Archive for November, 2018

Berta Cáceres: seven men convicted of murdering Honduran environmentalist

  • Indigenous campaigner Cáceres, 44, was shot dead in 2016
  • Four also guilty of attempted murder of Mexican activist
The former manager of Desa Sergio Rodríguez, right, and the seven other people accused of killing the Honduran environmental leader Berta Cáceres, wait to hear their sentence at a courtroom in Tegucigalpa.
The former manager of Desa Sergio Rodríguez, right, and the seven other people accused of killing the Honduran environmental leader Berta Cáceres, wait to hear their sentence. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Seven men have been found guilty of conspiring to murder the Honduran indigenous environmentalist Berta Isabel Cáceres. An eighth defendant, Emerson Duarte Meza, was cleared and freed on Thursday.

Cáceres, a winner of the Goldman prize for environmental defenders, was shot dead on 2 March 2016 – two days before her 45th birthday – after a long battle to stop construction of an internationally financed hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque river, which the Lenca people consider sacred.

Seven men were convicted of murder by a court in Tegucigalpa on Thursday: Sergio Ramón Rodríguez, the communities and environment manager for Desa, the company building the dam; Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, the former Desa security chief; Mariano Díaz Chávez, a former US-trained special forces major who served in the army with Bustillo; Henry Javier Hernández, a former special forces sergeant who served with Díaz; Edwin Rapalo; Edilson Duarte Meza; and Oscar Torres.

Gustavo Castro, a Mexican environmentalist, was shot in the same attack but survived by playing dead. Hernández, Rapalo, Edilson Duarte and Torres were found guilty of the attempted murder of Castro. The other three defendants were found not guilty of that crime. In closing arguments, several defence teams had argued that the attack on Castro amounted only to assault as his injuries were not life-threatening.

Berta Cáceres was killed two days before her 45th birthday.

Berta Cáceres was killed two days before her 45th birthday. Photograph: Tim Russo/AP

Cáceres, the coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) was best known for her defence of indigenous territory and natural resources, but was also a respected political analyst, women’s rights defender and anti-capitalist campaigner.

Her murder became a litmus test for a country where corruption and impunity reign – and for a justice system which has received millions of US and European dollars of international aid.

But the criminal case has been plagued by allegations of negligence, secrecy and bias.

The crime scene was contaminated before the forensic team arrived, and none of the bloody footprints left behind were identified. Two police officers have been charged with falsifying evidence in the case, which they deny. In October 2016, the original case file was stolen from a judge’s car after an apparent carjacking.

Thursday’s verdict is unlikely to satisfy Cáceres’s family, colleagues and international legal observers who have frequently decried the narrow scope and secrecy surrounding the official investigation.

In a highly contentious decision, lawyers representing the family and Castro were expelled from proceedings shortly before the trial started after calling for the judges to be recused for bias and abuse of authority.

Over the course of the five-week trial, much of the evidence presented to the three judges was documentary, and admitted without being read in court, making it difficult to evaluate the strength of the case against each defendant.

At one point, the trial was suspended for several days, but the court was reconvened a day early without informing the press, international observers, diplomatic representatives or the victims. Key phone data was presented to a virtually empty public gallery. Video transmission was banned in this case.

I was an American missionary in Honduras. I witnessed firsthand the violence they endure.

In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, 3-year-old Brithani Lizeth Cardona Orellana, bottom right center, stands with her 5-year-old sister Janeisy Nicolle and brother 9-year-old brother Kenner Alberto, flanked by their aunt and uncle at their home in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

There is an armed security guard at every Dunkin’ Donuts in Honduras. When you enter a pharmacy, the guard with a shotgun slung across his chest will considerately hold your pistol while you wait for your prescription to be filled. On holidays, there are no official fireworks, only a handful of illegal firecrackers and gunshots exploding in the night air. On Christmas Eve, New Year’s, Independence Day, in every barrio across the country, shots echo in the dark like a posse galloping out of town in an old Western.

Five years ago, I left the States to volunteer alongside other Americans and Nicaraguans at a children’s home on the northern coast of Honduras that served orphans and kids who could no longer live with their families due to extreme poverty, abuse or both. We learned firsthand that paradise and hell are next-door neighbors, and you can hear the gunshots at night from both places.

I first had a gun pointed at me while waiting for a cab before dawn in the wealthiest neighborhood of San Pedro Sula, the industrial center of the country and, at the time, the “murder capital” of the world. The security guard saw me standing outside the seminary where I had spent the night as a guest. He climbed down from his turret on the street corner and approached me with a machete in one hand and a raised revolver in the other.

“What are you doing here?” He squinted at me, blinking back sleep.

“I’m just waiting for a taxi. I’m headed to the airport,” I said.

“Then why would you be waiting here on the street?” he asked. “Nothing good happens here this time of night.” Surrounding us were houses that were mansions even by U.S. standards. I wanted to go back inside the seminary, but the 15-foot-high gate had slid closed behind me, and I could not open it again without waking up all the priests, nuns and seminarians inside.

“I can go wait on another block,” I offered. “My cab is just five minutes away.”

“No!” he responded firmly. “You wait right there. Don’t move. Just wait.”

When my taxi finally did arrive, he holstered his gun and offered an apology, but I did not stick around long enough to acknowledge it.


Before I moved to Honduras, I visited the country. For a week, I helped lead a group of high school students from all of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas who wanted to offer some manual labor and supplies to our “sister diocese.” In the shadow of a massive green mountain, we worked to rebuild and paint a crowded school where Luis, our local guide, and his wife were teachers. Luis was the closest thing the small village had to a mayor. He ran the school, helped settle disputes, led the community Bible study and Sunday service, and as one of the only residents with a car, also provided ambulance service.

One morning he greeted us with bags under his bloodshot eyes. He had taken a neighbor who had stomach pains to the hospital in the middle of the night—more than an hour’s drive each way, around to the other side of the mountain. He returned in time for breakfast and prayers and to greet us in the morning at the school.

Luis and his wife stood out as towering examples of what was possible even amid extreme poverty. With determination and a good heart, one could be a pillar of the community—a community worth staying for. I once asked Luis if many of the young men in his village would eventually leave for the United States. “All of them,” he told me. There was no shame in his voice; it was simply a fact. When I asked if he had ever thought of making the journey, he shook his head. He had a wife and young son, a good job, a community where he was making a difference; he could not imagine leaving.

Years later, when I moved to a town just on the other side of that mountain, I jumped on the bus to visit Luis and his family. He was thrilled to see me again but cautioned me not to take the bus next time. “It was not safe” is all he would say.

During my two years in Honduras, I learned to love those kids at our children’s home like they were my own. Our goal was to prepare them for healthy and productive lives in Honduras, despite the brutal and heartbreaking childhood they had suffered. If we could only offer them enough love and stability and peace in the midst of the tempest around them and behind them in their past, they might have a fighting chance, we believed.

Yet violence does not issue warnings, and it will not take into consideration sincerely held beliefs. I had just returned from teaching my English class for the day when I learned that one of our volunteers and our executive director, who was visiting from the States, had been attacked on the beach next to our property. Maybe 200 yards from the house, our sanctuary, they had been held with machetes to their necks, and the volunteer, one of my best friends, was raped. “We know where you are from,” their attackers had said when they let them go. “Tell anyone and we come back and kill you and all the children.”

After going to the hospital and giving her testimony to the police, my beloved friend spent the night surrounded by the rest of us on the floor, several of us with machetes by our sides and all of us unable to sleep. In the morning, she was evacuated out of the country, and the rest of us were offered the option by our board of directors to leave as well. Suddenly the cursed choice to flee this country that so many of our Honduran neighbors had been forced to make became my own. The men responsible had still not been caught, and our already limited community of volunteers was quickly dwindling as many admitted they no longer felt safe enough to continue working. The next day the rest of us left as well.


A few years later I reached out to Luis via WhatsApp. It turned out he and his family had snuck away from their small town in the middle of the night. A local gang had demanded he pay for “protection,” and when Luis refused, they threatened to kill him and his family. They fled to a larger city, but he and his wife were unable to find any work as teachers and were still fearful the gang would eventually find them. He asked if I could help him claim asylum in the United States.

I got in touch with a few immigration lawyers, who told me Luis would have to make it to the Mexico-U.S. border and apply for asylum there. But even if he got that far, I had to tell Luis, it was very unlikely his family would be granted asylum. Luis was heartbroken. He needed to protect his family, he said, and the best way he could do that was to leave and provide some kind of living for them. Maybe you and I could get married, if only on paper, he offered sincerely. He was right that such a union was now legal here in the United States, I explained, but I could not just marry him to get him citizenship. Despite the absurdity of the suggestion, I struggled to type out my response, knowing my decision was a matter of life and death.

I still receive messages from Luis every few weeks begging me for help, though to be honest, I no longer have the courage to open them. Constant reminders that I am helpless simply became too much. I know ignoring him is wrong. I know it is my privilege to be able to log off of the violence of Honduras and pretend I do not live in the country that created Luis’s desperation, which is also the country that could help to fix it.

For all I know, Luis may be part of the infamous caravan, waiting on the other side of the southern border to claim asylum. It is the type of thing a real friend should know. It is important to know who these people are and that what they are doing is legal. There is no way for them to claim asylum from within their country of origin. Implying that those who peacefully present themselves at ports of entry have broken any American laws is simply not truthful.

When I first met Luis, I assumed that in Honduras it was possible to get an education, work and become financially stable enough that you would never need to leave. But the image in my head of the “virtuous Honduran” proved an illusion when even Luis was forced to flee from the unyielding violence and poverty of Central America. If we want to end the cycle of families fleeing in the night for our border, it is necessary to learn why their nights became so terrifying to begin with.

The weapons that plague their streets came from us. The corruption that infests their governments is a direct result of the coups and instability our country has consistently directed or condoned for over a century. Before Banana Republic was a chic clothing store, it was a dismissive term for a country made entirely dependent on a more powerful economy outside its borders. It was merely an updated version of colonialism, and the original victim was Honduras.

Poverty and violence, the causes of these caravans, are diseases we infected these countries with. Getting mad at the migrants is like the conquistadors and white frontiersmen wondering why the Native Americans they found were always getting so sick.

Those of us who live north of the Mexican border have to learn just how intertwined our lands are and why our neighbors to the south still hear gunshots at night. I have fled from one side to the other myself and watched in vain as those I care about try to follow. But being born in paradise is no reason to condemn those still stuck in hell.

Canada backs profits, not human rights, in Honduras

On Friday Aug. 12, Stephen Harper became the first foreign leader to visit Honduras and meet with President Porfirio Pepe Lobo since the country was readmitted to the Organization of American States (OAS) June 1. This shouldn’t be a point of pride for Canada, however; it reflects a very dangerous and problematic feature of the Conservative government’s foreign policy in Latin America.

Honduras was kicked out of the OAS after the June 28, 2009, military coup that removed from power the democratically elected but moderately left-of-centre president, Manuel Zelaya. The coup was followed immediately by an intense campaign of repression against anti-coup activists waged by the military, police and death squads, echoing the dark days of the Central American dirty wars in the 1980s.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo after signing a bilateral free trade agreement. (Aug. 12, 2011)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper shakes hands with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo after signing a bilateral free trade agreement. (Aug. 12, 2011)  (ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP)

Harper’s visit, during which he announced the completion of the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement, is the culmination of the Canadian government’s strenuous efforts to deepen political and economic ties with the post-coup Lobo government following its election on Nov. 28, 2009. The Harper government has been building its relationship with Lobo in spite of international criticism of the ongoing human rights abuses in the impoverished country.

Harper, former minister of state for the Americas Peter Kent and former and current Canadian ambassadors to Honduras have all sung the praises of the Lobo government. They portray it sanguinely as one of national reconciliation and a return to democratic normalcy. But this is nowhere near the truth of what is happening in Honduras. Indeed, as a leading Honduran human rights organization, the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (Committee of the Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras, COFADEH) has argued, the human rights situation was actually worse during the first year of the Lobo government than it was immediately following the coup during the dictatorship of Roberto Micheletti.

During Lobo’s first year in power (January 2010-January 2011) there were at least 34 targeted assassinations of activists within the Resistance Front (COFADEH also notes over 300 suspicious deaths of people associated with the resistance), 34 killings of peasant activists involved in land struggles, 10 politically motivated murders of journalists (leading Reporters Without Borders to declare Honduras to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists in 2010), and 31 slayings of members of the LGBT community, many of whom were associated with the resistance.

Not surprisingly, anti-coup activists scoff at the idea that the Lobo regime represents the return of democracy. They suggest instead that it represents the consolidation of the coup — with key coup actors, such as military leader Gen. Romeo Vásquez, rewarded with important economic and political positions — under the shallow veneer of democracy. There have been no charges made in any cases of political assassination.

But the veneer is good enough for the Harper government — cover for Canada’s pursuit of its political and economic interests. Despite the repression surrounding Lobo’s election, the refusal of internationally recognized electoral observers to participate in the election, and the failure of the Honduran Congress to ratify the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord (a condition for Canadian support for the election, the accord, backed by Canada, would have allowed for the exiled Zelaya to return to the presidency but with his powers dramatically reduced), Canada was one of the first countries to recognize the new government.

Soon after Lobo took power, Kent started lobbying for Honduras’s return to the OAS, while Canadian officials pushed for and received meetings for Canadian investors with Lobo and some of his key cabinet ministers. Behind the scenes, Canadian officials and a mining executive discussed how to promote a new foreign investor-friendly mining law.

Apart from one press release raising concerns about the killings of journalists and Harper’s very terse acknowledgement of human rights problems during his trip (in which he absolved the Lobo government of any responsibility), Canada has said and done little about targeted repression of political activists. Two days before Kent’s February 2010 visit to Honduras, for example, a union activist and resistance member, Julio Fúnez Benítez, was assassinated. Nevertheless, Kent was fulsome in his praise for Lobo, declaring that he “is beginning the process of national reconciliation.”

And toward that end, Lobo established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Unlike other such commissions, however, like that in post-apartheid South Africa or post-civil war Guatemala, Honduras’s commission took place as repression was occurring. Sensing a charade for the benefit of the international community, members of the Resistance Front refused to participate. Unfazed, Canada financed the commission and provided a member, former diplomat Michael Kergin, who happened to be employed by one of Canada’s biggest corporate law firms, Bennett Jones, which just happens to specialize in, among other things, investment law and mining. Predictably, while acknowledging a coup d’état had occurred, the commission blamed Zelaya for breaking the law by disregarding a Supreme Court ruling to cancel a straw poll referendum that asked Hondurans if they wanted to hold another referendum during the November 2009 election. The second referendum would have enabled Hondurans to decide whether or not to replace a constitution written during the days of military dictatorship. Rewriting the constitution remains a very popular idea with many Hondurans.

As intended, Canada’s engagement with post-coup Honduras is reaping benefits for Canadian investors. Lobo has been adopting an aggressive free market plan: rivers have been concessioned for dam-building projects; the state electricity and telecommunications companies will likely be put up for auction; a new mining law is coming; large tracts of Garífuna (Afro-Indigenous) land on the north coast are being illegally sold for tourist development; and the constitution has been amended to allow for the creation of corporate-run city states (the so-called model cities).

Canada is one of the largest foreign investor nations in the country, with over $600 million in investment, according to Ambassador Cameron Mackay. Canadian companies play leading roles in mining, maquilas and tourism, and are central actors in the recent announcement of plans for a tourism-focused model city, the first such city announced.

When I was in Honduras in June, I spoke with activists organizing against Canadian companies in all these industries. They spoke of being displaced from their land, environmental destruction and exploitative working conditions. Some alleged they had received death threats for their opposition to Canadian company practices. Canada, I was told, is acting like a colonial power: supporting a repressive government to facilitate the exploitation of the country’s natural resources and cheap labour. It is unlikely that Harper’s visit and the new trade agreement will change this perception.

The Harper government has already successfully consolidated its political and economic ties with Colombia — a country which annually accounts for approximately two-thirds of trade unionists assassinated worldwide and witnesses severe human rights violations in mining zones. Honduras is the latest target of an increasingly aggressive Canadian foreign policy for the Americas, guided by a very simple but frightening philosophy that places corporate profits and geostrategic interests well above human rights.

Todd Gordon teaches political science at York University and is the author of Imperialist Canada (Arbeiter Ring, 2010). He visited Honduras in June.

Canada’s Mining Monopoly in Honduras and the Refugee Mining Caravan
by Billie Pierre
Sunday Nov 25th, 2018 12:51 PM
This Refugee Migrant Caravan that began in Honduras in mid-October and has grown to over 7000 people. They’re currently in Mexico, with some having reached the border. Canada has significant investment, and owns a staggering 90% of the mines in Hondura, but lacks any involvement in providing any support for this humanitarian crisis.

Today, we’ll be hearing from activists linked to Canada and Central America, who will provide us with a closer perspective on the impacts Canada has on Honduras.

José Luis Granados Ceja, an independent writer and photojournalist based in Mexico City who will give us updates on the Caravan. We’ll hear from Stacey Gomez a migrants justice organizer. We’ll also hear from Jackie Mcvickar, who has accompanied human rights social movements and land protectors in Central America for over 10 years. She will also be giving a report about the trial that is being heard right now, for the murder of Indigenous leader Berta Caceres.

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Central American migrants—mostly from Honduras—descend from a truck at a temporary shelter in Irapuato, Mexico, on Nov. 11, 2018. Some caravans fleeing violence are now stuck at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Central American migrants—mostly from Honduras—descend from a truck at a temporary shelter in Irapuato, Mexico, on Nov. 11, 2018. Some caravans fleeing violence are now stuck at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Alfredo Estrella—AFP/Getty Images
By Amelia Frank-Vitale

November 23, 2018

At the end of October, I sat with my friend Graciela, counting up all the murders we’d heard about over the last week in her sector of Choloma, a city in Honduras. We thought it was about seven. It turns out, between us, we’d heard of at least 10.

Murders. In one sector. In one week. Four young men, three young women, one bus driver, one older man who worked for the municipality, and one “colgado”—a body hung up as a warning.

This was at the same time the Central American caravan was making headlines in the international press, when people started speculating that mysterious political forces were behind this mass exodus of people from Honduras.

As Graciela—whose own brother was murdered a little over a year ago—and I went back and forth, I thought, This, this is why people leave. And this is what people outside of Honduras seem to not fully understand.

Months earlier, 9-year-old Andres told me about the first time he saw someone killed in front of his eyes, and the second time, and the third time. He talked about the murders he’d seen in a halting way, wishing he could unsee the things he’d witnessed. I told him I’ve actually never seen anyone be killed. His eyes widened, incredulous. That seemed impossible to him: someone my age, a grown adult, never having seen these things. He dreamed about going to the U.S., a place he imagined he might be able to live without seeing any more murders.

I have been living in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second-largest city and economic center, since September of 2017. I came to Honduras to research migration and life after deportation for my doctoral degree; I chose San Pedro Sula because it had become famous for being one of the most violent cities in the world, making migration and deportation questions of life and death. While Honduras has made significant strides in reducing its murder rate (from a high of 86.5 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 43.6 in 2017), it is still devastatingly high.

But what I’ve learned is that life here is so much harder than murder statistics could reveal.

One day, around noon, I showed up at Bayron’s house in Villanueva to collect a camera I’d lent him as part of a photography workshop I was running. His mother told me he was still sleeping, and I gently made a joke about him sleeping so late. No no, she told me, he was in line all night long last night. For school.

I didn’t understand at first. She explained that in order for Bayron to register for high school, he had to get in line the night before. Like devoted fans waiting for the box office to open, Bayron and his friends slept in that line, determined to get a spot in the public school this year. If he got there too late to get a spot, he would just have to wait until next year. This is how the public school system works across Honduras.

Bayron’s been deported once already; he left in search of better opportunities, safety, and stability. Back in Honduras, he’d rather be in school but the options before him are few if he cannot get a spot. Like so many, the next best choice might be migrating again.

Darwin, in the Rivera Hernandez sector of the city, also worries about what his son will do next year when it’s time to start high school. Here, the issue i­sn’t whether or not he would get a spot. Darwin’s neighborhood is controlled by one gang; the public high school is in a rival gang’s territory. His son would literally risk his life by going to school. Darwin has thought about sending him to private school, but he sometimes cannot find work for months and his wife, who is in her 40s, can’t get hired anywhere because of her age. They just shook their heads, tears welling up in their eyes, when I asked them what they would do.

Darwin looked up and told me, “Here, it’s a crime to be poor. The police treat us like criminals.” Darwin is careful to never leave home with more than 100 lempiras in his pocket—roughly $5—because he worries constantly that if the police find him with more money on him, they’ll arrest him for extortion. Many of his neighbors are in the “pozo,” Honduras’s maximum security prisons, awaiting trial for the crime of extortion. The apparent proof? Each was found with 300 lempiras on them.

People live on edge in Honduras, never sure when a stray bullet might hit them, whether they will be able to feed their families tomorrow, or if they will end up in jail without having done anything wrong. When word spreads that a caravan is forming, it doesn’t take much for people to join. No one needs to convince them, pay them, or promise them anything.

Even now, as Mexico has met the caravans with repression, protests, and deportation; Honduras has shut down at least one of its border crossings; and Donald Trump has sent troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, people in Honduras talk every day about forming new caravans, ready to walk thousands of miles for a chance, not even for a better life, but just at having a life at all.

Amelia Frank-Vitale is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Michigan. After working in Mexico from 2010 to 2015, where she focused on the multiple kinds of violence that Central Americans face while in transit, she now works in Honduras, studying how deportees reconfigure their lives and reimagine their futures after being sent back to some of the world’s most violent neighborhoods.

Honduran troops deploy in San Pedro Sula during the inauguration of Juan Orlando Hernández in January. Photo by Kevin Clarke.Honduran troops deploy in San Pedro Sula during the inauguration of Juan Orlando Hernández in January. Photo by Kevin Clarke.

Though thousands of Hondurans left in recent weeks to form the main party of the so-called migrant caravan now making its way to the United States through Mexico, on a typical day hundreds of people leave Honduras, caravan or not. And as those hundreds depart, scores of others are returned after deportation from the United States. Many deportees will try their luck again.

“We are living in calamity, a humanitarian crisis in Honduras,” said Bartolo Fuentes, a well-known Honduran journalist and former member of its Congress, arriving at the Toncontin Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Oct. 19 after being detained in Guatemala where he tried to report on the caravan. “Today they left,” he said. “Tomorrow they will leave…. Three hundred people leave Honduras every day.”

U.S. and Honduran officials, he said, prefer that this regular exodus remains “out of sight” or that migrants “die on the way,” their plight unnoticed by the wider world. But “now that they’re going together, it’s a scandal,” Mr. Fuentes said in evident frustration.

“We are living in calamity, a humanitarian crisis in Honduras. Today they left. Tomorrow they will leave…. Three hundred people leave Honduras every day.”

Honduras has endured years of economic and political crises. The November 2017 election results, endorsed by the U.S. government but widely perceived as fraudulent, led to mass protests and dozens of deaths of demonstrators at the hands of security forces and police. The U.N. Office of the High Commission for Human Rights reported that military police and army “used excessive force, including lethal force, to control and disperse protests, leading to the killing and wounding of protesters as well as passers-by.”

According to Joaquin Mejia, a human rights attorney and researcher at the Jesuit Reflection, Research and Communications Team (ERIC-sj) in El Progreso, Honduras, in addition to economic policies that have led to an increase in poverty, the migrant caravan is an expression of frustration with years of structural violence and impunity, corruption and the militarization of Honduran society. High-ranking, active-duty military officers have been implicated in drug and human trafficking and homicide.

Karla Rivas, the coordinator of the Jesuit Migration Network, spoke with America by phone from Queretaro, Mexico, where she was accompanying a separate caravan of mothers who were searching for their children—young migrants who had gone unaccounted for after heading north. “The humanitarian exodus [from Honduras] is the culmination of several crises that have been manifesting themselves over time with the implementation of an unjust economic model.” She called it “an inhumane economic model that is based on extracting [resources] from communities.”

“And if communities say anything,” she added, “they are extracted…too.” By eviction, she explained.

Years of economic policies that have served to further the divide between the rich and the poor in Honduras seem to be at the root of the search for new opportunities in the north. Remittances sent home from Hondurans living in the United States are the foundation of the economy in Honduras and other Central American states. In May 2018, Hondurans sent an all time high of $456.2 million per month to loved ones.

Honduras has “the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America.”

The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that Honduras has “the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America,” a inequity that has been accelerating since President Manuel Zelaya was deposed in 2009. In the two years after the coup, “over 100 percent of all real income gains went to the wealthiest 10 percent of Hondurans,” according to the report.

The Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, sponsored by the Organization of American States, reports that $450 million is lost to tax evasion and fraud each year. This money deprives the nation of resources “that should be invested in education, health” and other social services, says Mr. Mejia.

Violence is another key driver of immigration from Honduras, which endures one of the world’s highest homicide rates. Much of the violence has been associated with drug trafficking and acts of extortion—criminal gangs can essentially control entire urban communities—but some of the violence results from collusion among gang members, police and security forces, sometimes in acts of intimidation directed at community or environmental activists.

“In the past years, there have been 3,000 cases of femicide,” Mr. Mejia said. “Only 29 have been investigated and only one led to a conviction,” he said. “This high level of impunity is seen over and over again in the murders of lawyers and journalists.”

He points to increased numbers of targeted killings, especially of L.G.B.T. people and youth under 30, since 2013 when Juan Orlando Hernández was first elected to the presidency. Those responsible for protecting the civilian population have sometimes been accused of being the ones who are killing them.

“This high level of impunity is seen over and over again in the murders of lawyers and journalists.”

Mr. Fuentes has become a target in the controversy about the origins of this latest caravan from Central America. Detained after crossing into Guatemala in an effort to report on the migrant caravan, he was moved to Guatemala City by National Police.

Attorney Edy Tabora from the Honduran Committee for Freedom of Expression joined other activists in securing his release. His supporters are concerned that Mr. Fuentes has become a scapegoat for the Hernández and Trump administrations as they press for an end to the Honduran exodus. As an outspoken advocate for democracy and migrants rights, Mr. Fuentes has been repeatedly targeted by the Hernández government.

In a nationally televised broadcast, the Honduran chancellor, Maria Dolores Aguero, dismissed the grassroots aspects of the migrant caravan and alleged that Mr. Fuentes was trying to create political instability in the country. That official line was taken up by Heide Fulton, chargé d’affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, in a televised message encouraging Hondurans to stay home. “You are being deceived by false promises by leaders with political and criminal intentions,” she said.

On Oct. 31, Mr. Fuentes left Honduras for El Salvador after government officials repeatedly said that he would be charged with human trafficking. In a statement released after his departure, he said that the government “wants to put me behind bars to show the U.S. government its ‘efficiency in fighting irregular migration.’”

On Nov. 5, President Hernández reiterated that the organizers of the caravan should have the law “severely” applied and called on neighboring countries to take action.

Mr. Mejia believes that the militarization of Honduran society has increased as a result of calls for greater public security. ”Funds that should be used for education, health or civilian police [for public security] go to the military,” he said. Honduran “armed forces become involved with a authoritarian solution to social conflicts, and that leads to forced displacement.”

“The United States has a lot to do with this because when we talk about violence and militarization, the United States is [financially] supporting this agenda,” he added. The Alliance for Prosperity Plan, introduced and implemented by the United States, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in 2014 with the mission of curbing migration from the “Northern Triangle” countries, spends 60 percent of the $750 million budget on security, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

The Honduran conference of Catholic bishops released a statement on Oct. 25, describing the caravan as “a shocking reality” that reflects ”the current situation in our country, which forces a multitude to leave what little it has, venturing without any certainty for the migration route to the United States, with the desire to reach the promised land, the ‘American dream’, which allows them to solve their economic problems and improve their living conditions, for them and their families and, in many cases, to ensure the long-awaited physical security.”

The bishops urged the Hernández government to respond at home to the crisis suggested by the caravan. “It is the duty of the Honduran State to provide its citizens with the means to satisfy their basic needs,” the bishops said, “such as decent, stable and well-paid work, health, education and housing.”

“When these conditions do not exist,” the bishops said, “people are forced to live in tragedy and many of them hope to undertake a path that leads to development and improvement, finding themselves in the shameful and painful need to leave their families, their friends, their community, their culture, their environment and their land.”

As more than 6,000 people passed through the Mexican state of Chiapas at the end of October, the Human Rights Monitoring and Observation Group in Chiapas reported a heavy presence of Mexican anti-riot police and military, including helicopters, drones and boats, threatening the group of migrants, many of who were exhausted and weak after walking hundreds of miles. The group, which includes representatives from the American Friends Service Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service and Doctors of the World, added, “The militarization of the border does not guarantee the security and integrity of the people, on the contrary it increases [their] risks.”

“The migration route is where entire families are looking for the possibility of a new life,” Ms. Rivas said, “but a large number of the participants on the march are also people simply trying to save their lives.”


ultima foto de Ivan Betancourt

Por:Juan Ramón Martínez.

En el primer trimestre de 1968, recibí en Choluteca la visita del diácono colombiano Iván Betancourt. Llegaba a la Colmena, centro de capacitación de Escuelas Radiofónicas, propiedad de la diócesis de Choluteca, entonces dirigida por monseñor Marcelo Gerin, miembro de la misión de los javerianos. Iván venía a conocer el trabajo que hacíamos con los campesinos, especialmente el programa de capacitación de líderes en que, usando el Método del Encaminamiento Operacional de la Acción Colectiva, con el padre Juan Pablo Guillte, buscábamos forjar líder que movilizaran la fuerza de los pobres de la comunidades rurales en dirección a la solución de sus propios problemas, sin depender del gobierno. Iván Betancourt había llegado en septiembre de 1968 a Honduras, estableciéndose en la diócesis de Olancho a cargo de monseñor Nicolás D´Antonio. Había nacido en Fredonia, Antioquia, Colombia, en el matrimonio de Luis y Felisa de Betancourt. Efectuó sus estudios secundarios en Cali entre 1954 y 1959. De Honduras,  en 1970, regresa a Colombia en donde fue ordenado sacerdote en Fredonia. Fue asignado a Dulce Nombre de Culmí. De allí fue a Otawa, Canadá, a sacar una maestría en pastoral familiar (1974) y asignado a la parroquia de Catacamas, en donde desplegó un intenso trabajo con  los movimientos católicos, especialmente la atención a las familias, estableciendo los “Laboratorios Conyugales” – que mucho ayudaron a los participantes, especialmente los que tenían problemas en el interior de sus parejas — y  el de la Celebración de la Palabra, por medio del cual líderes religiosos dominicalmente en ausencia de sacerdotes, efectuaban la lectura de la Palabra de Dios y comentaban la vinculación de la misma con las realidades que enfrentaban en sus vidas individuales, familiares y comunales. Por su parte, el padre Casimiro Cyper había nacido en Medford, Wisconsin, en el seno de una familia pobre, el 12 de enero de 1941. Fue ordenado sacerdote franciscano conventual en la catedral de San Pablo en Minnesota el 29 de mayo de 1958. Llegó a Honduras, para atender las parroquias de Gualaco y San Esteban en el departamento de Olancho, lugares muy aislados y de difícil acceso, para entonces.

El 25 de junio de 1975, el padre Iván Betancourt viajando de Tegucigalpa hacia Catacamas, se detuvo a comprar combustible en la gasolinera que entonces estaba en un aserradero ubicado en el Valle de Lepaguare, – propiedad del señor Enrique Barh — fue capturado por fuerzas militares comandadas por el mayor Enrique Chinchilla. El padre Betancourt viajaba acompañado por María Elena Bolívar  —  joven nacida y residente en Cali, Colombia, trabajadora en un banco privado y novia de un hermano suyo con el cual proyectaba contraer matrimonio–  y  por la estudiante de la UNAH Ruth García Mallorquín, nieta de Justo García, antiguo capataz de los campos bananeros, compadre de mi padre y amigo cercano de mi familia, mientras vivimos, en el campo bananero de La Jigua, en el municipio de Arenal, en el departamento de Yoro. Ruth García Mallorquín aprovechaba el viaje del padre Betancourt para visitar a sus padres en Juticalpa. Betancourt y sus acompañantes, fue llevado esposado a la casa hacienda de los Horcones, propiedad de Manuel Zelaya Ordóñez – a quien apodaban “tres piezas” porque solo usaba zapatos, camisa y pantalón –, caudillo nacionalista (declaraciones de Jorge Arturo Reina, La Tribuna, julio 4 del 2016), convertido en liberal por Modesto  Rodas Alvarado, en donde después de múltiples torturas y vejaciones difícil de narrar, sin ofender el oído de las personas, fue muerto  a balazos inferidos por los implicados, sargento  Benjamín Plata, mayor Chinchilla, Manuel Zelaya Ordóñez y Enrique Barh — junto a 10 personas más que habían sido capturadas por las autoridades militares en el Centro de Capacitación Santa Clara: Máximo Aguilera, Lincoln Colman, Arnulfo Gómez, Alejandro Figueroa, Fausto Cruz, Francisco Colindres, Óscar Ovidio Ortiz, Bernardo Rivera, Roque Ramón Andrade y Juan Benito Montoya. El Centro había  sido cedido por el obispo  de la diócesis a las organizaciones comunales del departamento de Olancho. Eran oficinas de las Escuelas Radiofónicas, Cáritas de Honduras, de UNC, de la Cooperativas de Consumo que tenía su bodega central allí y el espacio en donde se ofrecía capacidad a los dirigentes de las comunidades rurales y de las ciudades olanchanas. El gerente de la bodega central de la Cooperativa de Consumo, era  Lincoln Colman. Durante el asalto, los ejecutores saquearon todos los bienes de consumo que había allí. Es decir que, además de capturas y asesinatos, los asaltantes y sus compinches, ejercieron el saqueo de los bienes de los campesinos. Apenas pudo rescatarse, me refiere Fausto Erazo Camacho que era para entonces, el coordinador nacional del movimiento de las cooperativas de consumo, una de las bodegas de frijoles propiedad de la UNC que, no pudieron llevarse las autoridades convertidas en delincuentes.

La marcha campesina

El movimiento campesino social cristiano, posiblemente el más fuerte y organizado de toda la historia del país que, entonces contaba con la simpatía y el apoyo de parte de la Iglesia Católica del país – había decidido realizar una “marcha Campesina” que, desde diferentes puntos, convergería en la ciudad de Tegucigalpa para exigirle reivindicaciones al gobierno de Juan Alberto Melgar que ilegalmente ejercía la función de jefe del Estado, nombrado por quienes habían asumido para entonces la soberanía popular: el Consejo Superior de las Fuerzas Armadas. La idea no era original. Tenía un antecedente que algunos líderes sociales cristianos conocían: la marcha sobre Roma de Benito Mussolini. Y en Honduras, la uso en 1972 Osvaldo López Arellano, contando con la complicidad de Reyes Arévalo, presidente de la ANACH, — la más fuerte organización campesina para entonces —  para precipitar el golpe del 4 de diciembre de 1972, que provoco la caída del presidente Cruz Ocles. De forma que para los militares que rodeaban a Melgar, La Marcha Campesina tenía una evidente orientación política que era necesario neutralizar. Cosa que hicieron muy bien, de forma pacífica, en casi todo el país. Las comunicaciones funcionaron muy bien en todos los departamentos del país, menos en Olancho en donde Chinchilla incurrió en el delito para evitar el avance de la marcha campesina que, nunca trascendió las fronteras departamentales siquiera.
La reacción del gobierno de Melgar Castro

En razón de lo anterior, el gobierno del jefe de Estado Melgar, ordenó que se detuviese la marcha. En casi todo el país, el operativo funcionó: los campesinos fueron bajados de los buses y regresados a sus lugares de origen, se colocaron retenes en puentes para detener pequeños camiones que conducían personas sospechosas, etc. etc. Menos en Olancho. Había allí una fuerte alianza entre los ganaderos y los militares, enfrentados a los dirigentes campesinos que tienen tras de una gran organización de cooperativas de consumo, bases muy bien entrenadas y movimientos auxiliares como las Escuelas Radiofónicas y los Clubes de Amas de Casa que ya estaban siendo transformados en la base de la Federación de Mujeres Campesinas de Honduras. Además, había un fuerte rechazo, artificialmente montado en los grupos pudientes de Olancho, en contra de la Iglesia Católica. La alianza de los militares con los principales dirigentes ganaderos – Juan Zambrana, Manuel Zelaya Ordóñez, entre otros – y el mayor Enrique Chinchilla, todavía no está suficientemente estudiada. Por su especificidad y su anormalidad. Porque solo allí, en Olancho se actúo con tal saña, violencia e irrespeto a la ley por parte de los militares. En ningún otro lugar del país se produjo un incidente tan doloroso y que tanta  vergüenza ha provocado entre todos los hondureños. Fue un crimen atroz, con todos los agravantes y además, cometidos por la autoridad en contra de sacerdotes, personas particulares, una extranjera incluso y líderes campesinos. Los intentos para explicar tal conducta criminal, solo se pueden hacer desde la anormalidad psicológica y la arrogancia del poder. O fruto de la personalidad del mayor Chinchilla, su incapacidad para entender las órdenes de sus superiores y el consumo de estupefacientes, para mantenerse activo. El comportamiento de los ganaderos cómplices no es extraño e incomprensible, porque creían que sus propiedades estaban amenazadas. Y hombres violentos, creyeron que la violencia con los militares, tenía la impunidad asegurada. Adicionalmente hay que decir que Melgar simpatizaba con el social cristianismo de tal forma que, adicionalmente por razones de amistad había nombrado asesor de su gobierno al Ing. Vicente Williams Agase, a Fernando Montes Matamoros como ministro de Recursos Naturales y a Lidia Williams de Arias como ministra de Educación. Los dos primeros, por razones obvias, se opusieron a la Marcha Campesina, porque anticipaban confrontaciones en Olancho, en donde ya se había producido el primer encontronazo violento entre campesinos y terratenientes con saldo de varios muertos en el lugar llamado La Talanquera, tres años antes. No cabe duda que los sacerdotes de la diócesis apoyaban como obligación evangélica a las organizaciones campesinas, justificaban el reclamo de los más pobres por una vida mejor; pero no participan en la organización y mantenimiento de la Marcha Campesina sobre Tegucigalpa, como algunos desinformados creyeron. Tenemos evidencia que la participación del padre Iván Betancourt es mínima, casi marginal en una zona de elevada organización campesina como es Catacamas. Y la del padre Casimiro Cyper es posiblemente inexistente, tanto porque Gualaco era en términos de organización social, una zona de frontera y su sacerdote – recientemente llegado al país — todavía no había terminado de entender el tipo de conflicto y formas de lucha usados por los campesinos. Por lo que estaba menos involucrado en apoyarlos que otros colegas suyos, ubicados en el resto de las parroquias del extenso departamento de Olancho, el más grande y despoblado del país. Con exceso de tierras y por supuesto, extensiones sin cultivar por nadie.

La denuncia de José Ochoa Martínez y el arzobispo Héctor Enrique Santos

Chinchilla, después del crimen cometido, pidió dinero a los ganaderos – los que lo aportaron generosamente – para montar una campaña de desinformación, propalando la especie que los desaparecidos, incluidas las dos señoritas asesinadas, se habían internado en las montañas para iniciar mediante la técnica de guerra de guerrillas, la lucha en contra del gobierno. Uno de los periodistas a los que se le ofreció dinero fue José Ochoa Martínez el que, al darse cuenta que era una trama muy burda en un clima noticioso que reclamaba explicaciones más lógicas, creyó que era su deber darle a monseñor Héctor Enrique Santos, no solo la información referida al intento de conseguir su respaldo periodístico a cambio de dinero, sino que además referirle que las 14 personas habían sido asesinadas. Monseñor Santos y la Conferencia Episcopal, pidieron una investigación del asunto y mostraron su dolor ante lo ocurrido.

La Comisión de Investigación de las Fuerzas Armadas

El Consejo Superior de las Fuerzas Armadas creó una comisión integrada entre otros por el coronel Amílcar Zelaya Rodríguez, que rindió un informe contundente sobre los hechos, confirmando el asesinato de 14 personas, el depósito de sus cadáveres en un pozo de malacate de la hacienda de Manuel Zelaya Ordóñez, al cual agregaron varias bolsas de cal viva,  tierra de los alrededores y usaron tractores para aplanar el terreno, de tal manera que nadie pudiera imaginar que alguna vez allí había existido un poso de malacate. Después que los involucrados confesaron los crímenes, se procedió a desenterrar los cadáveres. El de María Elena Bolívar regresó a Colombia. Ruth García fue enterrada en Tegucigalpa. En la UNAH hay un busto suyo, el único de todos los mártires del acto más violento de toda la historia del país, que ha sido recordada y honrada por sus compañeros universitarios.  Los sacerdotes y los dirigentes campesinos fueron enterrados en varias localidades del departamento de Olancho, entre la pena y el estupor de miles de personas que constataban asombrados el grado de salvajismo que provocaban las autoridades sin ley, sobre los ciudadanos indefensos del país. Iván Betancourt fue enterrado fuera de la iglesia de Catacamas, en uno de sus costados. El padre Casimiro en el interior de la iglesia de Gualaco. De ninguno de los dos y de nadie más, hay un monumento que recuerde su martirio. La cruz que los campesinos colocan en el lugar donde fueron arrojados al fondo del pozo de malacate, los propietarios del suelo, las derriban y destruyen. Para que no quede huella.

El rompimiento entre las FF AA y su pueblo se inició peligrosamente y en muchos oficiales, se desarrolló el sentimiento que era el momento de regresar a sus tareas profesionales, devolviéndole la soberanía al pueblo y el gobierno a los políticos. Melgar pidió y obtuvo la renuncia de Williams Agase y Montes Matamoros e inicio, su declive que al final, terminaría con la forzada renuncia pedida por el Consejo Superior de las Fuerzas Armadas, del cargo de jefe de gobierno en agosto de 1978. Dos años después, los militares algunos a regañadientes, convocaron a elecciones generales, las que fueron ganadas por los liberales que compitieron contra los nacionalistas que cargaban bajo sus espaldas los errores de 17 años de gobierno del “amachinamiento” entre López Arellano y los dirigentes nacionalistas encabezados por Ricardo Zúniga Agustinus.

El retraimiento definitivo de la iglesia, la rendición de la jerarquía y el abandono de la pastoral social de la tierra y dejo atrás, el olor de sus ovejas.

La Conferencia Episcopal de la Iglesia Católica hondureña no pudo asimilar el golpe. Ni entender a la luz del Evangelio, el sentido de los hechos ocurridos  La confrontación violenta, los asesinatos de los dos sacerdotes, las dos señoritas y los 10 campesinos en Olancho, no pudieron ser asimilados por la jerarquía católica que reaccionó con exagerada mansedumbre, se distanció de la organización campesina, rompió relaciones con el PDCH y removió de sus filas a los seglares que habían tenido alguna relación con los acontecimientos. Dejó de oler a ovejas, como va a decir mucho tiempo después Francisco, el Papa jesuita nacido en Argentina y que ahora vive en Roma. Y lo peor, retiro de la silla obispal a Nicolás D’Antonio que fue exiliado a los Estados Unidos, su país de origen. Las parroquias fueron abandonadas. Contrario a la historia del cristianismo que siempre se ha agigantado ante la sangre de sus mártires, la Iglesia Católica, se acobardo y cedió ante la petición de los militares, cuya amistad considero mucho más importante que cualquiera otra consideración doctrinal. Por ello es que fuera de Olancho, ni Iván Betancourt y Casimiro Cyper, son considerados como mártires de la iglesia hondureña, pese a que entregaron su vida por razón de su fe. La Iglesia Católica hondureña, a partir de junio de 1975, empezó a declinar numéricamente, de forma que a estas alturas incluso, representa menos del 50% de los que se consideran religiosos en el país. Superada por los evangélicos, por primera vez en su historia. Cada 25 de junio se honra a los mártires, pero solo en Olancho. En el resto del país, incluso no se les considera ni siquiera hermanos asesinados por su fe y su devoción por los pobres. Ni se reza una oración por su descanso eterno.

Los asesinos principales, tuvieron mejor suerte. Zelaya Ordóñez, padre del expresidente Manuel  Zelaya Rosales y Enrique Barh, encausados, ingresaron en la cárcel y estuvieron en ella, menos de un año. El primer acto de Roberto Suazo Córdova, católico confeso y santero de mucha fama internacional, desde la Asamblea Constituyente, emitió un decreto de amnistía que les permitió salir en libertad. El mayor Chinchilla fue enviado a un cargo de agregado militar en Europa. Según refieren, actualmente, reside pacíficamente tranquilo en San Pedro Sula.  No fueron tan afortunados, el sargento Plata, que murió víctima de un atentado del que nunca se supo quiénes fueron sus autores. Ni tampoco el obispo Nicolas D Antonio, que fue destituido de su diócesis, castigado y enviado a una olvidada parroquia en los Estados Unidos. Allá, viejo y abandonado, reza  con amorosa devoción, por el alma de quienes fueron víctimas del más horrendo crimen de la historia de Honduras.

Tegucigalpa, julio 3 del 2016