March 2017 Honduras Coup Update
Another ‘one year on…’, this time, following the assassination of the much loved indigenous activist, Berta Cáceres
Berta Cáceres, guardian of rivers, indigenous, anticapitalist, feminist, environmentalist activist, a very high profile one, was murdered in 2016 on 2 March. The main source of threats in this time was in relation to her work with the highly persecuted Río Blanco resistance against the damming of Gualcarque river – she was not the first activist to be murdered in this struggle. Yet, this hydroelectricity dam project Agua Zarca of the DESA company with complicity of international finance, has not been closed down. And although eight people have been arrested for her murder and five of these have been refused bail, the lawsuits continue in process and we don’t know what final rulings will be, not to mention that they were all people contracted to execute the murder, none of the power elites with personal interests who wanted Berta dead – and evidence suggest that this includes those invested in Agua Zarca, Honduran officials who receive millionaire bribes for approving such projects, those invested in similar projects whose interest it is to access such permissions easily, international finance for making this possible, and even the US state which provided two of her murderers with anti-insurgency training in School of the Americas. Investigations about those arrested have been reported by journalist – Nina Lakhani, who went through the Honduran armed forces and court documents and published the research in the Guardian on 28 February 2017.
Those arrested and charged for killing Berta
Major Mariano Díaz Chávez and lieutenant Douglas Giovanny Bustillo are the two charged who both in 1997 trained in the School of the Americas (currently renamed Institute of Western Hemisphere for Security Cooperation) in Fort Benning, Georgia, US. Mariano Díaz also then in 2005 trained in ‘counter terrorism’ in IAAFA Inter American Air Forces Academy, located since 1993 in Lackland Air Base in Texas US. Mariano Díaz and Douglas Bustillo are accused of organising and planning Berta’s murder. Douglas Bustillo retired from the army in 2008 and became the security head of DESA dam company. Mariano Díaz, at the time of arrest, was already being investigated for kidnappings and drug trafficking, although that was no obstacle with his promotion discussions that was in process at the time; he was previously deployed for 7 years in the special forces.
They were arrested in May 2016 together with Sergio Ramón Rodríguez and Edilson Antonio Duarte. Sergio Rodríguez is an executive of the Agua Zarca dam project, his colleague, DESA president Roberto David Castillo Mejía is another ex official of armed forces intelligence. In an interview in 2013, Berta Cáceres declared that Sergio Rodríguez had offered her and Copinh bribes, and when these were rejected, death threats and accusations against Copinh began, and she received text messages from Douglas Bustillo of threats and sexual abuse. Edilson Duarte is a hitman declared contracted by Sergio Rodríguez, and was identified as having fired the gunshots on the night.
Another on this hitmen group was Henry Javier Hernández, a retired sniper who worked under Mariano Díaz in the 15th battallion, a Honduran special forces unit based in Bajo Aguan formed and trained by US in the 80s that originated as a counterinsurgency unit for Honduran soldiers sabotaging uprisings in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. These special forces units continue to operate today in the guises of ‘diffusing threats’ of terrorism and drugs. Henry worked for three years in this unit before leaving the army in 2013. He worked in this Bajo Aguan region where 124 land and social activists resisting monocrop companies have been murdered in recent years. When Herny Hernández left the army, he became an informant of the military intelligency until he was arrested in January 2017. There are telephone records that show both Henry Hernández and Giovanny Bustillo were in the La Esperanza community where Berta Cáceres lived, since a few days before she was assassinated, telephone registers and testimonies also showed the two knew each other through working together in private security in the months before Berta’s murder. All three military agents have had involvements in the special forces units, which US had come 21 times to Honduras to train these special forces between 2008 and 2014. Henry Hernández himself was on the night of Berta’s murder at her house heading this operation. Evidence shows those who planned the murder had been watching and had entered her home before and knew where everything was in the dark, and where Berta slept exactly. They also entered the guarded urban area, past the on-duty guard, perhaps with their complicity.
Smear campaigns against Copinh and Berta Cáceres had been the context in which she was murdered, these were headed by DESA wih complicity of state, media and business sectors. This sowing of doubts in people’s minds about the characters and organisations targeted were used to create the conditions to assassinate her and get away with it.
Because of which, smear campaigns are extremely concerning – right now there are written publications and videos going around social media that target Copinh, Berta’s daughters and Copinh coordinator Tomás Gómez, accusing these of ‘taking advantage of Berta’s death´, aimed at influencing local and international opinions. They come from national and international power groups interested in plundering territories and common goods.
Months before, also arrested were Dario Roberto Cardona, an ex vice-minister of SERNA (Secretariat of Natural Resources), and Martiniano Domínguez, an ex mayor of Intibucá. They were arrested for irregularities committed with the granting of environmental licence and permission, council permissions and the expansion of the Agua Zarca project. Oxfam researched legal standing of the Agua Zarca and Berta Cáceres case and published a report in Spanish http://oxf.am/ZE4S. It revealed what appears to be an organised network of corruption that facilitated the granting of contracts and permission for Agua Zarca to operate. It showed that within 8 months of Agua Zarca’s constitution that it managed to obtain operation contracts with SERNA and ENEE (state electricity company) for electricity generation, transmission and commercialisation. That SERNA had granted concession and environmental licence to Agua Zarca without having obtained the required prior, free and informed consent. That SERNA illegitimately conceded an increase in the volume of Agua Zarca’s access to national waters of Gualcarque river, plus an extension of 20 years on the operation contract without the constitutionally required approval by the national congress. On 1 March, a Honduran indigenous peoples delegation made two charges of violations against the constitution at the decrees 67-2011 and 63-2011, which facilitated Agua Zarca. Oxfam advocates for the cases of Agua Zarca and Berta Cáceres’s murder to be joined for possibilities of obtaining more definite and concrete results, to definitively end the concession and bring all involved to justice.
Right now the construction work of Agua Zarca is on standstill, and some of the finance institutions had withdrawn or temporarily suspended, but not definitively, and there is a lot of pressure to reactivate suspended funds. On this anniversary date, a European delegation demanding human rights for Honduras followed up on one finance institution, Finnfund, in Finland. Finnfund had already previously refused to agree to Copinh’s demand to apologise for the murders and withdraw from the Agua Zarca project. This March 2017, Finnfund was asked to participate in a public dialogue to debate its role in the Agua Zarca project and its responsibility for the murder and why it has not apologised for its involvement in Aqua Zarca or responded to COPINH’s other demands. It refused this invitation.
There has also been reports that a military agent had months ago infiltrated Copinh to inform on how they are recomposing and reorganising following the killing of Berta.
2 March was an important anniversary date. Many around Honduras and in many corners of the world undertook commemorative actions in solidarity, as well as also undertaking local and global struggles with Berta in the hearts and minds.
In Río Blanco, in other Copinh and Ofraneh communities and all around Honduras and everywhere, people continue to fight for justice and for indigenous self determination and against the imposed model.
Death threat against community radio Radio Dignidad journalist
On 23 March 2017, to the facebook page of community radio Radio Dignidad of the social organisation Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia, a message was sent, saying: ‘you are going to die like a fish by the mouth you toad of shit, to close down your page of shit, or I will be looking for you all over San Juan Pueblo and around’ . The person who posted it appears on facebook with the name of Ismael Arteaga. The facebook identity says they live in Tegucigalpa, studied in Vicente Cáceres public school and in UPNFM public teachers’ college. That was one of a series of messages, another one contained a photo of Radio Dignidad director María Dolores Euceda, as to communicate to Radio Dignidad that they had identified her as a target. In another message, they warned her, ‘don’t get involved in talking political topics’. There had already been before a history of threatening messages from this same facebook profile of Ismael Arteaga, who demands that information from the media page be removed. There is also a history of MADJ receiving threats including by text messages – for talking about political topics when carrying out journalism. Luis Ramos Mejía and Martín Fernández received threats and intimidation last year.
‘False alarm arrest’ against human rights defender
On 9 March 2017, human rights defender of Permanent Human Rights Observatory of Aguan OPDHA Irma Lemus Amaya went to the DPI – Dirección Policial de Investigación, to try to place a complaint about a human rights violation, and as she showed her ID, the secretary who attended to her told her there was a capture order pending against her for the crime of usurpation of lands and the police there proceeded to arrest her. This capture order was one that was carried out in 2014, for which the court had then dismissed the case definitively. When she provided evidence that there the capture order is an old nullified one that ceased all effects two years ago, they did release her, but this is not the first time Irma has been harassed this way. Nor that a human rights defender has been arrested ‘by mistake’.
Attack with stones against community radio La Voz Lenca
In the Cruz Concordia community, San Francisco, Lempira, on 8 March 2017, at 7pm, Copinh community radio La Voz Lenca was attacked with rocks thrown while the community journalists were working inside. The rocks were thrown by a number of people who came and threw rocks at the radio’s door. While they were not identified, Copinh affirmed that the rock throwers were sent by current authorities. This is another act to intimidate those speaking up against injustices such as the case of the 5 concessions in the San Juan river between the municipalities of Erandique Lempira, San Marcos de la Sierra, San Francisco Lempira – the mayor Elmer Noel Molina had already given operation permissions to the company beneficiaries.
More Smear campaigns
On 30.3.16, new reports were made of hate/smear campaign targeting Radio Progreso director – Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno – known as father ‘Melo’, at Copinh, and at Salvador Zúñiga (father of Berta Cáceres’s children), on social media networks of Honduras. In the images and texts spread around, the father ‘Melo’ is accused in the campaign of receiving ‘dirty money of drugs and from Mel’, of ‘working with Copinh’ and ‘using Radio Progreso to give Honduras a bad name’. They also accuse Copinh of ‘laundering drug money, and being the main arm of disprestige that the radical left uses against Honduras.’ Those who drive this smear campaign do it through Hootsuite.com – a web and phone app that manages the social media of the persons and organisations to then massively publish images and texts in social media like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GooglePlus, Instagram, YouTube and Foursquare. The discourse / accusations in the campaign match exactly with those managed by high officials of government against social leaders and human rights defenders, something that has been the norm since the start of the last two administrations. Even the US Embassy had pronounced that these types of attacks are ‘doomed to fail’.
Death threat against radio correspondent of Radio Progreso
In Santa María municipality of La Paz province, on 28 March 2017, indigenous correspondent of social radio Radio Progreso, Esteban Vásquez, was passing through Arenales sector where National party activists had waited for him and as he appeared, gave him this death threat, ‘if you continue your information work, they will assassinate you.’ In this region there are threats of environmentally damaging mega projects that investors want to impose against communities’ will.
Government contracts numerous national party activists for ‘cleaning’
Between hundreds to thousands of National Party activists around cities of Valle de Sula got 3 to 4 months of ‘cleaning contracts’ by councils and central government just before primary elections. They have not been assigned cleaning equipment, in fact the only duty that resembles ‘cleaning’ is removing opposition political parties’ propaganda from street posts and buildings. Their main job though is visiting homes, noting down people’s ID numbers, offering a ‘solidarity pack’ and an allowance for anyone committing to vote for the re-election of those in power now. The staff have to hand in proof of having a list of at least 24 people on this list in the last two months or their salary got withheld. And those who commit to vote have to turn up at the National Party table to vote voluntarily, under their watch presumably, or else they will be take by force to do the same. Those that get paid are paid in cash through Banadesa. Of the little salary they receive, the staff then obligated to return about US$20 of it towards the campaign of the party in government.
The melon subsidiary (one of 3 of Fyffes in Honduras) Melexsa – Melon Export SA, dismissed all its security staff affiliated with the STAS (union of agroindustry and similar industries workers). The security staff like other staff organised because their rights were violated; they don’t receive the stipulated minimal salary, or overtime penalty rates, night and holiday work penalties nor days off in lieu for extra time worked. Nor do the employers make the social security contributions it is supposed to, and no life insurance, no education allowance..