June 2018 Honduras Coup Update
Political prisoners’ situation update
Of the 22 political prisoners from the recent-electoral-fraud-triggered-semi-insurrectional-period, 17 have been released on bail having been imprisoned for more than four months each – one was released on 25 April 2018, the other 16 were released within the first three weeks of May. Five who continue to be locked up – three of them in maximum security prisons – are Edwin Robelo Espinal, Raúl Alvarez, Gustavo Adolfo Caceres Ayala, José Gabriel Godínez Avelar and Edy Gonzalo Valle. Those who have been released are so thanks to campaigning within Honduras and abroad, but there are grave concerns that the plan is to keep these five locked up. Those released are not free and safe as such, since being released, there has been constant reports of harassment which they and their families have been targets of by the police – of raids and police vehicles circling against their homes, of being watched, and direct threats from police, telling them, that they won’t send them to prison anymore – they will DISAPPEAR them. The campaigns, protests and pressure demanding freedom for political prisoners and an end to the political persecution against them and their families are ongoing – they are not resting and some of those released joined in, including the only woman political prisoner of this group, who said they must be tireless and keep fighting, for justice for all the political prisoners, and for a more just world.
Attacks against organisers, those at protests, blockades..
On 3 June 2018, in Reitoca, a Lenca indigenous group that organises and protests against the hydroelectricity project Rio Petacón of the company Progelsa – largely owned by businessman Jack Arévalo, was protesting and watching over the river, when some men suddenly appeared armed with machetes and pistols to attack, intimidate and threaten those protesting. It was found out that this shock group attack was organised and contracted by the mayor Marlon Osorto. Congress had given Progelsa a 50 years concession to Progelsa, and to the building company SERMACO, which is owned by the head of the liberal party legislative chamber, Elvin Ernesto Santos. The concession is not meant to be given without consulting those who will be affected, especially if those affected are indigenous, but of course they were not consulted, the government chose to consult people who weren’t going to be affected instead, who would be more agreeable. The government also did tell this community something early on, but it was very vague, something about a company coming to invest in the community and a dam and watering system. People heard the word hydroelectricity dam for the first time, not knowing what it was. Ex mayor (Liberal party) Manuel Meza explicitly tricked the community to grant permission for Progelsa – and of course he would do that, he has since been found guilty by courts for assassinations, homicide, illicit association and sentenced to more than a lifetime in prison for being a politician who had no limits in his quest for wealth. But in time, people caught on and would not permit the exploitation of their only water source, the river. They organised to set up camp and watch and stop the building process on 14 January 2018 wearing cloth that covered their faces to try to keep safe and avoid being targeted, but on 30 January as people arrived on the camp, a police-military contingent fired gunshots at people as well as teargas bombs – Mirian Sorto was shot on her left leg, and only now she has finally recovered from the wound and surgery.
Construction already being underway for the dam meant that people can already see the pollution caused by the dam and are deeply affected already. Fruit orchards in the area are ruined with fruit trees falling over. The Canta Callo hill is destroyed. The Rio Grande river in Reitoca is contaminated and the fishes in it are dead – with fish being a major food source for people who live there. At the beginning of 2017 the river turned all black, it looked like an oil spill had occurred. People recorded videos of the black water and dead fish. Waterways started drying up because of the diversion of the dam structure. They had meetings with the council and with Progelsa and brought them to the river to show them all this. The right thing to do would be to withdraw and regenerate the area but they have done nothing but attack people and try to continue implementing.
To push their profit agenda Progelsa started with attempts to bribe people. Indigenous council president Alejandro Herrera Euceda was approached several times and pressured to sign documents and was even approached by a government official in this way, telling him if only they agree to the completion of the dam that environmentalists can have a millionaire fund of reforestation that they have complete control over. Alejandro Herrera knows his life is at risk, having rejected the offer. Others’ are too. Human rights defender Renán Zelaya received threats on whatsapp from Miguel Angel Osorto Aguero, a very trusted employee of the municipality authority. Other members of the indigenous council have been threatened, with attempts of bribes and then death threats, but people there keep fighting to keep the river alive, in Reitoca where it was once peaceful and picturesque.
On 6 June 2018 in the midnight hours, Marvin Norales got arrested and locked up at the Satuye police station in La Ceiba. Marvin is a directive member of Ofraneh – fraternal black Hondurans’ organisation – an organisation that defends ancestral territories of the Garífuna people, Marvin is accused of usurpation of land in Puerto Castillo.
Also on 6 June 2018, a digital press release came out saying that the Amapala municipality Environmental Unit’s director Miguel Gonzales had affirmed that there is an eviction that will be executed against 700 people who live on 3 of the 13 islands on the peninsula – an area being concessioned for model cities. There was no precise information so people don’t know if they live in one of these islands or not. The region’s territory defence organisation Adepza is investigating to find out where these evictions are being planned so that people can mobilise to defend these territories. Subsequently, on 28 June 2018, Gerardo Aguilar, the director of the area’s community radio La Voz de Zacate Grande, spoke up about persecution and harassment lately against the journalists of the community radio. On the one hand, there are people sending messages of threat against those who run the radio, and on the other, Miguel Facussé’s guards keep searching the journalists when they arrive from the communities to work at the radio or are on the island doing personal errands. And if not harassed by the guards, then they are harassed by the soldiers, who target and question young people, stopping and searching and questioning these. These abuses happen all the time, as the territories are militarised. The targeting of young people is because the government knows that the youth are the ones fighting in resistance, so soldiers have orders to attack the youth.
On 8 June 2018, in Tocoa, there was on this date an occupation of the council building, protesting and demanding that the municipality of Tocoa be declared a municipality that is free of mining and other types of projects of death. The crowd wanted to go inside to deliver their demands to the Mayor Adan Funez. Adan sent the state human rights representative of Conadeh Juan Fraño to tell the crowd that the mayor will only receive up to 6 representatives in his office. When people sent ten representatives they were turned away – Adan left and listened to nobody. So people added to the demand a demand for Adan to step down from being a mayor. Adan went on to denigrate those who protested in the press. In Honduras when this happens, it is a threat of attacks to come.
On 12 June 2018, at Amarateca in Tegucigalpa, a protest of heavy vehicle drivers against the high petrol costs and tollway charges that started the morning before had drivers of heavy vehicles park their vehicles beside the highway as they rallied. Over 30 police agents abruptly began bashing up people there accusing these of ‘blocking the way’. Police arrested 13 people and one was hurt so bad he was rushed to emergency, and when they were bashing him people thought the police was going to kill him, and anyone who tried to intervene were getting beatings. Once the 13 were arrested, they were identified, registered, and then released.
On 13 June 2018, in San Francisco, Locomapa, Yoro, indigenous leader Ramón Matute was machete stabbed in the front and back and robbed of his belongings by the Tribal Directive Council vicepresident – Ramón belongs to MADJ environment and human rights movement, and is a defender especially of the forest and indigenous Tolupán territory, which was the reason he was attacked. Yoro authorities are supposed to protect Ramón and other environmental defenders as ordered by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, but instead, it authorises illegally concessions to the forest, and Yoro police had said and done nothing about this attack. This is in the context of worsening tensions and confrontations between forest defenders and forest loggers from the weekend before.
On 28 June 2018, a group of young people gathered at the Plaza Cuba in Tegucigalpa on this anniversary date marking 9 years of military coup, and protested the fraud that kept the dictatorship going. After putting on the national anthem, the people went to block a road, and that was when a police contingent arrived and started launching pepper gas at the young people, bashing them with batons, hitting them with stones. Some men in an Honduran energy company EEH car ran over a protester, trapping his body under the car. One man from inside the car kicked the glass window from inside the car and this splattered broken glass cut into the hands of 2 young people in the protest. More than 20 police were chasing protesters. .
Another community with an ongoing struggle against a hydroelectricity dam and suffering ongoing attacks from the dam company and its proponents is the San José community in La Paz, against La Aurora 1, in the protected area of El Jilguero Reserve. People opposing are threatened and definitely have not been consulted, and communities are divided. Despite that there are no assassinations as yet, people know that this is something that can happen, because of very tense conflicts that are in the community. There are some people of MILPAH organisation who have protection measures, but they are not actually safe, because the recommendation is that they obtain security escort, but the state claims there aren’t resources to provide these (but there are always resources for repression). The Aurora 1 dam has the National party behind it because it is owned by the party’s president and parliamentarian Gladys Aurora Lopez.
Attacks against journalists
On 2 June 2018, journalist Nincy Perdomo was trying to cover a mobilisation of the Alianza against the dictatorship outside the Presidential house building in Tegucigalpa, and was filming the riot squad water thank, when this very water tank attacked and shot at and impacted on Nincy’s body with direct and full pressure.
On 3 June 2018, a number of community journalists around the city of Choluteca tried to cover the developing news and were blocked by the police in charge of the prison from accessing the scene: there were at least 111 people arrested and locked up, many of whom had from the police brutality intense abdominal pains and were denied medical attention.
On 8 June 2018, community journalist Fabio Hernán Vallecillo who lives in Juticalpa, Olancho, was covering a scene of police abuse under ‘operation dragon’ in which they raided a nightclub and arrested a group of young people who were there without identification papers. ‘Sure, I was disgusted, I am human and when I see abuse.., so I told them these operations are pure shows going around grabbing youths who aren’t carrying ID cards and the real delinquent that you officers know where they live are happier than ever’. For having said that, police straight away handcuffed him, threw him into the police patrol and Fabio was locked up for 24 hours before being released.
On 10 June 2018, there was an online article that went out fraudulently, made to look like a Reporteros de Investigación article by using their logo. This fake article had the message of that militarisation of schools helped reduce drug dealers´ access to the schools. This happened after Reporteros de Investigación published articles covering the militarisation in schools and how soldiers have been sexually assaulting female students – so of course they are critical of the militarisation which they clearly see as social control and abuse against students. Such fake articles undermine the work and reputation of the organisation.
On 29 June 2018, journalists Lucía Alvarado of HRN and Manolo Escoto of TSI were in court covering the hearing of Juan Carlos Madariaga – a public official accused of money laundering over US$3 million in the IHSS scandal (IHSS is a health service for workers), when Juan’s siblings Jośe Luís and sister asked them to stop recording and the journalists responded saying it was a public hearing and they had the right to film. When a guilty verdict was given, the family slashed out at the journalists threatening them and were physically attacking them – they did this in the view of public and private security guards who did nothing to intervene.
On the night of 30 June 2018, in Olanchito in Yoro, TNS news and Hoy Mismo correspondent Javier Edgardo Rodríguez was covering arrests at the police station. Javier approached and filmed arrestees when he saw they have been hurt and were yelling out that they were beaten by police for no reason. As he filmed, he saw that one of the arrestees was his brother so he started interviewing his brother on camera, asking why he was being arrested. His brother told him that it was because they refused to be searched, so a search was forcefully carried out and they were arrested. The police immediately ordered Javier to turn off his camera and leave – when he refused, they pulled him away from the arrestees by force. As they took arrestees into lock-up, Javier continued filming. A police car was leaving and stopped and Subinspector Jorge Luis Salgado stormed out from it and pressed Javier against the wall, broke his camera, and yelled at him saying it meant nothing to the police that Javier were a journalist. Four other police came and dragged Javier into a police cell abruptly. He was illegally arrested from 8pm that night until 1am, his release was obtained through pressure by his colleagues – they sought justice saying that the arrest was wrong, but police responded saying they are the authority and will always have the power. The security minister had on 1 July 2018 announced in a public statement that this arrest was because the journalist disrespected the authority.
Trans Immigrant died having endured abuses at an US Immigration Detention
Honduran transperson Roxana Hernández tried for the third and last time to cross the border into the US, when she turned herself into the immigration authorities. These authorities kept her in places known as ‘freezers’ for some time, and then transferred her to the Cibola detention Centre in New Mexico where she died having suffered abuses. On 6 June 2018 activists in Mexico and US protested against the authorities involvement in murdering and covering up this murder. Authorities claimed that she died because of complications from HIV, pneumonia, and heart attack. They told the Honduran family they could pay US$8-10,000 if they want the body delivered to Honduras, that the economic option is to have her cremated and the ashes delivered. If the family had the resources to pay for the body, Roxana probably would not have undertaken this risky journey so many are pushed to make. If her body is cremated then there can be no autopsy to expose what had killed Roxana. People were demanding the Honduran state to pay this cost, so there could be justice for Roxana. Roxana is not the first trans person to die in the immigration detention centres of US, there is a Mexican who died in one having had physical and sexual abuses in the detention centre and refused access to HIV treatment for 3 months. Victoria Arellano died chained to a bed.
Meaningless ‘Fair Trade’ labelling
Fyffes melon and pineapples plantations company based in Honduras and Costa Rica received ‘fair trade’ certification despite repeat complaints of labour abuses and violation and attacks against unionism. In May 2017 Fyffes was suspended from being a member of ETI – Ethical Trade Initiative – but this is ignored by Fair Trade USA that certified a subsidiary of Fyffes in April 2018 – Suragroh – as a socially and environmentally sustainable company, which guarantees safe and healthy work, transparency, and sustainable production and respect for biodiversity. Very absurd, given Fyffes refuses to recognise unions and creates two fake unions, and when there are repeat episodes in which workers suffer from poisoning from fumigation.