2018, Pedro Canales, a leader of the ADEPZA organisation for many years that have worked defending beaches and territory in and around Zacate Grande, suffered a second attempt against him and others through the mechanical manipulation of his car. A hole had been forced on the radiator of his car. Just weeks before on 16 or 17 April, someone had inserted into his car’s petrol tank honey and sugar. Both actions can cause the motor to overheat and explode if not addressed in time. This occurred at the same time as a scare campaign by the guards and families affiliated with the infamous powerful and murderous Facussé family to re-occupy the Los Hornos community – this family has expressed that it will push out people who are there to push in its people.
On 14 May 2018, in Tocoa, in the Guapinol community, police arrived at a protest against open pit mining – community members have already lost access to water in their homes as a consequence of this mining.
On 15 May 2018, the community of Valle de Siria now has a number of community members and leaders who have received death threats for opposing a geothermic project 12 Tribus SA de CV of ORMAT. Valle de Siria is infamous for the consequences of sicknesses, disability and death the community suffered from open pit mining of Entremares. People have learnt that promises of ‘development’ means development only for the companies.
In the north of Honduras, the San Francisco Tolupan indigenous tribe, has currently a camp since February 2018 blockading loggers of INMARE of Wilder Domínguez, from logging the pine forest there on indigenous territory. They have stopped company trucks that intend on plundering over 16,000 cubic metres of wood without the tribe’s permission. On 29 May 2018, the camp community received a court summon to attend court on 31 May 2018 in Yoro, threatened with charges of disobedience – which carries as penalty prison term of 1-3 years for each person found guilty. The Honduran state is of course and as always in the wrong for granting the concession without consulting indigenous people. The indigenous environmental defenders have from 2013 IACHR protection measures after 3 of their leaders were assassinated by hitmen in another highway blockade against logging and mining, in the same place. The community is in danger, but they are responding by organising more and having more presence in the camp. Currently, four indigenous leaders have received death threats: José María Pineda, Angela Murillo, Celso Cabrera and Ramón Matute. On 25 May 2018 Ramón Matute had to change his mobile number because in his name, some people have been calling his family members threatening them.
On 22 May 2018, in Gracias a Dios, where in 2012, the DEA and Honduran authorities together opened fire on a boat killing four indigenous people, now on this date in the Warunta community, a similar thing re-occurred. Military police were patrolling the waterway, when they signalled for a passing boat to stop, and fired warning shots when it didn’t. The warning shots were heard by other groups of soldiers around the place and they all suddenly arrived on the scene then and surrounded the streets around the lagoon so people from the boat couldn’t escape. The military police again approached the boat and made stop signals, when the boat didn’t stop, again, the soldiers fired ‘warning shots’ again and these hit and killed two indigenous people and wounded another. It was reported that in this context of rage at the military police killing and wounding people, a soldier was stabbed at and wounded. The infuriated and aggrieved community also set the Puerto Lempira council building and state building on fire and destroyed businesses.
On 23 May 2018, at the Tierra del Padre site where the lenca indigenous community there have ancestral land title that is officially recognised from 1736, but where a landowner called Mario Facussé Handal is claiming ownership and manipulating the indigenous council with infiltration and threats, indigenous member and organiser Angel Lanza Galvez received a threat, he was told, ‘you are going to see, with this pistol, I will give it to you all, because whatever happens, they will evict you and I am going to stay here.’ Since the beginning of this resistance against the territory being taken over, 11 villagers have been charged, as the ‘justice’ is always on the side of the powerful.
On 27 May 2018, at 4.40pm, the families of the Young Martyrs of Tumbador Movement recuperated the El Tumbador land in the Guadalupe Carney community in Trujillo, Colón, but when they woke up the next morning they found themselves surrounded by Dinant (palm giant company) security guards and a heavily armed Honduran army – this contingent in the next two hours or more chased and evicted the families there. Dinant security guards particularly actively insulted and threatened the women there. There is a very long history of struggle, repression and broken promises by the state in relation to this farm
Updates on the situation of political prisoners
Of the 23 political prisoners from the period of multitudes of paralysing barricades across the country with the message ‘Get Out JOH’ everywhere, there has been a number of political prisoners released this month through pressure from the campaigns on the streets. Also lots of reports about how bad the conditions in the prisons are or were..
The first to be released on bail this month was Jhony Salgado (38), on 3 May 2018, having been locked up for 4 months and 4 days in El Progreso prison, during which time, a long time, he, and others, had to imagine being there for years, knowing there are people locked up for 15 years without a sentence. He remembers how police raided his house and took him and packed him onto the paddy wagon, ignoring his questions of what he was being arrested for. He was taken to a soccer field and this time, when he asked why they were doing this to him, they answered saying he was a ‘terrorist’. He was then transferred to investigative police, locked up, a report of fiction was typed up and he was told, sign or be bashed. Jhony is relieved to finally be outside, but is scared that they (police) could grab him and kill him at any moment, he has been threatened. Despite all this, ‘I feel like a new person. I feel grateful with all the people that are supporting me and now it’s my turn to put in a bit to help people who are locked up and give strength to them and their family too.’
On 5 May 2018, young political prisoners Maynor Ariel Reyes Mejía was released from El Pozo maximum security prison on bail. While in prison, they were constantly refused visitors – they would change to get ready, and their families would come every Sunday, only to be turned away, except once, on 31 December 2017, but they were charged over $100 each for a visitor ID card. The conditions there were freezing, their heads were shaved, they were psychologically abused, and were once thrown into punishment cells for 26 days, and in there they could not tell day from night, and were not allowed to shower. To get through this time, he thought of his mum.
On 9 May 2018, political prisoner Edwin Espinal, with an extreme record of political persecution against him, and having suffered the pains of losing his partner Wendy in 2009 to a fatal attack by teargases, as well as losing his brother to assassination, mistaken for himself, and a series of attacks including arrests, raid, kidnapping, he is currently locked up in La Tolva. While some others are getting released, when his bail conditions review hearing was held in court, his lawyers knew that the application for bail was going to be denied because Judge Claudio Aguilar was the judge: the same judge who has it against him and ordered a raid against his home back in 2013. The human rights organisation offered evidence, bond, asked for home arrest, transfer, anything but what he is under now, but it was all refused by judge Claudio Aguilar.
On 10 May 2018, from El Pozo maximum security prison, political prisoners Daniel Eduardo Santos Ordoñez, José Orlando Santos Ordoñez, and Edwin Nahúm Amaya Sánchez were released on bail. They were captured in a group of 11 including one woman on 26 December 2017, accused of looting, hurting police and burning down a police station in Pimienta.
On 13 May 2018, there are still 10 political prisoners, still not granted bail, between prisons in La Tolva, El Progreso, and El Pozo. They are: Edwin Robelo Espinal, Raúl Eduardo Álvarez Ordóñez, Gustavo Adolfo Cáceres Ayala, Dany Javier Banegas Reyes, Olvin Nahúm Villanueva Avilés, Omar Enrique Velásquez Yánez, Néstor Armando Almendarez Rodríguez, Marvin Antonio Godoy Arias, José Gabriel Godínez Avelar and Edy Gonzalo Valle.
On 22 May 2018, an international human rights delegation of seven from Canada arrived at the airport in Tegucigalpa to campaign for the freedom of political prisoner Edwin Espinal and all the other political prisoners. They were held back and retained for 4 hours by immigration as they entered – 5 of them were interrogated one by one for four hours. The most interrogated one was Karen Spring, human rights defender who has worked in Honduras since 2009, and Edwin’s partner, Karen was returning to Honduras after a trip to Canada. Others were interrogated about their interest in and concern for the human rights issues since the electoral fraud and violence – Janet Spring: Edwin’s mother-in-law, Jesse Freeston: filmmaker, Meg Jordan: Elmvale pastor, and William Reeves: emergency doctor. Ben Powless (photographer) and Grahame Russell (director of Rights Action) waited outside for the others while liaising with national and international human rights organisations. They came to campaign, and to push to see Edwin Espinal and Raul Alvarez at La Tolva, as they have been allowed almost no visits in the time since imprisonment. They managed a visit. His mother in law Janet said Edwin was vary pale, that his health was deteriorating, he has lost weight, is dehydrated, that the food he is given is bad, and that his spirit is broken by the cruel and degrading treatment in prison.
It was noted that on 22 May 2018, 17 of the 23 political prisoners have been released on bail. So five were still locked up, Edwin Espinal and Raul Alvarez amongst these.
Grahame Russell said that Edwin and Raúl ‘send many greetings and thanks to all of the resistance in Honduras and all the human rights activists and the Honduran press that has accompanied the Canadian delegation today. They know that we are in the country and also at the international level speaking up about the arbitrary and abusive detention.’
La Tolva maximum security prison – where Edwin and Raúl are held – has atrocious conditions. Food is inadequate and unsafe – chicken is served half cooked still bloody for example. Drinking water is yellow and there are dirty remnants floating at the bottom. Both food and water are very limited so its not like inmates can choose. There is nothing for inmates to do to pass time, no materials for handycrafts, etc. Visits are sporadic and limited and visitors – especially women, are sometimes made to strip off clothing for a full search, some have been obligated to show that they are not carrying anything inside their bodies in their intimate parts. Inmates are only allowed 3 hours of sunshine. After visits, prisoners are searched in case they carried anything in their bodies.
Other attacks against journalists
UNE TV is one of few mainstream medias left in Honduras covering news on the side of the people, so its journalists are especially targeted for repression.
On 4 May 2018, there was repression against a protest demanding the liberation of political prisoners. When a military police held two social activists, UNE TV journalist Víctor Rodríguez filmed and asked the activists what had happened, and was told by the military police that filming was prohibited. Víctor responded that it was his job and freedom to film and take photos – to that the military police Aldo Rodríguez got annoyed and started to take photos of UNE TV journalists there and everyone in turn focussed their cameras on this military police. Officer Aldo Rodríguez got violent, hit Víctor in the chest, knocked his back onto a wall, and grabbed his right arm and bent it back, while another military police went to hit Victor’s camera. Victor’s compas were quick in filming and applying pressure, so Víctor was not arrested, but all journalists filmed by the military police are all at risk of persecution.
On 20 May 2018, one of few critical journalists left in the south of Honduras in Choluteca, Jairo López, director of tv program El Informador, was driving with his police escort – he has one because he is politically persecuted and is on a Protection Mechanism program – when he was stopped by police at a checkpoint in Pavana, in which while other cars were just asked to lower their windows, he was made to stop for a complete search.
On 21 May 2018, at the UNE TV studio, journalist Ronny Martínez was transmitting live on TV when he received messages from his workmates that his car signal lights were on and a window was left open. As soon as there was a news break, he went outside to the carpark to check. He saw that the back window on the other side of the car was broken, that his wallet as well as some papers in a suitcase were taken from the backseat, but other things were left behind. It was also noticed that the security camera in the carpark normally pointing to his car was raised to face higher to not capture what happened at the car. This is the second time in two months people had broken into his car and taken things that are likely to contain sensitive information related to his journalism or parliamentarian work (being a Libre parliamentarian), the first time was in his birthtown, Danlí, El Paraíso. He has been recognised as a politically persecuted person by IACHR since 2010.
On 22 May 2018, the alarm was raised that smear campaigns have been orchestrated again against several human rights defenders and journalists.
Against human rights organisation Ciprodeh’s director, Wilfredo Méndez, there was a viral video on whatsapp that framed him as someone who profits from human rights work saying that Ciprodeh receives millions of lempiras every year and from that Wilfredo spends on travels around the world. A message said, ‘in Honduras we don’t need scammers, much less fellow countrymen who don’t recognise the work of the military in our neighbourhoods where before we could not feel safe… the defenders are a complete failure, if WILFREDO MENDEZ really worked, there wouldn’t be so many deaths’.
Against Lennys Fajardo, journalist of COQUIMBO group – digital media, and member of PEN International Honduras, they cloned her facebook profile page and had her fake facebook profile show her to belong to the National Party of Honduras. Since the beginning of May, Lennys has had five people use fake facebook profiles to frame and attack her.
Against Gilda Silvestrucci, correspondent of Telesur and Radio Globo director of the program ‘En la Plaza’ has for months been subject to threats, insults and harassment on social media, by someone who goes by the facebook name of ‘Ramón Jérez’. On 1 May she was told there ‘you are going to wake up sprayed by gunshots’ and many other messages about her being a woman, about her private life and about her children. There’s someone else too who harasses and threatens her using phone calls.
Obligatory military service
Military service is currently not obligatory in Honduras but the congress is wanting to introduce mandatory military service. Human rights defender Juan Almendarez asserted that governments try to introduce this when they feel weak when they are facing war – but that the war in front of Honduras is one against its own people.
Bibles in the schools
They don’t stop at making military service obligatory, they don’t stop at anything. The congress is pushing in Honduras to make bible reading an obligatory part of schooling, saying it is to reduce violence and corruption, its proponents of course are corrupt, and not for a lack of compulsory bible reading.