Archive for the ‘Honduran military death squads’ Category

Death Squad Revelations and the New Police in Honduras

Wednesday, 06 July 2016 00:00 By Annie Bird, CIP Americas Program | News Analysis

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36710-death-squad-revelations-and-the-new-police-in-honduras

On June 21, 2015 the London-based Guardian newspaper published an article describing the testimony of a soldier who says he deserted the army after his unit was given an order to kill activBerta Cáceres13ists whose names appeared on two lists. He reported seeing one list given to his Military Police unit that formed part of the Xatruch task force, and a second for a Military Police unit that formed part of the National Force of Interinstitutional Security (FUSINA) task force. The second contained the name of Lenca indigenous leader Berta Caceres, murdered on March 3, 2016.

On June 22 Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes published a response to the Guardian article, claiming that the Military Police did not have a seventh battalion, that the FBI had not trained military forces in Honduras and that the TESON (Troops Specialized in Jungle and Nocturnal Operations) training course did not have US military trainers.

Military dictator of Honduras ' Juan Orlando Hernandez

Military dictator of Honduras ‘ Juan Orlando Hernandez

bottom right of photo of JOH, button on his uniform

bottom right of photo of JOH, button on his uniform

However, the Honduran military has reported to local press that the Military Police is in the process of creating a series of ten battalions, each with slightly under 500 soldiers.  In December 2014 the military reported that the fifth and sixth battalions had graduated, and by January 2016 it reported that there were 4,000 active Military Police, making it clear at least eight battalions are in operation.

The Guardian article referred to reports of training by the FBI and other US agencies of the FUSINA joint task force in an activity Secretary Reyes himself announced in a press conference with US Embassy personnel on May 13, 2015, as reported by AFP and Honduran media.

The Guardian article referred to two specialized training courses, including the TESON course described by the soldier, with US and Colombian trainers. The US Special Operations Command as recently as January 2016 affirmed its support of Honduran of forces.  The US Army Rangers helped create the TESON course and have reported support since. Graduates of the TESON training course are considered the elite forces and are spread across military units.

On May 2, 2016 five men were arrested for Berta Caceres’ murder, including Major Mariano Diaz Chavez.  A special-forces officer, Major Diaz participated in joint US-Honduran military operations in Iraq, and a multilateral peacekeeping operation in the Sahara, and is reported to have graduated from the TESON special-forces training course.  Major Diaz was a Military Police for Public Order [PMOP] instructor based in Tegucigalpa. There are two bases in Tegucigalpa which have been used for PMOP training, the base in La Venta and the base in Tamara.   In the three weeks prior to Mariano Diaz Chavez’s arrest, the 53rd Brigade of the Florida National Guard conducted training operations with soldiers and the TIGRES police unit on the base in Tamara, potentially working with Major Diaz.

Military Police, FUSINA and the National Police

Military Police in the cities

Military Police in the cities

When the Central American Regional Security Strategy of the System for Central American Integration (SICA) was announced in April 2011, the Inter-American Development Bank and US State Department announced creation of a “Group of Friends” of the initiative. From this time forward, a program of counter-insurgency policing began to be implemented in Honduras, coupling the creation of “stabilization” police forces—FUSINA, the elite force TIGRES and the Military Police — with so-called “community policing”, the stated goal of the constantly failing police reform efforts.

On August 24, 2013 the law creating the Military Pollice for Public Order (PMOP) was published, authorizing a military force of up to 5,000 soldiers dedicated to civilian policing. Upon passage of the PMOP law, the National Defense and Security Council (CNDS) created the FTCCI, and in February 2014 the CNDS created the National Force for Interinstitutional Security (FUSINA). The law mandated the Military Police to operate as part of the Combined Interinstitutional Joint Task Force (FTCCI), with embedded judges with national jurisdiction, a figure created in June 2011.

The PMOP law, along with a February 2014 amendment, allows these judges to preside over proceedings via internet from undisclosed locations even outside of the country. It also allows them to enter and leave the country bypassing normal immigration processes.

Just weeks before the creation of PMOP, Congress passed the legislative proposal creating the elite TIGRES police unit. It mandated the new unit to operate with the Honduran military as part of inter-agency task forces. The TIGRES law, passed in June 2013, was the second TIGRES proposal. The first proposal failed to pass congress in 2012 under heavy criticism that it was a revival of the counterinsurgency death squads from the 1980s.

The failed 2012 version amalgamated military and police into a hybrid, carabinero/ gendarmerie-style security force, whose command could shift between civil and military authorities. This proposal met with strong opposition, despite announcements that a $65 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank would be dedicated to supporting the creation of the new force.

The response was apparently to divide the proposal into two new agencies, bound to act together via inter-agency task forces — what is today the TIGRES of the National Police, and the PMOP on the military side.

Over the past three years the Honduran Military has conducted a series of training courses to create Military Police battalions, with the stated goal of establishing 10 battalions with a total of 5,000 soldiers throughout the country, each specialized in different operational capacities. The First and Second Battalions, trained in late 2013, specialize in intelligence operations. In January 2013 it was reported that a total of 4,000 PMOP were in operation.

FUSINA has also grown quickly. Just two years after its creation, it mobilized 11,000 military, police and other agents in a Holy Week security operation. In June of 2016, the total size of the Honduran National Police forces was 14,500 agents, though plans were announced to reduce that force by 5,500.

The planned National Police purge, the latest in a series of failed police reform initiatives since 2011, is under the guidance of a police reform commission, made up of four individuals, including the current Minister of Security and former commander of FUSINA, Julian Pacheco, and lawyer Vilma Morales.

The commission lacks legitimacy. In addition to the current scandal surrounding FUSINA, respected police reform advocate and former Chief of Internal Inspections of the National Police, Maria Luisa Borjas, claims Morales made a deal with former Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez to bury a case against former police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla who was facing charges of running a death squad. She was an acting Supreme Court Magistrate at the time.

Boots on the Ground Can’t Address the Roots of the Violence 

So-called “stability operations” in Honduras will not solve the problems of poverty and violence whose effects spill over into the United States. Honduras is not in “a transition”; rather Honduras has an entrenched and increasingly militarized political and economic system that uses institutionalized corruption to control resources for the benefit of a small, violent, ruling class whose hold on power was clenched in a military coup seven years ago.

Only a strong justice system can dismantle this system, yet the State Department is not supporting efforts to reform the justice system that the Honduran government refuses to accept, like the offer by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to sponsor an independent group of experts to investigate the murder of Berta Caceres.

But even the strongest efforts for justice system reform cannot combat the root problems unless the actors that enable it, including the US government that continues to fund abusive security forces and international business interests that benefit from public funds channeled to them by development banks like the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation, cease to reward the repression and corruption.

Until this happens, real community policing efforts will continue to fail, and stability policing agencies will continue to be tools of repression to enforce the interests of the corrupt economic elite that Berta confronted.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Annie Bird

Annie Bird is a contributor to CIP Americas Program.

A public declaration by a group of intellectuals and community leaders was released two days ago. It can be read in Spanish at http://tiempo.hn/manifiesto-pais-ataud-silencio-velorio/   I have translated this so that it can be read and shared by English speaking readers. 

Country as Coffin, Country in Silence, Country in Eternal Wake

Four months after the assassination of the unbroken Berta Cáceres comes the need to share our concerns.  The first is that with the institutional deterioration in Honduras that has sunk to such profound depths,  the ability of independent forces to struggle, or to attempt to struggle, against the crude arrogance of the system is also progressively weakened.Berta Cáceres 83 - Berta Flores, Berta Cáceres y Olivia Zúniga.

Tolerance, considered to be the cornerstone of European civilization since the Age of Enlightenment, has yet to illuminate the land of Honduras. Any form of dissidence here brings with it an element of risk, all digression is suspicious and subversive, and disagreements quickly turn into enmity, because in Honduras to disagree with a concept, a thesis or a theory becomes a personal offense.

And personal offense is for these “fathers” of the nation, and its governors, rulers and warlords, a personal attack. Discussion, arguments, critique and controversial debate have ceased to be in the republic instruments of participation and the search for consensus, or methods to search out the truth. These have been transformed into the vulgar bipartisanship of malice and resentment.

 

So much so that good oratory, that spectacular and political art that no intellectual or aspiring leader could ignore because it contains the magic of the “word”, has come to disappear. The discursive mediocrities to which Hondurans are subjected to daily are crude, vain, overwhelming and gross that seem to ooze as edicts deficient in the gift of speech by these “honorable” rustics of bipartisan politics.

 

It will remain for scientists to investigate the inescapable relationship between the loss of a social principle -the respect for life- and increased local criminality. After the time when the militaristic State established the suppression of persons in opposition before and during the 1980’s, and after that the national political class also proved that you can loot the nation without ending up in jail, every transgression was validated. But there is another criminal level which we live today, and that is the barefacedness and impunity. It is not enough to steal with premeditation, but it is costumed with grandiose and hypocritical theatrical effrontery. If there is a histrionic exercise that prevails in present day Honduras, it is cynicism.

In the same way it has happened in the Honduran tradition with the assassination of public figures. If during the dictatorial rule uniformed officials and regional chieftains sought to hide their deeds, dumping cadavers into the Ulúa, the murder of labor and peasant leaders is easier today with the complicity of the state. Killing only requires the darkness of night as there are no policies to discourage this crime. Police are tainted and never sanctioned, at times murdering their own leaders, while the senior administration of the justice system lapses into an unforgivable slumber of indifference. It is not enough that in this country of permanent mourning  where the cities regularly sprout bodies with slit throats, and where repeated massacres and criminal carnage has come to such a state that forensic authorities have resorted to using plastic garbage bags to cart off the corpses. The worst metaphor of abandonment has become reality here: in Honduras human life and the dignity of the person, even of the deceased, belongs in the garbage dump of the social factory as dictated by the creed of neoliberalism.

The country thus has been transformed from agricultural and semi-industrial to one that offers the most dismal of opportunities: private security firms, emergency medical facilities, ambulance services, the mortuary and casket industry, overwhelmed forensic technicians, grave diggers and cemetery workers. “Luminol” is the hottest market product in Honduras as it is a chemical that helps detect trace amounts of blood at crime scenes.

Meanwhile as society is squeezed and its resources depleted in some illogical attempt to control the violence, some elements of the same military apparatus inject an average of three thousand hand guns or rifles into this market of instability.  The contradiction – or the ideological bubble, the farce or the great lie – has never been more obvious than in these two and a half years in which ” something has change” and when we “live better”, although nobody knows how , where, when and with what.

Human Targets

Berta Cáceres was assassinated by a colonial political system and an industrial extractivist model, always in force as the ultimate whip of the powerful to eradicate dissent. When it is insufficient to discredit and slander, to make unfounded accusations, to threaten, and to intimidate and harass with surveillance, they then proceed to murder the source of the ideal, the brain of the resistance.

It is arguable that this has always been the struggle of the Central American nation: the inevitable historical confrontation between those who aspire to the collective benefit in the use of natural resources, and those who would appropriate for themselves or for their national and transnational companies these same resources. This is the dialectical clash between those who would expect from the State a more humanist defense as different from a mercantile consideration machined to objectify the individual. That is what is happening today.Chinchonero

But it is a futile strategy. The assassination of these well-known leaders instead feeds the rancorous and untamed memory of the people and creates martyrs impossible to forget. Some 480 years ago Lempira was betrayed or killed in combat, it matters not how, and his presence remains immeasurable among the indigenous and Ladino peoples and modernity; the holocaust of the Morazán struggle still dominates the history of the Isthmus and cries sleeplessly for this unfinished project of unification; the ghost of Cinchonero populates the forests of Olancho rifle in hand; Guadalupe Carney continues to pour out love and demands justice from the pages of the collective consciousness and particularly from the godforsaken and exploited peasantry; Jeanette Kawas, Carlos Luna and Carlos Escalera were ahead of their time with an environmental proposal that is so very just that it can never die.

The martyrs will return, becoming the unstoppable constructive seed of new generations.  Berta is a living memory for the ancestral resistance of the indigenous communities and in her are summarized the historical struggles of a people moving towards their liberty. Berta lives in the spirit of a moral rebellion, a desire for social change, and the demand for democracy and equality.  Her memory is not therefore of pain but of inspiration to be insubordinate and to fight for the solvency of history, for organized coordination and dignity.

 

Country of the Indignant      July 3, 2016

 

ISMAEL MORENO, sj 

DARÍO EURAQUE

RODOLFO PASTOR FASQUELLE 

VÍCTOR MEZA

EDUARDO BÄHR

PATRICIA MURILLO

WILFREDO MÉNDEZ

HUGO NOÉ PINO

HELEN UMAÑA

EFRAÍN DÍAZ ARRIVILLAGA

MAURICIO TORRES MOLINERO

RAMÓN ENRIQUE BARRIOS

LETICIA SALOMÓN 

MARVIN BARAHONA

JULIO ESCOTO

Berta Caceres: Who She Is & What She Lived For

A reflection by Grahame Russell, March 2, 2016; Updated June 15, 2016, a “Global day of action for justice for Berta Caceres”

http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=ea011209a243050dfb66dff59&id=6cd2874faf

Berta Caceres, a great Lenca woman from Honduras, was assassinated on March 2, 2016.  She was targeted and killed because of who she is, because of what she lived and fought for, her whole life.

For her life, sicarios (paid assassins) broke into her home in La Esperanza, Intibuca, Honduras, and shot her.  At the same time, the assassins attempted to kill Gustavo Castro, a Mexican human rights defender visiting with Berta and her organization COPINH.  Hit by two bullets, Gustavo survived (barely) by playing dead.

Who Killed Her?
Berta was a mother of four, a grandmother, a sister and daughter, and – to all who knew her, learned from her, got strength, courage and wisdom from her, followed her – a companera.  She was killed by all those people, countries and institutions whose greed and interests she lived, stood and fought against.  Berta lived against all injustices, all inequalities, all discriminations, all Mother Earth destroying activities.

She was killed …
by 500 years of racist, violent, dispossessing European imperialism; by 200 years of U.S. military interventions, exploitation, corruption and impunity; by generations of violent and exploitative, racist and sexist governments of Honduras propped up by the “international community”: the United States, Canada, global corporations, the IMF, World Bank, IDB.

Berta was killed …
by eons of patriarchy, by centuries of racism against the Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples of Honduras and the Americas; by the greed-conceived and violence-imposed “free trade” agreements of the Americas; by the inherent, endless avarice of corporations and investors from the powerful, rich “democratic” nations (many being members of the harmful G8 club) that exploit, repress and denigrate the “third world”, that make, prop up and mock “banana republics”; by the IMF, World Bank, IDB, etc. – institutions created and dominated by these same rich, powerful “democratic” nations.

Berta was killed …
by corporations and investors who conceive of Honduras and the world – its forests and earth, its rivers, water and air, its people and all life forms – as exploitable and discardable objects, and then steal, kill and destroy mightily to make their millions and billions;

by the banana monopolies (United Fruit Company, etc.) and railway barons of the 1800s and 1900s;

by the producers of African palm (World Bank funded Dinant corporation, etc.) and sugarcane for global consumers of “green energies” (ethanol and bio-diesel fuels);

by maquiladora sweatshop exploiters of cheap labour (Gildan Activewear and Hanesbrand Inc., etc.);

by hydro-electric dam companies (DESA Agua Zarca, etc.) profiting from privatized rivers and water sources;

by exclusive tourism enclaves (operated by the Canadian Randy “porn king” Jorgensen, etc.) illegally and violently evicting indigenous Garifuna peoples from their communal lands;

by mining companies (Goldcorp Inc., Aura Minerals, etc.) ripping apart the earth for gold, poisoning the waters of the Siria Valley and the blood of local residents, evicting communities and the dead from 200 year old cemeteries.

Most recently, Berta was killed …
by the U.S. created, funded and armed “war on drugs” that took undemocratic and unjust, corrupt and violent situations in Honduras (Guatemala, Mexico, etc.) and made them worse, while drug consumption in the U.S. increases, while profits to weapons producers increase, while tax-payers’ money increases to militaries and ‘specialized’ forces in a number of countries;

by the U.S. and Canadian backed military coup in June 2009, that ousted a democratically elected government and brought back to power the same elites that for so long have dominated and abused Honduras, who – once back in power – took all the above and made it worse again, using repression as a tool of societal control, hiring sicarios to target and kill hundreds of people since the coup, people like Berta.

Seven years after the coup, Honduras has the highest per capita murder rate in the world, and amongst the highest rates of repression, femicide, journalist killings, corruption and impunity in the Americas.

Berta was killed by all these people and countries, by these economic, military and political interests because – as anyone who knew her will tell you, as anyone who learned from her, got strength, courage and wisdom from her, followed her, will tell you – these are the things she lived against, stood and struggled against, all her life.

What Did She Live, Stand and Struggle For?
For you and me and everyone.  For your rights and mine.  For all human rights, collective and individual, of all people, in all countries.  For Mother Earth herself – the fields and forests, air and water, and all life forms on this most precious and solitary of planets.

Berta lived, stood and struggled for another world is necessary and possible.

What To Do?
We are desperately sorry for Berta’s children, her mother, her sisters and brothers, her family and friends in La Esperanza, and Honduras, and across the Americas.  Our hearts are again broken by this global human order we live in.

As a part of us dies with Berta, a huge part of Berta lives on.

What to do?  Well, do what Berta would do, as she always did.  Live, stand and struggle together.  Hold hands.  Give one another abrazos (hugs).  Reach out to and support the so many victims of this global human order.  Live, stand and struggle against all injustices and inequalities, all discriminations, all Mother Earth destroying activities, and for another world is necessary and possible.

Thank-you Berta.  You are so missed.  You are so loved and respected.

Grahame Russell
416-807-4436
grahame@rightsaction.org

Berta Cáceres’s name was on Honduran military hitlist, says former soldier

A unit trained by US special forces was ordered to kill the environmental activist who was slain in March, according to an ex-member who now fears for his life

One human rights expert said: ‘This … reinforces calls that the US must withdraw military aid from Honduras where there’s been a bloodbath since the 2009 coup.’
 One human rights expert said: ‘This … reinforces calls that the US must withdraw military aid from Honduras where there’s been a bloodbath since the 2009 coup.’ Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

 in Mexico City

Berta Cáceres, the murdered environmental campaigner, appeared on a hitlist distributed to US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military months before her death, a former soldier has claimed.

Lists featuring the names and photographs of dozens of social and environmental activists were given to two elite units, with orders to eliminate each target, according to First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz, 20.

Cruz’s unit commander, a 24-year-old lieutenant, deserted rather than comply with the order. Cruz – who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for fear of reprisal – followed suit, and fled to a neighbouring country. Several other members of the unit have disappeared and are feared dead.

“If I went home, they’d kill me. Ten of my former colleagues are missing. I’m 100% certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army,” Cruz told the Guardian.

Cáceres, an indigenous Lenca leader who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for a campaign against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, was shot dead in her home in March. Before her murder, she had reported 33 death threats linked to the campaign and had warned international human rights delegates that her name was on a hitlist.

Berta Cáceres campaigned to preserve her people’s environment, threatened by a hydroelectric project.
 Berta Cáceres campaigned to preserve her people’s environment, threatened by a hydroelectric project. Photograph: Tim Russo

According to Cruz, Cáceres’s name appeared on a list given to a military police unit in the Inter-institutional Security Force (Fusina), which last summer received training from 300 US marines and FBI agents.

Five men have been arrested for her murder, including Maj Mariano Díaz Chávez, an active-duty major in the Honduran army. Díaz had previously participated in joint US-Honduran military operations in Iraq, and is reported by local media to be a graduate of the elite Tesón special operations course which is partly taught by US special forcesDiaz was a military police instructor when arrested, but has since been given a dishonourable discharge.

Annie Bird, director of the group Rights and Ecology which documents human rights abuses in Honduras, said: “Cruz’s testimony suggests death squads are targeting political opposition, but the justice system is so broken, and directly controlled by figures implicated in corruption, that there is no one [in Honduras] who can credibly investigate.”

The Guardian interviewed Cruz several times by telephone and video call, and spoke with several people – academics, community leaders and activists – who have interviewed Cruz and confirmed his identity and military background.

Cruz enlisted in the army in December 2014, and after three months of basic training, was transferred to the 7th Battalion of the military police, which was created in 2013 to replace a civilian police force mired in allegations of corruption and abuse.

He completed two gruelling specialist training camps, including the Tesón course, where he received instruction from foreign military advisers including Americans, Colombians and instructors who spoke a foreign language which Cruz could not identify. Last year, the Tesón course became the subject of intense controversy when footage emerged showing a trainee being forced to eat the head of a dog.

During his training, Cruz was hospitalized twice with dehydration, but he completed the course and in October last year, Cruz and 15 other men from his battalion were picked to serve in the Xatruch taskforce – one of two multi-agency forces in Honduras deployed on specialist counter-narcotics and anti-gang operations.

The Xatruch force covers the Caribbean coast, which has become an important way station for drug cartels smuggling cocaine from South America to the US. The second taskforce, Fusina, operates nationwide.

In mid-December, Cruz’s commander gathered his subordinates after a Tuesday evening football match and showed them several sheets of paper with names, photographs, addresses and phone numbers of each target. One list was assigned to their unit; the second to a similar unit in Fusina.

“The lieutenant said he wasn’t willing to go through with the order as the targets were decent people, fighting for their communities. He said the order came from the joint chiefs of staff [and] he was under pressure from the Xatruch commander to comply,” Cruz said.

A few days later, the lieutenant left the base and has not been seen since.

It was not the first time Cruz had seen the lists. A few weeks earlier in Punta Piedra, a town on the Caribbean coast, similar sheets of paper had fallen out of his commander’s vest in the jeep which Cruz drove.

“I only had them in my hand for 20 or 30 seconds but I recognised some faces as leaders from the Bajo Aguán [region]. I didn’t say anything,” Cruz said.

The Bajo Aguán region – where the Xatruch taskforce is based – has been the setting for a string of violent land disputes between powerful palm oil magnates and local farmers. More than 100 people, mainly peasant activists, have been killed, many at the hands of state or private security forces.

Among the names on the hitlist seen by Cruz was that of Juan Galindo, an activist who had fled the region after receiving threats, but was murdered in November 2014 after returning home from exile to visit his sick mother.

Cruz also recognised Johnny Rivas and Vitalino Álvarez, high-profile members of the United Peasant Movement (Muca). Both men were among 123 activists in the Bajo Aguán named by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2014 as requiring urgent protective measures.

Peasant activist Vitalino Álvarez: ‘The rumours are I’m now top of that list.’
 Peasant activist Vitalino Álvarez: ‘The rumours are I’m now top of that list.’ Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Álvarez, 52, who has survived four assassination attempts since 2010, said: “There’s been a systematic strategy to eliminate the most belligerent social leaders. Since they killed Berta, the rumours are I’m now top of that list.”

Human rights groups have condemned US support for Honduran security forces amid mounting evidence implicating police and military in systematic abuses. In April, activists warned Congress that death squads were targeting opposition activists, much like they did during the “dirty war” in the 1980s.

The US has given Honduras an estimated $200m in police and military aid since 2010 as part of its efforts to stem organised crime and undocumented migration, according to defence and state department figures. In addition, Honduras shares the $750m Alliance for Prosperity fund approved by Congress last year for Central America’s violent Northern Triangle.

Both aid packages include human rights conditions, but neither has been restricted, even though the state department’s most recent human rights report says that “unlawful and arbitrary killings and other criminal activities by members of the security forces” remain one of the country’s most serious problems.

Neither the Honduran defence ministry nor the US state department responded to repeated requests for comment by the Guardian.

After Cruz’s lieutenant deserted in mid-December, the other members of his unit were redeployed separately. Cruz worked for about 10 days with the commander of the Xatruch taskforce.

During this brief deployment, Cruz said he was woken up in the middle of the night to transport black plastic bags to the River Tocoa, in Bajo Aguán, where colleagues emptied out human remains over the bridge.

He also described seeing a “torture room” near a military installation in the town of Bonito Oriental. “I didn’t see anyone but there was fresh blood, a hammer, nails, a chain and pliers in the room.”

Shortly afterwards, Cruz and his colleagues were all sent on extended leave. Now increasingly anxious for his own safety, Cruz fled, crossing the border illegally as his identification documents were still with the army. He is now in hiding and his family have reported that military policemen have questioned their neighbours over his whereabouts.

Lauren Carasik, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University, said the US must stop turning a blind eye to the lawlessness.

“This is disturbing smoking-gun evidence which reinforces calls that the US must withdraw military aid from Honduras where there’s been a bloodbath since the 2009 coup.”

Violence in Honduras increased dramatically after a military-backed coup in July 2009 forced President Manuel Zelaya from power. Environmental campaigners bore the brunt of the repression after the new rightwing government licensed hundreds of mega-projects, including mines and hydroelectric dams in environmentally sensitive areas. At least 109 activists were murdered between 2010 and 2015, making Honduras one of the world’s most dangerous countries for environmental defenders.

A growing number of US politicians have expressed concern over the situation.

In August 2015, 21 members of Congress wrote to the secretary of state, John Kerry, raising specific concerns about US support for Fusina, which has repeatedly been accused of human rights violations.

Last week, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act in Honduras – which would suspend US security assistance until human rights violations by security forces cease – was introduced to Congress by Representative Hank Johnson.

“We provide millions of dollars in security assistance to Honduras but these same forces have been found to attack and kill environmental, labour and human rights activists like Cáceres without any effective response from the authorities,” said Johnson.

Cáceres’s daughter, Bertita Zúñiga, said Cruz’s testimony strengthened the family’s calls for an independent international investigation to find the intellectual authors.

“This shows us that death squads are operating in the armed forces, which are being used to get rid of people opposing government plans. It shows us that human rights violations are state policy in Honduras.”