Archive for the ‘journalism in Honduras’ Category

Sandra Maribel Sánchez shrugs off blackmail as easily as she would an online troll.

Threats against your life are all in a day’s work, says the 55-year-old Honduran journalist, when you report on feminism, politics and human rights in a country rife with corruption and organized crime and ruled by men.

“It’s not a matter of how afraid or brave you are, critical journalism has to do with your convictions,” says Honduran journalist and feminist Sandra Maribel Sánchez.

“Once you’ve realized that threats are going to be a part of it, you don’t feel fear when they materialize,” Sánchez says breezily. “It’s not a matter of how afraid or brave you are, critical journalism has to do with your convictions.”

We’re seated on a jostling bus bound for Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. It’s a winding four-hour road trip from rural Río Blanco, through lush green forest, coffee and corn plantations.

“As you may have noticed, I’m pretty strong-willed, so I defend my freedom of expression,” she adds. “I don’t go before hand to ask for permission… and if someone doesn’t like it, they don’t have to listen.”

Over three decades, Sánchez has risen as a respected, progressive broadcaster in Honduras — known for staring down the authorities time and again in the name of freedom of the press. As a woman, she has endured numerous indignities along the way, ranging from sexist comments to police arrest and a physical attack.

But Sánchez vows she will never be silenced, because “journalism is my life.”

Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Tegucigalpa is the capital city of Honduras, and widely considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world to be a woman, journalist or activist. It is seen here on Oct. 20, 2017 from the Hotel Honduras Maya. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

Conquering congress in the 1980s

An indefatigable reporter, Sánchez launched her career more than 30 years ago, at a time when women were unpopular in the workforce, let alone a newsroom.

She also did it in Tegucigalpa, which is widely recognized as the most dangerous capital on Earth with no declared war. Honduras is a troubled Central American state where a woman is killed every 16 hours, and at least 69 journalists have been murdered since 2001.

Sánchez rose to prominence as the second female reporter to cover national politics in Honduran history. But her success didn’t come easily — at her very first job, she was told that women should not be covering politics at all.

It was around 1985, and she had been hired as a political correspondent by Radio América Honduras, only to be assigned to cover health and education. She pushed back against newsroom management and wound up covering the National Congress.

Her next challenge came in the halls of government itself, where no one — not even her reporting colleagues — would take her seriously. In group interviews with politicians, known as scrums, she was constantly overlooked.

“When I would ask a question, my colleagues would turn off their tape recorders,” she remembers, her bitterness discernible. “They assumed I wouldn’t ask anything that could be considered important.”

They were wrong; Sánchez quickly started scooping the male reporters. They paid attention and started deferring to her, having her ask the first questions in a scrum.

“That’s when they considered me competition and somebody not to be dismissed,” she says. “But as women, it’s really hard to win those spaces.”

Sánchez stayed with Radio América for 18 years. In addition to reporting, she hosted her very own talk show, whose air time she used to cover controversial topics, such as feminism, Indigenous rights and environmental protection.

Yet despite earning her chops as a political correspondent, eventually she realized she would never be promoted to newsroom management because she was a woman.

So she quit.

Honduras, Tegucigalpa, Sandra Maribel Sánchez, journalism, Radio
Honduran journalists film a press conference with Nobel Peace Prize laureates Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman in Tegucigalpa on Oct. 24, 2017. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

Always the rebel

Before she was a journalist, Sánchez was a primary school teacher. But it never sparked her passion, and after completing her qualifications, she moved on.

“I had 40 children in my classroom and I was paid the equivalent of $40 a month,” Sánchez explains. “… I wanted to study journalism because I had been organized politically since high school and thought as a journalist, I could contribute to the changes our country needed.”

Sánchez grew up during the Cold War, after a series of military coups and a war with El Salvador that returned Honduras to civilian rule. At the urging of the U.S. government — which had established a continuing military presence there to train local troops and support El Salvador — Honduras adopted a national security regime that targeted internal subversion and dissent.

Sánchez was undeterred by the risks of being a young female activist. She joined Honduras’ Federation of Secondary Students, and travelled the country to attend “underground” meetings on such dangerous topics as feminism, Indigenous sovereignty and systemic state corruption.

It was at these meetings that she came to know another female Honduran trailblazer — beloved Indigenous activist and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Berta Cáceres. Cáceres was murdered in March 2016 after leading a 20-year campaign against the Honduran state selling ancestral Indigenous lands to foreign companies. The assassination, still under investigation today, sent shock waves through the country.

Sánchez remembers her fondly.

“We learned from her that when you have a dream you have to go after it and work for it, regardless of the risks… We also learned that you have to have an international forum to make (the issues) known.”

This is why the weight of social change in Honduras falls so heavily on journalists, Sánchez explains — they have a direct line of communication with the outside world. But that “great responsibility” often comes at great risk, as she learned in the latter half of her career.

Berta Cáceres, women's rights, Honduras, environmental activists, killings, murder, impunity
Lenca environmental activists set up a humble tribute to slain environmentalist Berta Cáceres in their traditional territory of Río Blanco, Honduras on Oct. 21, 2017. Cáceres was murdered in March 2016 for her advocacy against a hydroelectric dam slated for construction on a sacred Lenca river in Río Blanco. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

Awarded, attacked, arrested

In December 2007, Sánchez was awarded the Argentina-based Fundación Democracía sin Fronteras Prize for Journalistic Integrity. It is given to those who, against great odds, uphold freedom of expression, objectivity and the fight against corruption.

At the time, she was the news director for Radio Globo — a station that did not refuse her a promotion based on sex. One of her first moves in management was to ensure her reporting team was at least 50 per cent female.

“The female journalists were actually better than the men, and our audience knew that too,” she says with a grin.

The recognition was a major accomplishment, she adds, given that in Honduras, “all women are perceived to be less skilled and capable than men in every field, regardless of how well the person is doing the work.”

“The patriarchy is the underlying theme everywhere, even of course, within women’s perceptions,” Sánchez explains. “Although there’s been a great deal of effort within women’s and feminist organizations, it has not been enough to deconstruct a culture that was built over centuries.”

Sánchez stayed at Radio Globo nearly five years, steadfast in her commitment to coverage of environmental defence, Indigenous rights, social welfare, freedom of expression and “critical analysis of what (politicians) aren’t doing.” During that time, life in Honduras took a turn for the worst — especially for journalists.

In 2008, Sánchez and her family received numerous threats and were repeatedly followed by unmarked vehicles due to her support for a hunger strike undertaken by a handful of public prosecutors who wanted proceedings initiated in the country’s most notorious, unpunished corruption cases. Her family was unharmed, but shaken.

It was the calm before the storm. A year later, there was a a constitutional crisis and coup d’état in Honduras. The president was ousted and exiled and constitutional rights were suspended for 45 days. By August 2009, as civil unrest and conflict escalated, the interim government had shut down a number local broadcasters — including Sánchez’s Radio Globo, whose offices were raided by masked soldiers.

The following years were among the deadliest for journalists in Honduras. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, at least 22 journalists were murdered. Only one case resulted in sentencing.

At the time, Frank La Rue, a United Nations special freedom of expression rapporteur, called these statistics “unacceptable and inhuman,” and called on the new Honduran president to create measures to protect journalists and their families.

Sánchez says those dark times strengthened her resolve.

“I knew this was a profession subject to ongoing censorship — that we would have to struggle for freedom of expression, and that when you want to practice the kind of journalism I practice, you are always at risk. But journalism is my life.”

Sandra Maribel Sanchez, Radio Progreso, Honduras, Tegucigalpa, Shirin Ebadi, Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize, Yemen, Iran
Honduran journalist Sandra Maribel Sanchez (centre) poses for a photo with Nobel Peace Prize laureates Tawakkol Karman of Yemen (left) and Shirin Ebadi of Iran, who visited Tegucigalpa in October 2017 to hear from women human rights defenders. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

In 2014, Sánchez received an unprecedented apology from a Honduran police officer who disrupted her coverage of a 2011 protest, during which he and his team had teargassed a bus full of innocent passengers. Sánchez’s camera was broken during the incident, which was characterized by the local paper El Heraldo as an “aggression” limiting a journalist’s “right to work freely.” The policer officer voluntarily submitted to freedom of expression sensitivity training, and at the time, Sánchez deemed his actions “courageous” and precedent-setting.

Two years later, in November 2016 — several months after the murder of her dear friend Berta Cáceres — Sánchez was beaten, dragged and arrested by police at tollbooth near Tegucigalpa, where she was covering a protest supporting the right to free movement (without tolls) in the country. She was later released without charge, and her news station filed a complaint with the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights in Honduras.

Asked whether she has been targeted more than other journalists in the country, she responds:

“There’s really not a robust, critical press in our country so it’s very easy to be singled out by those who do not tolerate freedom of expression.”

A dream for true democracy

After a brief stint with Radio Gualcho, Sánchez moved on to Radio Progreso — a proudly independent broadcaster run by the Catholic Order of Jesuits, dedicated to amplifying marginalized voices and advancing human rights. She works there today, and has made a name for herself as an outspoken feminist, political and social commentator — particularly during the recent election.

It was a tumultuous and controversial election, wrought with accusations of fraud, protests and violence that left than 30 people dead on the streets, and launched Honduras into its worst political crisis in a decade.

Yet amid such troubled times, Sánchez says she sees glimmers of hope, particularly for women. Over the years, the country has enacted a domestic violence law, recognized ‘femicide’ (the sex-based murder of women) in the criminal code, and increased punishments for offenders. It has also launched a new Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders, which outlines a number of government safety measures to protect journalists and their families.

More women have access to education now than when she was a little girl, she adds, and increasingly, women are asserting themselves in politics and society at large.

“I see young women with fewer fears. I see them negotiating,” she tells me, our ride to Tegucigalpa nearing its end. “They can end relations when they’re not satisfactory. That makes me think that there has been progress even though there have been a number of issues.”

I ask her what her dream is — what she hopes her struggle will amount to in her lifetime. The answer is surprisingly simple.

“That Honduras could become a true democracy, because if it were a true democracy it would ensure that all the other changes I would like to see would take place,” Sánchez responds.

“There would be equal participation of men and women, youth and adults, and black and Indigenous people in decision-making processes.”

Lenca people, Honduras, Berta Cáceres, Río Blanco, COPINH
Indigenous Lenca girls smile during a memorial ceremony for a murdered community leader, Berta Cáceres, on Oct. 21, 2017 in Río Blanco, Honduras. Photo by Elizabeth McSheffrey

Editor’s Note: Elizabeth McSheffrey travelled to Honduras with the Nobel Women’s Initiative and Just Associates, which provided translation services for this interview.

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Walking with victims of violence in Easter light

By Phil Little

http://www.prairiemessenger.ca/18_03_21/Melo_18_03_21.html

DEFENDING HUMAN RIGHTS — Jesuit Father Ismael Moreno, known nationally and internationally as Padre Melo, is seen with longtime friend Berta Caceres, a Lenca environmental and human rights defender. Berta was assassinated on March 2, 2016. credit: Lucy Edwards

Editor’s note: Nothing is more destructive of Easter faith than to ignore the problems of the poor in our midst, the scourge of violence in all parts of the world. The following story is a powerful example of the power of the resurrection. Father Melo’s commitment to the church and the poor reveals the Easter light of Christ.

Two months ago the readers of The Prairie Messenger (01/17/18) were introduced in an article by Michael Swan to the situation of a Honduran Jesuit priest, Ismael Moreno, known nationally and internationally as “Padre Melo.” He is one of many Jesuit priests around the world who live on the edge because of their discipline, their high intellectual standards, and their commitment to the church and the poor.

I met Father Melo in 1988 when he came to study in Toronto and since then a bond of friendship and love has connected my family to him. In 2013 Father Melo invited me “to accompany” him in Honduras, which means to walk with him or to shadow him in his travels. The theory behind accompaniment is that the presence of a foreigner is a hindrance to would-be assassins employed by the state or by someone from the oligarchy.

Father Melo, like many Hondurans, knows the pain of violent death among friends and family. His parents, Pedro and Angela were poor campesino farmers. Father Melo’s father, Pedro Moreno, was the president of a farmer’s co-operative that was under siege by foreign investors who wanted to buy land to grow sugar cane. Pedro urged the poor farmers to stick together and not to sell. It was Melo who, at the age of 13, discovered his father’s mutilated body in the office of the co-operative. Shortly afterward the farmers started to sell off their parcels and become part-time workers on the sugar hacienda.

Angela, known as Doña Lita, carried her first pair of shoes for many kilometres to her wedding so as not to get them dirty. Her husband farmed until his murder and Lita worked hard producing tortillas and other items to support the family. Melo would have had financial difficulty to continue in high school and he had thought about getting a job to help support the family. However, he got the highest grades in Grade 8, which won him a scholarship to the private Jesuit school that mostly catered to the rich of El Progreso.

His keen intellect kept him at the top of his class throughout high school. Melo’s ambition was to go into law or the Jesuits to work for the poor. He remembers a day when Jesuit Father Padre Guadalupe was visiting the family and Pedro said to his young son, “If you want to be a priest, be like Father Guadalupe or don’t bother.”

Padre Guadalupe was an American missionary who became radically aligned to the struggle of the poor farmers, particularly the banana workers in the northern plantations of the Standard and United Fruit companies. In 1983 Padre Guadalupe was captured by Honduran and U.S. troops and after being tortured he was thrown alive over the jungle along with other political prisoners.

On Nov. 16, 1989, an elite American trained murder squad of the Salvadoran army entered the campus of the Catholic University and killed six Jesuit professors and the two women housekeepers. Those Jesuits were professors of Father Melo when he was in training as a seminarian. When Melo’s mother, Doña Lita, heard of the assassination of the Jesuits, whom she knew personally, she summoned Melo to her side and, having him kneel beside her, she told him to have his affairs in order because if he was to be faithful to his calling they would come some day for him.

So why do they want to kill Padre Melo today? Honduras is a failed and corrupt narco-state. It is ruled by a military dictatorship, many of whom were trained at the infamous School of the Americas. The American embassy calls the shots in Honduras as it has up to six military bases in the country, including the largest airport in the country. The country just went through a fraudulent electoral process, which has confirmed the most corrupt in society as the government: an alliance of military, embassy, oligarchy and drug cartels. Padre Melo is director of an independent radio station, “Radio Progreso,” and a human rights centre, “ERIC.” Of the most dangerous careers in Honduras are law, journalism, and environmental defence.

Father Melo is perhaps the leading figure in the Catholic Church in the area of human rights and interpreting the “signs of the times” (Vatican II). Politically he is non-aligned, but his political astuteness is widely sought by many sectors of society. I have accompanied Melo to meet with sociology professors, with teachers groups, with women indigenous campesina groups, with youth groups, with leaders of co-operatives and labour unions, with political groups and even with groups of clergy. They all look for the same thing. “How can we understand what is happening in Honduras?” they ask. Melo has that rare ability to speak to any group at their level, to engage them in meaningful dialogue and shared wisdom.

During my most recent five-week trip this year, Melo was called to the capital city of Tegucigalpa to meet with three United Nations representatives who had come to Honduras on a fact-finding mission. They spent the entire day in conversation, just with Padre Melo. He is often called upon to meet foreign delegations and commissions such as the O.A.S.-sponsored MACCIH — “Support Mission to Combat Corruption and Impunity in Honduras.” In 2015 Padre Melo was awarded in Norway the “RAFTO” award, sometimes called the “Alternative Nobel.” There have been numerous other awards given to Father Melo and the twin apostolates he directs: Radio Progreso and ERIC.

Since the military coup of 2009, documented in the video La Voz del Pueblo (https://ignatiansolidarity.net/la-voz-del-pueblo/), the Jesuit mission has been under attack by the military dictatorship. One radio manager, Carlos Mejia, was murdered in 2014. More than 16 of the Jesuit’s staff have received credible death threats, the most recent in late February 2018.

In 2013 Father Melo was at a road blockade supporting an indigenous Lenca community in their resistance to an illegal hydroelectric project that would deprive the farmers of their source of water. Along with him was Berta Caceres, a Lenca environmental and human rights defender and a longtime friend of Father Melo. Berta in 2015 received the prestigious Goldman environmental award, which her supporters celebrated thinking this international recognition might give her some protection. At the Rio Blanco blockade, an American woman who at that time was accompanying Padre Melo took a photo of Melo and Berta together. Berta smiled at Father Melo and said, “Who of us will they kill first?” Berta was assassinated on March 2, 2016.

In my trips to accompany Melo I know he has quietly saved lives. I have gone with him to a federal prison to visit political prisoners. His legal team advocates not only for persons dealing with political and human rights issues, but poor people wrongly imprisoned.

In Honduras there is no other prominent Catholic Church official who speaks out against the corruption, the violence, the fraudulent electoral process, and the high “femicide” rate. The combined teams of Radio Progreso and ERIC did a full-year campaign about violence against women. It was followed by an intensive national program promoting Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, Laudato Sì. Father Melo openly supported the Movement of the Indignant — a national protest against the bankruptcy of the Social Security Health Program — because the dictator drained the funds for use by his own political party.

Father Melo has lived with death threats for most of his priesthood. He has been kidnapped more than once. People around him have been killed. He cannot be bought, although there have been efforts internationally and nationally to compromise him with financial support. As Father Melo once explained, “First they try to be nice and ingratiate themselves with praise and admiration. Then they try to buy your support. If that doesn’t work they try to ridicule you or criticize your work. When that doesn’t work they move to criminalize you or paint you as a traitor to the country. Then they kill you.”

Little is a retired teacher living on Vancouver Island. Born in Alberta, he went to university in Ottawa. As a member of the Oblate congregation he went to Peru as a missionary from 1972 to 1980. Returning to Canada he married and taught in the Toronto Catholic school system for 26 years until retirement.

Kaptur statement on threats to human rights defenders in Honduras

TOLEDO — Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-9) issued the following statement of concern related to the escalation of risk for human rights defenders in Honduras.

“I join the United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights and my colleagues in Congress in registering grave concern regarding the violent escalation of intimidating threats toward rights defenders in Honduras. Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno, Padre Melo,  the entire team of Radio Progreso and ERIC-SJ, the family of slain environmentalist Berta Caceres, and Berta Oliva, director of  the Committee of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras are all under threat.

“Statements made by public authorities in Honduras discrediting the work of human rights defenders and journalists put them at risk of physical harm and undermine freedom of speech. These precious advocates for liberty deserve the support and protection of the international community.

“Prior to her brutal murder in 2016, indigenous rights defender, Bertha Cáceres was targeted extensively by similar threats and intimidation. The alarming increase in threats to defenders of human rights in recent weeks underscores our responsibility to support the Bertha Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, to speak out on behalf of those at risk, and to insist that the government of Honduras respect, affirm, and protect the full exercise of the rights of all its people.”

Kaptur is a lead sponsor of the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (HR 1299), which would suspend U.S. funding to the Republic of Honduras for their police and military operations, including funds for equipment and training, until the Honduran government investigates credible reports indicating the police and military are violating citizens’ human rights, prohibit international loans providing for security assistance – from being dispersed unless Honduras makes serious inroads to addressing blatant human rights violations by police and military forces.

 

Jesuits Decry Attacks on Honduran Jesuit Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno

Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno, SJ
Jesuits Decry Attacks on Honduran Jesuit Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno, Prominent Human Rights Activist

August 7, 2017 — On July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus, Latin American Jesuits raised an alarm for one of their brother Jesuits, Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno, director of the Honduran Jesuit radio station, Radio Progreso, and the Honduran Jesuit social action center.

An outspoken human rights advocate in a country plagued by government corruption and violence, Fr. Melo has worked for years to promote dialogue while advocating for the marginalized.

Last year when the national university, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH), was embroiled in student strikes, Fr. Melo sat at the negotiating table at the request of students. While agreements were reached between the students and the university, this year student strikes and protests continued, and in the aftermath many students have been injured at the hands of university-hired security forces and many more arrested. In addition, the recent murder of the father of a student activist, who was killed after attending the judicial hearing of his son, has created a climate of fear for those exercising their right to protest peacefully.


Fr. Melo at a protest.

On July 19, at a concert held on campus, Fr. Melo joined hundreds of students protesting the treatment of their fellow classmates by university authorities. Retaliating against Fr. Melo for his support of the students, the university’s rector accused the Jesuit of promoting anarchy and generating violence. The university subsequently canceled its contract with ERIC, the Jesuit-run social action center that Fr. Melo leads.

In their statement, the Jesuits of the Central American Province said, “We want to declare that the attacks directed against Fr. Melo are the consequence of working to defend the human rights of all sectors of society. … The defense of human rights … is the horizon that guides the work of the Society of Jesus in Honduras.”

The statement, which was endorsed by the president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S. and the president of the Conference of Provincials for Latin America and the Caribbean, expressed strong support for ERIC-Radio Progreso and Fr. Moreno for maintaining “a spirit of open and flexible dialogue, of reasonable tolerance, and of unwavering struggle for justice.”

Fr. Timothy Kesicki, SJ, president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the U.S., said, “Fr. Melo’s entire life has been devoted to freedom of expression and human rights. It’s egregious that he’s being accused of inciting violence when he’s watched dear friends like environmental activist Berta Cáceres be gunned down for speaking up for the people of Honduras.”

According to U.S. Jesuit Matthew Ippel, the public attack against Fr. Melo by the university rector is a threat and part of a pattern of attack against human rights defenders. “It is embedded in a larger narrative that makes any dissenting voice the enemy. It is deeply alarming that those who advocate for justice, for the defense of the rights of the marginalized and excluded, are being discredited, criminalized and assassinated.”


Matthew Ippel, SJ, with Fr. Melo.

Radio Progreso, an important independent voice in a country where most broadcast outlets are controlled by special interests, serves both rural communities and large cities. In the last several years, two employees of ERIC-Radio Progreso have been murdered and threats have been made against others. In late March of this year, a defamation campaign targeted Fr. Melo and other activists.

According to the Organization of American States, Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world for human rights defenders.

In 2015, Fr. Melo was honored with the prestigious Rafto Prize for his “defense of freedom of expression in one of the most violent countries in the world.” In accepting the prize, Fr. Melo said, “I believe profoundly in life, and I profoundly believe in human beings and I deeply believe that the good will prevail against any kind of evil and violence.” [Sources: Central American Province of the Society of Jesus, The Jesuit Post]

Acusan de sedición a periodista hondureña

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Un tribunal de justicia de Intibuca, al occidente de Honduras, acusó a la periodista Albertina Paz, corresponsal de Radio Progreso en ese departamento, de sedición por haber divulgado un comunicado de una organización de indígenas lencas.

El Comité por la Libre Expresión, una organización de intelectuales y periodistas, denunció este día que Paz está citada por el juzgado de Letras de la ciudad de Intibuca para el martes 24 para que responda por los delitos de sedición contra la seguridad del Estado.

En Intibuca los lencas mantienen una abierta confrontación con el goberante partido Nacional, porque lo acusan de imponer a un alcalde en la comunidad de San Francisco de Opalaca, donde en las elecciones generales de noviembre pasado ganó un indígena.

Lo único que hizo la periodista fue divulgar la posición de los lencas a través de Radio Progreso, una emisora de la Compañía de Jesús, que tiene su sede principal en la ciudad de El Progreso, departamento de Yoro, al norte del país.

¿Un crimen perfecto?

http://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/4859

El 11 de abril Carlos Mejía Orellana, gerente de mercadeo y ventas de la Radio Progreso de Honduras, fue asesinado. El crimen permanece impune. ¿Cuál fue el móvil? ¿Quiénes fueron los asesinos materiales? ¿Y los intelectuales? Parece un crimen perfecto. Porque el probable móvil político está envuelto en la coartada de la condición homosexual de Carlos. Con este texto, la revista Envío, hermana del proyecto de Radio Progreso, se suma a la condena por este crimen.

Equipo Envío

Salió rapidito, despidiéndose. “¡Me voy de vacaciones y no estoy para nadie!” Pero se detuvo antes de cerrar la puerta:
“Pero para la radio, ¡siempre estoy! ¡Nos vemos!”. Horas después, llamaban a la radio, pero para avisar que Carlos Mejía estaba muerto. Era el 11 de abril, ese día que el calendario católico ha bautizado como “viernes de dolores”, al inicio de la semana santa.

“ERA UNA PERSONA CLAVE”

Carlos Mejía Orellana tenía 35 años. Desde hacía 14 años era el gerente de mercadeo y ventas de Radio Progreso, la popular emisora de los jesuitas en la ciudad de El Progreso. “Era una persona clave en este proyecto”, repiten todos en el equipo.

Ya era tarde cuando llegó a su casa. Vivía solo, en una colonia de la ciudad. Al poco de llegar una vecina tocó a su puerta para pedirle el maíz que iba a moler para las tortillas que iba a llevar al paseo al mar que había organizado para el domingo con toda su familia y sus amigos. “Me dijo que me daría el maíz después porque estaba esperando visita y quería platicar tranquilo”, contó ella.

Un par de horas después empezó a sonar estridente la alarma de su carro, parqueado a la puerta de su casa. Los vecinos salieron a ver qué pasaba. El portón de la casa de Carlos estaba abierto, la puerta de la casa también, pero no estaban forzados. ¿Un robo…? Entraron a la casa, con esa mezcla de ansiedad y miedo que se tejen en la atmósfera que respira hoy tanta gente en Honduras, el país más violento del continente y quizás del mundo. Al entrar al cuarto de Carlos lo vieron tendido en el piso, al lado de su cama, con el pecho atravesado por tres puñaladas. Salieron corriendo a avisar a la policía y al equipo de la radio. Quienes lo mataron movieron de lugar el televisor y varias cosas de la casa, dejando señales de que se trataba de un robo como otros tantos. Pero en la casa nada faltaba, nada había sido robado.

UN “CRIMEN PASIONAL”

En la edición del día siguiente, el diario hondureño “La Prensa” informaba de las declaraciones de Roger Murillo, jefe de la Dirección Nacional de Investigación Criminal (DNIC): “Las primeras pesquisas indican que, minutos antes de ser asesinado, salió a comprar dos pollos para él y otras personas que en ese momento lo acompañaban en la casa y al parecer estaban departiendo”. Anunciaba Murillo que como resultado de la labor investigativa, los agentes habían detenido horas después del crimen a un joven que había dicho ser “pareja” de Carlos. Y sacó la conclusión: “Creemos que el crimen puede estar relacionado con problemas pasionales y no por cuestiones políticas, como lo quieren dar a entender los encargados de Radio Progreso”.

Y es que horas antes de estas declaraciones, el equipo de Radio Progreso había convocado una rueda de prensa para informar del suceso y sentar su posición. El director de la emisora, el sacerdote jesuita Ismael Moreno, corresponsal de Envío en Honduras, fue categórico al exigir una “investigación seria, diligente, precisa y exhaustiva, que lleve a sancionar a los responsables materiales y a los responsables intelectuales”. Y añadió: “No aceptamos rumores sin sustento sobre los móviles”.

Para entonces, los rumores ya corrían por la calle y parecían facilitarle a las autoridades dar por cerrado el caso con el veredicto de que se trataba de un crimen “pasional”. “Todos los maricones acaban así”, decía mucha gente, al sólo conocer la noticia, sin más reflexión y sin compasión.

La coartada estaba servida. El cuerpo de Carlos fue encontrado semidesnudo. El escenario repetía el modus operandi de muchos asesinatos relacionados con personas homosexuales a las que se les quita la vida. Naturalizando el móvil, se les quita también dignidad, restándole importancia y atención al crimen.

“ES UNA MUERTE BUSCADA”

Carlos era gay. “Lo había hablado con él hacía años y él no temió reconocerlo, reconocerse a sí mismo con esa orientación y no ocultarlo ni a su familia ni a sus compañeros, era una persona libre”, nos cuenta Ismael Moreno, el padre Melo.

En algunas horas, el joven detenido fue dejado libre. No había una sola prueba que lo incriminara. El caso no estaba cerrado, pero insistían en cerrarlo por la vía “pasional”. ¿No podría ser otro el móvil, aun contando con el escenario “pasional”, tan bien preparado por los ejecutores materiales?

“Lo entendemos como un golpe frontal al trabajo de la radio, a nuestro trabajo y a nuestra institución”, dijeron el padre Melo y sus compañeros de la radio desde el primer momento. “Esto nos deja más vulnerables y en mayor indefensión”.

Ante los micrófonos de la emisora otras voces comenzaron a abrirle camino a otro probable móvil. Una de esas voces fue la de Silvia Heredia, del programa “Paso a paso” para la prevención de la violencia: “No, ésta no es una muerte más, es una muerte buscada. Todos los asesinatos son injustos, pero éste ha sido para tocar al ERIC y a Radio Progreso”.

¿POR QUÉ TOCARLOS?

Para evangelizar el Valle de Sula, el área de mayor desarrollo económico de Honduras, la que más población migrante atrae de otras regiones del país, nació hace más de 50 años Radio Progreso.

La radio comenzó a emitir en Santa Rita, un pequeño municipio cercano a El Progreso, sin ser propiedad de los jesuitas. En 1970, en los años marcados por la opción por los pobres proclamada por los obispos en Medellín, en la etapa en que Paulo Freire proponía la concientización por la educación popular, en el tiempo de las comunidades de base, los jesuitas adquirieron la frecuencia AM de aquella radio y enseguida consiguieron equipo para transmitir también en onda corta.

Cuando el huracán Fifí causó tragedias en la zona en 1974, Radio Progreso dio a conocer al mundo la noticia. Otras tragedias, las provocadas por los golpes de Estado que caracterizaron aquella década, también pasaron por los micrófonos de la Progreso. Fueron también las ondas de Radio Progreso las que informaron de la masacre de Los Horcones(junio de 1975), en la que terratenientes y militares tramaron y ejecutaron la muerte de quince personas, entre ellas dos sacerdotes, y para borrar las huellas del crimen los lanzaron a un pozo de malacate, donde dinamitaron sus cuerpos.

En 1976 la emisora se transformó definitivamente en una radio popular al servicio de las luchas del pueblo y de las causas justas, que en Honduras eran tantas. No hubo huelga, demanda, reclamo, manifestación, movilización y organización que los micrófonos de la Progreso no acompañaran. Eso la convirtió, una y otra vez, en objetivo de los poderosos políticos y de los poderosos económicos. Advertencias, amenazas, cierres, negociaciones para reabrirla, años y años siempre en la mira. Hasta hoy.

En 1980, tras uno de los cierres de la emisora y estando Honduras bajo una dictadura militar represiva, los jesuitas crearon el ERIC (Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación), para complementar la labor de la radio. Sería un espacio para reflexionar sobre la realidad, para “ver, juzgar y actuar”.

Con los años, las investigaciones políticas, sociales, económicas y culturales del ERIC, y desde el año 2010 los sondeos de opinión pública, se fueron convirtiendo en referentes de credibilidad en todo el país. Hasta hoy.

GOLPE DE ESTADO:
MÁS RIESGOS Y MÁS INFLUENCIA

En junio de 2009, cuando el golpe de Estado contra Manuel Zelaya, la Radio Progreso y el ERIC se graduaron nuevamente con honores en la defensa de los derechos humanos y en las denuncias de la represión desatada contra la gente que se movilizó en resistencia al golpe y reclamando derechos postergados.

A partir de esa fecha y de esa crisis nacional la emisora comenzó a ser un referente para autoridades y organismos internacionales de derechos humanos. Prueba de ello son los dos premios internacionales que recibió la radio, el Premio de la Asociación por los Derechos Humanos de España (APDHE),entregado a Radio Globo, a Cholusat Sur y a Radio Progreso por su defensa de los derechos humanos en el marco del golpe de Estado, y el Premio Peter Mackler 2011 de Reporteros Sin Fronteras y Global Media Forum, entregado a la coordinadora del área de comunicaciones de Radio Progreso por el ejercicio del periodismo en países en los que hay violaciones permanentes a la libertad de expresión.

Con el golpe aumentaron los riesgos. Las instalaciones de la radio fueron allanadas durante el golpe y algunos de sus periodistas y su director fueron objeto de graves amenazas y actos de hostigamiento. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) de la OEA otorgó a unas quince personas del equipo medidas cautelares para proteger sus vidas.

En mayo de 2011 se las otorgó a Carlos Mejía, quien también recibía amenazas. El Estado hondureño, responsable de cumplir esas medidas, nunca las tomó en serio. “Nunca tuvo voluntad política de cumplirlas, a pesar de haber sido consensuadas con el gobierno en infinidad de ocasiones”, explicaron miembros del equipo de la radio en la rueda de prensa, fresca aún la sangre de Carlos.

EN UN PAÍS VIOLENTO

Honduras es considerado el país más violento del mundo. De acuerdo con el Observatorio de la Violencia de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, en 2013 se cometieron 109 masacres y 6,757 homicidios, lo que representó un promedio mensual de 563 homicidios y un promedio diario de 19.

Un informe dado a conocer por Casa Alianza reveló que entre febrero de 1998 y marzo de 2014 fueron asesinados 9 mil 291 niños, niñas y jóvenes menores de 23 años. Durante el gobierno saliente, el de Porfirio Lobo (2010-2013), el promedio fue de 81 muertes de jóvenes mensuales. En el primer trimestre del año 2014 Casa Alianza contabilizaba ya 270 muertes de jóvenes menores de 23 años en hechos de “extrema violencia”.

Ni la depuración de los cuerpos de seguridad de hace años, ni la más reciente militarización de la sociedad con las sucesivas campañas de “mano dura”, han dado resultados, entre otras razones porque dar respuestas auténticas a las profundas desigualdades económicas, sociales y políticas quedan siempre al margen de estas iniciativas.

Una de ellas, desde junio de 2011, es la Ley de Seguridad Poblacional, que establece el cobro de impuestos a depósitos de cierta cantidad en el sistema bancario, a los restaurantes de comidas rápidas, a la telefonía celular, a los casinos y tragamonedas. Los recursos recaudados se deben invertir en seguridad pública. Se calcula que desde la creación de este impuesto se han recaudado más de 1,500 millones de lempiras, pero unos mil millones ya han sido invertidos de forma discrecional, sin saberse en qué. Lo que sí se sabe es que la policía de investigación trabaja en condiciones precarias, sin vehículos y agentes suficientes y sin herramientas básicas para desarrollar investigaciones serias, diligentes, precisas y exhaustivas, como las que reclamó el equipo de Radio Progreso tras el asesinato de Carlos Mejía.

“ERA UN EMPRENDEDOR NATO”

Quisimos hablar con quien recuerda y llora a Carlos como su mejor amigo para que nos contara cómo era: “Amaba a los perros. Y amaba a la gente. Era un tipo muy generoso. Le admiré que iba mediodía de cada domingo a dar clases al Instituto Hondureño de Educación Radiofónica. Quería que ese montón de chavos trabajadores y con deseos de superación tuviera al menos algo de buena educación. Y por eso, no descansaba el único día que le quedaba libre. Le gustaba dar clases. Tenía una licenciatura en Pedagogía. Era incisivo, profundo cuando analizaba la realidad hondureña. Le dolía la corrupción, la injusticia, el descaro de los políticos y de los líderes religiosos y le desesperaba la pasividad del pueblo”.

Así lo describe: “Era audaz, lanzado, siempre queriendo innovar, probar cosas nuevas, un emprendedor nato. Tenía una Maestría en Dirección Comercial y Mercadotecnia, pero sus capacidades se formaron porque desde niño tuvo que ingeniárselas para ayudar a su familia. Un día me contó su primera prueba. Cuando tenía seis años su mamá, doña Salvadora, lo mandó a la plaza del pueblo a vender los tamales que ella hacía. Se sintió tremendamente responsable con su carga de tamales. Pasó que cuando los había vendido casi todos, cuando se le acercó un viejito diciéndole: “Dejame probar uno y te traigo el pago en un ratito”. Carlos le creyó, le dio el tamal y se quedó mucho rato esperando el pisto que nunca llegó… Regresó a su casa llorando, temía la penqueada que le darían por no traer el dinero completo. Qué va, su mama lo felicitó por el éxito de la venta y también porque aquel pobre viejito pudo probar uno de sus tamales. Y él dejó de llorar”.

LA RÁPIDA EXPANSIÓN
DE LA RADIO

El asesinato de Carlos Mejía priva a Radio Progreso de la persona que con extraordinaria habilidad y dedicación, garantizaba a la emisora el 60% de sus ingresos. Y lo arranca de esta tarea en momentos en que la radio, una herramienta de movilización social, conocida y reconocida en todo el país, vivía momentos de expansión, proceso en el que participaba activamente Carlos.

A partir de 2005, Radio Progreso amplió su cobertura al occidente y al norte del país. A partir de 2009, en la etapa abierta por el golpe de Estado, la propuesta de comunicación de la emisora se amplió significativamente, fortaleciendo alianzas con sectores sociales: mujeres, indígenas, pobladores, ambientalistas, organizaciones de derechos humanos y organismos anticorrupción. Las alianzas se concretaron en un incremento de los espacios radiales conducidos por esas organizaciones, en campañas de sensibilización llevadas a cabo en coordinación con varias de ellas y en una mayor demanda de formación y apoyo que le solicitaban movimientos organizados de todo el país.

Radio Progreso crecía “en sabiduría y gracia”. Su influencia era cada vez más patente. En 2012 amplió su cobertura en el departamento de Colón y en la ciudad de La Ceiba, tercera ciudad del país, después de Tegucigalpa y San Pedro Sula, cubriendo así prácticamente todo el corredor norte de Honduras.

A finales de 2013 el gobierno saliente de Porfirio Lobo le concedió una frecuencia en la capital. Esto estaba representando nuevos desafíos, que estaba asumiendo ya el equipo: ampliar el contenido de los espacios noticiosos y las estrategias de participación, tomando aún más en serio el modelo de la radio en la calle y el periodismo de intermediación.

Cuando Carlos Mejía fue asesinado la emisora iba a ampliar su cobertura en el Bajo Aguán, zona del país donde se identifica de manera más clara la acumulación de capital en pocas familias, una zona extremadamente violenta, en la que, en términos del grado de violencia contra la población campesina, se desarrolla el conflicto agrario más grave de los últimos quince años, no sólo en Honduras sino en toda Centroamérica. Durante el gobierno de Porfirio Lobo fueron asesinados 105 líderes campesinos, muchos de ellos en esta zona.

UN CRIMEN PERFECTO

En este contexto, no es prejuicioso ni apresurado pensar que el asesinato de Carlos Mejía haya tenido como móvil enviar al equipo un mensaje de sangre con la intención de frenar la expansión y la influencia de la radio.

Bien elegido el momento del mensaje. Bien elegida la víctima, porque de ella dependían muchos recursos financieros. Bien elegido Carlos, porque su homosexualidad facilitaba a quienes decidieron eliminarlo el escenario para la más sencilla de las coartadas: la “pasional”. Un crimen perfecto.

EN UN PAÍS HOMOFÓBICO

En un muro de Tegucigalpa alguien escribió un día un grafiti provocador: “Ser homosexual es cosa de hombres”. Muy pronto lo borraron, aunque le sobraba razón al que lo pensó y lo expuso. Porque soportar la discriminación de la homofobia es una tarea que requiere de mucho valor, el valor que la cultura asigna a los hombres. Carlos tuvo ese valor.

La homofobia sigue siendo uno de los prejuicios más incrustados en la mentalidad de la gente. Y como sucede en todas las sociedades tradicionales, conservadoras, empobrecidas por las desigualdades y por la baja calidad de la educación, Honduras tiene una sociedad homofóbica, en la que son muchos los que han confundido los conceptos: llaman “pecado” a la homosexualidad, cuando el pecado es la homofobia, por lo que encierra de discriminación, de rechazo y de odio, de traición al Dios del que habló Jesús de Nazaret.

El alto nivel de homofobia que existe en la sociedad hondureña adquirió relieve internacional en octubre de 2011, con las posiciones expresadas por la Confraternidad Evangélica de Honduras, que pidió a las autoridades suspender un concierto que Ricky Martin iba a tener en Tegucigalpa a beneficio de una fundación de ayuda a la infancia. Martin había confesado su orientación homosexual un año antes. En carta al Ministro del Interior, los religiosos expresaban su preocupación por “el mensaje y ejemplo” que transmitiría el cantante, en momentos en que se requiere “levantar y cultivar los más altos valores cívicos y morales tendientes a consolidar y a no debilitar la esencia de la nacionalidad hondureña, que es la familia”. A pesar de todo, el concierto se celebró.

“CRÍMENES DE ODIO”

Unos meses después del “escándalo” por este concierto, en junio de 2012, ochenta congresistas estadounidenses escribían a la entonces Secretaria de Estado Hillary Clinton pidiéndole que exigiera al gobierno de Honduras -a cuenta de la ayuda que recibía de Estados Unidos- medidas contra la homofobia que sufren las personas homosexuales en Honduras.

En su carta, los congresistas demócratas denunciaban “crímenes de odio”: unos 70 hombres y mujeres pertenecientes a la comunidad LGBT (Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y Transexuales) habían sido asesinados en Honduras desde junio de 2009, fecha del golpe de Estado, hasta la fecha en que escribían a Clinton. Señalaban también que la mayoría de estos asesinatos habían quedado “en la más absoluta impunidad”.

EN UN PAÍS DE IMPUNIDAD

Este país violento y homofóbico que es hoy Honduras, es también un país donde reina la impunidad. Según el Fiscal General de la República, el 80% de los asesinatos no se investigan y quedan en la impunidad. Las organizaciones de la sociedad civil consideran que la cifra es mayor y hablan del 90%.

De más de 30 asesinatos de periodistas, solo el 10% presentan alguna investigación. Un ejemplo trágico es el de los asesinatos de mujeres: de los 300 femicidios ocurridos en 2013, sólo se han presentado en 5 casos se han presentado los requerimientos fiscales para resolverlos, según información del Centro de Derechos de Mujeres.

Los asesinatos que cometen el crimen organizado y el narcotráfico quedan en la impunidad. También los asesinatos políticos quedan en la impunidad. ¿Quedará impune el asesinato de Carlos Mejía, recubierto su posible móvil, su dimensión política, tanto por las autoridades como por sectores de la sociedad con la coartada de “lo pasional”?

UNA SOLIDARIDAD
QUE RECLAMA JUSTICIA

A Radio Progreso llegaron en los días siguientes al crimen muchos mensajes y comunicados de solidaridad con la emisora y de repudio por el crimen.

Llegaron de la Relatoría Especial para la Libertad de Expresión de la CIDH, de Reporteros sin Fronteras, de periodistas y emisoras radiales de Estados Unidos, Canadá y de todo el continente, de Amnistía Internacional, de congresistas demócratas de Estados Unidos, de religiosos de varios países, de jesuitas de todo el mundo -aunque faltaron voces de los jesuitas más cercanos, tal vez por el temor que inspira “lo pasional”-, de organismos de cooperación internacional de distintos países de Europa…

Todos se dolían por la vida segada de Carlos, todos exigían una investigación y una sanción, todos clamaban porque
el crimen no quedara en la impunidad.

“LO QUE USTED NOS ENSEÑÓ, QUERIDO CARLOS”

El equipo de Radio Progreso sigue esperando la verdad y la justicia. Y mientras espera, recuerda al “compañero del alma tan temprano” que se les fue.

Del mensaje con que lo despidieron el día de su entierro son estas conmovedoras palabras: “Usted, querido Carlos Mejía, se nos fue sin siquiera pedir permiso…Usted se nos fue cuando más urgía su presencia entre nosotros, ya no sólo para sacarnos de apuros en cada quincena con su afanosa búsqueda de recursos bienhabidos, sino porque su presencia siempre inspiró ternura, servicialidad y compañerismo… Usted bien sabe que su ausencia no tiene un fácil reemplazo. Catorce años de su vida compartidos con nosotros, no se cierran como una puerta de un porrazo…”

“De usted, querido Carlos, quizás no aprendimos cómo dirigir una sesión de trabajo, porque cuánto le huía usted
a las reuniones y siempre las consideró una pérdida de tiempo. Tampoco aprendimos de usted a hacer un análisis político ni técnicas para diseñar un plan estratégico. Pero usted bien sabe que ninguna cosa de ésas pudieron hacerse ni en la Radio ni en el ERIC sin su silenciosa pero efectiva actividad de mercadeo. Usted nos enseñó con su práctica cotidiana aquello que escuchamos de los analistas: que incluso la más sublime de todas las actividades requiere de lo económico como base para subsistir”.

“Hay algo más que usted nos enseñó con su ejemplo silencioso. Y es que mientras unos escribíamos reflexiones
y otros presentábamos noticias y otros nos quemábamos la materia gris sacando adelante un texto, usted compraba una provisión cada quincena para una anciana mujer abandonada. Y eso nunca quiso que saliera a luz, porque nunca quiso sacar pecho con sus obras de solidaridad. Fue el testimonio de esa anciana quien sacó a luz una de sus múltiples virtudes cuando ya las puñaladas de sus asesinos lo habían arrancado de nuestra vida”.

“USTED, QUERIDO CARLOS
SE FUE DE VACACIONES”

“Lo último que usted nos dijo antes de abrir la puerta para irse en aquel viernes once de abril, nos da la pista para seguirlo teniendo entre nosotros. Al decirnos adiós nos dijo que se iba de vacaciones y que sólo respondería si la llamada era por alguna publicidad para la Radio. Entonces, digamos que usted se fue de vacaciones y mientras descansa, ojalá recostado en una hamaca, le haremos llamadas para consultarle sobre lo que hacemos y usted no vacilará en responder a nuestras llamadas, porque así nos lo dijo al despedirse.

Desde ya, querido Carlos, espere la llamada que le haremos para pedirle el consejo de cómo montar una pauta radial para informarle a todo nuestro pueblo que de las puñaladas con que lo mataron están brotando flores que llenan de energía nuestra incansable lucha contra la impunidad”.

Summary of Human Rights Issues and Events in Honduras (April 2014)

Please find here our latest Summary of Human Rights Issues and events in Honduras, for March 2014.

Please find below the main items of this summary:

  • Honduras featured in a number of reports by international organizations: IACHR, PBI Honduras, Global Witness.
  • Government under criticism for continued failure to implement IACHR precautionary measures and for proposal to withdraw them from some beneficiaries.
  • Carlos Mejía Orellana of Radio Progreso, recipient of IACHR precautionary measures, was found dead with multiple stab wounds at his home in El Progreso, Yoro on April 11.
  • Impunity, threats, and intimidation continue against journalists throughout Honduras.
  • Four lawyers killed so far this year, an average of one a month.
  • Threats and intimidation against opponents of mining in La Nueva Esperanza continue, despite IACHR precautionary measures.
  • Murderers of three Tolupans in Locomapa, Yoro continue at large in the community despite IACHR precautionary measures.
  • COPINH members subject to murder allegations
  • World Bank Loan to Facussé’s Dinant Corporation under strong scrutiny.
  • Defense lawyer for José Isabel ‘Chabelo’ Morales lodges an appeal following guilty verdict.
  • Case of four judges sacked in 2010 for opposition to the coup was referred to the Inter-American Court.
  • Supreme Court ruled that the trial of the ex-commander of the COBRA Special Forces, Elder Madrid Guerra, and five other police officers should continue – for illegal detention and ill-treatment of anti-coup protesters.
  • Eight police officers will be tried for the death in custody of Mario Sequeira Canales.
  • The size of the PMOP (Public Order Military Police) will double in May. TIGRES trained by U.S. and Colombian instructors in April.
  • UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography presented preliminary findings of her mission.
  • Controversy generated by ‘Guardians of the Homeland’ scheme for children at risk.
  • Fierce debate on proposal to lift ban on emergency contraceptive pills.
  • Government forms commission for the protection of people displaced by violence – 17,000 Hondurans forced to flee their homes since 2008.
  • UNHCR survey shows that 5% of Honduran migrants leave their country because of threats and insecurity, amid reports of the dangers of the journey to the US.
  • National Lawyers Guild report on November 2013 Elections in Honduras cites serious problems that undermine claims that the election was “free and fair” and “transparent.”

The Honorable John Baird April 29, 2014 Minister of Foreign Affairs Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

2249 Carling Ave, Suite 418 Ottawa, ON K2B 7E9

Dear Minister Baird, We the undersigned are outraged and deeply saddened by the news of the murder of Carlos Mejía Orellana on April 11, 2014, a journalist and marketing director of Radio Progreso, a Jesuit community-based radio station in El Progreso, Honduras. We would like to express our deepest condolences to Carlos’ family members, friends and colleagues. Our thoughts and prayers are with all who are mourning this senseless death.
Following the coup d’état in 2009, Carlos and other Radio Progreso employees have been targets of repeated death threats because of their commitment to journalistic and social expression, and documentation of abuses of power and impunity. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has repeatedly granted precautionary measures to 16 staff members of Radio Progreso, including Mejía Orellana, due to persistent threats against them. The Director of Radio Progreso, Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno, SJ testified before the U.S. Congress at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and described the constant death threats and attacks perpetrated with impunity against journalists in Honduras, including against Radio Progreso, its employees and its research arm, ERIC. Since last spring, Canadian parliamentarians have heard disturbing testimony about the deteriorating human rights situation in Honduras in the Parliamentary Subcommittee on International Human Rights. Given the level of threats and violence, including assassination, targeted against journalists, the media and freedom of expression in Honduras, we are dismayed and disturbed that the Government of Honduras has failed to implement protective measures for the employees of Radio Progreso, as called for by the IACHR. Honduras is one of the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous places for the media. Death threats are often carried out and impunity prevails. Honduras continues to have the highest murder rate in the world (90.4/100,000) according the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). We ask the Canadian government to call on the Honduran authorities to immediately implement protective measures ordered by the IACHR and to carry out a thorough investigation into the murder of Carlos Mejía Orellana, to find those responsible for this heinous act and bring them to justice in a timely manner. Further, in consideration of continuing human rights abuses in Honduras, we ask that the Canadian Parliament, oppose and/or withdraw all support to Bill C-20, the Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act, and do all that is necessary to ensure that it does not become the law of the land.
Testimony provided by esteemed human rights defender Bertha Oliva, General Coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained in Honduras (COFADEH), in the Standing Committee on International
Trade on April 8, 2014 emphasizes that the trade deal risks exacerbating human rights violations such as this, in Honduras.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Sincerely,
Alternatives
Americas Policy Group (APG), Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC)
Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI)
Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network
British Colombia Teachers Federation
Canadian Jesuits International (CJI)
Centre justice et foi
Comité pour les droits humains en Amérique latine (CDHAL)
Common Frontiers
Horizons of Friendship
Jesuit Forum for Social Faith and Justice
Latin American and Caribbean Solidarity Network (LACSN)
Mining Injustice Solidarity Network (MISN)
Maquila Solidarity Network
Mary Ward Centre
Mer et Monde
Rights Action
SalvAide
Mr. Tyler Shipley, Sessional Lecturer, Humber College
cc: Wendy Drukier, Ambassador, Canadian Embassy in Honduras

Human rights lawyer assassinated in Honduras

A worker at a Jesuit-run radio and social action centre in Honduras has been stabbed and killed in what is believed to have been a politically-motivated attack.  CAFOD partner Carlos Mejia Orellana (pictured), a 35-year-old lawyer who worked for ERIC-RP was stabbed four times in the chest at his home in El Progreso. The Catholic aid agency vowed yesterday that the struggle for justice that he helped to lead will go on.

Carlos and other colleagues at ERIC-RP had received repeated death threats in response to the organisation’s advocacy and communications work, through which they challenge injustice and corruption in the government, police and judicial system. The threats against Carlos were so serious that, for the last five years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has called on the Honduran government to provide him with special protection measures. Sadly, no such protection was provided.

CAFOD currently supports the work of ERIC-RP in the Atlantic coastal region of Honduras where programmes cover human rights, water, livelihoods and disaster risk reduction. The social action centre is one of the organisations that protested against the recent appointment of Roberto Herrera Caceres as the new Human Rights Ombudsman, asserting his links to the 2009 presidential coup and mining interest groups and his insufficient experience in human rights law.

At a press conference, ERIC-RP’s director, Fr Ismael Moreno SJ, rejected rumours implying that Carlos’ death was linked to relationship difficulties and insisted that the police carry out a thorough investigation.

CAFOD’s Head of Region for Latin America and the Caribbean, Clare Dixon, said: “ERIC-RP has been one of our partners for more than 20 years, and the loss of Carlos at such a young age is deeply felt by us all. As with so many brave men and women in Latin America who have been cruelly robbed of lives spent fighting for justice, his struggle will go on, with the support of the Catholic community in England and Wales.”

According to UN statistics, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. Last year, an average of 20 people were murdered every day in Honduras, a country of just eight million inhabitants. El Progreso is close to San Pedro Sula, where the homicide rate is 173 per 100,000 people, reportedly the highest in the world outside a war zone.

CAFOD partner assassinated in Honduras

We are sad to report that last Friday, CAFOD partner Carlos Mejia Orellana was assassinated at his home in El Progreso, Honduras, but – with your support – the struggle for justice that he helped to lead will go on.  

Carlos had been stabbed four times in the chest. His death is believed to be politically motivated.

He was a 35-year-old lawyer who worked at ERIC-RP, the Jesuit-run radio and social action centre. We are currently supporting its work in the Atlantic coastal region of Honduras in programmes covering human rights, water, livelihoods and disaster risk reduction.

Carlos and other colleagues at ERIC-RP had received repeated death threats in response to the organisation’s advocacy and communications work, through which they challenge injustice and corruption in the government, police and judicial system.

So serious were the threats against Carlos that, for the last five years, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has called on the Honduran government to provide him with special protection measures. Sadly, no such protection was provided.

ERIC-RP is one of the human rights organisations that protested against the recent appointment of Roberto Herrera Caceres as the new Human Rights Ombudsman, asserting his links to the 2009 presidential coup and mining interest groups and his insufficient experience in human rights law.

At a press conference, ERIC-RP’s director, Fr Ismael Moreno SJ, rejected rumours implying that Carlos’ death was linked to relationship difficulties and insisted that the police carry out a thorough investigation.

Clare Dixon, CAFOD’s Head of Region for Latin America and the Caribbean, said: “ERIC-RP has been one of our partners for more than 20 years, and the loss of Carlos at such a young age is deeply felt by us all. As with so many brave men and women in Latin America who have been cruelly robbed of lives spent fighting for justice, his struggle will go on, with the support of the Catholic community in England and Wales.”

According to UN statistics, Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. Last year, an average of 20 people were murdered every day in Honduras, a country of just eight million inhabitants. El Progreso is close to San Pedro Sula, where the homicide rate is 173 per 100,000 people, reportedly the highest in the world outside a war zone.