Archive for the ‘Padre Melo – Ismael Moreno sj’ Category

Into the heart of Father Melo, Jesuit priest and journalist whose life is threatened in Honduras

Melo Moreno SJ, Director of Radio Progreso and ERIC (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

Iván Benítez   July 03, 2019

 

Uncle Ismael! Uncle Ismael! “Maria opens the door of the house and throws herself at the waist of her uncle, who has come to visit the family. The girl clings to his hand and pulls him. The house is located at the foot of a majestic jungle mountainside. Ismael enters the room and looks for the back of his mother who is sitting in a wheelchair. He hugs her from behind. Doña Lita, who is blind and treasures almost a century of life, takes the hand of her son and brings it to her face. Then he goes to the room where his younger sister, Ines, is bedridden due to a degenerative illness. He kisses her repeatedly on the cheek. She does not move or speak. He places the palm of his hand on her forehead and remains silent. Silences that scream! Ines has been his confidant since childhood.

 

Melo with his mother Doña Lita and sister Raquel (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

In the family Melo is not just “Ismael Moreno Coto”, the journalist and Jesuit priest threatened with death for denouncing the violations of human rights that are committed daily in his country. In grade school as often happens a nickname was given by others – “Melo” and later it became “Melito! Melito!” as high school classmates scoffed. At that time it was hurled as a mockery of one from a lower class. Today, on the contrary, he feels identified with the nickname. When he was a child, in his city of El Progreso­ there were two high schools: that of the poor and that of the rich. The municipal government awarded two scholarships for the best students and Melo won one. Later as a young man he lived in Mexico City, where he studied Philosophy, and then, in El Salvador, he studied Theology. Since 1995 he has dedicated himself to journalism, and today, at 61, this round-faced man with a gray mustache, deep circles and a contagious smile, sometimes mischievous, has become one of the main opposition leaders in the country. He is rooted in the peasantry. In Honduras 60% of the population live below the poverty line, with more than four million in extreme poverty.

Scrambled eggs with corn tortillas

Ismael Moreno Coto, known as Padre Melo, is the most visible head of Radio Progreso and the “Reflection, Research and Communication Team” (ERIC), a Jesuit institution that opposes big business projects that threaten the rights of indigenous people, and investigates and challenges government corruption. He sits in front of a microphone and denounces the human rights violations committed in his country every day. He travels to a hidden village in the

Melo being offered coconut water (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

mountains to listen to the peasants, and then leads a protest march against the government in his city. Melo has travelled to the United States and Europe to receive international awards for the defense of the freedom of expression. But he is more comfortable visiting the sick in hospitals in his city, or sitting with team members in the courtyard of their home sharing a beer wearing casual shorts and his flip flops.  He collaborates with the most prestigious media outlets at an international level, while being very present to care for his mother, Doña Lita or his sister Inés. (Inés died two weeks after this report was written.) With equal ability he prepares an intellectual discourse for any scenario in the world, but he is equally comfortable rolling up his sleeves in the kitchen while preparing some scrambled eggs with corn tortillas for his friends. Melo can be timid while at the same time be capable of a few jokes, familiar, solitary, unpredictable and often unpunctual. It is characteristic of his commitment to life and simplicity, while remaining a staunch enemy of double standards and false praise that can be directed towards him. Melo does not feel like a superhero in such a dangerous country in Central America: Honduras had the second highest per capita number of murders: 3,682 in 2018 or 40/100,000. (Insightcrime.org)

The 5 men of Honduras

March of the Torches, Melo walking with his people in El Progreso (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

According to the Forbes list of 2018, five people in Honduras accumulate the equivalent of the minimum annual salary of two million of their population. “Honduras remains hostage to a small group that rubs shoulders with the richest people in the world,” says Melo. “225 are in control of all economic and political decisions. And this is what causes the origin of the migrant caravans.” Of the nine million inhabitants, one million live outside of the country and six million live with precarious futures in health and housing. “Honduras possesses the conditions of wealth which would enable its people to live with dignity, for this generation and the next, but the small handful of people who concentrate the wealth have created a triple alliance with which they protect themselves” Melo continues. “There is a triple alliance formed by a corrupt political bureaucracy, an entrepreneurial elite and multinationals. And whoever touches this triple alliance is threatened with a premature death. That’s why they threaten to kill us”. “A triple alliance” he stresses, “protected by the United States, organized crime and the military.”

March of the Torches, weekly protest march in El Progreso (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

For the past two months (May and June), another social and political crisis has been detonated in Honduras as the threat of “privatization initiatives” in education and public health care has alarmed the population. “In reality, this crisis is nothing more than the accumulation of conflicts that are rooted in the coup d’état of 2009, the illegal and fraudulent elections of November 2017, the corruption, the impunity and the links of President Juan Orlando Hernández with drug trafficking” clarified Melo’s team (ERIC) this week. “The social and political pressures continue to rise, and the escalation of repression and systematic violation of human rights is very serious”, they have warned. To all this is added the government plan to “criminalize” Human Rights defenders. Diario de Navarra has had access to a document in which the government puts Father Melo in the spotlight, pointing him out as one of the “political leaders behind the planning of marches, riots and looting” with the express aim according to the document to “disaccredit” him.

15 days at Melo’s house

It is very difficult to keep up with Melo’s pace on any day. On May 2, for example, Melo himself is the one who picks up a journalist from Diario de Navarra at the San Pedro Sula airport. That morning, on the way to the city, Melo is obviously showing concern about something. “They want to prosecute Radio Progreso and me. They want to do it anyway”, he says, before arriving at his house, located on the very edge of a neighborhood controlled by gangs. “In ten years nothing has ever happened to me, even the neighbors tell us if there are strange people hanging around”, he reassures, pushing the gate. A mango tree full of fresh fruit welcomes the new guest.

Melo in the broadcast cabin of Radio Progreso (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

The next day, Friday, May 3, which happens to be “Freedom of the Press Day”, Melo opens his eyes at five o’clock. Even though it is still night, he comes down from his room dressed in blue and white, with flip-flops and a cream-colored brimmed hat. He limps due to a sharp pain that accumulates in his joints, the same illness that afflicted his younger sister. Melo walks towards the entrance gate, opens the padlock, always facing the threat of the night, and in an invisible gesture sweeps the darkness. Then he drives to the radio station. It is a habitual trip, deceivingly simple, with an underlying of risk. Two surveillance cameras record everything. At about one o’clock in the morning shots were heard not far away. And three hours later, a daily ritual is repeated as three agents of the National Police park their vehicle in front of the Jesuit residence, and then emerged to take a selfie with their assault rifles.

Melo’s fingers are tough as leather. They stretch and contract as they stroke the steering wheel on the way to the station. A current of pain flows like an internal torrent. Pain, he describes while circulating, which helps him to remember at every moment the suffering of the people. Any motorcycle that stops near the windows of the car is reason for some discomfort. Melo tries not to show his nervousness. With the arthritis he suffers, the pain bombards from the inside.

Freedom of the press

Senator Tim Kaine (secord from left) from Virginia with Jesuits in El Progreso 2016

A slight smile escapes Melo when speaking about freedom of the press. “To exercise freedom of expression in our situation is a permanent task. Here in Honduras, we celebrate this day while living in a country that is at the service of the elite. Freedom of expression as a right of the press has ceded to a demand to be at the service of the strong. We cannot say that we enjoy freedom of expression. Freedom of expression becomes a huge challenge and an affront to adverse conditions. We risk our lives and risk our personal safety and that of our team.”

The car winds through the empty streets of the city of El Progreso. At this early hour it is already 25 degrees Celsius (77 F). “Since 2009, after the various threats that we have had, we were accepted by the Inter-American Commission to merit precautionary measures,” Melo continues. “Each year these measures have been renewed, and ten years later we continue to merit these measures. The State has the obligation to implement protection measures for people at risk”. “To do this”, he clarifies, “the State sends to our home a police patrol at nine o’clock at night and at four o’clock in the morning. But it happens that the police themselves are contaminated by organized crime. Therefore, they fulfill a double function. Ostensibly they protect us, but in reality they watch and control us. I do not think they’re going to kill me. What they are now seeking is to discredit us. They try to connect me to one issue or another. That’s why they watch us, videotape us and even listen to our conversations.”

Armored crystals

Recipients of the RAFTO Norwegian [Alternate Nobel) Award

At 5.15 am, the gate to Radio Progreso opens. A security guard, who does not carry a weapon, watches the entrance. The silence of the empty streets is left behind. The priest places his fingerprint on the door security system so that he and the journalist visitor can enter. The station is protected by bulletproof glass. Melo opens the palm of his hand and leans against the wall. He must climb the stairs sideways, pulling his body up the stairs. They walk through a first room, a small library which exhibits a book edited by the Rafto Foundation that awarded Melo in 2015 the prize for the “defense of freedom of expression”. This was a huge international recognition which recognized “the legitimacy of millions of Hondurans and Hondurans who yearn for a real and profound change in the social, political and economic situation that affects us as a society.” The Foundation highlighted in 2015 “that justice and the reason for this popular clamor to stop once and for all the thousands of abuses suffered daily by the peasantry, the indigenous peoples, the Garífuna communities and rural towns and communities in the face of the voracity of the interests of extractive and transnational companies in Honduras.” Since 1987, the Rafto Foundation has recognized and awarded human rights and democracy advocates, including people who later received the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Good morning, God gave us this day”

Melo in his office (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

Once in the radio booth, Melo embraces the morning announcer, Letty, with a “good morning sister”. He takes off his hat and sits in front of the microphone and the bulletproof window. It is 5.30 am: “Good morning, God gave us this day!” is the morning greeting and the name of the program. After the half hour program, Melo shut himself in his office until seven in the morning. He then returned home for breakfast. Yami, the woman who helps with household chores, had prepared breakfast.

Caravan of Migrants – refugees from the violence and poverty in Honduras

In the same house there are two young men in formation to be Jesuits, Aquiles and Jerson, and Father Martín, a Guatemalan who works on the audiovisual content of the web. The five take their breakfast at the kitchen table: scrambled eggs, fried plantain, fresh cheese and avocado, always with aromatic Honduran coffee. They talked about what’s happening. Melo joked with the young men. At one point, Jerson spoke about a 7-year-old boy who died in the Rio Grande, on the border with the United States. “He was trying to cross with his uncle on a raft … That child was my neighbor in my community …”, he commented, obviously distressed. “I still remember when he hugged me one last time and spoke to me in English. His parents had emigrated two months before and he was happy because he was going to meet them again.”

“If the migrant is not your brother, God is not your father”

Martín and Jerson decide to visit the grandparents of the little boy, little Ezequiel, in the community of Nueva Esperanza. They will take the opportunity to record an interview for the radio. Melo nods. As director of the radio station, he is aware of the risk faced by his team of reporters. Some leave home in the morning wondering if they will return alive. This is admitted by one of the threatened journalists, Gerardo Chevez, father of four children, who has been assaulted twice by the police. A patrol of the National Police also appears at his home at dawn. This is the daily reality of working for the teams of Radio Progreso and the Reflection, Research and Communication Team (ERIC.)

 

 

 

“You will be the next”

The martyrs of the UCA

Since childhood Melo has had to learn to deal with death before its time. His father, a peasant leader, was murdered in 1974 in a violent robbery that Melo “suspects” had other objectives. Melo also knew Ellacuría, his thesis professor. The Basque Jesuit was killed by the Salvadoran army in November 1989 along with five other priests of the same order and two women employees of the Central American University (UCA). Melo had a warm friendship with the woman who cooked for the Jesuit community and her daughter. He had just invited them to spend Christmas at his family house in El Progreso.

The news of this brutal assassination caught Melo while he was in the mountains, celebrating a mass with a peasant community. Upon receiving the news, Melo first went to his family home to be with his mother. He sought Doña Lita’s embrace, her consolation, and he cried. Doña Lita, then, whispered to her son: “You will be next. Have courage.” Those words of his mother cemented the strength that today holds firm. Years later after these words from his mother, in 2016, Berta Cáceres was murdered. She was an indigenous woman leader who opposed the government’s “extractive” model of development. Berta had received numerous death threats because she could not be bought by the corporations and political parties. Berta Cáceres knew what she faced.

Melo and Berta Caceres in Rio Blanco (photo credit Lucy Edwards)

Thus, whenever Gerardo Chevez, one of the main investigative journalists from the radio station, picks Melo up at the airport or accompanies him from one place to another, Melo somewhat jokingly reminds Gerardo: “Roll down your window so the gunmen do not confuse us and kill you instead.” At a protest in Rio Blanco three years before she died, Berta asked Father Melo who of the two would first be assassinated. “Who will go first, Melo, you or me?”

Carlos Mejía – murdered in 2014 Marketing Manager of Radio Progreso

 

 

 

 

On April 11, 2014, Carlos Mejía, who was the marketing manager for Radio Progreso, was murdered. Mejía was in theory also protected with mandated precautionary measures by the “Inter-American Commission on Human Rights” because of the threats he had received.

 

Lesly, a 32-year-old journalist with 12 years of experience with Radio Progreso, admits that “the situation is very complicated.” She recognizes that “we are an easy target if you do not work in a corporate environment. But it is also rewarding. Melo tries to project honesty and dignity. We have to break so many molds in this country. It demands a very strong commitment.”

 

One night, returning in his car from San Pedro Sula to El Progreso after visiting a hospitalized friend, the journalist from Diario de Navarra asked: “Melo, how would you describe yourself?” After a long silence, he replies: “I have lived through three wars in Central America: Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. That is why, because I have lived through these wars that I defend peace.” As the journey and the conversation continued, Melo allowed some memories to surface to seek the answer to the question.

Melo visiting Chabelo Morales at the prison of El Porvenir Chabelo, a farmer from the Aguan, was a political prisoner and released with the legal support of ERIC (photo credit Phil Little)

 

He remembered those years when he as a Jesuit priest accompanied the peasant indigenous population, in the midst of a genocide conducted by the Guatemalan army which had been trained by the Israeli military. The military burned to the ground the peasant villages. On one occasion the military had them surrounded in the middle of the forest. “It was Christmas. We did not have food. We had not eaten for days. But on Christmas day someone managed to break through the siege and brought us some soda crackers. Carefully these were sliced ​​and distributed equally in tiny portions. Then, I discovered the meaning of Christmas.”

The caravan: Who is behind it, what internal factors provoke it, how to situate ourselves?

Reflection, Research and Communication Team ERIC – SJ

 

Ismael Moreno Coto, s.j. (Padre Melo)

Saturday, October 27, 2018

 

http://wp.radioprogresohn.net/la-caravana-quienes-la-empujan-que-factores-internos-la-provocan-como-situarnos/

 

Overflow

 

The caravan is a social migratory phenomenon that has overflowed any political and institutional foresight. It is world news. In all the international media, which never have anything to say about Honduras, today they have put it in the “eye of the hurricane” news. It is a phenomenon that has overwhelmed churches, sectors of civil society, NGOs and governments. It is an avalanche that at the beginning of this dramatic period began with a few hundred Hondurans to become an uncountable number, growing and uncontrollable, which is answered with simple gestures of solidarity, generosity and spontaneity on the part of people who see migrants pass by, and even with the highest-level military responses as the Trump administration threatens, and as the Honduran regime continues to unsuccessfully create a police wall on the border between Honduras and Guatemala.

 

 

 

 

Born in the “Juarez City of the South” It is not just a caravan. It is a social phenomenon led by thousands of impoverished rural and urban settlers that manifests itself in large and massive spontaneous and improvised caravans, with no more organization than the one that has taught the basics of survival and the manifest decision to go north to reach the territory of the USA. It’s not the first time. Last year, 2017, in the month of April there was a caravan of about 800 Central Americans, 75% of whom were Hondurans. At the same time, there is a constant movement of some 300 Hondurans who daily seek to cross the border of Aguascalientes, between Honduras and Guatemala, resulting in many of whom are lost on the road. This human and social avalanche exploded like a powerful far-reaching bomb gaining second or third importance news in the city of San Pedro Sula where it all began. San Pedro Sula is known worldwide as one of the most violent, and thus various researchers and analysts often call it the “Juarez City of the South”. It is similar with the boom of the maquilas (sweatshops) that characterize this Mexican city bordering El Paso, Texas, which was promoted in the 1970’s as a response to poverty in Mexico. Juarez City is best known worldwide for other by-products: an endless flood of internal migration, juvenile delinquency, and drug trafficking. What was this news in San Pedro Sula? A group of about 200 Hondurans announced that they were organizing a caravan to migrate north, leaving the bus terminal in San Pedro Sula, on the Honduran Atlantic coast, on Saturday, October 13.

Who was behind it?

In the beginning, the caravan was identified with the name of Bartolo Fuentes, a social and political leader based in the city of El Progreso, who said in an interview to the local media, that he would join the caravan for a few days. Bartolo Fuentes as a journalist accompanied the previous caravan of April 2017. Being also a politician of the LIBRE (Freedom and Refoundation) Party of the Honduran opposition, Bartolo Fuentes quickly became the political “scapegoat”. He was accused of such at a press conference by the government minister of Foreign Affairs while she was accompanied by the Minister of Human Rights. “Bartolo Fuentes is responsible for this caravan, he organized and instigated many people to manipulate them and lead them on this dangerous journey” she said, while calling on the Public Ministry to proceed with charges against the person to whom the regime downloaded all responsibility as a representative of the radical political opposition of Honduras. As with most things, Bartolo’s name was soon discarded and other scapegoats emerged, still more powerful than a mere local and national social and political leader.

By the time the caravan crossed the border at the Aguascalientes crossing to Guatemala it has already swelled to about four thousand people, who managed to topple the fence that police from both Honduras and Guatemala had established at the border post. And it continued to grow in numbers as it crossed Guatemalan territory and approached the Mexican border. The Honduran regime, undoubtedly with financing from the government of the United States, conceived a plan between October 17 and 20 with the purpose of convincing the migrants to return to the country. A few hundred seemed to accept this proposal, many of whom were transported by bus and others by airlift, as each person was promised immediate help and a package of undetermined services. However there are witnesses who revealed that not a few of the returning migrants were in fact activists of the National Party (the Honduran government) who sought to entice the Caravaners, and above all, to provide official publicity for the government. However, from October 23 on and with figures that increased as the days passed, the Caravan grew to almost 10 thousand migrants crossing through the State of Chiapas in the Mexican Republic.

 

   A pressure cooker The Honduran government accuses the opposition and criminal groups for being responsible for the caravans for destabilizing political purposes. The government of the United States added its weight to this accusation going so far as to accuse the Democratic Party of instigating and financing political and criminal groups so that the migrants would invade US territory in order to destabilize the American government. All these accusations have no real basis. The phenomenon of caravans is the expression of the desperation of a population for which it is increasingly risky to live in a country that denies employment, public safety and a life time of permanently gleaning for leftovers. The caravan is the explosion of a pressure cooker that the Honduran government in association with a small business and transnational elite has been stirring for at least a decade. This is the government that abandoned public social policies and replaced them with public handout programs, while consolidating the development model based on investment in the extractive industry and the privatization and concession of public goods and services.

State and corruption understood as business In turn, the public administration is led by a sector of politicians who have understood the State as their private enterprise.  They have plundered public institutions, such as the Honduran Institute of Social Security, the health system in general, and the electric energy corporation, among many others. These politicians protect themselves with political control of the justice system. The population has been progressively experiencing helplessness and abandonment. This experience and feeling was reinforced with the elections of November 2017 when the government was re-elected in violation of the Constitution of the Republic and was awarded a victory that some 70 percent of the population acknowledges was the result of organized fraud. The population no longer has confidence in politicians, the government and the higher levels of private business. The caravans are a phenomenon that expresses the despair and anguish of a people that no longer believes in solutions inside the country. This decision of the people to find their own just solution results in this extreme expression of flight.

 

Everyone looking for someone to blame and take advantage of

The government of Honduras and the government of the United States seem to need someone to hold responsible. This is so because in the end they represent an elitist sector of society that systematically despises populations with low economic resources, and will never give credit to their initiatives. Everything that comes from these lower sectors is understood as a threat, and in many cases like the one that is now observed with migrants, the initiatives are perceived as delinquent or criminal acts. They do not believe or accept the decisions, initiatives and creativity of the people. Theirs is the expression of contempt, discrimination and racism. They assume that the people cannot think are unable to decide on their own. There must be a factor, or some external actor that encourages, that manipulates their decisions. Obviously, the phenomenon of the caravan can serve to benefit the interests of other sectors. There are opposition sectors in Honduras, and perhaps in the United States, which seek to benefit from the instability caused by this migratory movement. Surely, the extreme right of the Trump administration is especially interested in capitalizing on this phenomenon to strengthen the anti-immigrant

Hunger

movement, one of the fundamental policies of his administration. The mid-term elections in the United States are a thermometer to establish whether or not Trump will continue for a second term. Accusing the Democrats of funding the migrations is a convenient argument to empower Trump towards the Republican triumph in the November elections. In turn, opposition political sectors in Honduras have also shown signs of taking advantage of this phenomenon to further weaken the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, who is also interested in using the migrant movement to accuse the opposition of being responsible for causing greater instability to the national government.

From shameful to dignified

The phenomenon of the caravan has brought light to a daily hidden reality. The caravan has been happening every day, and surely in less than a month the number of people who have been leaving is comparable to those who joined the massive exit in a single day. This daily caravan has been silent, dry, discreet, private, invisible and even shameful. But with this explosion it has become a visible, public and even dignifying caravan. This phenomenon has unmasked the false discourse and laid bare the official failure. It has dismantled that triumphalism that has claimed that the country was improving. It has proven that social compensation programs of the regime not only do not solve the problems but deepen the precariousness of the majority of society. It has revealed that a society that allows only 35 percent to participate in the formal economy is unsustainable. The massive caravan is the expression of a massive phenomenon of a model of systemic social exclusion.

Elites and regime, wounded in their self-esteem

Repression – State brutality

The caravan that started on October 13, and that opened the valve for subsequent caravans, suddenly woke up the political sectors and the business elite accustomed to having strict control over everything that happens in the country, and they strive to avoid undesirable surprises, or at least they are experts in capitalizing in their favor the discomforts or skirmishes of protests and claims of the social sectors. The elites have enjoyed the privileges of the State and only react when their infinite profits are hindered by adverse reactions, as is happening with the opposition of communities and organizations to extractive projects and concessions granted by the government to national and transnational companies. This is how it is explained that business elites react with extreme aggression when there are people who hinder their accumulation of wealth, to the point of assassinating their leaders as happened in March 2016 with the murder of Berta Cáceres.

Violence – Death Squads

In the same way, these sectors feel beaten in their self-love when, feeling at ease in their privileges, the reality of the excluded unmasks their lies with a single demonstration. This is what the caravan has done. Just after the elites and the regime of Juan Orlando Hernández have invested millions of dollars in publicizing that the country is on the right track, that the economy is healthy, and that the people are happy with the social programs, then this caravan of thousands of citizens breaks out and creates the alternative news that goes around the world. The shame of the elites is transformed into accusations against the opposition while they conspire to

Poverty – 2/3 live in poverty, half of them in extreme poverty

look for scapegoats, which in the last days of October passed from blaming a specific person, to the radical political opposition, to the Democrats, to the businessman Soros, until finally deciding to blame their denominated “axis of evil” made up of Cuba, Venezuela and Ortega de Nicaragua. It is the answer to the shame that the Honduran elites experience while not accepting the extent that those who unmask them are those sectors that the elites believe do not deserve to be considered equal because they are second, third or fourth category citizens.

 

Characteristics that help interpret this mass exodus

This phenomenon of massive human migration to foreign lands also denotes some features that contribute to understanding what underlies Honduran society:

First factor: extreme dependence on the outside. Looking outside of the country for the answers and solutions to solve needs and problems. This is a mind-set that has been accentuated for more than a century, after the establishment of the banana enclave at the beginning of the twentieth century. Looking northward and taking the road to the United States has been the dramatic reminiscence of a society that shaped its minds and hearts around the “American dream”, wanting to be like an American, with their dollars, hoping to earn dollars to buy things, to be able to spend money as it is spent in the United States. Going to the United States is that deep desire to pursue the love of a capitalism that has not been experienced within the country. It is a spontaneous movement to go in search of the promised land, it is a desperate defense of the country of consumption and of “the land of bread to carry”, as the Honduran poet Rafael Heliodoro Valle once said. It is not a massive anti-system movement. It is an intra-system avalanche of the dispossessed people who continue stubbornly to look up, to the north, for the dream that they have lived as a nightmare in Honduras. These starving migrants do not know that their initiative is shaking the system; what they do is to look in the center of the system for an answer to their needs and problems. As politicians and wealthy elites do in other ways, they always have their eyes and hearts turned northwards towards the United States, in a frank submissive attitude. It is the same attitude as that of the thousands of migrants, only that theirs is from the position of managers, of internal protectors of the interests of the empire.

Second factor: a society trapped in the struggle to survive.

Countries of Greatest Inequality – Honduras #3

In the day to day struggle, everyone is looking after their own selves, everyone and individually scratching crumbs out of the system without questioning it. The mass exodus of Hondurans has no organization other than the mutual protection offered by traveling in a group but still it is just a group of individuals searching for a new life in another country, in the country of the north. The decision to leave the country is not the result of some organization within the poor, but the expression of these individuals seeking in the same way and time the solution to their problems.

 

This trait of the characteristic and behavior of Honduran society, submerges its people in confinement, in the political evil of isolation, which leads to each person being locked into their own search, individually preoccupied in resolving their own individual affairs, under the adage that “the ox licks only itself”[i], or what they say on the roads and streets of our neighborhoods and villages: “Everyone is getting what they can.”[ii]  It is the logic of survival; everyone seeks to find their own solutions and will make commitments with anyone, in order to get ahead. Other people only get in the way, uniting with others to meet and search together seems to hinder their search. Everybody complains about what is happening, about the rising costs of fuel, water, and electric power.

Everyone protests against the government, but when it comes to looking for common solutions, the default is to let others do so. The massive exit to the north reveals that people still do not put trust in others and the community. It is an expressed rejection towards the organization, towards the political parties and towards institutions of any sort. The massive exit is the failure of any kind of public response, and the resounding triumph of an individualistic reaction. The phenomenon of caravans is the extreme expression of the individual seeking to escape from a structural and systemic problem. In such an environment, everything that comes from above and from outside is absorbed, and then even those who have crushed the people still get elected, in exchange for a “charity bag” or some dubious handouts. In a society trapped in the “rebusque”[iii], the charity handout programs have an immediate success, but when the problems remain intact, and the privatization or concessions policies take even more away, the struggle to survive becomes unbearable until ending with explosions like the massive caravans of migrants.

 

Third factor:

Half of the children do not attend school

a society that opts for the vertical relationship in detriment of horizontal relationships.

People look to “go up”, to the north and upwards. The mirage of the migrants is focused upwards and outwards. They stopped looking to their sides, everyone walks, advances with their own steps forward, without seeing who is at their side. It is the syndrome of the “banana republic” seeded by the Americans and leaving them left waiting and enthralled for the return of the white people. There are many, thousands who are taking these same steps, but each one looking out for themselves, the self-interest of the individual. In this individualistic culture they were born, they were schooled in its message, they grew, and they have suffered for it.  And so they seek their escape to the north – individually. Even if they are in a caravan, even if they are thousands. It is a caravan of individual journeys.

 

Honduran relationships are based on looking upwards, on the vertical, depending on those higher up in a relationship where the vertical line is the decisive one. It is the paradigm of power, of the patriarch, of the “caudillo”[iv] in the Honduran case. The caudillo is expected to solve ones’ personal or family problem; the leader who solves  problems in exchange for loyalty. It is the United States, the maximum expression of the caudillos, the father of the caudillos. That vertical line is sustained at the cost of weakening the horizontal line of relationships, the line of equals. The horizontal line is so tenuous that it is almost invisible, as if it does not exist.  At most we see each other, to see who can get more with whom or who are moving upwards, to see who has climbed in the power of those who are in command.

 

This vertical mentality[v] has permeated strongly social organizations, community organizations, NGOs and their leaders. The phenomenon of international cooperation has contributed particularly strongly to this mentality. The relations that are established with special emphasis are bilateral between the donor organism and the beneficiary organization, which in turn accentuates direct and vertical relations with the grassroots organizations. And these, by benefiting from cooperative funding, strengthen relations of dependence with the NGO which in turn, has a vertical dependency with their donor organism.

 

This vertical line is prioritized over the horizontal lines. The relations between the grassroots organizations, the encounters among the different grassroots leaders, are linked by a tenuous horizontal line, because the emphasis is placed in the vertical line, in the upward dependence. Finally, social organizations and NGOs are left alone, with very little impact on the people. When the people turn to force, not only does this exceed the capacity of existing organizations, but the first to be surprised are these same social and popular organizations and their leaderships. These groups have a lot to say and many formulations, but the people are not with them.

 

The axis of evil.

 

Instead of looking for “scapegoats” inside and outside Honduras, the fundamental problem is a Honduras in the hands of some alliances that can be named as the axis of evil. These alliances are made up from a small political elite that has lived embedded in the State and uses its resources as its private property, in collusion with an authentically oligarchic business elite that manages the threads of the entire economy and state investments. They are but a minor partner of the capital of transnational companies. This triple collusion forms the real Honduran government, which is structured around a model of infinite accumulation at the proportional expense of denying opportunities to some six million of the nine million Hondurans that make up the population.

 

These three actors are co-opted by three other powerful actors: the American Embassy based in the capital, the armed bodies led by the high-ranking officers of the Armed Forces, and by public and hidden figures of organized crime. These six allied actors form the real axis of evil, wherein lies the highest share of responsibility of what happens with the almost endless deterioration of Honduran society. In this axis of evil and its development model, based on the accumulation of wealth with the corrupt control and exploitation of natural assets and the privatization of public goods and services, that one begins to find the fundamental answer to the question of “Why are the Hondurans fleeing and why are they forming caravans that attract thousands of Hondurans?”.

 

How to understand our position in reference to the migrants in this phenomenon of caravans?

 

  1. First of all, to accompany the analysis and research, to scrutinize the internal dynamics of the movement and provide elements so that society can have its own criteria, and thus to avoid manipulation by political sectors, the corporate media and officials whose interest is to manipulate and capitalize in their favor this human tragedy. The migrant population has something to tell us, it has in itself a message, searching for external elements within, but the most important actor is the people who emigrate, who are uprooted. Not to listen to them while seeking some forces that push them, is to fall into the same script narrated by Trump and Juan Orlando Hernández. The migrant people have something to say (their own word), their suffering and exclusion gives them the right to be considered sacred, and we have to respect and listen to them.
  2. Accompanying, being close to caravans to listen to their voice and contribute to meeting their immediate and basic needs, is a condition that makes analysis and reflection valid. To accompany does not necessarily require giving material aid. It may be necessary to support with resources, but it can also be a temptation to free ourselves from the helplessness of not knowing how to answer the fundamental questions that arise from their sufferings and anguish.
  3. The coordination between national and Central American, Mexican and continental networks is fundamental since it is a phenomenon that originates in Honduras, but has repercussions and international connotations. No network is in itself sufficient as the reality of the caravan phenomenon can exceed all resources. Isolated or independent efforts make the response more sterile. Effectiveness is increased when responses connect with the greatest number of instances of support.
  4. To denounce and unveil the official discourse of the political manipulation of the caravan. The different international sectors should help to find answers first from Honduras, and from Hondurans, not from the “official spin” of Honduran powers, but from those sectors that have been and are close to the populations from which the Caravans originate. This search for answers must start from a pivotal observation: political responsibility resides fundamentally in the current Honduran regime and in the development model based on investment in extractivism and the privatization of public goods and services, in a system of corruption and impunity. From this denunciation, we Hondurans demand that there be new elections to allow an early return to the constitutional order, and that with a new government a great national dialogue would be convened to formulate the priorities leading to the reversion of the current state of social calamity that has exploded in this massive migration.
  5. A direct pastoral support of consolation, mercy and solidarity with the pain and despair of our people, expressed in communication strategies that link traditional media, such as radio, television and written media, with social networks.

 

[i] “el buey solo se lame” idiom “Independence is greatly appreciated” or “better to trust in oneself than others”

[ii]  “cada quien librando su cacaste” idiom “everyone taking care of their own interests”

[iii]  “rebusque” idiom for “search” for an alternative or a way out

[iv] Caudillo – strongman or dictator

[v] An Adlerian understanding of this “vertical mentality” is characterized by an admiration for those “at the top”, or those aspiring upwards rather than towards others

 

(translation and footnotes by Phil Little)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://waccglobal.org/articles/radio-progreso-defending-human-rights-in-honduras

Radio Progreso- Defending Human Rights in Honduras

By Sean Hawkey with revisions by WACC staff on March 12, 2018

An interview with Fr Ismael Moreno, Director of Radio Progreso


 

 

 

Fr Ismael Moreno, affectionately known as Melo, is a Jesuit priest, human rights campaigner and the Director of Radio Progreso. He is pictured leading prayers at an ecumenical vigil outside the US embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Radio Progreso is a Jesuit radio station based in El Progreso, Honduras. The station is internationally recognized for its role advancing human rights, promoting peace, supporting community-based communication initiative, and advocating for environmental protection across Honduras. Radio Progreso has been broadcasting since the 1980’s and has been involved in numerous community mobilization efforts in support of Indigenous people, Afro-descendants, peasants, women, and youth, both in Honduras and across Central America.

Honduras has been mired in a series of human rights and democratic governance crises since 2009, when then-president Manuel Zelaya was ousted in widely denounced coup. High profile corruption cases, weakening institutions, and impunity followed.  The country is presently one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, human rights defenders, LGBTQ activists, and environmentalists[i]. Latent discontent in the country erupted in late 2017 following a disputed and highly controversial presidential election that ultimately saw Juan Orlando Hernandez, the incumbent president, elected. The situation sparked mass demonstrations and violent state repression[ii][iii][iv].

Radio Progreso has been at the forefront of the post-election movement to call for transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights in Honduras. Fr Ismael Moreno, Director of Radio Progreso, spoke with Sean Hawkey during his most recent visit to the country.

Sean Hawkey: How do you assess the current human rights situation in Honduras?

Fr Moreno: ‘We need to have a firm understanding of what’s behind the current moment, [behind] this situation. There are systemic issues [to be addressed]. The institutions of this government do not guarantee human rights. The rule of law is subject to arbitrary decisions of a small group led by Juan Orlando Hernandez who have control over the three powers of the state (the executive, legislative, and judicial branches). [That means that the protection of] human rights depends on the will of the government team, and not on the institutional [and legal] order that should protect human rights.

The precariousness of human rights here is that it is [ultimately up] to the people in charge of the Honduran regime. The defence of our human rights depends on how much the President’s team likes us, or rejects us.

For example, if the Department of State of the United States, warns Juan Orlando Hernández that the human rights of particular people should be protected, their rights [will be] protected, temporarily. However, the human rights situation is still precarious [because there is no system in place to protect people’s rights]. It doesn’t depend on the rule of law.

I was talking to a representative of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and she told me that she spoke to the President, and [to] the Minister for Security, and asked for my human rights to be respected. That means that my human rights will be respected, but not because human rights per se are respected here, but because the current situation is one where there is arbitrary protection of people’s rights because of political pressure.

The situation for us, human rights defenders, while Juan Orlando Hernandez is in power, is [one of] permanent and growing danger.

 

Sean Hawkey: What is the role of the media in the current crisis?

Fr Moreno: Media in Honduras is intimately linked to the groups who have power. In fact, power in Honduras is ultimately expressed through the capacity to control the media. The well-established national media in the country are associated with the five [most] powerful groups that exist in the country. Those are Grupo FICOHSA, Grupo Atlántida, Grupo Dinant, Grupo Terra and Grupo Karim. These groups bring together the 17 most powerful groups in Honduras, the 17 most powerful surnames in Honduras.

The media – TV, radio and the printed press- normally follow the script [set by these powerful interests] that [says] that they shouldn’t [get anywhere near the interests] of those groups. [The media in Honduras] ultimately expresses the interests of these powerful groups.

So, the media in Honduras is extremely conditioned by the owners, who are part of these economic groups, and who have more power than any government. They are the real government, and they have the ability to veto any sort of candidacy that could affect their interests. These are the five groups that were behind the coup of 2009, these are the five groups that are behind the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernandez, and these are the five groups that have the power of veto over any candidate that [even remotely resembles] Manuel Zelaya. Manuel Zelaya represents a threat to these five powerful groups.

These five groups are tightly linked to the embassy of the United States of America. For the government of the United States, Honduras is of geopolitical [importance], though they have no interest for what life is like in the country. They are wary of political instability. They prefer alliances with [established] politicians, even if they are tainted by corruption and are responsible for human rights abuses.

The media here, in many different ways, try to hide the reality that people live, try to hide the extreme differences between wealth and poverty in Honduras, and that the wealth is in so few hands. And they try to hide the repudiation of this [inequality] by the majority. And they try to maintain a situation that favours investments by the five groups and the United States.

The media here, in essence, abuse freedom of expression. They work against the role of the media, which is to inform, generate informed opinion and generate a culture of participation and coexistence and peace.

Sean Hawkey: How does the media and the powerful groups behind it exercise this power?

The big media are the property of these sectors of power. So, for media that aren’t following the script- the ones that have relationships with human rights defenders and with the opposition, and that are [beyond] the control of the government and these five powerful groups- there is a five step process that is sharply adhered to.

The first step is to ignore them. For us [at Radio Progreso], who have a different point of view than the government’s, or who question the government, we’ll never be invited to a TV station to give express our view. They’ll never run a story on who we are and what we do. We are ignored.

When, for different reasons, we can’t be ignored, they will twist information about us, on what we do, they will stigmatise us, they will discredit us. For example, they won’t talk about what we do or say, but they will call us rebels, revolutionaries. They’ll say that we stand in the way of development, or they’ll say that we are linked to organised crime, or that we have old ideas that [are incompatible] with modernity. They stigmatise us, they discredit us.

If that doesn’t work, they’ll try to co-opt us, to bribe us in many different ways. It can be with money, but not necessarily with money. It might be through recognitions, invitations to participate in bodies or events that deal with human rights, to go to five-star hotels. All of this is to make journalists [linked] with the opposition feel like they belong there.

When that doesn’t work then they try to criminalise us, which is the fourth step. When discrediting us doesn’t work, trying to buy us off doesn’t work, and we can’t be ignored, then they criminalise independent media. That’s why the Penal Code has been reformed, to enable accusations of terrorism and treason.

If none of that works, then they go to the fifth step which is assassination.

Sean Hawkey:  How has this affected Radio Progreso?

We’ve been ignored, but they can’t ignore us completely. They’ve tried to co-opt us and buy us off. Last year they tried to give me the government prize for human rights, I would have been part of their game if I’d accepted it. That hasn’t worked. They’ve tried to stigmatise us, they’ve produced posters [with supposed links to organised crime for example]. Attempts have been made to criminalise us. They have sabotaged our transmission tower in Tegucigalpa. And now we are trying to avoid that last step.

Photos by Sean Hawkey https://www.hawkey.co.uk/index


 

[i] Human Rights Watch. 2018. World Report 2018: Honduras.  https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/honduras

[ii] DW. 2018. “Honduras military clashes with protesters over president’s re-election”
http://www.dw.com/en/honduras-military-clashes-with-protesters-over-presidents-re-election/a-42241116

[iii] Reuters. 2018. “Honduran president sworn in amid protests after election chaos” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-election/honduran-president-sworn-in-amid-protests-after-election-chaos-idUSKBN1FG0NL

[iv]Sandra Cuffe. 2018. ”US-trained police are hunting down and arresting protesters amid post-election crisis in Honduras”. The Intercept.  https://theintercept.com/2018/02/20/honduras-election-protest-tigres/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackie McVicar

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

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.

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]