Archive for the ‘corruption in Honduras’ Category

Honduran Jesuit, delegation plead for end to U.S. military aid

Honduran Jesuit, delegation plead for end to U.S. military aid

Honduran Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno Coto, better known as “Padre Melo,” is seen near the U.S. Capitol in Washington May 17. (Credit: Rhina Guidos/CNS.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of Hondurans led by a Jesuit priest pleaded with U.S. lawmakers May 17 to stop military aid to the Central American nation and to allow the country’s citizens living under a particular immigration status in the U.S. to remain here until conditions improve in their native country.

“We need you to support them so that they continue living in the United States because their return to our country is dangerous,” said Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno, who traveled with a group of five Hondurans to 10 cities in the United States.

They spoke to groups and organizations hoping to garner support for some 57,000 Hondurans benefiting from the Temporary Protection Status program, which the Trump administration said would end in 2020, but also for a bill named after one of Moreno’s friends, a human rights activist killed in 2016 in Honduras.

Just outside the U.S. Capitol, Georgia Congressman Henry “Hank” Johnson joined Moreno, popularly known as Father Melo, to speak about the Berta Caceres Act, which would cut U.S. military aid to the present government of Honduras led by President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Estimates put U.S. aid to Honduras targeted for “security” at between $18 million to $22 million in 2015. Many of those gathered have for years questioned whether the U.S. should be giving money to Hernandez and his administration.

Though the constitution in Honduras limited its president to serve a one-time, six-year term, Hernandez sought and snatched a second term late last year and began that second term under a cloud of illegitimacy and calls for his resignation that have never stopped. His critics, who include Moreno, have been threatened, jailed or attacked. Hondurans who oppose Hernandez say U.S. taxpayers are paying for their oppression.

Johnson, a Democrat, said he introduced his bill, named after a slain human rights leader, to stand united with “our brothers and sisters in Honduras who are being oppressed.”

“Their human rights are being denied and trampled upon by a corrupt government that is sponsored by our own government,” he said.

Human rights “don’t mean a thing to this current government in Honduras,” Johnson said. The bill has about 70 co-sponsors and “we will one day get it passed,” he said.

U.S. policies in Honduras, the congressman said, are driving people to migrate north, where Americans are saying they are part of the country’s problems, “but we should stop and think a little more deeply about what we’re doing and what is happening south of our borders as we’re making it untenable for people to continue to live (in Honduras).”

When people are oppressed, they move away from home, Johnson said.

“If we change our policies, we will create a safer and more peaceful environment, but it can’t be for the select few, it has to be for all of us,” he said.

Jose Artiga, executive director of the SHARE Foundation, said the delegation also was calling for an investigation into the killing and imprisonment of those who protested the November 2017 election that kept Hernandez in power.

“We are asking for the freedom of those political prisoners,” he said.

Neery Carillo, the sister of Caceres, the woman after whom the the bill is named, also was present to talk about her sister, her work and legacy.

“My family and I continue living with a heavy heart after three years, two months and 15 days” since she was killed, she said. “My youngest sister, Bertita, was brutally assassinated.”

Caceres, who spoke in favor of the environment, human rights and the rights of the indigenous, was shot dead in her home in March 2016. She had been protesting the building of a dam near an indigenous community. In March, the executive of a hydroelectric company was arrested for playing a part in planning her killing.

Her sister said Caceres’ death can help bring about the quest for justice she so desired but she also blamed the U.S. government for getting in the way of that by “actively ignoring the (Honduran) government’s extensive corruption.”

“Berta’s death cannot be in vain,” Carillo said. “It’s not all about Bertita. It’s about Hondurans, all Central Americans.”

The U.S. must do better to help Central Americans, she said, and they would stop fleeing their countries if it weren’t for the violence and corruption the U.S. government helped to create.

Moreno called for the U.S. to stop supporting “an illegal and illegitimate” president, and help instead to restore democracy.

“We have faith in the struggle of this moment. We have faith in the struggle of the future, and we have faith in the future of an authentic brotherhood between the people of Honduras and the United States,” he said. “Let us support one another, let’s build a bridge now, not build a wall, but a bridge toward justice and peace between Honduras and the United States.”

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Pajulies Under Attack: Hydroelectric Company Bypasses Resistance by Military Force

Residents of Pajuiles maintain a camp under a banner reading “For water and for life we will go to the end. Unity and struggle, Pajuiles resists.” Source: Louis Bockner

A day after a Honduran judge dismissed charges of land invasion against 10 people from Pajuiles, at least 300 soldiers and police surrounded the small community near the North Coast of Honduras early Thursday morning in a show of force while guarding the company behind a controversial hydroelectric dam in the region.

Truckloads of state security as well as agents on foot arrived in the community around 5:30 a.m. local time accompanying president and CEO of the hydroelectric company Hidrocep, Jason Hawit. Community members said Hawit, who is also named as the General Manager of Baprosa, a rice production company in the neighboring department of Yoro, left the area around 6:00 p.m., but that military agents were still present well into the night.

“The company came completely guarded — five police trucks in front and five behind,”  a witness who spoke on the condition of anonymity told Upside Down World. “It was like a war.”

The witness reported that the scores of state security included U.S. funded and trained TIGRES, as well as an “exaggerated presence” of officers from the Police Directorate of Investigations (DPI) and COBRA special operations unit. Police and military fired tear gas in a way that appeared to target prominent community leaders and took photos in an apparent attempt to intimidate local residents, the witness added.

For over a year, community members have denounced state violence and criminalization targeting their peaceful resistance to the Hidrocep project.

“We are completely militarized right now,” said Oscar Martinez, a community member who has faced criminal charges for being outspoken about the project. “The company’s equipment came through with the help of the National Police.”

Heavy equipment, including bulldozers, to be used to build the hydroelectric dam, was ushered through the community Thursday as police and military stood guard. Pajuiles has long expressed opposition to the project, raising concerns that the dam will destroy its only source of potable water. Community members report that part of the forest has already been destroyed in the first phase of the construction, fueling concerns about environmental destruction and its consequences for local residents.

During Thursday’s police and military incursion, DPI officers detained local resident Gustavo Norberto Lopez Melgar after he filmed video footage of the state security surrounding the community. Police took Lopez to a police station in Tela before releasing him later the same afternoon.

This isn’t the first time that Hidrocep has used state security to gain entry to the community. Last August, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned the excessive and indiscriminate use of state force, including tear gas, in Pajuiles. Five people, including a pregnant woman and a minor, were detained and several were charged by police.

Violence in Pajuiles

Since March 2017, the community of Pajuiles, with the support of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), has been blocking Hidrocep from entering the community in an attempt to stop further development of a hydroelectric dam along the Mezapa River in the Gracias a Dios mountain range.  Last August, military and police used tear gas against community members to allow company vehicles and heavy equipment through to begin working on the dam project.

Members of the “Dignified Camp for Water and Life” at the entrance to the community repeatedly have suffered violent attacks and criminalization at the hands of state security forces, which have targeted the environmental defenders.

On Jan. 23, uniformed police agents reportedly dragged Geovany Dias, a resident of Pajuiles and a member of the MADJ, out of his home, beat him, and shot him 40 times before throwing him on the side of the road. His murder came just days before the inauguration of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, elected for a second term amid widespread cries of fraud.

No charges have been laid in Dias’ murder or for attacks against other members of MADJ who have been assaulted, killed, or forced to leave their homes since the November 2017 elections. Marred by allegations of vote rigging and controversy around Hernandez’ bid for a second term despite a constitutional ban on presidential re-election, the election lurched Honduras into its worst political crisis since the 2009 U.S.-backed coup.

Last month, Carlos Hernandez, a lawyer in Tela was murdered in his office. Hernandez was the lawyer for the mayor of Arizona, an hour away from Pajuiles in the same department, who was accused, along with 4 other community members of usurpation. The charges are related to another camp near the Jilmatio River has also been peacefully protesting a hydro-electric project for close to a year.

On March 8, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures to the community of Pajuiles after MADJ and the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) filed a petition was filed on their behalf by MADJ . In its resolution, IACHR noted the high risk the lack of safe drinking water due to the dam construction poses to the communities. The commission ordered the government to ensure both access to potable water and an investigation into the violence which led to the precautionary measure being ordered in the first place.

Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur for Situation of Human Rights Defenders, arrived in Honduras for a week-long visit on May 2 and will present his initial findings on May 11 in Tegucigalpa.

A March 2018 OHCHR report noted Honduras has seen a surge in “threats and intimidation against journalists, media workers, and social and political activists … in the context of a political, economic and social crisis, which can be traced back to the 2009 military coup d’état and significant delays to undertake critical institutional, political, economic and social reforms.”

Jackie McVicar has worked accompanying human rights and land defenders and survivors of the Guatemalan genocide for the past 14 years. Recently, she traveled to Honduras as part of an international emergency faith delegation. She currently works with United for Mining Justice and is a member of the Atlantic Region Solidarity Network.

Canada’s Deadly Diplomacy and the Plight of Political Prisoners in Honduras

 http://upsidedownworld.org/archives/honduras/canadas-deadly-diplomacy-plight-political-prisoners-honduras/

Honduras

At least 35 people have killed in the political crisis since the Nov. 26 election in Honduras, mostly at the hands of the military police and other state forces. Source: Mark Coplan

Ismael Hernandez was the most recent fatal victim of police and military violence in Honduras. The 40-year-old man was killed Feb. 5 in Choloma, about 200 kilometers north of the country’s capital. According to eyewitnesses and national human rights organizations, Honduran security forces launched tear gas and opened fire with live bullets at protesters, who continue to reject President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s highly questioned re-election.

The same day, hundreds more Hondurans were injured as police cracked down on the university students’ movement protesting as classes resumed at the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa.

The incidents of state violence in Tegucigalpa and Choloma were far from isolated cases. Participating in an International Emergency Faith Delegation to Honduras in the days leading up Hernandez’ Jan. 26 inauguration, I witnessed first-hand police and military impunity and brutality against Hondurans. Not only those denouncing electoral fraud on the streets experienced repression, but other Hondurans have had their homes filled with tear gas as early as 6:00 a.m. while they were still sleeping. A Honduran I was with joked sadly, “In Honduras, you don’t even have to get out of bed to be targeted with violence by the police.”

In less than a week in Honduras accompanying Radio Progreso, a critical alternative media outlet, I witnessed three illegal detentions, police using the political context of fear and intimidation to loot possessions of value, and the use excessive force. In one instance, more than 200 military and police agents launched more than 50 tear gas canisters at a group of less than 40 people to forcibly disperse the unarmed demonstrators. I was with a former member of Congress whose home was ransacked and family members threatened with guns to their head by uniformed police. I heard testimony from a 35 year old mother of five, who recounted that two days earlier, uniformed military and police agents dragged her husband, Geovany Dias, out of bed in the middle of the night and shot him 40 times. The state agents are accused by locals of being part of a death squad wreaking havoc and killing organized famers nearby. The man hadn’t been part of the demonstrations against Hernandez, but the message from the state security forces that left him on the side of the road for everyone to see was clear: anyone could be next.

This is state-led terrorism in Honduras, and the Canadian government is supporting it. Late on Dec. 22, 2017, the Canadian Embassy in Honduras threw its support behind Hernandez, recognizing his highly contested election win in a tweet. The Honduran president, who ran for a second term in office on the Nov. 26, 2017 ballot despite a constitutional ban on re-election, came out as the victor after three weeks of behind-closed-doors ballet counting and widespread allegations of fraud that prompted hundreds of thousands of Hondurans to take to the streets. In its message, the Canadian Embassy called on the Honduran government, which had already declared a 10-day military curfew and continued violently repressing opposition protesters, to respect human rights and ensure those responsible for the violence were held accountable.

Seven weeks later, Hondurans continue to bear the brunt of heavily militarized government repression, tacitly supported by funding from Canadian taxpayers. Honduras is home to Canada’s largest bilateral development program in Central America, and Ottawa offers significant contributions to strengthen security institutions in the country despite a poor human rights record. Since the election, more than 35 people have been killed, mostly at the hands of state security forces, and hundreds more have been detained. Meanwhile, Canadian companies, mostly in garment manufacturing and mining, have reaped major profits in Honduras since the 2009 U.S. and Canada-backed military coup, thanks in part to a free trade agreement ratified in 2014 and behind-the-scenes political support to ensure favorable changes to the Honduran mining law in 2012.

Amid the deepening crisis, on Jan. 19, Honduran police detained Edwin Espinal, sending him to a maximum security military prison on the eve of a week-long nationwide strike. He faces charges related to arson, property damage and use of homemade explosive material. According to a blog dedicated to the release of Espinal, he is also under investigation for terrorism and criminal association related to damages to the Marriott Hotel during a Jan. 12 protest in Tegucigalpa. Espinal is a recognized human rights and resistance activist who has participated in pro-democracy movements since the 2009 military coup.

Since being incarcerated, except for a brief visit by his lawyers, Espinal has been denied contact with family, journalists and international human rights organizations. The conditions of his detention — and that of the dozens of others illegally detained on trumped up charges — are unknown. Espinal’s partner, a Canadian human rights expert and activist who has spent the better part of the last 10 years working in Honduras, and other supporters have urged the Canadian government to speak out regarding the case. Despite touting strong political and diplomatic ties with Honduras, Canada has failed to act in Espinal’s case — and the cases of others in situations like his — by not condemning the systemic and ongoing human rights crisis in Honduras.

The same day Espinal was incarcerated, the Canadian government issued an alert to Canadians to “Exercise a high degree of caution in Honduras due to violent demonstrations.” In a country where the army and police are armed to the teeth — due in part to Canadian government funding — and have shown little restraint when attacking citizens in the name of protecting elite economic and political interests, it’s time for Canada to condemn the real perpetrators of violence. It’s time to demand the freedom of all political prisoners, like Edwin Espinal, being held without cause by the Honduran government. It’s time to stop quietly supporting a fraudulent government through economic aid, military training and private investment that is allowing the Honduran state to train death squads to act against its people.

Demonstrators hold crosses commemorating the victims of state violence in the wake of the election. Source: Mark Coplan

Ottawa’s response to Honduras’ 2017 election was eerily similar to its response to the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras, when then-Minister of State Peter Kent called for a peaceful resolution to the “political crisis.” Bob Rae, then-Liberal foreign affairs critic, said that Canada should suspend military aid and training of Honduran soldiers. In the wake of the Nov. 26 election, Canada has similarly called for dialogue, but failed to condemn grave violations of human rights at the hands of Honduran state forces, continuing tacit support for a repressive government.

It’s time for Canada to rectify its dangerous diplomacy toward Honduras and this time, not through a tweet, but through real action that will allow true democracy and freedom of expression in Honduras.

Jackie McVicar has worked accompanying human rights and land defenders and survivors of the Guatemalan genocide for the past 14 years. Recently, she traveled to Honduras as part of an international emergency faith delegation. She currently works with United for Mining Justice and is a member of the Atlantic Region Solidarity Network.

 https://www.americamagazine.org/politics-society/2018/03/20/activists-go-underground-un-reports-excessive-force-honduras
Aquilina Guerra is released on Feb. 26 after she was charged, fraudulently say supporters, with “storing weapons of war.” Photo by Louis Bockner.

In the months since the widely criticized elections in November, threats and harassment against social and political activists have ramped up in Honduras, according to the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights.

The report, “Human Rights Violations in the Context of the 2017 Honduran Elections,” published on March 12, outlines how the parameters of the state of emergency ordered by President Juan Orlando Hernández in the days following the elections were too broad and imprecise, “leading to massive and indiscriminate arrests, resulting in limiting the right to peaceful assembly and association.”

The report documents cases of extrajudicial murders committed by police, illegal house raids and threats and harassment against journalists and social and political activists since the end of November 2017 within “the context of a political, economic and social crisis inherited since the 2009 military coup.”

The U.N. report confirms what social movement organizers and civil society groups on the ground have been saying for weeks. On Feb. 26, the Center for Justice and International Law and the Coalition Against Impunity in Honduras, made up of 58 civil society organizations, denounced the Hernández government at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights Public in Bogota. They cited widespread “repression and militarization exercised against the Honduran population during the past months.”

In addition, the organizations charged that “the government has implemented other practices to identify and sanction opposition, resulting in house raids, improper searches and the improper use of criminal law to criminalize social protest.” They offered evidence of acts of repression at close to 200 peaceful protests and over 1,200 instances of illegal detention, torture, extrajudicial murder, internally displaced people, threats and intimidations.

The U.N. report documents cases of extrajudicial murders committed by police, illegal house raids and threats and harassment against journalists and social and political activists.

The north coast of Honduras is rich in natural resources sought by powerful mining and other development interests, resisted by local people. A series of violent attacks like those outlined in the U.N. report and at the I.A.C.H.R. have targeted community members who have been organizing to defend their rivers and mountains.

According to the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (M.A.D.J.), on Jan. 22, in the days leading up to the inauguration of President Hernández, Ramón Fiallos was targeted and shot by police at a protest in Arizona, Atlantida.

Six hours later, following another protest nearby, Geovany Diaz, a 35-year-old father of five and member of M.A.D.J. was executed by Honduran police who shot him 40 times after dragging him outside of his home at 4 a.m., according to family members who spoke to America on Jan. 26.

“It’s logical to see that the reason for these murders is their struggle,” said a source from the Jesuit Reflection, Research and Communications Team, who has been closely following the cases. Mr. Fiallos was a well-known community leader who was working to protect the Jilamito River from a proposed hydroelectric project. In Pajuiles, where Mr. Diaz lived, the community has spent a year protesting proposed mining and hydroelectric projects.

Luis Garcia, a longtime friend who had worked for years with Mr. Fiallos, saw the violence happen. “Luis knew he could be next,” said Osman Orellana, a community health promoter at the Claret BioHealth Centre in Arizona. “He was in the last roadblock when they murdered Ramón.”

In the weeks after the killing of his friend, Mr. Garcia felt the pressure mount as community leaders across the country were targeted and arbitrarily detained. “He told us that in the last two weeks an unknown car had been circling his house,” said Mr. Orellana. “Different organizations and the parish told him it would be best to leave the country.”

In the past, Mr. Garcia had received death threats for his activism, and he ignored the advice to leave. This time he did not. He left Honduras on Feb. 21—the next day, the national police raided his home.

“The police arrived at my parent’s house at 5:30 a.m. with a search warrant in my father’s name,” said Luis Garcia Jr., in an interview with America on Feb. 25. “But he’s outside of the country because of the same persecution. My mom didn’t leave because we didn’t think she would have anything to worry about.”

In the past, Mr. Garcia had received death threats for his activism, and he ignored the advice to leave. This time he did not.

After they raided the house without finding the elder Garcia, the police took his wife, Aquilina Guerra, into custody in nearby Tela. “They told her that she wasn’t being detained. They were bringing her in for something they had found outside her house,” said her son. “And then they took out the bag.”

Ms. Guerra is a 57-year-old housewife and a former catechist and cook for the Our Lady of Pilar parish in Arizona. She spends most of her days caring for her grandkids and making food for her family. Inside the bag that the police produced, which Ms. Guerra claims to have never seen before, were small cans of gunpowder, a container of gas and some empty soda bottles.

Arriving in Tela, the police alleged that Ms. Guerra was making Molotov cocktails; she was charged with storing weapons of war. The police took her picture in front of the weapons and then distributed it through social media, a common tactic to shame and discredit citizens and one that can have deadly outcomes.

“Luis Garcia is considered a leader of the social movement, and the investigation was directed at him,” said Carlos Reyes Torres, a lawyer who works with the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice. “Not finding him, they took whomever they could find.”

Mr. Reyes Torres spoke outside the courthouse in Tela on Feb. 26, during Ms. Guerra’s preliminary hearing. “The fact that the public prosecutor is charging her with storing weapons of war shows that state institutions consider us to be at war.”

The day before Ms. Guerra’s preliminary hearing on Feb. 26, parishioners at Our Lady of Pilar Church called out for the local communities to peacefully walk the streets of Tela to demand justice for her and the others whose acts of resistance have been criminalized since November. Outside the jail where she was being held, they celebrated Mass for the more than 200 people who came to show their support.

“The church is called to be prophetic,” said the Rev. Victor Camara, who heads up the social ministry of the Diocese of La Ceiba, during the Mass. “Those who believe are called to denounce injustice, and we are here from the church to show the church will not be silenced. Although some remain silent, we will not. We are conscious. We are in solidarity with Aquilina, her family and the hundreds of brothers and sisters that are being criminalized and who have suffered the murder of loved ones…. May God hear the cries of the Honduran people who have suffered so much.”

The following day, over 100 people gathered outside the courthouse singing, praying and denouncing Ms. Guerra’s arrest. After eight hours of hearings and deliberations, the judge presiding over the case ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to continue the case against Ms. Guerra.

“It makes you want to cry—to see justice being served,” said the Rev. Javier Hernandez, the parish priest at Our Lady of the Pillar Church. “I think the public pressure from those here has strength. Prayers, the Eucharist that we shared yesterday, people asking God for justice. God is listening, listens to his people clamoring for justice for those who have been criminalized.”

“I feel very happy seeing my community here, how I love them and how they love me,” said Ms. Guerra outside the courthouse following her release. “I feel so happy to feel free. I never could have imagined this experience, but God has always been with me. It’s been painful to see my people suffer. This is a political persecution simply for supporting the movement. My husband and I have supported poor, humble people. I never expected this. But thanks to God, I’m free and I’m going home.”

On March 11, the M.A.D.J. charged that military personnel were roaming through the community of Florida, Atlantida, searching for Waldina Santos, a key organizer to mining resistance in the area. Ms. Santos was at both the march and Mass to support Ms. Guerra and helped organize the busloads of people who came to stand outside the courthouse to show their support.

Although many remain detained in Honduras, and others like Ms. Santos are living in fear for what could be next for her and her family, the small victory in Ms. Guerra’s case offers hope to many who feel helpless given the current political situation. “May this not only be for Aquilina but for so many who have been criminalized and who are being persecuted and unjustly jailed,” said Father Hernandez. “May this be a new beginning for peace in Honduras.”

Jackie McVicar

Jackie McVicar has accompanied human rights social movements and land protectors in Central America for more than 10 years.

Violence in post-election Honduras could affect U.S. migration patterns, activists say

Claudia Mendoza (left) and Joaquin Mejia (right) were in Washington, D.C. to give an overview of post-election Honduras. (Photo: Esther Y. Lee)

Claudia Mendoza (left) and Joaquin Mejia (right) were in Washington, D.C. to give an overview of post-election Honduras. (Photo: Esther Y. Lee)

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The violent aftermath of the Honduran presidential election — triggered by allegations of electoral fraud — has led to serious human rights abuses, Honduran advocates said Thursday, strongly advising the Trump administration not to deport immigrants back to a country repressed by deadly government security forces.

At an event sponsored by Alianza Americas, a transnational network of immigrant organizations, two Honduran-based speakers shared their on-the-ground perspective of the dangers they have faced after President Juan Orlando Hernández’s reelection. Joaquin Mejia — a lawyer and human rights advocate who works as a commentator at the Jesuit radio station Radio Progreso — expressed concern over the legitimacy of his country’s presidential elections and indicated that his life was at risk for openly criticizing Hernández and the military police. The Honduran constitution has since the 1980s explicitly enforced a one-term presidential limit. Hernández sought to change the constitution to ban term limits. Claudia Mendoza — a freelance journalist who has worked with Univision — also pointed out at the event the “shameful” silence by the Honduran news outlets to suppress news about the brutality at the hands of the country’s military police.

Mejia and Mendoza both noted that violent clashes between opposition supporters and the military police have led to the deaths of dozens of activists, hundreds of injuries, and thousands of detentions. Into January 2018, the Honduran government reportedly used security forces to tamp down protests using tear gas, batons, and live ammunition, according to a Latin American Working Group Education Fund report, brutally stiffing press freedom and imposing curfews in post-electoral Honduras. In the face of mounting violence following Hernández’s reelection, the U.S. embassy accepted the country’s election results, despite misgivings by the Organization of American States (OAS) which called for a presidential election do-over.

Mejia has been advocating for a fair electoral process and said he was “hopeful” that the Honduran youth would turn out for future elections. He also wants the U.S. government to stop deporting people back to a country beset by violence and forced displacement. As of February 9, the U.S. government has deported 2,279 people to Honduras, according to Consular y Migratorio de Honduras (CONMIGHO) data. CONMIGHO receives USAID funding and is affiliated with the Honduran Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores y Cooperación Internacional. Tens of thousands of Honduran Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients may also be at risk of deportation if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fails to renew their statuses by July 5, 2018.

Many people are driven to flee their homes for another city in Honduras because of ongoing threats and assassinations, as the Latin American Working Group Education Fund graphic below shows.

(Photo by Latin America Working Group Education Fund)
(Photo by Latin America Working Group Education Fund)

Mejia himself has faced a constant barrage of threats because of his stance against the Hernández government.

“From the time I worked at Radio Progreso to when I came here yesterday [on a three-city visit to the United States], I’ve had threats against my family,” Mejia said at the event, his voice going up an emotional lilt before he spoke again. “There is absolute impunity of crimes committed by the police.”

“You can see an increase of the forced displacement of the people because of the violence,” Mejia told ThinkProgress after the event. “Even though officially, there’s been a decrease in the rate of homicides in Honduras, it’s a mistake to see the reduction of violence in Honduras only in the perspective of murdered people because we have to see it in other types of violence like robbery, extortion, and other elements we have to take into account in that kind of violence.”

From the U.S. perspective, Honduras is so dangerous that the U.S. State Department has advised U.S. citizens to “reconsider” travel to the country on account of crime with some areas seeing “increased risk.” The federal government has also advised against traveling to Gracias a Dios, an isolated area where infrastructure is weak. Travelers who go there won’t get help since “U.S. government employees are restricted from traveling to the area.”

JOAQUIN MEJIA WAS IN WASHINGTON, D.C. TO GIVE AN OVERVIEW OF POST-ELECTION HONDURAS. (Photo: Esther Y. Lee)
JOAQUIN MEJIA WAS IN WASHINGTON, D.C. TO GIVE AN OVERVIEW OF POST-ELECTION HONDURAS. (Photo: Esther Y. Lee)

When asked his position on the Trump administration’s efforts to make it very difficult for people to seek humanitarian relief — like asylum or refugee status — on claims of fraudulent interviewees being “coached” to make up lies about Honduras, Mejia shook his head.

“The Trump administration has this theory about immigrants, but at the same time it’s supporting a regime that’s provoking a political situation that is going to provoke an increase in the immigration to the U.S., Spain, Costa Rica, and an increase in asylum and refugee seekers,” Mejia said. The United States has long had an over-sized influence in the country, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to help fund elite military and police units, The Guardian reported. As the publication explained, these units have helped push down Honduras’ murder rate, but the country is still one of the most violent places in the world.

“I don’t know what’s happening in the government of the United States, but if they really want to stop immigration, the logical thing is to support democracy in our country,” Mejia added. “But they are supporting a regime that is authoritarian, using the military force to attack those who are opposition and denouncing electoral fraud. This will provoke increased immigration to the United States.”

Mejia fears that mass deportation from the United States would trigger more instability at a time when Honduras has yet to resolve widespread doubts over electoral irregularities.

“Those people deported from United States — what they’re going to face is a very complicated situation – a political crisis and instability,” Mejia said, explaining that there are no programs in place that he knows of that would help resettle deported immigrants. “And I’m sure what they’re going to do is try to go back to the United States. They left the country because that violence and that instability but now they’re going to find the same instability, same violence.”

Beyond the scale of U.S. immigration policies, Mejia and Mendoza have noticed a troubling trend in Honduras that affects every resident. As a journalist Mendoza has observed other press coverage being too favorable towards the Hernández government or has presented no criticism of the brutal oppression. News coverage of the large-scale protests “emphasize property damage and not human life,” she said.

“The press should have been critical, but [their articles] looked like press releases from the government,” she said according to an English translation from an in-ear interpreter present at the event. “La Prensa and El Heraldo are theoretically independent but there is no criticism.”

Mendoza pointed to the death of Kimberly Dayana Fonseca, a 19-year-old who went to look for her brother during anti-government protests and was killed with a bullet to the head on the first night a curfew was put in place in the country. Military police shot live rounds into the crowd, but the prosecutor’s office “tried to blame” her death on a tear gas canister, the Miami Herald reported in January.

“Sadly, the press is taking a lot of the military line,” Mendoza said. “We are in a country where there is no freedom of press… we have one line and it’s the government’s line.”

US policy perpetuates violence in Honduras

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Honduras election supporters

Supporters of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández celebrate as they wait for official presidential election results Nov. 28, 2017, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. (CNS/Reuters/Edgard Garrido)

Is Honduras “returning to the terror in the 1980s”? That’s what Dr. Luther Castillo told NCR in an interview. Evidence supports his assertion, and today’s terror, just like 30 years ago, has U.S. ties.

Central America was a flashpoint in the Cold War and in the 1970s and 1980s. Honduras was the staging ground for the U.S.-backed covert war against leftists in the region. Honduras was the de facto U.S. military base for Contras fighting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Inside Honduras, U.S.-trained military units — most especially the notorious Battalion 316 — carried out a campaign of torture, extrajudicial killing, and state-sponsored terror against Honduran civilians.

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Castillo is among Honduran activists now under threat of personal danger because they are calling for new elections, claiming that incumbent President Juan Orlando Hernández and his National Party rigged the Nov. 26 election and then imposed martial law to stifle protests.

All through Election Day and into the next day as ballots were being counted, opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla had a commanding lead. An electoral tribunal magistrate told Reuters Nov. 27, “The technical experts here say that it’s irreversible.”

But then the shenanigans began. The election tribunal, which is controlled by Hernández’s National Party, went mysteriously quiet for 36 hours. Reports of a “computer glitch” spread. When ballot counting resumed, Nasralla’s lead had evaporated. Hernández eventually pulled ahead and was declared the winner.

Calling for a new, clean election, Hondurans protested in the streets, watched over by rows of navy, army and police officers carrying riot shields. The government suspended constitutional rights for 10 days and imposed a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, arresting anyone, including journalists, who violated it. Before Christmas, squads of police and soldiers cleared blockades set up by protesters in the capital and the countryside. At least 12 people were killed and hundreds more detained at military installations, where they were “brutally beaten,” according to human rights experts at the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The Organization of American States has also called for new elections. In a statement issued Dec. 17 after receiving the results of an independent audit of election results, OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said it was impossible to determine a winner, given that there was “deliberate human intrusion in the computer system; intentional elimination of digital traces; the impossibility of knowing how many times the system was breached; ballot cases open or without ballot tallies; extreme statistical improbability regarding participation levels.”

“The only possible way for the victor to be the people of Honduras,” he said, “is a new call for general elections.”

Despite all this, the Trump administration recognized Hernández as the winner Dec. 22. Days earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had certified that the Honduran government has been combating corruption and supporting human rights, paving the way for Honduras to receive millions of additional U.S. dollars, including about $17 million for Honduran security forces. The certification ignores cases of government corruption and the assassinations of environmentalists, indigenous leaders and journalists, extensively documented by two major studies last year.

A Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report from May describes Honduras in the center of “transnational kleptocratic networks” and characterizes the Honduran military as “an instrument for the consolidation of power,” used to patrol indigenous communities, suppress protests, curtail the exercise of free speech, and “assume a wide variety of domestic security and policing roles.”

The London-based watchdog organization Global Witness called Honduras the deadliest place on the planet to be a land or environmental activist. The Hernández government never prosecuted the killers of the country’s most prominent activist, Berta Cáceres, who spearheaded efforts to stop the plundering of indigenous lands by hydroelectric, mining and logging interests.

More than 120 activists have been murdered since 2009 when a coup overthrew democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and ushered in a succession of corrupt right-wing governments that have overseen, according to Global Witness, “shocking levels of violence and intimidation suffered by rural communities.”

In a very real sense, the Obama administration — particularly then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — laid the foundation for Hernández’s victory by turning a blind eye to the toppling of Zelaya, who they thought was too close to Bolivian President Evo Morales, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and other left-leaning Latin American leaders. By refusing to recognize Zelaya’s ouster as a military coup, Clinton kept Honduras on the military aid and training gravy train.

Longtime observers of Central America will know that since the 1980s, nearly 5,000 officers from Honduras have been trained at the U.S. Army’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC, formerly known as the School of the Americas. Graduates of this school hold key positions in the Honduran government and security forces and have been implicated in numerous coups, human rights abuses and suppression of democracy.

Today, the boogeyman of communism that haunted the region in the 1980s is gone, but the institutions and power centers set up in Honduras decades ago remain entrenched, and now environmental activists and indigenous rights leaders are targeted for threatening the political-economic status quo.

“We know it’s the U.S. that runs Honduras,” and it is “co-responsible” for the human rights abuses and fatal shootings following the latest presidential election, says Nasralla — who could very well be the legitimate victor in the presidential election.

By legitimizing a stolen election, ignoring the rare Organization of American States call for new elections and refusing to condemn the post-election crackdown by the (U.S.-trained) military, the U.S. is again perpetrating violence that ultimately hurts its own self-interest, but, more importantly, continues the oppression of Hondurans.

In the Aftermath of the Murder of Berta Cáceres: Squashing Indigenous Resistance and Discrediting International Observers in Honduras

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People who work for human rights, the rights of Indigenous communities, protection of our global environment, and social justice, are demanding justice after the murder of Berta Cáceres. She was killed in early March when gunmen broke into her house and shot her. It is abundantly clear to many Hondurans and international supporters and observers that her killing was political. Cáceres was the charismatic leader of COPINH, an organization begun in 1993 by Lenca communities in Honduras to promote their rights and protect their traditional lands, and to work with other Indigenous and popular organizations.

In the three years before her murder, Cáceres led COPINH in actively opposing construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam across the sacred Gualcarque River that runs through traditional Lenca lands in western Honduras. For her work she was awarded the international Goldman Prize in 2015 for Indigenous environmental activism. Cáceres helped to bring the Lenca struggle into global awareness, delivering an impassioned acceptance speech upon receiving the award in San Francisco. In Honduras, the Lenca and other Indigenous communities are widely seen as the front line of defense of the environment and the nation’s natural resources.

But Cáceres’ work also roused the fear and concern of those who wanted the dam as part of a larger economic development plan for Honduras that promoted foreign investment and large-scale resource extraction (mining, lumber, tourism, agribusiness) at the expense of hundreds of indigenous and peasant rural communities. These interests included the Honduran government and its powerful supporters, as well as U.S., Canadian, Chinese and other foreign interests. The Honduran company Desarollos Energéticos (DESA), with government support, held the contract for the Agua Zarca dam.

The dam builders cleared a dirt road to the construction site through traditional Lenca land without asking Lenca permission. Honduras is bound by national and internationalhondurasdangerous laws and treaties, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labor Organization Convention 169 that prohibit taking or using indigenous lands or resources without “full, prior, and informed consent” of the affected communities. The Lenca claimed they were never consulted about the dam or the road. The company, DESA, also ordered them to stop using the river that had been central to their lives for many generations. In addition to private company security guards, a unit of Honduran military guarded the company’s construction compound, as if to emphasize the government’s interest in completion of the dam.

Beginning in April, 2013 and for more than four months, COPINH and the Lenca continued peaceful protest, sometimes leading processions or protest walks along the road, attracting Hondurans from other areas as well as international observers from the U.S., Europe, and Latin America. During one of these protests a Honduran soldier in the military unit guarding the dam construction compound shot and killed Lenca protester Tomás Garcia and seriously injured his teenage son, Alan.

Blaming the victim or innocent third parties is a common strategy of oppression and control. Authorities accused Cáceres and two other COPINH leaders–Tomás Gómez and Auriliano Molina–of fomenting violence, and claimed to have found a gun in Cåceres’ vehicle. DESA officials accused the three of causing economic damage by delaying the dam’s construction. After a court hearing at which more than one hundred Lenca and others gathered in support of Cáceres, she was ordered to stay away from the area of the dam protests and from any other protest activities. She was later forced into hiding for a time as authorities briefly sought her arrest, and for months before her assassination she continued to receive death threats. She reported at least thirty-three to the authorities, she said, but they did nothing, even though the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (an arm of the Organization of American States) had mandated the Honduran government to extend protective measures to Cáceres and other COPINH activists.

In the days after the murder of Cáceres, Honduran police held and interrogated COPINH leaders Gómez and Molina and Mexican citizen Gustavo Castro, director of Mexico’s Friends of the Earth. Castro was visiting Cáceres when she was killed. He was shot but survived and was given refuge in the Mexican Embassy when Honduran authorities refused to allow him to leave the country. The police later released Gomez and Molina, but only after a hint of suspicion had been planted against them. In response, COPINH’s lawyer Victor Fernandez said, “Blaming people close to Berta is part of the crime. Leaders are murdered to terrorize communities, contaminate organizations, and squash resistance movements. This is the pattern.”

After two months of widespread popular demonstrations and protests in Latin America, the U.S., and Europe, the Honduran judicial prosecutor’s office announced charges against four men in Cåceres’ death. The identity of the four is revealing of the forces arrayed against the Lenca. Government and news sources reported that three of the four were active or retired military officers, and two are or have been DESA personnel. Sergio Rodriguez served as engineer for the Agua Zarca dam. Douglas Bustillo is a retired military officer and former head of security for DESA. Mariano Chavez is an active member of the Honduran military, and Edison Duarte is a former military officer. Before her death, Cáceres reportedly identified at least one of these men among those who had threatened her. In addition to these arrests, there are calls for the investigation and arrest of the intellectual authors of the crime, since many believe the murder was ordered, or at least condoned by higher authorities in Honduras. DESA officials have denied any responsibility.

In Honduras it is rare that prominent or powerful individuals are charged with crimes. A culture of official impunity allows the powerful literally to get away with murder. Impunity is the linchpin of the whole system of control and oppression. Some observers believe that because of the widespread and continuing concern and protests after Cáceres’ murder–concern that also aroused members of the U.S. Congress–the Honduran government was forced to show that it was treating this particular murder seriously and to bring credible charges.

Since the killing of Cáceres, COPINH members have been subjected to ongoing threats and attacks. On July 6, 2016, the body of Lesbia Janeth Uruquía, 49, was found stabbed to death near the municipal dump in Marcala, western Honduras. Like Cáceres, Uruquía was the mother of several children. She was a COPINH member and a leader in the effort to stop construction of a private hydroelectric dam on the Chinacla River. This construction project was headed by Gladys Lopez, president of the ruling National Party and vice-president of the National Congress that had authorized the project. As of this writing, no one had been charged in Uruquía’s murder.

Cáceres saw the conflict over the Agua Zarca and other such projects in the context of the support shown by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2009 coup against the government of Manual Zelaya. The coup is widely blamed for ushering in the current era of rampant resource extraction, violence, and repression in Honduras. In Hard Choices, Clinton writes that she advocated swift recognition of the coup and the post-coup government as an exercise in “clear-eyed pragmatism,” even as most of the hemisphere’s governments withheld recognition and demanded the restoration of the elected Zelaya government.

There is a history behind this. In the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration sent the Honduran government a blueprint for economic development (popularly known as Reaganomics for Honduras) that emphasized turning Honduras into a country wide open to foreign investment and resource extraction. Honduran government plans almost exactly mirrored this, until the Zelaya government seemed to deviate from the plan by listening to the voices of the country’s rural, peasant, and Indigenous people. The 2009 coup ended that challenge by removing Zelaya. It appeared that rhetoric about democracy and human rights clashed with the model of economic development the U.S. needed in Honduras.

Both the Agua Zarca project and the Chinacla River project are part of the larger national development plan that includes as an integral component the construction of hydroelectric dams across many of the country’s major rivers, including the Patuca (one of the largest Honduran rivers) that runs through the lands of at least three Indigenous peoples—Miskito, Pech, and Tawahka—in eastern Honduras. The electricity to be generated by these dams is intended, at least in part, to serve the needs of major mining operations in various parts of Honduras—mining projects (Honduran and foreign) that displace Indigenous and peasant communities without ever seeking their “free, prior, and informed consent.” Since the 2009 coup against Zelaya, the post-coup governments have granted a flurry of such mining concessions to U.S., Canadian, Chinese, and other foreign interests.

Murder and community displacement are two costs of such “development” projects. Another is the inequitable appropriation and use of essential resources that local communities need. Geology and hydrology experts estimate that a medium-sized mining project such as some of those proposed for Honduras can consume as much water in a few hours as a rural Honduran family would consume in a year.

Many Hondurans have long criticized this model of development. In 1980, Honduran Central Bank economist Edmundo Valladares referred to “the misery financing the model of development.” By contrast, World Bank president Jim Kim recently (April 2016) responded to the murder of Berta Cáceres in an address at Union Theological Seminary by expressing regret at her murder, then adding, “You cannot do the kind of work we are trying to do and not have some of these incidents happen. We just have to be honest when it happens, admit it, and then try to face it as best we can.” Was he implying that the killings of Indigenous and other leaders were an acceptable price for constructing the model of development? The World Bank has denied any involvement in the Agua Zarca dam project.

With its charismatic director eliminated and ongoing threats to those that remain, COPINH relies more than ever on the support of the international community. Lenca often express gratitude for the interest and support of foreign individuals and the global community. Observers from the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe have been present at Lenca and COPINH events. Recently, however, several international observers were public denounced by government officials and in media with questions such as, “Why is this foreigner present at a COPINH event?” In at least one case, an Italian human rights observer was deported after a campaign to discredit her.

At the same time, Honduran authorities have taken much uncharacteristic and seeming friendly interest in COPINH. Critics call this “mobbing,” a tactic of killing with kindness. The new attention is designed to confuse and co-opt COPINH’s remaining leaders and the Lenca people. But as human rights activist Ismael Moreno, SJ (Padre Melo) said several years ago after a long protest walk led by COPINH and the Garifuna organization OFRANEH, “The Indigenous peoples were highly disciplined and resistant…They were the most firm on the journey. They have resources that the rest do not have: their long history of resistance.”

Foreigners can help the Lenca and other Indigenous people of Honduras by becoming aware of the corporate and government interests and investments that their own countries have in Honduras. This extends also to foreign development and security aid and the conditions and accountability in which this aid is used. Some members of the U.S. Congress are beginning to demand this of their own government.

James Phillips, Ph.d., is a cultural anthropologist at Southern Oregon University. His book, Honduras in Dangerous Times: Resistance and Resilience, was published by Lexington Books in 2015.

This disturbing post by Juan Antonio Mejia Guerra, respected educator and human rights defender, speaks to the brutality of the ruling classes.  In the Aguan, a valley under siege, large landowners with their military accomplices would like to force out the peasant populations that eek out a subsistence living off the land. The rich, who already own vast territories, want more land to expand their plantations of the African Palm, which is used in the extraction of palm oil. The African Palm is ecologically destructive, it ruins the soil but in the meanwhile it is lucrative for big business. Juan Antonio protests the senseless murder of this young 13 year old boy, shot in the back at close range.  No official notice is given. Just a general message to the peasant community who must live in constant fear.  (the translation is mine)

WE LOVE YOU, PRECIOUS CHILD OF YOUR PEOPLE!

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Leodan Mancilla Lara. 13 years old. Young student in grade 8. Child of a farming family in Rigores. Crushed in the African palm plantation. Who are your killers? The army, the police, the private guards; but it does not matter, they are all the same thing in the Aguán. Who are guilty? The Facusé clan and their entourage of lawyers and engineers who helped them to illegitimately confiscate the peasant lands, or the corrupt officials of the cooperatives and peasant companies that were allowed to buy land, or the wicked Callejas that with his Agricultural Law paved the way for this carnage that has already caused more than 200 peasants to be murdered throughout the country. Among the circles of the powerful there is an urgent need to eradicate the peasants. They do not wait for them to become adults, they now kill off the children. Leodan: your martyr’s blood together with the blood of Isis Obed, Pedro Magdiel and Soad Nicolle will be revindicated when the country walks on the path of democracy, justice and equality.

“A desalambrar”, to be free someday!

‘We lost a great leader’: Berta Cáceres still inspires as murder case takes fresh twist

As friends and followers of the late Honduran activist continue her battle for indigenous land rights, their cause has been boosted by a damning legal report

Berta Cáceres is remembered at a ceremony in Rio Blanco, the area she fought to protect from a mining development before she was murdered
Berta Cáceres is remembered at a ceremony in Rio Blanco, the area she fought to protect from a mining development before she was murdered. Photograph: Mel Mencos/Nobel Women Initiative

María Santos Domínguez heard about the death of her good friend Berta Cáceres on the radio. She had just given birth to her youngest daughter, so she wasn’t with Cáceres the week she was murdered.

“It was a double blow because we were very close, we worked together in the communities,” said Santos Domínguez, a coordinator for the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh), the organisation Cáceres co-founded 24 years ago to stop the state selling off the country’s ancestral lands to multinational companies.

“It was a personal blow, and we knew we had lost a great leader – a leader who had been recognised internationally.”

Cáceres, who won the Goldman environmental prize for her work with Copinh, was gunned down in her home in the early hours of 3 March 2016. She had led the protest against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in Río Blanco, western Honduras. Gustavo Castro Soto, a Mexican environmental activist, was injured in the attack.

Eight men have been charged with the murder of Cáceres, who was under state protection at the time after receiving numerous death threats. Two of the accused worked at the company leading the construction of the dam, Desarrollos Energéticos SA.

Cáceres’ family and supporters have always suspected the involvement of state officials in her killing. Last year, a Guardian investigation revealed the existence of leaked court documents linking the planning of the murder to military intelligence specialists connected with the country’s US–trained special forces.

Armed guards patrol land in Honduras
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The former security head of Desarrollos Energéticos SA is one of seven people arrested for the killing of Berta Cáceres. Photograph: Giles Clarke/Getty Images

Earlier this month, a report published by an expert group of lawyers concluded that senior managers in the company allegedly had a hand in her murder. The company has always denied any involvement. In response to the report, it said the company had never been involved in any violence and that information in the report had been taken out of context and “does not reflect reality”. The report was intended to create problems in the run up to the country’s elections later this month, it added.

An independent group set up to investigate corruption in Honduras under the auspices of the Organisation of American States is scrutinising allegations of corruption in the award of contracts for the dam project.

Since Cáceres’ death, Domínguez, 43, has joined other members of the Lenca indigenous community for regular meetings among the oak trees of the lush, mountainous region of Río Blanco. Together, they say prayers and light candles in memory of their lost friend. It is also where they gather to find strength for the twin challenge of fighting the dam project and striving to ensure Cáceres’ killers are brought to justice.

While years of protests have brought construction to a halt, and resulted in funders discontinuing their support, the licence for the dam on the sacred Gualcarque river has not been withdrawn. The warehouses that stand empty along the road offer an ominous reminder that the project remains alive.

Santos Domínguez helped set up a road blockade when trucks were first spotted trundling along the narrow, winding lanes of Río Blanco towards the planned site for the dam on 1 April 2013. The community has said it was not consulted – a legal requirement – before the company was granted the licence.

“We saw the machinery coming in the distance. We’d said we didn’t allow it to come in the community, but they wanted to build a dam so didn’t listen,” she said. “I was not afraid, I was angry. I thought, ‘This is my land and my home.’”

The Gualcarque river, downstream from the Agua Zarca dam
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Gualcarque river, downstream from Agua Zarca dam. Photograph: Giles Clarke/Getty Images

But Santos Domínguez paid a high price for her actions. In the violence that followed when the police arrived to break up the protest, her brother was killed. She lost a finger and sustained cuts to her head from a machete. Her husband lost an eye. She is now wanted by the police and had to flee her home for a time for fear of being arrested – or made to disappear. She says harassment has got worse since Cáceres was murdered. She has had to keep her children off school after they had rocks thrown at them – by people “who know I was in Copinh” – while walking to class.

Rosalina Domínguez Madrid, who is in charge of Copinh’s finances, has also experienced harassment since Cáceres’ death. “People have been asking for me by name. Unknown people, but we are assuming it’s people paid by the company,” she said.

“There have been a lot of threats, and the life of one of my sons has been threatened. [It] must be people coming for me, to do the same thing to me as they did to Berta. When I go somewhere I don’t tell people where I’m going. I travel underground. I don’t really feel safe.”

Domínguez Madrid said that Cáceres’ death threw the international spotlight on the battle for land rights in Honduras – the deadliest place to be an environmental activist, according to the organisation Global Witness. More than 120 activists have been murdered for trying to protect the land or environment since the country’s 2009 coup. Copinh member Tomás García was murdered just months before Cáceres, and most attacks have gone unpunished.

Days after her death, Berta Cáceres was honoured at a religious ceremony on the Gualcarque river
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Days after her death, Berta Cáceres was honoured at a ceremony on the Gualcarque river. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Over the past eight years, the government has received a flurry of licence applications for hydroelectric, mining and agribusinesses projects. At the same time, there has been a crackdown on human rights.

Many more activists say they have been threatened with violence, or have faced intimidation and even sexual assault by police, members of the military or those paid to keep activists out of the way. Women, who have been at the centre of the protests in Río Blanco, face the added threats of abuse from their own families and communities, as machismo culture often relegates women to the sole role of homemaker.

Last month two Nobel peace laureates – Tawakkol Karman and Shirin Ebadi – visited Río Blanco to offer their support to the community and add their voices to the calls for justice for Cáceres.

Beside an altar of flowers and photos of Cáceres, Karman, who won the Nobel prize in 2011 for her peace-building work in Yemen, told the crowd of women, men and children of all ages: “We are here to support all those who are struggling to defend human rights … Berta was a victim of those who didn’t respect those rights. We want to see justice brought to all those responsible for her murder. Those criminals must face the justice system and they should be in jail.”

Ebadi added: “My message to the world from here is they have murdered an activist who struggled to protect the environment, and there has not been justice in her case.”

Santos Domínguez knows that peace for the Lenca in Río Blanco will not come until those who authorised Cáceres’ murder are behind bars and the land rights for her people are recognised.

“Because we are poor they think we don’t know anything … But they are wrong because we are organised and we can protect ourselves from them,” she said.

“They murdered Berta and they thought that, with her dead, we would not continue – but we showed them we can.”

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid organizations, governments and multilaterals providing Honduras with assistance, and it is the central theme of media coverage inside and outside of of the country.

There are good reasons for this focus. Violence disproportionately impacts people in poor and marginal areas and tends to remain concentrated in those communities, closing the circle on a vicious cycle that impoverished nations find hard to break. In addition, violence impedes economic development and disrupts lives across a wide socio-economic spectrum. It can lead to major demographic shifts and crises as large populations move to urban areas or try to migrate to other nations. It can undermine governance and democracy, and it can serve as a justification for repression and hardline security policies that divert resources away from much-needed social and economic programs, thus perpetuating the problem.

Organized crime plays a role in this violence, but it is more like the gasoline than the engine: it provides an already corrupt system with the fuel it needs to run. That corrupt system is the focus of this study on Honduras. Its most visible manifestation is an inept and criminalized police force that a former security minister once called “air traffic control men” for drug flights coming into the country.1 Parts of this police force also work as custodians and assassins for criminal groups; rob drugs and resell them to the underworld; and, for a price, they can attack client’s rivals and disrupt criminal investigations.

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This is one part of a multipart series concerning elites and organized crime. Read full Honduras report (pdf). See other parts of the series here.

But beneath this most obvious form of criminal connection to state officials is a more insidious brand of corruption. This is further from the headlines and much more difficult to tackle since it is embedded in the country’s political, economic and social systems. It operates in a gray area, mixing legal and illegal entities, paper companies and campaign contributions, and sweeping its illicit acts under the rug using co-opted members of the justice system and security forces.

What we are talking about, of course, is the elite connection to organized crime that this investigation exposes. The elites in Honduras are not like those in the rest of the region. The traditional, agro-export and industrial elites who rule in places like Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua are less prominent in Honduras, mostly because of the country’s long history as an enclave economy dominated by multinational companies: the original Banana Republic. Instead, the country’s most powerful economic elites have emerged from the service, banking, media, and telecommunications sectors. They are called transnational elites since many of them are first or second generation immigrants from the Middle East and Eastern Europe and depend on international business dealings to accumulate capital. Traditional, land-based elites are present in Honduras. But they have long been relegated to a second tier, forced to seek power through control of government posts, rather than using financial leverage.

While the ruling elites in Honduras do not share the same origins or economic base as their counterparts elsewhere in the region, they do share their neighbors’ penchant for employing the state for their own ends and systematically impoverishing it. Both the traditional and transnational elites have for years used the military and police to protect their personal land holdings and businesses. They have benefitted from the sale of public companies and lands, and they have enjoyed tax exonerations for their multitude of businesses. They have also pillaged its resources, and, as the government’s importance to the economy has grown, relied on it to generate more capital. Their dependence on the state has opened the way for a third set of what we are calling bureaucratic elites, who have developed a power base of their own because of the government positions they occupy.

Honduras, meanwhile, has become one of the poorest, most unequal and indebted countries in the world. Any attempts to change this system have been met with stern and often unified opposition from elites of all stripes. And attempts to exert more regulatory control over the activities of the elites are smothered before they begin. It is little surprise then that the country offers criminals, large and small, one of the most propitious environments from which to work. On one side, an ineffective justice system and corrupt security forces, long exploited by these elites, opens the way for large criminal groups to operate with impunity. On the other side, an impoverished populace — which sees and understands exactly how elites abuse a broken system — seeks to get its share by working directly with criminals in the illegal and legal enterprises these criminals operate. Crime, as it turns out, is one of the few forms of social mobility.

It is within this gray area that the elites themselves also interact with organized crime. Far from being distant from illegal activities, the elites have long operated in this realm. From dealing in contraband goods and services to buying permission for their illegal dealings and “get-out-of-jail-free cards,” those who do politics or business in Honduras understand that the laws governing the nation of eight million people are but a means to make money. Their connection to the underworld therefore is about societal, commercial and political interactions in the multiple spaces where business and politics happen in Honduras. The result is an organic relationship with organized crime that helps some elites reach the top and others stay there.

Elites in Honduras

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Honduran elites have a peculiar history compared to other elites in the region.2 The country’s economy was built on exports, like its neighbors. Unlike them, however, Honduras’ principal export industries — first mining and then bananas — were almost wholly foreign owned. Local economic elites were enmeshed in cattle and other agro-industrial projects and formed the backbone of the traditional political groupings, the National and Liberal Parties. But a strong, local elite based on the control of land and agro-exports, of the type found in the other countries in the region, did not materialize.

“The root … of Honduran exception was the country’s insertion into the world market and the development of its domestic political apparatus under the aegis not of a national agro-exporting oligarchy, but of US monopoly capital,” writes Rachel Sieder.3

The most famous of these monopolies was United Fruit Company, which Sieder argues “consolidated its hegemony” over local politics in the 1930s and 1940s during a military dictatorship.4 Meanwhile, a smaller more traditional, landed elite shared power — first with these foreign companies and later with foreign settlers who concentrated their efforts on facilitating foreign-owned businesses and controlling the influx of foreign capital.5 These immigrant communities arrived from Europe and the Middle East throughout the 20th century. They have since been dubbed the “transplant” or “transnational” elites (or “Turcos,” a broad-sweeping and quasi-racist reference to their Middle Eastern origins).

These transnational communities established control over what have become the dominant industries in Honduras: the financial and service sectors, telecommunications and media. They also acquired land, competing with and eventually overtaking the traditional elite’s hold on the agrarian economy as it shifted towards non-traditional exports. This traditional elite was largely land-based, depending on activities such as cattle, coffee and cacao to exert its influence. But it never coalesced the way landed elites did in neighboring Guatemala, leaving it largely sidelined, even as US capital slowly exited the country when commodity prices slipped because of increased, worldwide competition. Today, it can be difficult to differentiate between the traditional elites and the transnational elites. Although crossover is more commonly associated with the transnational than the traditional elites, both have diversified their economic portfolios, and both are deeply involved in politics.

What is clear, however, is that Honduras’ top economic groups are run by relatively recent transplants that accumulated capital over the past half-century. The biggest business conglomerates in Honduras carry distinctly foreign names like Facussé, Maalouf and Rosenthal.6 Meanwhile, traditional, landed elites have shifted their focus to controlling government posts and elected offices. Two of the last three presidents come from cattle ranching families, and current President Juan Orlando Hernández is from a coffee family. For both the traditional and transnational elites, their business and political prospects are intertwined with a government that was, for most of its existence, less of an enforcer than an enabler.

Throughout Honduras’ history, the state has been a source of both legal and physical protection for this export economy, the traditional landholding and transnational commercial classes. The public sector was seen, as Hugo Noé Pino notes, as a “concessionary state,” one that “stimulates investment but does not collect taxes.” The government was also a means through which the elites could expand their interests. The political parties represented, for many years, a manifestation of these elite interests.

What came first for the transnational elite — economic or political power — is a matter of some debate. As Noé Pino says, there are two visions of the political-economic nexus at the apex of power in Honduras: 1) that the accumulation of capital was intimately related to the political connections throughout; 2) that the accumulation of capital was what led to these close political connections. Certainly elements of both were at play. And as the country’s traditional exports declined, particularly in the 1970s, and therefore the power of the traditional elites waned, the transnational elites surged to take more direct control of the traditional political parties.

Indeed, the state’s evolution during this period was intimately related to the development of the transnational economic elites. This class tied themselves to the traditional political parties, often making contributions to both parties during elections, ensuring their influence would remain intact whoever won. Noé Pino argues this group created business associations to channel their needs and influence, and that many of its members have been part of the revolving door between government ministries and the private sector that has characterized Honduras for at least the last half century.

For the transnational elites, the state’s role was simple: to create and enforce rules that favor their continued power over key industries and the capital accumulation that accompanies it. Along the way, they managed public discourse as well: they bought newspapers, radio and television stations, and have steered popular sentiments and political messages towards their favored candidates and in support of their modus vivendi. Since the 1970s, the media has largely become an instrument of this elite, and a source of its revenue.7

honduras-en

The dependence of the elites on the state security forces to protect their enterprises led to the emergence of the military as a political and an economic player. This growth was aided by the United States, which, fearing the rise of communism in the region, began training Honduran officers en masse and supplying greater amounts of aid,8 a process that would accelerate in the 1980s and help transform the institution forever. Members of the armed forces became what we are calling a “bureaucratic elite,” something we will cover in more detail in the first Honduras case study. Some of their offspring are the political and economic elite of Honduras today and the institution is at the center of the changing dynamics of power in the country.

The influx in US aid came as traditional exports continued a steep decline, and the country tried to diversify its economy. At the behest of its largest donor nation, the United States, Honduras expanded its export portfolio, lowered tariffs, sold state-owned businesses, and gave financial incentives for local and foreign investment, mostly in the form of reduced taxes. In the 1990s, as US aid dropped precipitously, multilateral banks filled the void and pushed for further liberalization policies.

The efforts to diversify the economy, however, largely failed. Lacking a solid revenue base, and with a state that was unwilling or unable to extract tax revenue from the traditional and transnational elites, the government relied on outside sources to motor the economy. Loans from multilateral banks and others have since made Honduras a perennial pariah in the global banking community, further hampering economic growth. (In March 2014, Honduras had a $7 billion debt, up from $2.7 billion in 2007.9) And while the central idea was to reduce government’s role in the economy, as GDP sputtered, the state assumed an increasing burden to keep the economy afloat. Since 1980, the percentage of GDP that public administration, defense and other state services represent have gone from 16 percent to 22 percent.10

Despite these broad failures, both the traditional and the transnational elites have found ways to keep making money at the expense of the vast majority of Hondurans. For their part, the transnational elites took advantage of the market liberalization policies that began in the 1980s, and dominate the textile industry as well as tourism and telecommunications. They have become particularly powerful in the service sector, financing and constructing malls, buying into international food franchises and profiting from one of the country’s largest sources of revenue: remittances. Remittances represent some 18-20 percent of the country’s current GDP, powering the internal consumption that drives the service sector’s growth.

table1Honduras-productive-sector

Source: ICEFI 2012

 

There were other new sources of licit and illicit revenue besides remittances, foremost among them are non-traditional agriculture projects such as African palm plantations and proceeds from the trafficking of drugs through the country. Drug trafficking money can itself be considered as a form of remittances, as the illicit capital resulting from this trade enters the Honduran economy, passing through the financial sector and fueling growth in the agro-industrial sector, construction and tourism industries. It is through this financial flow that the elites interact with illicit actors. As we shall discuss in more detail later, all forms of elites can benefit from this illicit economic activity, both directly and indirectly.

Meanwhile, the traditional, landed elite has experienced a resurgence of sorts by re-gaining control of the traditional political parties, capturing the increase in state expenditures and controlling more of the flow of foreign capital via their hold on public offices. Like the transnational elite, this group sees the state as an enabler of business enterprises, although in their case the opportunities frequently come via publicly funded projects. The corruption in this system is endemic, widespread and infused.11 They use these monies to maintain their grip on power, undermining or ignoring the rule of law when it suits them.

The battle for these resources is at the center of many political disputes and, in some ways, shapes the country’s government and political parties. The deal-making around these resources can get messy, as it involves billions of dollars. It is, in the end, seen by the elites as a zero-sum game: those who control the government levers control the spoils in this system; those who are separated from these levers, risk getting marginalized. As the dependence on these government resources increases, so does the need to control the government filters for these resources.

The result of this growing dependence on state resources has been the emergence of the aforementioned bureaucratic elite. As illustrated in our first case study, the beginnings of these elites can be traced to the military rule of the 1960s and 1970s, and the de facto military control that continued through the 1980s. But it is in the last decade that these bureaucratic elites have become a force on their own and in conjunction with members of the traditional elites.

This new hybrid elite’s most prominent representative is President Juan Orlando Hernández himself. Educated in a military school, Hernández has surrounded himself with military officers, including his brother who is a colonel in the army. He has placed military personnel in posts traditionally reserved for civilians, and has centralized control of the security forces and intelligence gathering under the presidency. The hybrid group under Hernández’s control, often referred to as the Colobrí Group, combines military personnel, local politicians and the landed gentry, and works closely with the state at the regional and national levels. Colobrí is Spanish for hummingbird.

The resurgent traditional landed elites and bureaucratic elites have centered their capital growth on the control of government resources, and of key government posts that give access to various income streams. Those who control these posts use them to block other elites’ access to these income streams, and to penalize rivals. Their dependence on these government posts and funds is what drives these elites to create their own political movements or develop factions within larger parties, as well as establish private companies that service the government’s needs.

Obtaining and maintaining these political posts is of the utmost importance, and it is within this context that the darkest alliances occur. The elites must gain public and private backing for their bids for government office. This backing comes via direct financial contributions, media coverage and support, as well as networking, and local political and economic alliances. The candidates constantly jockey for position, and their various suitors are ever-changing. Among them are the powerful actors of the Honduran underworld.

Organized Crime in Honduras

Strong, organized criminal groups in Honduras date back almost 50 years. At their highest levels, they have centered on facilitating the movement of illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine from the southern production regions to the northern consumer nations. More recently they have also facilitated the entry of precursor chemicals used to mass-produce synthetic drugs. The money garnered from this trade dwarfs many traditional businesses and has the ability to upset the balance of power on a local, national and even a regional scale.

There are three basic categories of criminal groups present in Honduras. First, there are transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), such as those from Colombia or Mexico, who use the country as a transport bridge and as a storage facility for cocaine that they are moving wholesale to the US or other markets. They tend to operate in small teams. Usually their emissaries seek to ensure that drug loads are secure, that officials are in line and that transactions go as planned. Honduras’ status as a safe haven for TCOs has grown in recent years, making it a good base of operations for increasingly high-level figures in these groups. There have been reports of members of the “board of directors” of the Sinaloa Cartel, for instance, having a base in San Pedro Sula.12

Second, there are local transport groups — or “transportistas” — that operate in Honduras. These are mostly Honduran families or tight business networks from the country that move legal and illegal goods through Honduras. They work closely with wholesale sellers and purchasers, as well as with other transport networks in Central America and elsewhere. They move shipments and can also store them for long periods of time. Neither job is easy. There are numerous rival organizations that steal and resell illegal goods. These include members of the security forces, which very often include the police. The transport groups also have to deal with multiple officials from border to border. However, if done well, transportation can be a highly lucrative venture.

Finally, there are local criminal groups and street gangs operating in Honduras. These groups focus on less lucrative business ventures such as local drug distribution, extortion, kidnapping, and human smuggling. The competition for these criminal markets, in particular for local drug dealing and extortion, is what makes Honduras one of the most violent countries on earth. Gangs routinely eliminate rivals and have internal purges. They also deploy corrupt security officials to attack rival groups. Their territorial control in some areas is absolute, although their interaction with elites is minimal.

The criminal groups that have the most interaction with elites in Honduras are the transportistas and the TCOs. As we shall see in our case studies, these organizations need authorities to help them move illicit goods through a difficult terrain. They interact with security forces to ensure safe passage, and interact with powerful businessmen to launder proceeds and legitimize their illicit capital. Throughout, they establish political contacts, funding candidates for public office in an effort to obtain high-level protection and more business opportunities.

The money garnered from this trade dwarfs that made from many traditional businesses and has the ability to upset the balance of power on a local, national and even a regional scale. This was best illustrated in Latin America during the late 1980s, when Colombia’s infamous trafficking organization, the Medellín Cartel, began kidnapping elites, assassinating judges and policemen, and detonating bombs in public places. However, the roots of this dynamic can be found many years previously when Colombian, and later Central American and Mexican criminal organizations, began to move cocaine and other drugs to the US market.

The pioneer for this transport activity in Honduras was a man named Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros, the subject of one of our Honduras case studies.13 In the 1970s, when Matta Ballesteros emerged as a prominent trafficker, Honduras already had criminal groups that were involved in this transport business.14 Matta Ballesteros’ distribution network eventually stretched from Colombia through Mexico. His allies in Mexico became known as the Guadalajara Cartel, which would later spawn some of the most important criminal groups in that country: the Sinaloa, Juárez and Tijuana Cartels. His allies in Colombia were members of what would become the Medellín Cartel.

As we shall see, Matta Ballesteros’ Honduran network included members of the military, an institution on the ascent thanks in large part to US aid stemming from the Contra War in neighboring Nicaragua.15 It was during this era that Honduras earned the moniker USS Honduras. A US government document from 1988 described Matta Ballesteros as “a class I DEA violator.”16 His legitimate businesses in Honduras were also growing. By one count, he had coffee, tobacco, spice, dairy and cattle holdings, and founded construction and agro-industrial companies in Honduras.17

In 1985, everything changed when the Guadalajara Cartel, seemingly angered by a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation to seize large tracts of its marijuana crops in Mexico, kidnapped and killed Enrique Camarena, a DEA agent. With Camarena’s death, the United States government began a law-bending quest for justice. Over the next several years, numerous Guadalajara operatives and leaders were arrested and convicted in Mexico. Matta Ballesteros was arrested in Colombia, but with the Medellín Cartel’s help, he escaped and made his way back to Honduras, where he felt protected by his vast network and wealth.

In 1988, capitulating to US concerns about Matta Ballesteros’ increasing influence, the military and US Marshals intercepted him following his morning jog, bundled him up and transported him to the Dominican Republic where US marshals officially arrested and charged him with participating in the murder of Camarena, among other criminal acts. From there, he was taken to the US. Up to 2,000 two of Hondurans, mostly students angered by the move, attacked the US embassy, setting fire to several annex buildings and burning vehicles. At least four of the protesters were killed, and US officials said it took two hours for the Honduran authorities to respond their their call for help.18 Matta Ballesteros was later convicted in a Los Angeles court of kidnapping19 and drug trafficking, and remains in a US federal prison.

Following Matta Ballesteros’ dramatic fall, the country continued to be a bridge for traffickers to move illicit goods.20 The list goes beyond drugs: weapons, money, people, and all types of contraband move in and out of Honduras. A group of Salvadoran smugglers, for instance, moved dairy products from Honduras to El Salvador during the civil war in that country. The so-called “Cartel de los Quesos” (Cheese Cartel) would later be dubbed the “Perrones,” and would develop a drug trafficking network that still stretches from Panama to Guatemala. One of their chief operators, José Natividad Luna Pereira, alias “Chepe Luna,” operated his network from San Pedro Sula where he had close contact with elites until he was assassinated in 2014.21

In the early 2000s, Honduras experienced another surge of drug trafficking activity. At the time, Mexican criminal organizations that had emerged after the demise of the Guadalajara Cartel were establishing more control over the distribution chain, and began using Central America as their primary bridge. Several local transport groups emerged. Among them were Chepe Luna’s in El Salvador and Honduras, José Miguel “Chepe” Handal Pérez’s group in San Pedro Sula, the Valle Valle family in Copán, the Zelaya clan in Atlántida, and the Cachiros organization in Colón.22 The Cachiros are the subject of one of our Honduras case studies. These groups’ main function was moving cocaine through the region, but they also had numerous side businesses such as human smuggling and local drug distribution.

The size of this criminal industry is massive when compared to Honduras’ economy. The US State Department estimates that 95 percent of cocaine transported from South America to the United States moves through the Mexican and Central American corridor; 80 percent of this stops in Central America.23 The price charged for moving this cocaine is normally the difference between the wholesale price where the drugs are received and where they are dropped. In the case of Honduras, this difference in price is somewhere in the range of $2,000 to $2,500 per kilo from the time it enters to the time it leaves the country.24 The price of cocaine varies, of course, but this price difference has remained steady for several years. This means the transport market alone is valued at between $600 million and $750 million per year, or somewhere between 3 and 4 percent of the country’s GDP.25 By our estimates, drug proceeds amount to more than half of those generated by the country’s top export, coffee, does.26

All five groups mentioned above had strong political and economic connections that helped them develop close relationships with the authorities, as described above in the case of Matta Ballesteros and the military. One of them, Handal, was an aspiring congressman before the US Treasury Department added him to its “Kingpin List” in April 2013.27 He denied being involved in drug trafficking before going on the run.28 Handal was captured in March 2015.29

Figure 2: Handal Organizational Chart

US Treasury Handal Organizational Chart

Source: Taken from US Treasury

For his part, Francisco Zelaya Fúnez had various construction companies and had signed a number of public works contracts with the municipality of La Ceiba before he was captured in Mexico in 2013. A newspaper described him as being connected to a “high level official in the previous administration.”30 For their part, the Valle Valle family had strong connections to Alexander Ardón, mayor of a town on the Guatemalan border named El Paraíso. Ardón’s brother, Hugo, ran the central government’s road construction and maintenance fund known as Fondo Vial. The core of the Valle Valle family was captured and extradited to the US in 2014.31

This type of connection between criminals and political actors has become commonplace over the years. In 1987, congressman Félix Cerna Salgado admitted having a close relationship with Matta Ballesteros. In the early 2000s, three congressmen were captured for transporting drugs. In July 2014, Honduran authorities arrested Arnaldo Urbina, the mayor of Yoro, and charged him and numerous others of running a drug trafficking and assassination ring that was responsible for the murder of 137 people and the disappearance of 45 others.32

The criminal organizations’ ability to accumulate capital and wield this economic power to their advantage is largely hidden from view, since Honduran authorities have developed few strong judicial cases against them and there is not a vibrant local media. What’s more, public officials threaten these interests at their own peril. In December 2009, police assassins killed Honduran drug czar Julián Arístides González, and two years later his outspoken one-time advisor, Alfredo Landaverde was gunned down. Investigating detectives quickly determined that the triggermen were police officers operating under orders of top police brass. But the detectives just as quickly buried those investigative reports, and they did not come to light until years later. In April 2013, gunmen assassinated Orlán Chávez, the country’s top money laundering prosecutor.33 The day before his death, Chávez had led a raid on several of aforementioned Chepe Handal’s suspected properties and seized them. Suspicion fell on Handal, but the case remains unresolved.

The economic might of these groups only began to come into view when the United States deemed Handal, and then the Cachiros, as specially designated narcotics traffickers, and placed them on the so-called “Kingpin List.”34 Handal’s business holdings included various auto parts stores, a motorcycle distributor, and a clothing store. A US indictment, issued in the Southern District of Florida, called for him to forfeit $38 million in proceeds from his illicit business dealings.

After authorities began raiding the Cachiros’ properties in September 2013, however, it was clear that Handal was small by comparison. The US Treasury, in its “Kingpin” designation, named five businesses that it said belonged to the organization,35 and officials from both countries estimated the group’s assets were in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

In later part of 2014, US and Honduran authorities also targeted the Valle Valle family organization. That family’s assets, the US Treasury said in an August 2014 “Kingpin” designation, included several coffee plantations and a cattle ranch. The group, the US Treasury declared, was moving upwards of 10 tons of cocaine through Honduras per month. Rough calculations by InSight Crime put the group’s annual earnings near $300 million or about 1.6 percent of Honduras’ GDP.

Figure 3: Valle Family Organizational Chart

US Treasury Valles Organizational Chart

Source: Taken from US Treasury

Perhaps more important than their coffee and cattle holdings was the group’s direct link to Ardón, the mayor of El Paraíso, and to his brother, Hugo.36 Between the two of them, the Ardóns managed dozens of state contracts which facilitated the movement of money between themselves and their legitimate and illegitimate partners. The merry-go-round created by this type of money flow is a critical part of understanding how corruption and crime work in places like Honduras. Money moves from state coffers into licit and illicit businesses whose owners then bankroll the candidates who are financing their projects or facilitating their money laundering activities. In the process, the Honduran public is left out of the loop. The Ardón brothers had the perfect machine to keep this merry-go-round spinning.

But by late 2014, the Honduran government appeared to have them in its sights, making veiled references to the network in the press (calling it the “Cartel de Alex”). The network had created a powerful group that reached the highest echelons of power in Honduras. This, as our case studies illustrate, is the norm in the country rather than the exception, and it is changing the entire complexion of Honduras‘ ruling elite.

*This report was written by Steven Dudley. Dudley, Javier Meléndez — who acted as coordinator for research for this project — along with researchers from the Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH) and the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ), assisted in the investigation and production of this report. Map by Jorge Mejía Galindo. Graphics by Andrew J Higgens.