Posts Tagged ‘campesinos – peasant struggles in Honduras’

‘They put a gun to my head,’ says Honduran mother

 
Elquin Castillo is seen near Casa Betania Santa Martha June 29, 2019, in Salto de Agua, Mexico. (CNS photo/David Agren)

TENOSIQUE, Mexico (CNS) — Maribel — a Garifuna woman from Honduras and mother of six children, ages 6 months to 16 years — only wanted to work.

She baked coconut bread and sold it the streets of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, until a gang started demanding a cut — roughly 20 percent of her earnings. After threats and violence and futile attempts at negotiating with the gang, she fell behind in her payments. Gangsters eventually showed up at her daughter’s school to send a message of intimidation, forcing Maribel and her family to flee the country.

“I was being pursued,” she said from a shelter run by the Franciscans in southern Mexico. “I’m scared they’re going to come looking for me here,” she added, noting that gang members were now threatening her sister in Honduras and asking about her whereabouts.

Maribel’s plight highlights the despair and desperation of many migrants, who flee violence, poverty and, increasingly, drought and the early effects of climate change in Central America.

Mexico has sent members of its National Guard to stop migrants at its southern border, and stories of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in U.S. and Mexican migration detention centers have surfaced.

U.S. President Donald Trump — who threated Mexico with tariffs on its exports if migration was not stopped — has praised Mexico for its increased enforcement, telling reporters July 1: “Mexico is doing a lot right now. They have almost 20,000 soldiers between the two borders. … And the numbers are way down for the last week.”

But the migrants streaming out of Central America seem undeterred due to deteriorating conditions at home.

Few migrants grasp the geopolitics at play, focusing instead on seeking safety or escaping hunger at home. Staff at shelters in southern Mexico say the flow of migrants has remained high.

At La 72, the shelter in Tenosique, director Ramon Marquez reported receiving more than 10,000 guests so far in 2019, putting them on pace to break the record of 14,300 migrants welcomed in 2013.

Militarization, however, forces migrants to take paths less traveled to avoid police and soldiers, and this puts them more at risk, say shelter directors.

“Migrants don’t come here because they want to. Migrants leave their country because they don’t have any other alternative,” said Franciscan Sister Diana Munoz Alba, a human rights lawyer and a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who works at a migrant shelter in Chiapas. “(There’s) a paradox of risking their lives to save their lives, and this militarization (of Mexico) is not going to stop migration.”

Maribel, whose name was changed for security reasons, fell victim to criminals shortly after crossing into Mexico from Guatemala in late May. Three hooded assailants spotted her and her family walking along a rural road and robbed them of their meager possessions.

“They threw us face down … the kids face down. They were scared, crying,” she recalled.

Maribel said she had never thought much about migrating, despite the difficulties of life in the Atlantida department on the Honduras’ Atlantic Coast — an area populated by Afro-Hondurans, who have been abandoning the country in droves.

“I can’t go back to Honduras. These gangs have people everywhere.”

After her husband suffered a disability in his construction job, Maribel started her own informal business, harvesting coconuts and baking coconut bread in Honduras.

She sold $60 of bread daily, but had to hand over 20 percent daily to the Calle 18 gang. There were other expenses, too, she said, such as the cost of sending her children to school, even though education is supposed to be free for children in Honduras.

In December, the gangs made greater demands, which she refused. As she worked one day, “They put a gun to my head and took all I had,” Maribel said.

She eventually stopped paying. Then the gang came looking for her 16-year-old daughter. Maribel saved her money and left Honduras with her family.

Violence has sent thousands fleeing from Honduras. But observers say other factors are driving migration, including poverty and political factors. Migrants speak of the sorry state of services such as health and education.

“That’s why we’re looking to migrate, because the economy is so bad,” said Elquin Castillo, 26, who left a fishing village with his pregnant wife, infant daughter and 20 relatives in June.

Javier Avila, 30, gave up after drought in southern Honduras wiped out his melon crop for the second consecutive season. He borrowed $82 to rent a small plot for his crop — which was lost — but could not find the funds to sow again in 2019.

“It used to be normal that it rained in the winter, but not any longer,” he said from a migrant shelter.

Maribel expressed similar pessimism over Honduras. She was hoping to receive a document to travel freely through Mexico, though she was uncertain how much longer she would have to wait.

Honduras: Exercising the right to protest has a high cost for those who dare take to the streets

The government of President Juan Orlando Hernández has adopted a policy of repression against those who protest in the streets to demand his resignation and accountability for the actions of authorities. The use of military forces to control demonstrations across the country has had a deeply concerning toll on human rights, said Amnesty International upon presenting the findings of a field investigation.

“President Juan Orlando Hernández’s (JOH) message is very clear: shouting ‘JOH out’ and demanding change can be very costly. At least six people have died in the context of protests and dozens have been injured, many of them by firearms fired by security forces since the beginning of this wave of demonstrations,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.

In a desperate attempt to silence the voices demanding his resignation, President Hernández has used the armed forces to control the protests. According to information gathered by Amnesty International, during this period the security forces have indiscriminately used less-than-lethal weapons, such as tear gas or rubber bullets, causing injury to dozens of people. In total, six people have been killed in this context since April, four of them by firearms at the hands of the security forces.

The repressive policies of the Hernandez government in response to protests have previously been condemned. On 13 June 2018, Amnesty International published the report Protest Prohibited: Use of Force and Arbitrary Detentions to Suppress Dissident in Honduras, which documents how the authorities not only used excessive force to repress peaceful protesters immediately after the controversial elections of 26 November 2017, but also arbitrarily detained and held protesters in deplorable conditions for months, denying them their right to due process and an adequate defence.

Since then, the wave of anti-government demonstrations has been a constant in the country. According to the non-governmental organization Committee for Free Expression (C-Libre), from 4 March to 25 June this year, there were at least 346 protests across the country. The current generalized discontent of the population was provoked by the approval, on 25 April, of laws that transformed the national health education systems, which in the opinion of teachers’ leaders and the Medical College of Honduras, will lead to the privatization of these sectors and the massive dismissal of employees. Although these laws were repealed, protesters have continued to demand the president’s resignation.

President Juan Orlando Hernández’s (JOH) message is very clear: shouting ‘JOH out’ and demanding change can be very costly. At least six people have died in the context of protests and dozens have been injured, many of them by firearms fired by security forces since the beginning of this wave of demonstration
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s Americas crisis team conducted a rapid response mission during the first week of July, following the upsurge in violence during demonstrations of the last few weeks, which left a toll of six people dead and almost 80 injured. The organization documented a total of eight cases, two of which involved people killed by the army and military police, and six that involved people who were injured, four of them by firearms. In addition, the organization analyzed more than 60 pieces of audio-visual and photographic material to identify the weapons and ammunition used, among other things.

DEATHS DUE TO THE USE OF LETHAL FORCE

On 20 June, Eblin Noel Corea Maradiaga, a 17-year-old student, was killed by the army in the town of Yarumela, La Paz, where hours before a road blockade had taken place as a form of protest, before finally giving way. Despite this, an army convoy arrived moments later, fired on civilians and chased several people, including Eblin and his father. Although they were unarmed and attempting to take refuge in an alley, witnesses report that an army officer took position, aimed and shot the teenager, who fell into his father’s arms after being hit in the chest.

In another case, on 19 June, Erik Peralta was trying to cross an avenue blocked by a protest in Tegucigalpa’s Pedregal neighbourood, after returning from work, when soldiers arrived and, without a word, began to shoot. According to the forensic report, a bullet pierced his chest and killed him almost immediately. Erik was 37 years old and had four children.

INJURIES FROM USE OF LETHAL AND LESS-THAN-LETHAL FORCE

Another case that Amnesty International documented of the excessive use of force was the incursion into the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) on 24 June, when Military Police officers entered the compound and shot at dozens of people demonstrating in the entrance. In a press release, the government said this was justified by the need to rescue an officer who was abducted by students, as well as by the use of Molotov cocktails and other devices launched against security forces, and the need to “repel the attack”.

While Amnesty International was able to document the use of stones and, in some cases, handmade mortars by demonstrators, the organization believes that the use of lethal force was excessive and unnecessary. The fact that some groups or individuals use violence in a demonstration does not make the whole protest violent per se.

That said, the organization could find no evidence of the alleged abduction of the military official, and the university rector himself confirmed to Amnesty International that no evidence of this had been presented, nor that there had been any negotiation process prior to the use of force. Likewise, the authorities violated the principle of exceptionality of lethal force, which can only be used in cases of imminent risk against the lives of agents or third parties.

As a result, at least five people were shot, including a 25-year-old student, whose identity has been omitted for security reasons, who was shot in the arm, and Elder Nahúm Peralta, another 21-year-old student, who was hit by a bullet impact that entered and exited his right buttock. In an interview with Amnesty International, Elder said that while running to protect himself, he was struck by a bullet and fell to the ground. He was helped by university security personnel and students, who took him to the Hospital Escuela, where he received medical attention.

On 30 May, a young teacher participating in local protests was shot by National Police officers after they fired into the crowd. The shot to his back caused the loss of a kidney and damaged his large intestine, transverse colon and lung.

Violent police repression also affected people who were not participating in the protests. In Tegucigalpa, National Police officers assaulted two members of a family who had reprimanded them for throwing tear gas near their home. Feeling suffocated, the family left their home to demand an end to the use of tear gas and were beaten with clubs, punches and kicks. As a result, one of them required immediate medical attention, included stitching of head wounds.

IMPUNITY 

Impunity, which has been continuously denounced in the country in recent years, remains endemic in Honduras with regard to human rights violations, and this encourages further violations.

“The Honduran justice system has demonstrated once again that human rights violations in the context of protests continue without proper investigation, nor are people suspected of criminal responsibility brought to justice. The facts of these last few weeks demonstrate how impunity is a constant that fuels the repetition of serious human rights violations,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

In two of the eight cases that Amnesty International documented, families did not file a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office for fear of reprisals. In the remaining six cases, although they filed complaints, they did not trust in the impartiality or efficiency of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and in at least three cases they claimed that the steps necessary to ensure a thorough investigation had not been taken in time.

The president must urgently demonstrate that he is willing to use all the means at his disposal to stop lethal repression, otherwise there will be compelling reasons to consider his responsibility for each of the deaths and attacks against people exercising their legitimate right to protest
Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

For example, Eblin Noel Corea Maradiaga’s family did not allow the autopsy to be performed for fear that the authorities would “misplace” the bullet that was lodged in his body. Considering it to be a key piece of evidence for the solving of the crime, they requested an exhumation with the cooperation of trusted forensic personnel provided by the family. However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office denied their participation and they are still waiting for this to happen. Such was the family’s distrust of the authorities that they installed a light bulb to be able to watch over his body 24 hours a day, for fear that someone might tamper with the corpse and steal the bullet.

In another incident, on 29 April, a public official, dressed in civilian clothes and operating in conjunction with the national police, fired on a person whose identity has been omitted for security reasons. Despite it being clear from testimonies and images of the event that the official was carrying a semi-automatic weapon consistent with the caliber of bullet that the victim has lodged in their chest, no one has been prosecuted so far. Although a complaint was filed immediately after the incident, as well as requests made to the prosecutor’s office soliciting information on the proceedings, the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), the organization that accompanies victims, has not received a response.

In this context, Amnesty International considers it essential to advance the investigations and guarantee the correct processing of all available evidence for the proper identification of possible perpetrators and their subsequent prosecution.

Amnesty International also met with government officials to discuss the current context of the crisis and the evidence gathered by the organization that exposes serious human rights violations. The officials stated that they have adhered to the law and that if there were cases to the contrary, this would be due to individual actions by inexperienced personnel, not a policy of repression. In addition, they justified military deployment for security purposes in accordance with the Constitution. The authorities pledged to provide Amnesty International with information regarding the investigation into the attack on the UNAH.

Meetings were also held with national human rights organizations, which expressed concern about the state’s repressive strategy aimed at silencing critical voices demanding structural changes in public policies. The organization reiterates its condemnation of the stigmatization, harassment and aggression against human rights defenders and calls for their protection.

Amnesty International has already publicly condemned the National Security Council’s decision of 20 June 2019 to deploy the armed forces, police and intelligence agents in response to protests, as this could lead to an increase in the excessive use of force against demonstrators. The organization reiterates that the state must guarantee an orderly withdrawal of the armed forces from public security tasks and implement a process of strengthening the capacities of the National Police.

“The president must urgently demonstrate that he is willing to use all the means at his disposal to stop lethal repression, otherwise there will be compelling reasons to consider his responsibility for each of the deaths and attacks against people exercising their legitimate right to protest,” concluded Erika Guevara-Rosas.

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Duncan Tucker: duncan.tucker@amnesty.org

 

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.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/dec/25/16-stories-of-jesus-in-honduras

From a political prisoner to a garbage picker, and a bereaved mother to an activist, photographer Sean Hawkey reveals the poverty and violence rife in Honduras through the stories of men and women named Jesús

Main image: Yolanda Jesús Lozano, who works on the municipal dump in Rio Abajo, Tegucigalpa

The disappeared

Manuel de Jesús Bautista Salvador, 22, was arrested by military police (PMOP) in Naco, Cortés, in the north-west of Honduras, for breaking a curfew during the 2017 protests against the re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernández.

The government responded to the opposition demonstrations with military force and a 10-day curfew. By the curfew’s end, Honduras’ National Human Rights Commission said 14 civilians had died in protests since the election, and 1,675 people had been arrested.

A poster asking for news of Manuel de Jesús Bautista Salvador who has been missing since December 2017

On 3 December at 7.30pm, Manuel de Jesús Bautista Salvador was detained, along with a friend. They were beaten, pepper-sprayed and taken away with two others who were already in the police patrol vehicle. At a checkpoint, Bautista Salvador jumped from the vehicle and the other detainees heard shots.

The other men were released the following day but nothing has since been heard of Bautista Salvador. Despite petitions by the Honduran Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, he is still “disappeared”, and there has been no investigation into his whereabouts.

The political prisoner

Jesús García of Carrizal, a Catholic lay preacher

Jesús García of Santa Elena, La Paz, spent 17 months imprisoned because of his activities as a Catholic lay preacher.

“When my father was assassinated my mother looked at how she’d been left with no help. She got sick and just died. One of my brothers was disabled. He also died of pneumonia. The rest of us survived somehow. I was orphaned quite young, so I couldn’t study. We all had to work to survive.

“I was a political prisoner because I was a lay preacher. I coordinated 180 other preachers in Santa Elena and Yarula and Nahuaterique. Our priests asked us to speak the truth, and that’s what we did.

“They came at two in the morning to take me. There were a lot of soldiers. They smashed up everything in the house.

“At first no one knew where they’d taken us. We were disappeared. At that time lots of people disappeared for ever, or maybe they’d find your body in a ditch. It was dangerous. A lot of people died like that. Our families were asking the army to give us back, at least to hand over the dead bodies.

“Central America has a lot of martyrs.”

The bereaved mother

Bereaved mother. Jesús Lorenzo Martínez, Ojo de Agua, La Paz.

“I don’t know how old I am,” says Jesús Lorenzo Martínez of Ojo de Agua, La Paz. “I’m on my own. Bringing my children up on my own is a struggle, a battle. I had six children but two are dead. Two boys died. They weren’t for me, they were for God. One went when he was a month old.

“The other went when he was one year and four months. Sometimes I grieve. I conform, it’s God’s will. But I am afraid when one gets ill. I can’t get ill or no one will look after them. One of the girls is working in San Miguel [El Salvador]. May God bless her and look after her and protect her.

“My kids are like me, they are as big as me now, and they will have to struggle like I’ve struggled. Sometimes I sleep with a flower, and I feel like the boys are with me and I feel strong.”

The indigenous leader

Indigenous leader Jesús Pérez, Corralito, Copán

“I live here in Los Altos de Corralito, where I was born, high up in the mountains,” says Jesús Pérez. “I plant corn and beans, and sometimes I earn some money working as a labourer.

“I have six living daughters, and two living sons. Our community has a history of struggle for land and for recognition of our indigenous identity, and my family has paid dearly for it. Blood has been spilt for our rights.

“The Maya Chortí communities were marginalised by the big landowners, but thank God, now we have official recognition as an indigenous people, and we have a little bit of land. We’ve been here for thousands of years, but we only got recognition in the last 20.

“My nephew was Cándido Amador. He was two days older than me. He gave his life for our cause. They assassinated him. He had long hair, he dressed in indigenous clothes, and had very indigenous features.

“…They thought that Candido was the leader and that’s why they assassinated him. He was beaten, he was cut with a machete on his hands, his neck, his head, and he was shot three times in the chest. And they scalped him. It was the night of 11 April 1997. He lived in my house, so they came here to get me to identify the body. He had been thrown on the side of the road.

“One of my own sons is buried next to him. He had a fall while he was working in the town, and died of the internal injuries later. We put flowers on both the graves at the same time.”

The dying man

Fausto de Jesús Vásquez, Los Patios, La Paz

Fausto de Jesús Vásquez, of Los Patios, La Paz, met his wife in the fields.

“She would bring the food to us when we worked, I saw her, and I fell in love with her. We had two children.

“I was born in Nahuaterique which was in El Salvador – now it is in Honduras. We have double nationality.”

(Nahuaterique was part of an international border dispute between El Salvador and Honduras that was resolved by the International Court at the Hague in 1992, when it passed to Honduran administration.)

“I’m dying. I am surrounded by my family. My children live nearby. Here nature is abundant, it’s good for maize and beans, coffee, yuca. I worked with vegetables too – tomatoes, cucumbers, to sell.

“We saw a bit of everything in that time, in the war. We lost everything – the house, all our things. But they are material things, you can get all that again. Life is what you can’t get back if you lose it.

“We rebuilt everything after the war.”

Jesús died peacefully at home earlier this year.

The hungry child

Jesús Ángel Vásquez, from San Marcos de Sierra, Intibucá

Jesús Ángel Vásquez lives in San Marcos de Sierra, Intibucá. “I am in fifth grade. I live with my mum and dad. I have three brothers. I’m the oldest one.

“I get up at two o’clock in the morning. I go to wash. My mum does good tortillas. My favourite food is rice. Sometimes we don’t have much food. I’m hungry.”

The land rights activist

Activist Jesús Salazar, in Suyapa, Pespire

Jesús Salazar, Suyapa, Pespire is the coordinator of an organisation for the defence of human rights.

“[We defend] our shared resources, the water and woods here. We began organising to defend ourselves four years ago.

“We need to defend the water. It’s scarce here in the south, and it’s our life. We depend on it to live.

“In 2003 we began to hear these promises, that the road was going to be improved and the church would be built, if we let the mining company in. The municipal authorities, our representatives in the National Congress, they all supported it. They promoted it.

“But, that’s not development for us. That’s the sale of our territory to transnational companies. It’s against our will and against our interests. They can always find an ally in the communities – people who will help them. They give them some money and brainwash them, but these people bring long-term difficulties for our communities, which will affect our children and grandchildren. It will poison them and rob them of water. We need to be very clear about this – they are bringing death.

“They came here with an environmental licence … But because we were already organised, there was a defence. We have 19 groups organised in the villages around here, and we have lawyers. We won’t let them in.

“They’ve tried. There have been confrontations and injuries. Twice those rats have come here with their machines. They even came at Christmas because they thought it’d be easier.

“They came one evening when we were planting corn. There weren’t many men here. Everyone was in the fields planting. Women with babies stood in front of the excavators to stop them coming in. Then, with mobile phones, we mobilised more than 300 people to come quickly with machetes and sticks, and we stood in front of the machines and we all raised our machetes in the air. The men they sent were thugs, but they left.”

The midwife

María de Jesús Pérez Vásquez

María de Jesús Pérez Vásquez, from Las Flores, Lempira, is 92.

“I had three of my own children – two boys and a girl. I spend most of my time in the house nowadays, with my daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

“There’s no one else my age around here. The secret to a long life is to rest enough but not too much, eat as little as a child eats and work hard. I still like to make tortillas, though my fingers are getting stiff now.

“My parents didn’t have money to send me to school, but I learned a few things. I worked as a midwife for 60 years. I delivered a lot of babies, attended a lot of women in birth. Everyone here knows me. Women still bring me little gifts to say thank you. When I walk down the road, most of the people I meet – I saw them arrive in this world. I was the first person to hold them.

“My husband was a drunk. He died of a hangover in a field 12 years after we got married. I brought up the children on my own.”

The seed saver

Indigenous corn saved by Jesús Martínez

Jesús Martínez, from Santa Elena, La Paz, says he doesn’t remember how old he is.

“[But] I remember the war. We heard it all happening – the bombs and machine guns, but they never arrived here. Thank God.”

Jesús’ son, who is also a Jesús – Jesús Martínez Vásquez – shows us some multi-coloured corn they are saving for seed, open-pollinated, indigenous varieties.

Jesús Martínez, from Santa Elena, La Paz

“These are seeds that are passed down from generation to generation. Farmers have done this for thousands of years. We save the seeds from the best heads of corn, then we plant them again, when the moon is right, and we’ll get a good harvest of strong corn like the harvest before, as long as it rains.

“We grow black corn, yellow and white, and mixed. We know that the seeds from here like our mountain soil. Corn has grown here in these mountains for hundreds of years. The first problem with the commercial corn seed is that you have to buy them. Well, we don’t have the money. It is very productive, but only the first year, then the second year it’s weaker. It’s so weak it’s not worth saving the seed for the second year.

“If you want to keep on getting the big hybrid yield, then you need to buy more seed the next year, and the fertiliser and the insecticide. And if you don’t keep your indigenous seeds, then you just have to buy the hybrid seed. So, the best thing is to grow at least some indigenous corn, and keep the seed, or you end up dependent on the seed companies and giving your money to them. Anyway, this is what we use for the tortillas. We eat these with beans, an egg, avocado. We grow two types of beans here, a tiny one and chinapopo. That’s a tasty bean.”

The survivor of domestic violence

María de Jesús Gabarette, from Tierra Colorada, Lempira

María de Jesús Gabarette is from Tierra Colorada, Lempira.

“My husband died. He hanged himself, here in the house, with a rope. When he used to get drunk I’d be afraid. He’d be really drunk sometimes and he’d shout at me, telling me off for going to church. Sometimes I’d just leave the house and sleep somewhere else, or I’d sleep with a knife under my pillow. Everyone used to tell me to leave him. Since he’s died, it’s helped me going to the church. My children helped me build this little adobe house.

“He’s been dead seven years now. Lots of women get killed by drunk and violent husbands. I’m afraid my kids will waste their lives drinking.

“I make a living by going to Lepaera to buy vegetables and chickens, and I bring them back here to sell. And I’m training to be a midwife.”

The rubbish picker

Yolanda Jesús Lozano, municipal dump, Rio Abajo, Tegucigalpa

Yolanda Jesús Lozano works on the municipal dump in Rio Abajo, Tegucigalpa.

“I’m a single mother bringing up my three children. I do it with the money I make here on the dump – mainly with tins and sometimes bottles, and other things if there are a lot. I can earn 80 lempiras [£2.60] a day. It’s dangerous here as they dump waste from the hospital. You can get a used syringe in your foot.

“Two weeks ago they found a head here, half eaten by the vultures. They say they found the body over in Comayagüela.”

The tenant farmer

Jesús Alberto Ramírez, in Sinaí Chimichal, Copán

Jesús Alberto Ramírez, lives in Sinaí Chimichal, Copán.

“Sinai is a holy place. It’s where Moses got the 10 commandments. Chimichal is a tree that grows here. That’s why we called this place Sinaí Chimichal. We’ve been here since 1991.

“We organised ourselves because we’d been enslaved by the landowner. We weren’t allowed to plant food to eat, or to put up a fence around our huts, or to wash clothes in the stream. They just made us work for whatever they wanted to pay us, and they’d treat us very badly.

“Organising ourselves was hard on everyone. My brother, Nicolás Ramírez, was shot in the belly and killed. The rest of us were captured, tied up with rope and taken to prison. After 20 days or so I was let out, but I was captured and sent to prison again. Our friend Rufino was also shot and captured and sent to prison without medical treatment.

“Negotiations took place, and eventually we were given about 30 acres to plant food and build huts. And here we are.

“We’ve suffered a lot of poverty here. Most of the families here have lost a child. But since we’ve been able to plant food it’s a lot better and not so many children have died.”

The carpenter

Jesús Alberto Mayorga Lemus, of Copán Ruinas

Jesús Alberto Mayorga Lemus, from Copán Ruinas, says his parents couldn’t afford to send him to school.

“So I decided to learn a trade to earn some money. I learned carpentry and I went to work. I was 13. I didn’t get paid for three years. My shoes were broken and I had patches in my trousers. It was hard. When I was visiting my girlfriend I had to hide the holes in my shoes by putting my foot up behind me.

“I’ve suffered, but you learn from suffering and you can use it to become better – a better son, a better brother, a better friend, a better husband. Without God, we aren’t anything.

“I fell in love and got married when I was 16 and a half. We had four children.”

The farmer

Jesús García Hernández, of Langue, Valle

Jesús García Hernández, is from Los Horcones, Valle.

“The drought has been going on for 10 years. It’s due to climate change. Winters were good before. But now we’ve had years without water. We’ve got dry streams, rivers and wells. We lose our seeds and fertilisers; we even lose our hope sometimes.

“There are families here who haven’t had a harvest for 10 years. We’ve all just lost another harvest. We prepared the soil, put in the seeds and fertilisers and, when the first bit of rain came, the plants began growing. Then the rain stopped. Then the rain came again but it was too late. After 10 years of drought the people here have used up their reserves and there’s desperation.

“We’ve had to deepen the wells, but they still dry up. The water is going down.

“A lot of people have left. Some go to work in other places as labourers or security guards or cleaners. And some risk the journey to the States. What else is there to do?”

The LGBT activist

Emanuel de Jesús Barrientos, of Comayagüela

Emanuel de Jesús Barrientos lives in Comayagüela.

“I knew I was gay when I was six years old. I’m 33 now, the age of Christ.

“In Honduras many gay men suffer discrimination. They are attacked, even killed. It’s dangerous to come out of the closet as it puts everything in danger – your family, your social relationships, your work, your security, even your life. We live in an aggressive environment of violent heterosexual machismo.

“I work promoting LGBT rights and I study at the university too. In our offices we are obliged to have a security system with cameras and rolls of razorwire as we’ve had threats.

“We have a proposal for a law for gender identity and equality. Through this law we would have a legal basis to prohibit all sorts of discrimination for sexual orientation, race, ability, age and gender identity.

“There are gender equality laws in other countries but, of course, with this government there’s not much chance of seeing it passed in Honduras. A lot of people are opposed to the movement for equality. They think the only thing we want is equal marriage and the right to adopt.

“Two years ago I tried dressing as a woman for the first time. I feel it allows me to express a feminine side of my character that I can’t while I’m dressed as a man. I don’t walk down the street like it, but I do it for LGBT events, like a show. It’s a bit of fun.”

The migrant

Jesús Hernández, on the migrant caravan

Jesús Hernández has joined the migrant caravan, pictured here on the road to Oaxaca out of Arriaga, Chiapas: he is wearing the NY baseball cap.

“I’m from Tela and I work as a mechanic, welder, carpenter, builder. I’m heading to the States to look for work. All my family are there. I’m travelling with the caravan because it’s safer than going alone. The journey is dangerous. And, there’s no money to pay a coyote [people trafficker].”

As the image above was taken, federal riot police blocked the road for a few hours. But shortly after dawn, Jesús and thousands of others headed north, continuing on their walk to the US border.

tinuing on their walk to the US border.

 

Environmental activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated in 2016, after her decade-long campaign against the construction of a dam in Honduras.

Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

A Honduran court has convicted seven men of the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in a home in western Honduras in 2016. Cáceres had been leading opposition to the construction of a dam over the Gualcarque River, and her murder brought renewed attention to the dangers environmentalists face in Central America.

In a telephone interview from Oakland, Calif., Cáceres’ nephew, Silvio Carrillo, spoke with NPR. “Just because there was a conviction, doesn’t mean the justice system works in Honduras. There are still masterminds out there, and there’s no indication that they are going after the masterminds,” Carrillo said.

Judges convicted two former executives of Desa, the company with the concession to build the dam, including Sergio Rodríguez, Desa’s director of environmental and social development, and Douglas Bustillo, the company’s security chief.

A top executive of Desa, Roberto David Castillo, was arrested in March, and will be tried separately.

Robert Amsterdam, international counsel to Desa, told NPR the company’s executives are innocent of the charges against them. “Simply the court had none of the evidence to convict. In respect to Sergio Rodriguez and the references to Desa, they are all without foundation,” Amsterdam said. “Human rights organizations have stampeded the court in Honduras, which is subject to a tremendous amount of political pressure, into rendering a judgment that is flawed.”

“We consider it a fair step towards justice … but still we have some concerns. The process had many flaws,” Marcia Aguiluz Soto, the director for Central America and Mexico at the Center for Justice and International Law, a human rights group that has worked with Cáceres’ family, told NPR. “One of our main concerns is that the masterminds of the assassination are not being judged yet. Basically the tribunal that convicted the seven persons say that they know, and they have proof, that stakeholders and managers of the Desa company planned for the assassination of Berta Cáceres, and paid for it.”

Cáceres, a Lenca woman, had waged a 10-year fight against construction of the dam, which was to be built over water considered sacred by the indigenous Lenca people, who also said the dam would endanger their water resources. She led a campaign which “involved filing legal complaints against the project, organizing community meetings and bringing the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission,” according to The New York Times.

In 2015, Cáceres’ won the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is given to grass-roots environmental leaders, and the award gave her work international attention and acclaim.

44-year-old Cáceres was murdered just a year later, when two gunmen broke down the door of the home where she was staying in the town of La Esperanza, which translates to “hope” in Spanish, and shot her six times.

Cáceres’ nephew, Carrillo, says he was dumbfounded by news of her death. “There is just a constant denigration of my family, of the indigenous people in Honduras, and a lack of respect. This is what Berta was fighting for. They deserve the respect that anyone of us do, whether we’re white, brown, black, it doesn’t matter. This is the root of the problem in Honduras, where the wealthy control the power structure, and the impoverished don’t have a voice,” Carrillo said.

According to the organization Global Witness, 14 environmental activists were killed in reprisal for their work in Honduras last year, and more than 120 people have been killed in the country since 2010 for protesting against companies that pollute the environment.

Berta Cáceres: seven men convicted of murdering Honduran environmentalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canada backs profits, not human rights, in Honduras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

Pajulies Under Attack: Hydroelectric Company Bypasses Resistance by Military Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violence in Pajuiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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