September 2018 Honduras Coup Update
Attacks against students – high school, primary school, university
Throughout August and September, school students at all levels had been protesting, occupying their schools, demanding subsidies for students and against the raised transport fares that went up a whooping 60% impacting on people’s possibilities for going to school and in all areas of their lives. In the end of August, two school students involved in protests were assassinated. Repression continued throughout August, some cases we know about are as follows:
Many incidents of people seeing cops taking uniformed high school students in the police vehicles and utes were reported.
On 30 August 2018, in addition to Gerson and Mario having been assassinated (see last month’s update), 6 INTAE students were taken to the CORE 7 police station, and later released to their parents when COFADEH human rights lawyers intervened.
On 5 September 2018, a whole family was participating in a protest when a cop pointed his gun at the child school student, very much aiming at him and threatening to pull the trigger. The child put his arm between his head and the gun.
On 7 September 2018, a protest of school students was evicted by cops. The cops hurt and arrested two Perla de Ulua school students in the process – Jorge Armando Zavala Martinez and Geovanny Hernandez. There were reports of journalists being pushed aside.
On 9 September 2018, 15 UNAH students had been locked up and were subsequently released with bail conditions of not leaving the country, signing regularly at the court, and not going to political meetings at the uni.
On 27 September 2018, in Ocotepeque, students occupy their school in protest. Hitmen, police, soldiers and DPI kidnappers entered en-masse by force to attack and evict, there was a callout to go and support the students’ effort.
Throughout, high school students in protest have reported persecution, harassment, details of cars with people inside watching and following them, and text messages and phone calls of death threats from the phone number (+504) 9946-1141. In these calls and messages, they say they know where the students live, who their families are, and their routines and movements. The numberplates of the cars that have been parked watching the students at the occupations of the schools are a tourist van with PDV 2862, and a Mitsubishi pickup with PDB7407 that is grey. When students look up the registry they found that PDV2862 does not exist, and the PDB7407 belongs to a trailer. There has been arbitrary arrests, attacks with teargases inside schools.
15 September is a date where every year Central American countries officially celebrate Independence Day, and because the ‘independence’ is but a farse, masses of people participate in protests against the dictatorship instead of joining or cheering on official marching bands – and despite of payments being offered to join independence celebrations in the stadium, most refuse or accept but protest anyway. As always, there were protests around the country. This year, in at least one act, the US flag was burnt to highlight the fact that US intervention continues to keep most Central Americans poor and repressed everyday. Despite of the fear of knowing that protests are always repressed, a lot of people chose rebellion. In these dates, lots of new energies were floating around exploding of struggle and revolution. There were people dancing and drumming and some people armed with paint bombs, aimed at buildings, and then ran away from soldiers and police. Others chanted, sang, held, wrote and wore things that told JOH to get out. New seeds of struggle were being sown around, and that’s all ages. There were children on the streets protesting with their families and classmates. Some kids with an upside down sign and picture about justice, when adults approach them to tell them their sign was upside down, they explained that it was because the justice in Honduras is upside down. And since school students were already protesting all of August and September, the Education Minister made a statement saying that students and teachers were prohibited from protesting on this date, that they can only attend official marches that show ‘civic values’. Students rebelled. There are stories of children who attended the official celebrations and held up signs that said get out JOH, to then be repressed, by a zealous teacher, by security forces.. The repressive response, to squash social movements this date, as expected, was severe including over 30 arrests and so much teargas and rubber bullets. Known cases as follows:
In Tegucigalpa, the city was militarised, and in the moments when the 2009 coup deposed president Zelaya was giving speeches, many teargas bombs suddenly went off, followed by chemical water being launched from the police tank, and rubberbullets were also shot, and security agents chased the already fleeing people, wounded several and leaving hundreds affected by teargases – it was so bad that at least 15 people lost consciousness from the teargases and were taken away in red cross ambulances that are not stocked with basics – so as people protested, and are repressed and get treated they are reminded of one of many reasons why they protest. Amongst people who suffocated in the gases were little children. The city centre and surrounding areas were inundated by teargases. Some people seem to forget what had happened because days later conversations can be heard by many people around there, coughing and having chest pain, saying they did not know why. From this scene, at least 6 protesters were arrested by riot cops and taken to the lower areas of the parliament house. One youth in particular got the attention of journalists and human rights defenders, and asked for his name, ‘Meiki Bonilla Bustillo’, he yelled as he was being taken custody. When he was released, he told the press, ‘they didn’t ask me anything, they just told me that I am from MEU and that I am making trouble and grabbed me like that, but thanks to you journalists and the human rights defenders today I am still alive, otherwise I can assure you they would have killed me, because my crime is participating in protests and being young’.
Two kilometres away, in the National Stadium, people mostly of the national party celebrated the false independence, watching the military parade. A few students went into the stadium holding signs of ‘Get out JOH’ and four were arrested with their backpacks still on, two in particular were arrested for ‘disrespecting authority’ for holding a sign that said ‘get out JOH’ – they were taken away and not told what the charges were nor where they were being taken to. Then, students of the Central high school who had entered the stadium screaming ‘get out JOH!’ in protest, were attacked by teargases at the steps of gate 15 of the stadium, where a human stampede by the police followed hurting many who were already gas affected. In an odd attempt to spin the story, police spokesperson Jair Meza told the press that the teargas bombs were launched by the students, asserting that the students belonged to the MEU students organisation.
In San Pedro Sula, school and university students who were protesting the state executed assassinations against students who protested the dictatorship, were especially affected by repression on this date. They were hit with teargas bombs and rubber bullets, and a number of students were wounded, and the repression would have been worse had human rights defenders not intervened.
In Choluteca city, school students were repressed by teargases and water tanks. Mobilisations generally were also savagely attacked, one humble man with a lot of scoial conscience was especially hurt – Gonzalo Hernández. A picture was shared of him with open wound and blood all over his nose, face and eye.
In a lot of places, there were reports that around this date, between midnight and dawn hours, there were soldiers and paramilitaries walking around with their faces covered in the streets and neighbourhoods.
Community opposing mine at gunpoint – Guapinol
On 7 September, the Guapinol Camp in Defence of Water and Life had camped there for 38 days. The rivers San Pedro and Guapinol already show signs of contamination and destruction by the state-backed mining companies that is imposing their operations against the will of the communities. Tensions rose as one of the three culprit mining companies, Inversiones Los Pinares had its staff block the street going to the camp and threaten with not allowing more people come and go from the camp. In the midst of these conflicts, hitmen of Inversiones Los Pinares fired gunshots against protesters, from which the young Rigo Hernández was gravely wounded, and was left struggling for his life. A few days later, there were representations in the media that those who oppose the mine are violent.
Attacks on Rio Blanco and updates re Berta
Two and a half years after the assassination of Berta Cáceres – founder of Copinh and indigenous, feminist, anti-capitalist activist, who campaigned in solidarity with the Río Blanco community against the hydroelectricity dam that the DESA company is still continuing to impose, the court case continued and was going into hearing this September 17 2018. Days before, one of Berta’s daughters, Bertha Zuniga Caceres, told the press that there are no conditions for justice to be brought within the Honduran judicial system. On the day of the hearing, hundreds of people, of different indigenous groups of Honduras – Garífunas, Tolupanes, Pech, Lenca, Maya Chortí, supported by others, camped outside the court from the night before, holding indigenous ceremonies for Berta and protesting the lack of justice in this case, they were surrounded by heavy militarisation, that had the sole purpose of quelling protests. At midday, a DESA shock group headed by Héctor Mejía – brother of one of Berta Caceres’ murderers, and DESA staff Olvin Mejía, arrived to the camp yelling insults at people of the camp, to the Garífuna people, ‘you lived as slaves, you will go as slaves’, and at Copinh people, saying that those charged were innocent and saying how good DESA is, and threatening human rights defender Irma Lemus, saying, ‘you…now there are many days left that I will see you there’. As it was amidst heavy militarisation, police was right there, watching, laughing, filming, egging on the shock group you would say. Shortly after this, the hearing was suspended and people regrouped in safer spaces.
Then, on 26 September, in the Río Blanco community in the Vega del Achotal area where the Lenca community is growing food, DESA company employees of the Madrid family carried out an armed attack using machetes against community working the land there. The Madrid family is the one that stole Rio Blanco ancestral land and illegally sold this to DESA. DESA continues to operate and generate terror in the context of the ongoing courtcase about Berta’s murder.
More attacks against other communities resisting hydroelectricity dams this September
On 7 September 2018 in Reítoca, at the river where there are people organised and camped out to protect the river against the hydroelectricity company Progelsa, two campers were arrested and released after, having been beaten up and hurt too.
On 12 September 2018, communities in Chinda, Santa Barbara are on alert for repression having been organising since the beginning of 2017 when they held an open meeting in which 80% of residents – who are Lenca indigenous – had opposed the hydroelectricity dam El Tornillito. El Tornillito is the second biggest hydroelectricity dam project after El Cajon and is an enormous threat to the ecosystem, local vegetation, and fishing, sand harvesting, and basic grains growing livelihoods of the community. The river the dam is being built on is 240 kms long (with the joining of the Jicatuyo and Otoro rivers) and is to produce 150 megas of energy. It had also been learnt that a ministerial agreement 1402-2018 had been emmitted by environmental minister José Galdámez and published in the national gazette, that now classes all information about environmental licences issued as secret information.
As indigenous Lenca resistance organised in MILPAH organisation continues in Chinacla, La Paz against the hydroelectricity dam of Inversiones Aurora of nationalist parliamentarian and vice president of congress, Gladys Aurora López, one MILPAH defender is under a lot of attack. His name is Ermin López, he is 37, Lenca, and he is also an unpaid council commissioner in Chinacla, a community with ancestral community titles where 21 Lenca indigenous communities live. Ermin has ongoing threats against him and learned of a plan to kill him around the time of the fraud, for having accompanied the struggles against the JOH dictatorship. He received the information from PINU councillor Oscar Aguilar, who heard that money had been offered to end Ermin’s life. As Ermin does his best to carry out his work as a volunteer councillor (balancing this with his paid construction work) and is constantly speaking up about cases involving logging (against Manuel Garcia), about a teacher Juan Ramón Molina who physically punished children at school, against the concession of the El Pacayal hill area and against all mining, hydroelectricity and logging, about politicians’ and other corruption in general – this has made him targets of many politicians and businesspeople and of the teacher. There was a night in August 2018 when he was having dinner at home and he heard noises at the door so he went out and was surprised by attackers who jumped on top of him, one armed with machete. They kicked him in the hand and near the eye and he found a way escape their hold and pushed both of them into a hole that had been dug for a compost toilet, and as he asked his mum to call the police, the two attackers made a verbal threat and fled into the dark of the night.
Raid and persecution against organised farmers of Aguan
On 6 September 2018 from 2am, 50 soldiers raided the home and farm plots of farmers cooperative La Despertar president Marcial López. La Despertar is fraudulently claimed by large landowner René Morales. La Despertar won its land title in court with lawyer Antonio Trejo back in 2012 following which Antonio Trejo was murdered and the court decision was reversed.
Within the Aguán region, a declaration was issued on 28 September that there are concerns that the following activists have their lives in danger: Aguan leaders Jaime Cabrera and Yoni Rivas, Regional Bajo Aguan Agrarian Platform coordinator Hipolito Rivas, José Chavez of the Gregorio Chavez cooperative, and Leonel George of COPA (grassroot organisations of Aguan), human rights defender Annie Bird and journalist Nina Lakhani. Also all the farmer families of the Panama community are living under terror and tension with armed groups having entered and stationed in Paso Aguan farm in the site of land recovery.
Journalists threatened and repressed
On 11 September 2018, journalist Gilda Silvestruchi, director of ‘En la plaza’ program and correspondent in Honduras for Telesur, spoke up about threats she is receiving from Ramón Enrique Jeréz Solórzano using several facebook profiles. Ramón’s mum is court judge Maria Teresa Jeréz Solarzano, he also has an uncle Máximo Jeréz Solarzano who is ex Conatel telecommunications commissioner. The threats had been going on for months. Gilda said that if anything happens to her or her children, she blames not only Ramon Enrique Jerez Solozarno but the dictatorship president JOH too as ultimately the threats are because she criticises the state in her journalism work.
On 15 September 2018, as UNE-TV journalists covered police and military repression at the independence?-day-protests in the Central Park in Tegucigalpa, they were also attacked and repressed. Cameraperson Albert Palacios was attacked by agents for having recorded images of police brutality against a youth ‘I was where Mendels used to be and I was recording when they were hurting a kid and suddenly they pulled me by the neck and started by bash me and damage my camera with stones that protesters had thrown at the cops.’ Cameraperson Mauricio Ordoñez was hit by a supposed rubber bullet that broke his mobile phone screen with which he was recording the repression. Journalists Cesar Silva, Ivis Alvarado and Rony Martinez together with camerapersons were transmitting the arrest of the youth Meiken Bustillo where they were pushed by riot cop shields. A teargas bomb was launched at the feet of the journalists when they were asking for the name of the arrestee. Everyone got sick from the teargas too.
On the other side of ‘journalism’, there are from this date more complaints by HCH journalists of attacks by protesters, of ‘verbal abuse’ with chants of ‘HCH get out, you sold outs!’ and throwing stones etc at their cameras – remembering that HCH reports on the side of police and the state.
An alert issued of smear campaigns this month, emphasising that smear campaigns are always followed by killings – there was a smear campaign against Berta Caceres before she was assassinated.
In Colón, the military intelligence created a fake ‘independent campesino organisation’ to attack English journalist Nina Lakhani, who is in the region investigating violent deaths in the Aguan valley as well as covering the hearing against the killers of Berta Cáceres, in Tegucigalpa. The fake organisation accused the journalist of supplying campesinos with weapons to exterminate the Xatruch military force, to destroy the investments of Standard Fruit Company and the palm company of the Facusses in the region, as well as to paralise the petrol exploitation of the British Gas group that has a multimillionaire contract over the Atlantic Coast of Honduras.
Also in Colón, the emporium of companies of Facussé-Nasser, of company Los Pinares, of the council of Adán Fúnes are said to be responsible for the smear campaigns against the communities of the San Pedro and Guapinol areas, where there are communities protesting against mega projects of death.
In Atlántida, the brothers Victor and Martín Fernández of San Juan Pueblo, are currently subject to smear campaign by Pérez, Hawit, Atalas and MINOSA families who are pushing to destroy an ancestral cemetery to mine for gold to export to Canada. The brothers are environmentalists and lawyers and community leaders of MADJ. Victor is currently representing Berta and Copinh in the lawsuit.
In Copán, the leadership of MADJ, ACI Participa, ASONOG, are all under smear campaigns financed by MINOSA gold mining company that has Canadian capital.
In Yoro, the journalist team of Radio Progreso headed by Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, suffer smear campaign for their work of accompanying communities that resist mining projects.
In Santa Barbara, the MAS environment movement also suffers smear campaign for accompanying communities of Gualala, which oppose the exploitation of a mineral that will destroy 80% of the sand land village. – the province authorities had authorised 86 mining concessions and 28 to exploit rivers, converting the province into an environmental and social bomb. Between Santa Barbara and Choluteca, the American Pacific company alone, sold by US businessmen to Canadian miners, has 45 metallic concessions granted there with Honduran state backing.
All mentioned and more, suffer campaigns with pirated images of themselves, distorted memes, and fake profiles in social media, and official declarations of the dictatorship’s spokespersons, and of private associations, comments from journalists that get payments from Cohep business council, and from the mining association, etc. The smear campaigns some try to smear organisations to halt the influence organisations have to mobilise people, others to create doubt about the authenticity of the human rights defense work, and some to induce fear, kill collective moral and physically assassinate the leaders – this happened to Berta.
Police checkpoint stop at gunpoint
On 25 September there was a police checkpoint operation at the CA5 highway – one cop of this operation forced all passing motorcyclists to stop and get off their motorcycles at gunpoint, threatening to shoot and kill anyone in any moment.
Seven years later, nine years later. Court proceedings
Seven years ago on 24 March 2011, 18 teachers were arrested, imprisoned and released on bail, with charges of sedition, having initially been arrested for ‘illicit protests’, they have gone to sign at the court every fortnight in the last seven years as their bail conditions. The hearing was finally complete – one of the evidence used against them was that they ‘had hate against the police’. On 28 September 2018, the 18 teachers were finally free of the charges.
Nine years ago on 12 August 2009, police captured and tortured 27 protesters and journalists in a protest against the coup, the 27 were taken to a candestine prison, and afterwards they charged 5 policemen and women for this crime – José Ventura Ramos, Carlos Isaías Polanco, Suyapa Marina Elvir, Juana María Alvarado, Esther Esperanza Ramos (the only one still in the police force now). On 12 December 2013, the court dropped the charges. Human rights organisation Cofadeh appealed this decision, and on 26 September 2018, this case is reopened with the first preliminary hearing on 24 October 2018. Note that these do not have bail conditions of signing regularly at the court, they just have to accept management by their own lawyers.
Another politician getting away with killing
On Saturday 8th September, Mario Pineda, IDEOCOAS minister, was driving his no doubt fancy car near Premier mall, when his car went into the footpath, running over an 11 year old child – he took the child to the fire station who said they couldn’t do anything so he took the child to the military hospital where the child died. He paid the costs of the funeral but was never arrested or charged – his brother is Supreme Court judge Miguel Pineda. At the wake of the child, 4 lawyers of the politician arrived to offer the family money and pressure them to not sue Mario or take any actions.