Posts Tagged ‘Canada-Honduras’

Ashamed to be Canadian: Corruption, Fear, Humiliation and Militarization in Honduras

by Janet Spring, mother-in-law of Honduran political prisoner Edwin Espinal

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Day #491 – Edwin Espinal, political prisoner illegally jailed in max-security Honduran military prison. Edwin is married to Karen Spring, Canadian human rights defender and director of Honduras Solidarity Network. Since January 19, 2018, Edwin has been illegally held in a max-security military jail, facing trumped up charges filed by the corrupt, repressive U.S. and Canadian-backed Honduran regime.

 

IMG_5764 (2)19-04-20

 

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Ashamed to be Canadian: Corruption, Fear, Humiliation, and Militarization in Honduras

By Janet Spring (mother-in-law of Edwin Espinal, political prisoner in Honduras), May 26, 2019

 

I am writing this article as I sit by the Caribbean Sea in the evening of May 26 in Trujillo Bay, Honduras. Trujillo is a Garifuna community that is in a land struggle against the Honduran government and Canadian tourism businesses that are trying to or have already stolen Garifuna land for economic gain.

 

As I visit this community, I am embarrassed and ashamed to be Canadian as corrupt Canadian investors have given Canada a bad name.

 

I am traveling with 16 people – 4 Canadians from the broader Simcoe County area (Ontario), and 12 US citizens – on a delegation sponsored by the Honduras Solidarity Network and Cross Border Network, based in Kansas City, Missouri. The delegation is focusing on the ‘Roots of Migration,’ which is taking us along the north coast of Honduras to La Ceiba and Trujillo.

 

“Little Canada” tourism corruption and violence

The cruise ship docks are located here; tourists disembark and enter these communities, and most do not know that they are on disputed indigenous Garifuna territory and that tensions are high. Little do they know that corruption abounds here and that it is perpetuated by Canadian business interests supported by the corrupt narco-trafficking illegal government of Juan Orlando Hernandez.

 

The delegation began on May 25th with our first stop in El Progeso. Here we participated in a march in support of political prisoners and walked through the streets with the leaders of the movement that demand Hernandez resign. We also met with a member of the El Progreso community who provides support to families who choose to join migrant caravans to the US.

 

The presenter explained how the deep-seated corruption, extortion, drug cartels, lack of employment, fear, and marginalization forces the Honduran people to leave their country. He remarked that 48% of 5th and 6th grade students wish to leave the country due to the lack of hope perpetuated by the corrupt oligarchy families and drug-trafficking government that control the population.

 

Our group left with a greater understanding of why people leave the country that they love and the desperation migrant families feel for their children’s future.

 

This coming week, our group leaves the north coast and travels back to El Progreso, the site of the 1952 banana plantation struggles, to La Esperanza, home of Berta Caceres (assassinated March 2, 2016), and finally to the capital of Tegucigalpa. We will meet with the US Embassy staff and have also requested a meeting with the Canadian Embassy. The group will participate in a dialogue with a very well respected former presidential candidate – Carlos Reyes – who will provide a perspective of the current political situation, listen to the struggles that Hondurans face through corruption at all levels of the Hernandez government, and about gang violence and drug trafficking.

 

Later in the week, our group will travel to La Tolva prison, hoping to get in to see my son-in-law Edwin Espinal and another political prisoner Raul Alvarez. We have sent in all documentation required for this visit but as the government does not follow their own laws, we may be denied entry.

 

My visit to La Tolva military prison

This past week before the delegation began, I went to La Tolva prison to visit Edwin. When I traveled to La Tolva for my first scheduled visit on a ‘visitor pass,’ the visit was horrendous on many levels. Firstly, it took two trips to La Tolva to present my documentation that I received from the National Penitentiary Institute (NPI). Each time I travel to Honduras, I must go through this process. We handed the documentation to the prison both on Friday the 17th and then when the guards at the gate asked for further documentation – my flight information, something that was never requested by the prison – Karen drove the extra documents to La Tolva on Saturday the 18th.

 

When we arrived (Karen was the driver), the officers at the gate said that no papers had been submitted. The director of the prison finally came out and the papers were eventually found. But this took over an hour and a half, minimizing my visitation time. I was expected to get 4 hours. (We got there at 1 p.m. because if you go any earlier, they will not process anyone after 11 am due to upcoming lunch break, and any earlier they just make visitors wait anyway until 1 p.m.)

 

This kind of delay tactic is a prime example of how the prison officials humiliate visitors in an attempt to discourage them from returning.

 

In a discussion that Karen had with the officials at the NPI the next day, they advised her that the guards and the director of La Tolva do not have the authority to question any documentation after the permission is granted by the NPI. The permission is signed by the director of the NPI so it must be accepted. They are not supposed to request any further documentation after it has been processed yet more and more this documentation is questioned. Yet the guards do not follow the rules and make their own rules up as they please.

 

The visit got worse after I finally cleared the front gate. Because I could not speak Spanish, the guards laughed and made fun of me and were very disrespectful to me. The guards at the third checkpoint where the body scanner area is located, refused to accept my doctor’s note because it did not have a doctor’s stamp on it. After repeatedly telling them that our Canadian doctors do not use ‘stamps’, the guard in charge said that I could not enter without the scan.

 

When I got upset, they mocked me further. This was a very humiliating experience. I therefore had no choice … they had already picked and poked through the food that I had made for Edwin, cut the fruit open with a dirty prison knife, pawed the bread, and even disallowed one of the items that is on the list of ‘approved foodstuffs’ to bring in. I went through the scanner against the recommendation of my family doctor.

 

After I went through the body scanner, which my doctor deems is very detrimental to my health condition, I had to wait another hour before I could see Edwin. Edwin finally came out at 3:30 so my visit only lasted for 30 minutes. The ridiculing and laughing behind my back continued throughout the whole visit, even when I was leaving the front gate.

 

Not only were my rights violated according to Honduran ‘law,’ Edwin was very depressed; he has lost more weight, has a constant buzzing in his ear where hearing loss has occurred due to lack of medical treatment, and the water had been shut off for two days. Edwin explained that there was NO drinking water, no water to flush the cell toilets, and no water to properly prepare food. He said that this situation was desperate.

 

Due to this inhumane, horrific, and degrading treatment I endured as a Canadian citizen by the FNCCP (a new special prison task force recently implemented by the Hernandez government), the military police and the military (three forces in La Tolva which participated in that day’s humiliation), which is excessive only to terrorize and harass, I sent this information to the Canadian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and requested that someone from the Embassy accompany me on my next prison visit. I did not feel safe and felt very vulnerable, and frightened that during the next visit, the taunting and humiliation would escalate.

 

Canadian government support for illegal, illegitimate government of Honduras

The Canadian government supports this illegal and illegitimate government of Honduras and its agencies, as well as funds programs related to the prison situations throughout the country through CONAPREV, so I requested this accompaniment. Yet my request was denied. In a second letter, I apprised the Canadian Embassy of the dire water situation in La Tolva prison. I have not yet received a reply.

 

Edwin and Raul’s appeal cases are in limbo, shuffled from court to court only for the sole purpose of delaying them. Yet if their cases do come to trial and the appeals are heard and accepted, we must be prepared to pay for their bail, which may cost up to $20,000 USD.

 

Fund-raising campaign

A Go Fund Me campaign has been launched to raise these needed funds. So far to date, one quarter of the money has been raised in less than four days. If you wish to donate to Edwin and Raul’s campaign or find further information on the cause, please refer to the following: www.gofundme.com/politicalprisonershn

 

The Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor and the Spring family thank all of those who support our cause and send their best wishes. We hope for success in Edwin and Raul’s case soon.

 

From Honduras,
Janet Spring and the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor

jspring2@lakeheadu.ca

Canada’s Mining Monopoly in Honduras and the Refugee Mining Caravan
by Billie Pierre
Sunday Nov 25th, 2018 12:51 PM
This Refugee Migrant Caravan that began in Honduras in mid-October and has grown to over 7000 people. They’re currently in Mexico, with some having reached the border. Canada has significant investment, and owns a staggering 90% of the mines in Hondura, but lacks any involvement in providing any support for this humanitarian crisis.

Today, we’ll be hearing from activists linked to Canada and Central America, who will provide us with a closer perspective on the impacts Canada has on Honduras.

José Luis Granados Ceja, an independent writer and photojournalist based in Mexico City who will give us updates on the Caravan. We’ll hear from Stacey Gomez a migrants justice organizer. We’ll also hear from Jackie Mcvickar, who has accompanied human rights social movements and land protectors in Central America for over 10 years. She will also be giving a report about the trial that is being heard right now, for the murder of Indigenous leader Berta Caceres.

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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)

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

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

Honduras

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aura Minerals ALERT in Honduras
  • Illegal cyanide release into river, killing fish and acquatic life
  • Backed by Honduran security forces, Aura Minerals preparing to exhume bodies from 200 year old cemetery to get at more gold
This is what “bringing development” means; million dollar profits flowing to Canada, the company and shareholders.  For this, no political or legal oversight in Canada & little media coverage.


(Azacualpa cementery, worth fighting for.)

*******
Public statement
July 10, 2017

We, men and women representatives of the communities of Azacualpa, Toreras, Ceibita and Cedros, and of the Environmental Committees of San Miguel and Azacualpa (La Unión, Copán), make this statement in response to more harms to the environment and violations of our rights caused by Aura Minerals (of Canada) and its subsidiary Minerales de Occidente (MINOSA):

Contaminated Rivers
Thousands of dead fish were found on the riverbanks of the Lara River, caused by the discharge of the cyanide leaching pools belonging to Aura Minerals/MINOSA, on June 26 2017.

Representatives of INHGEOMIN (Instituto Hondureño de Geología y Minas), DECA (Dirección de Evaluación y Control Ambiental), Mi Ambiente, National Police, Military Police, the Attorney General’s office and the Municipal Government of La Unión, Copán came to confirm the occurrence.  To date we have not received any information back from government authorities.

This illegal release of cyanide and other contaminants also puts at risk the health of 45,000 people from the city of Santa Rosa de Copan, since their drinking water comes from the Higuito River which receives waters from the Lara River.

Exhuming the cemetery
What we have received information about, in a meeting on June 29th with Mr. Monty Reed, manager of Aura Minerals/MINOSA, is that the company will try, in mid-July, to push ahead with a test run exhumation at our community’s cemetery, in violation of agreements reached with our communities.

As community leaders and environmental committees, we oppose these illegal exhumations and the destruction of our cemetery, which goes against the agreements reached in the addendum, and violates our rights to live in peace.

We hold Aura Minerals/MINOSA responsible for what may happen, and we hold the government of Honduras responsible for knowingly allowing such actions, fully aware that the inhabitants of these communities are not in agreement with the exhumations, and later, mining exploitation at this cemetery.

We request the support of national and international organizations – particularly in Canada -, to ensure that there be justice for our communities and that this death-promoting company leave once and for all, and let us live in peace in our communities.

Community Leadership and Environmental Committees
Area Affected by Mining Exploitation
La Unión, Copán, Honduras

*******
More info

Canadian Ambassador & Corporate Social Responsability Counsellor misled Honduran villagers in community environmental defense struggle with Toronto-based Aura Minerals
http://mailchi.mp/rightsaction/canadian-ambassador-csr-counsellor-misled-honduran-villagers-in-community-environmental-defense-struggle-with-toronto-based-aura-minerals

Mining in a State of Impunity: Coerced Negotiations and Forced Displacement by Aura Minerals in Honduras, by Karen Spring, published by Mining Watch and Honduras Solidarity Network: http://miningwatch.ca/publications/2016/6/29/mining-state-impunity-coerced-negotiations-and-forced-displacement-aura

*******
Write to

Ambassador Michael Gort
Embassy of Canada in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua
PO Box 3552, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Tel: (504) 2232-4551
Michael.gort@international.gc.ca
tglpa@international.gc.ca

Jeffrey Davidson
Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor
Jeffrey.davidson@international.gc.ca
Esma Mneina, Esma.Mneina@international.gc.ca
Global Affairs Canada, Government of Canada
Tel: (343) 203-5181
11 Sussex R2-102 Ottawa, K1A 0G2

Aura Minerals
Rodrigo Barbosa, President and Chief Executive Officer
William Monti Reed, Honduras mine manager
155 University Av, Suite 1240
Toronto, ON, M5H 3B7
T: 416-649-1033info@auraminerals.comwww.auraminerals.com

Member Parliament
http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC

*******
More information
Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network, spring.kj@gmail.com
Jen Moore, Mining Watch, jen@miningwatch.ca
Grahame Russell, Rights Action, grahame@rightsaction.org

Canada’s Controversial Engagement in Honduras

By: Sabrina Escalera-Flexhaug, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Photo Credit: The Dominion

Increasing Involvement

Since Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras in 1998, Canada has cast an increasingly long shadow over the small Central American country’s economy and policy; a presence that has grown stronger since Honduras’ controversial 2009 coup. The self-proclaimed peacekeepers have since built a stronghold over Honduras via investment in industries and support for the illegitimate government created in the wake of the coup. Canada’s relationship with Honduras is emblematic of its shifting position within the international community, as an imperial presence, establishing and expanding industries in the less developed country at the expense of local citizens and the environment.

Canadian economic and political ties with Honduras intensified following Hurricane Mitch. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged much of Central America and resulted in the deaths of over 11,000 people.[1] It also left Honduras with $3 billion USD in damage from the catastrophe, causing utter economic devastation in one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

Following the hurricane, Ottawa responded with a “long-term development plan,” offering the Honduran government $100 million USD over four years for reconstruction projects. Part of this proposal included the introduction of forty Canadian companies into Honduras for investment purposes, which provided them with the opportunity to claim Honduran land and mineral assets. Canadian and U.S. developers helped rewrite the Honduran General Mining Law, and created the National Association of Metal Mining of Honduras (ANAMINH) to advance their interests in the nation. Under the new law, foreign mining companies have the right to subsurface land rights and tax breaks, marking a sharp change from the mining laws of the colonial era.[2]

Not surprisingly, mining—bolstered by foreign capital—has grown to be the dominant industry in Honduras. Foreign mining companies have done well under the new laws, with the Honduran government granting approximately 30 percent of Honduran territory in mining concessions.2 These companies, now owning a substantial portion of Honduran land, have a vested interest in the country’s politics. This is particularly true for Canadian mining corporations, which dominate the Honduran mining sector. According to the president of the ANAMINH, 90 percent of foreign mining investments in Honduras are Canadian.[3]

The Coup

Canadian mining corporations have a deep-rooted interest in keeping Honduran regulatory mining laws weak. These interests were threatened, however, when left-of-center candidate Manuel Zelaya was elected in 2006. Shortly after taking office, Zelaya announced his plans to reform the mining sector by restricting foreign mining companies in Honduras, distinguishing himself as a leader of an anti-foreign mining viewpoint. In May 2009, only a month before the armed forces ousted Zelaya, the Honduran Congress drafted a new mining bill. The bill was set to increase taxes on foreign mining companies, prohibit open-pit mining, and outlaw the use of toxic substances in mining activities. The bill would have required approval from local communities before mining operations went forward. However, Zelaya was forcefully removed from power on June 28, ending all discussion of mining reform.[4]

A Pointed Silence

After the coup, nearly every country denounced the removal of the democratically elected president. However, Ottawa remained silent and the Canadian media hardly reported on the political crisis.[5] According to Professor Tyler Shipley at York University in Toronto, Canadian reporters waited over twenty-four hours to report on the issue, even as international media immediately flooded into Honduras to report on the coup. When the Organization of American States (OAS) met to discuss the issue in July of 2009, Canada stood out again for its asymmetrical relationship with Honduras. Although most countries favored the return of Zelaya and the implementation of sanctions against the coup government, Canada argued that the international community had no grounds to intervene. Peter Kent, a minister of state for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, wanted to restore democratic order with Honduras’ interim government and strongly opposed Zelaya’s return. In contrast, the U.S. ambassador claimed that the U.S. government would most likely move to suspend economic development and military assistance to Honduras.[6] However, behind the scenes, U.S. support for the coup government was key in keeping the new regime in power. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went as far as to criticize Zelaya for wanting to return to his own country, calling it “reckless.”[7] Nevertheless, Canada declined to condemn the coup and publicly supported the status quo, while most of the international community rejected the coup government.

Illegitimate Democracy

In November 2009, the Honduran government held its scheduled elections. However, only the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica and Canada argued that the elections were fully democratic.[8] Most nations dismissed the elections as an obvious attempt to retroactively provide legitimacy to the coup government. In the eyes of many onlookers, the elections left much to be desired in terms of legitimate electoral participation.

One of the major flaws of the election was the pressure placed on the political opposition. The coup government accomplished this through mass arrests, illegal detentions, and violence. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (at the OAS) thoroughly documented these violations.[9]

In response to this widespread repression, more than 50 candidates for public office, including one would-be presidential candidate, removed their names from the ballot in protest against the interim government. Meanwhile, the coup government compiled the names of anti-coup activists and gave them to the military, which then threatened these leaders, making it difficult for protesters to unite against the fraudulent election.[10] Due to the lack of progressive candidates and political coercion, only 35 percent of the population voted, and 70 percent of voters were from Honduras’ wealthy neighborhoods.[11] This was not an election in which the poor were invited. In short, the election that brought President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo to power was far from democratic; nevertheless, countries such as Canada and the United States endorsed it.

Lie and Reconciliation Commission

After the coup and the fraudulent election, a dispirited Honduran society scrambled to return to normalcy. One of the primary ways Canada sought to help Honduras return to business as usual under the new government was by offering to help create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The role of this commission was to investigate events surrounding the coup.

Shortly after President Lobo created the commission, Canada supplied funding and nominated Michael Kergin to be a commission member. Kergin had been a Canadian diplomat and employee of Bennett Jones, a Canadian corporate law firm that specializes in investment law and mining.[12] In spite of Canadian support, the commission was not recognized by any social or human rights organization that had spoken out against the military coup. Furthermore, the commission failed to consult the family members of victims that were tortured, murdered, and repressed by the post-coup government. [13] Therefore, the commission claimed to validate the post coup government without consulting the necessary parties.

Readmission into the OAS

Immediately following President Lobo’s inauguration on January 27, 2010, Peter Kent announced his support of the Lobo administration’s initiative to reintegrate the country into the international community, particularly into the OAS. Kent met with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza on February 16 of that year to push the Canadian government’s goal of reinstating Honduras into the OAS. [14] After the OAS accepted Lobo’s administration, Canada further solidified its role as the government’s protector. In 2011, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper became the first foreign leader since Lobo’s inauguration to visit Honduras and meet with the President.[15]

Industrial Abuses

Critics have long held that Canadian involvement and investment in Honduras is plagued with corruption, and that the situation has only worsened since the coup. In particular, many criticize the manufacturing sector, which is Honduras’ second largest industry, for mistreating its workers. One of the industry’s worst offenders is Gildan Active Wear Inc., a Montreal-based textile manufacturer that laid off hundreds of Canadian workers in order to facilitate its move to Honduras in 2007. Gildan Active Wear Inc. is one of three dominant, low-wage sweatshop companies operating in Honduras. The company’s stated goal for the relocation was to improve its competitiveness and efficiency.[16]However, there is a darker side to its operations in Honduras. Many women working in Canadian-owned sweatshops have reported serious injuries caused by repetitive work in the factories. These injuries include musculo-skeletal problems and injuries sustained from major accidents, and they often leave women unable to work. Still, female workers must continue to feed and clothe their families while paying costly medical bills. According to Karen Spring with Rights Action, Gildan is aware of these atrocities; it has refused to provide compensation.[17] The company has also been accused of firing workers for attempting to unionize.[18][19]

Exploitive Tourism

Similarly, many criticize Canadian investment in Honduras’ tourism industry for its impact on the local population. One of the industry’s leading promoters is Randy Jorgensen, who is also the president of the Canadian pornography chain Adults Only Video and the owner of the real estate development company Life Vision Properties, based in Trujillo, Honduras. In 2007, Jorgensen and some local intermediaries purchased property illegally in the Bay of Trujillo, resulting in the expulsion of an Afro-Indigenous community known as the Garífunas from the region. Jorgensen has also acquired Garífuna land in other Honduran towns such as Santa Fe, San Antonio, and Guadalupe. Prior to the 2009 coup, local inhabitants had lodged formal complaints about these fraudulent purchases, but government authorities failed to intervene. Jorgensen used the chaos and the political instability during the coup to acquire environmental permits to construct villas on the hillsides overlooking the Caribbean in the protected area of Capiro and Calentura National Park. In spite of these offenses, Ramon Lobo Sosa, President Lobo’s brother, strongly supported Jorgensen. In 2011, Lobo himself praised the businessman in a cabinet session. To make matters worse, Jorgensen receives financial support from the Canadian Shield Fund, which itself receives funding from controversial mining companies Barrick Gold and the Canadian Oil and Gas Company. [20] These economic earnings come at the expense of factory workers and local inhabitants. Canadian investment in Honduras operates without restraint, and the industry’s ability to manipulate the Honduran economy and its local population only increases with time.

Free Trade Agreement

Once the chaos surrounding the coup quieted down, Canada made quick use of its newfound political capital and began discussing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Honduran government. The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement was signed into law on November 5, 2013, along with parallel labor and environmental cooperation agreements.[21] By June 2014, the Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act—designed to implement the Free Trade Agreement—received royal acceptance. [22] According to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, “The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement includes provisions on market access for goods, services (including financial services), investment and government procurement. Once the agreement is fully implemented, over 98 percent of tariff lines will be duty-free.”[23]

The free trade agreement is meant to create transparency and promote a rules-based commercial and investment environment. However, the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement is a flawed agreement, benefiting only foreign corporations and those that support them, much like other FTAs in Latin America. For example, Gildan Activewear Inc. recently closed its last North American factory in Alabama as a result of the agreement and announced that it would be investing 100 million dollars into a new sock factory in Honduras.[24]

The corporation will increase investment and hire additional workers in Honduras, despite its failures to properly provide for its current employees. The agreement will lower taxes for Canadian corporations and encourage further investment, thereby increasing their power and influence in Honduras. Canadian companies are bound to benefit from the agreement while the Honduran population continues to suffer environmental and human rights abuses.

Expansion of the Oil Industry

Canadian investment and influence has expanded since the FTA was signed, as shown by Canada’s growing interest in oil development in the country. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has been financing technical assistance to the hydrocarbon sector in Honduras as part of a larger project managed by the Latin American Energy Organization. The Canadian International Development Agency originally approved the project to set out a five-year plan that would start by reviewing the country’s oil and gas potential. Initial tests revealed that the land with the most hydrocarbon potential was offshore, in the inland region along the Caribbean coast, and in the Moskitia, a remote region in the northeast with a large indigenous population.[25]

Some indigenous organizations have voiced their opposition to expanding oil and gas activity in Honduras. A closer examination of the history of extractive industries in the region causes the indigenous communities to suspect that these industries will only benefit transnational corporations at the expense of local communities.[26] However, Canadian corporations now hold considerable political and economic clout in Honduras and will most likely profit off of these social losses.

The New Imperialism

Canada’s increasing dominance over Honduras is indicative of its shifting imperial role in Latin America and the international arena. Over time, Canada has increased its influence through subtle diplomatic and economic manipulations in Honduras. These political maneuvers include Canada’s response to the 2009 coup, its recently enacted free trade agreement, its manufacturers’ abuses, and its dangerous policies with regard to oil. Unlike the outright militant actions pursued by other superpowers in Latin America over the past century, Canada has increased its hold on Honduras without impactful restrictions on its industries in Honduras. Thus, Canadian relations with Honduras demonstrate a new, subtle, and insidious imperialism.

Special Thanks to Professor Tyler Shipley, York University Toronto, Ontario 

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: LatinNews.com and Rights Action. 

References

[1] “Mitch: The Deadliest Atlantic Hurricane Since 1780,” National Climatic Data Center, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/reports/mitch/mitch.html

[2] Ashley Holly, “Shame on Canada, Coup Supporter,” The Tyee, July 9, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://thetyee.ca/Views/2009/07/09/ShameOnCanada/

[3] Todd Gordon, “Military Coups are Good for Canadian Business: The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Global Research, March 3, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

[4] Jennifer Moore, “Canada’s Subsidies to the Mining Industry Don’t Stop at Aid: Political Support Betrays Government Claims of Corporate Social Responsibility,” MiningWatch Canada, June 2012, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.miningwatch.ca/sites/www.miningwatch.ca/files/Canada_and_Honduras_mining_law-June%202012.pdf

[5] Dawn Paley, “Canada, Honduras and the Coup d’Etat,” The Dominion, January 8, 2010, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/3080

[6] Ginger Thompson and Marc Lacey, “O.A.S. Votes to Suspend Honduras Over Coup,” The New York Times, July 4, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/world/americas/05honduras.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-zuesse/hillary-clintons-two-fore_1_b_3714765.html

[8] “Nations Divided on Recognizing Honduran President-Elect,” CNN World, November 30, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/11/30/honduras.elections/index.html?iref=24hours

[9] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/25/the_sham_elections_in_honduras

[10] ibid

[11] Rory Carroll, “Honduras Elects Porfirio Lobo as New President,” The Guardian, November 30, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/30/honduras-lobo-president

[12] Todd Gordon, “Military Coups are Good for Canadian Business: The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Global Research, March 3, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

[13] http://hondurashumanrights.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/sweatshops-mining-tourism-free-trade-negotiations-canadas-involvement-in-honduras-support-for-the-post-military-coup-regime/)

[14] .( http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/03/19/canada-s-long-embrace-of-the-honduran-dictatorship/

[15] Todd Gordon, “Canada Backs Profit, Not Human Rights, in Honduras,” The Star, August 2, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2011/08/16/canada_backs_profits_not_human_rights_in_honduras.html

[16] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement Will Deepen Conflict,” The Council of Canadians, February 13, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.canadians.org/blog/canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement-will-deepen-conflict

[17] http://hondurashumanrights.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/sweatshops-mining-tourism-free-trade-negotiations-canadas-involvement-in-honduras-support-for-the-post-military-coup-regime/)

[18] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement Will Deepen Conflict,” The Council of Canadians, February 13, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.canadians.org/blog/canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement-will-deepen-conflict

[19] Adrienne Pine, “Sweatshops, Mining, Tourism & “Free” Trade Negotiations,” Quotha, January 13, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.quotha.net/node/1468

[20] http://www.wilderutopia.com/international/earth/honduras-mega-tourism-and-garifuna-communities-collide/

[21] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, June 26, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/honduras/index.aspx?lang=eng

[22] “Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act Receives Royal Assent,” Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, June 19, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.international.gc.ca/media/comm/news-communiques/2014/06/19a.aspx?lang=eng

[23] Ibid.

[24] http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

 

[25] Sandra Cuffe, “Canadian Aid, Honduran Oil,” Upside Down World, March 24, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/4759-canadian-aid-honduran-oil

[26] (http://www.breakingthesilenceblog.com/general/the-media-coop-canadian-aid-honduran-oil-ottawa-funds-set-to-encourage-oil-investment/)

No Light At End Of Tunnel:
Summary conclusions of Rights Action delegation to Honduras

From June 5-11, 2016, Rights Action led a human rights solidarity trip to Honduras. (The trip was co-sponsored by the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College). In the aftermath of the March 2, 2016 assassination of Berta Caceres and attempted assassination of Gustavo Castro, the focus of our trip was:

Honouring The Life, Vision & Struggles Of Berta Caceres:
What Do The U.S. & Canada Have To Do With Repression, Human Rights Violations, Corruption & Impunity In Honduras?


(Olivia and Laura, daughters of Berta Caceres, and her mother at Mama Berta’s home, La Esperanza, June 6, 2016)

Over the course of seven days, our delegation – 5 Canadians, 4 US citizens, 1 US-Argentinian, 1 Australian – travelled to and met with:

  • The family of Berta Caceres in La Esperanza, Intibuca;
  • COPINH, the Lenca-campesino organization co-founded by Berta Caceres, at their “Utopia” solidarity center in La Esperanza, Intibuca;
  • The Azacualpa Environmental Committee, in Santa Rosa de Copan, resisting harms and violations caused by the Canadian Aura Minerals gold mining company;
  • CODEMUH (Collective of Honduran Women) working with women whose rights are being violated by the garment “sweatshop” industry, including the Canadian company Gildan Activewear, the US company Hanesbrand Inc, and more;
  • OFRANEH (the Honduran Fraternal Organization of Black and Garifuna peoples) working in defense of Garifuna Indigenous rights and territorial control along the north coast of Honduras, resisting violent and illegal evictions and human rights violations carried out in the interests of Canadian and US tourism operators, the African palm industry (including the World Bank funded Dinant corporation);
Summary Conclusions: No Light At End Of Tunnel In Honduras
In the foreseeable future, there will be no remedy to human rights violations, poverty, repression and impunity in Honduras.  The country is characterized by systemic exploitation, poverty and racism; by government sanctioned repression; by government tolerated and induced crime and violence; and by corruption and impunity in all branches of the government, police and military and most aspects of the economy, particularly the dominant national and international business and investment sectors.

During our short, but intense and moving road trip to visit communities and organizations around the country, we were able to confirm:

  • No justice has been done in the political murder of Berta Caceres and attempted murder of Gustavo Castro, even as members of Berta’s family are targeted with threats and harassment;
  • COPINH member continue to be criminalized and threatened, as they carry on with their Lenca community and territorial defense struggles, and as they support efforts for justice for Berta and Gustavo and for the multiple victims of political murder and government repression since 2009;
  • The Aura Minerals Canadian mining company continues, direct supported by the military, police and government, is applying huge and even threatening pressure on Azacualpa community members to force them to “agree” to allow Aura Minerals to move a 200 year old cemetery, to continue with their mountain-top removal, cyanide leaching, gold mining operation;
  • CODEMUH continues its courageous work with exploited garment industry workers (mainly women), even as labor and health rights violations have further increased since the 2009 military coup;
  • OFRANEH members continue to be victims of criminalization, threats, attacks and killings, all of which have worsened since the 2009 coup, as they organize and work to defend their territories, collective rights and culture against forced and illegal evictions and human rights violations caused by US, Canadian and other international tourism companies and investors.
There will be no end to this situation as long as the “international community” – particularly the US and Canadian governments, the World Bank and IDB, a host of international companies and investors – maintain mutually beneficial military, economic and political relations with the post-coup regimes and dominant economic sectors in power.

Forced Migrancy: This situation took a serious turn for the worse after the US and Canadian-backed military coup in 2009, and is directly causing the highest rates of forced migrancy in Honduran history.

Over the next weeks, Rights Action – as well as delegation members and their organizations – will publish information related to the community, environmental and life defense struggles that we directly learned about.

More Information: Grahame Russell, Rights Action director, grahame@rightsaction.org, 416-807-4436

Delegation Members

  • Cara-Lee Malange, Mir Peace Centre, British Columbia
  • Professor Claudia Chaufan, California & Toronto
  • Alison Fjerstad, Texas
  • Warwick Fry, Australia
  • Kay Gimbel, Mining Justice Action Committee, British Columbia
  • Barb Hill, Texas
  • Steven Johnson, Texas
  • Scott Martens, British Colombia
  • Margaret Anne Murphy, British Colombia
  • Danny Vela, Texas
*******

See conclusions of a Canadian delegation to Honduras, April 12-19, 2016, that Rights Action participated in:

HH

Bruce Livesey

Special to The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Nov. 27 2014

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-magazine/do-you-know-where-your-t-shirt-came-from/article21818609/
Charlotin Odinel lives in the Village de Dieu, Bicentenaire shantytown in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where his home is a cinder-block shack consisting of two tiny windowless rooms—no running water—that he shares with his wife and three children. To get there, you navigate a warren of makeshift homes, stepping over garbage and mud puddles. Nearby, a canal filled with brackish black water is rimmed by heaps of rotting waste where dogs and pigs run wild and mosquitoes, carrying the threat of malaria and dengue fever, are omnipresent. Says Odinel: “As a human, this is not a good place to live.”

Odinel, a slight 34-year-old with a touch of facial hair, has been unemployed since he lost his job last summer at the nearby Premium apparel factory, which makes clothing for Gildan Activewear Inc., the Montreal-based multinational. He’d spent four years there inspecting T-shirts for defects. Never given a reason for his dismissal, Odinel believes it was due to his union activism.

Odinel found his job stressful. Employing more than 1,100 workers, the sweltering Premium plant maintained an intense pace of production. For his efforts, Odinel was paid 500 gourdes a day, about $12—considered high in Haiti’s apparel industry, where many workers earn less than half that sum. Today, he’s broke and in debt, one of Haiti’s millions of unemployed (as much as 40% of the working-age population is jobless). “I can’t afford the needs of my family right now,” he says simply.

Odinel was a cog in Gildan’s vast production network, which stretches from Central America and the Caribbean Basin to Bangladesh, employing about 41,000 people and producing apparel that is sold in more than 30 countries. While the lives of workers like Odinel are grim, Gildan is a success story. It had fiscal 2013 revenues of almost $2.2 billion (U.S.), net earnings of $320 million (U.S.), and a stock that’s soared from less than $17 in 2011 to more than $67 as of early November. The company is gaining market share, having more than doubled sales since 2009.

Once merely a manufacturer of “blank” T-shirts and sweatshirts that others put their logos on, Gildan later added fleece, sports shirts, underwear and socks. Lately, it has been stepping up the marketing of its own label, even airing an ad during the 2013 Super Bowl. Analysts are enthusiastic. “I view [Gildan] as one of Canada’s best consumer growth stories,” says Stephen MacLeod, vice-president of equity research at BMO Capital Markets.

When it’s doing so well, does Gildan need to play hardball with workers in impoverished countries?

If Odinel was truly fired for associating with a union—and it’s a claim echoed by many others who worked at plants making Gildan clothes—it flies in the face of Gildan’s robust corporate social responsibility program and internal code of conduct. Gildan also belongs to the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a Washington, D.C.-based body dedicated to protecting the rights of workers globally, and ascribes to the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) system of workplace standards. “[CSR] is a staple of the overall business strategy of the company,” says Peter Iliopoulos, Gildan’s senior vice-president of public and corporate affairs. Iliopoulos says he’s surprised to hear there are reports of workers being fired for union activity. Such information should be brought to the company’s attention, he adds, “and we will deal with it proactively.…I can assure you this is something we take very seriously.”

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Gildan was founded in 1984 in a small shop in Montreal by brothers Glenn and Greg Chamandy, whose family has deep roots in the city’s garment trade. They bought a knitting mill to supply fabric for their childwear business, Harley Inc.

Gildan later changed its focus to selling cotton T-shirts to wholesalers, which resold them to distributors and Canadian and American screen-printers. The brothers ran the company together until Greg left in 2004. (CEO Glenn Chamandy declined to be interviewed; the company would not permit a visit to any of its factories.)

As a young company, Gildan benefited from being in Canada, receiving government subsidies, and, when it hit a rough patch during the ’90s, even borrowing from Quebec’s labour-sponsored fund, the Fonds de solidarité FTQ, which invested $3.5 million in Gildan shares starting in 1996 and lent the company up to $30 million in debentures.

As it turned out, making inexpensive clothes in Canada was a dicey proposition. Once heavily unionized and protected by tariffs, the country’s apparel manufacturing sector was levelled by trade liberalization and globalization—all quotas on apparel were lifted by 2005. The number of Canadians making clothes fell from 108,400 in 2001 to 36,700 in 2013, while GDP in the sector dropped from $4.3 billion in 2001 to $1.4 billion by 2011. The reason was simple: the cost of labour. Jobs were moving abroad.

The Chamandys soon realized staying in business meant following their competitors overseas. “Competition began to intensify and what you saw was that the average price of a T-shirt dropped by 24% from 1995 to 1998,” says Iliopoulos.

Finding cheaper labour was not, however, the only method Gildan used to cut costs—it also chopped its tax bill. In 1999, the company opened a subsidiary in Barbados to manage marketing and sales. Barbados has a treaty with Canada that permits multinationals to repatriate profits they earn abroad without being taxed here. The result: Gildan no longer pays much corporate income tax in Canada.

Indeed, between fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2013, despite earning $1 billion (U.S.) in net profits, the company has paid only $10.5 million (U.S.) in income taxes (or about 1%). If one includes recoveries Gildan received stemming from acquisitions and restructurings, it paid no corporate income tax at all from 2009 to 2013. “To us, it’s totally immoral,” says Robert Bouvier, president of Teamsters Canada, which once represented Gildan workers. “Immoral in the sense that you start your company in Canada…you benefit from the health system…you benefit from the banks that loan you money. You benefit from everything. And after you’ve established all of this, then you move out.”

Nevertheless, as McGill tax law professor Allison Christians observes, Gildan is simply taking advantage of what the Canadian government has wrought. “That’s exactly the system we designed,” she says. “We designed the system not to have manufacturing here in Canada, to not have low-wage jobs here. The tax system is built to send manufacturing offshore.” Gildan, then, is the ultimate fruit of globalization—the “virtual” company that has no nationality. Just 230 of its employees work in Canada, at the company’s Montreal head office.

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The search for cheap, pliable labour sent major North American and European clothing manufacturers and retailers to Asia—first to low-wage countries like Korea and China, and then, as costs rose, to nations like Cambodia and Bangladesh, where the infamous collapse of Rana Plaza in Dhaka took the lives of more than 1,100 workers in 2013.

Gildan has demonstrated the same restlessness, but has focused instead on the Caribbean Basin. By 2007, Gildan had shuttered all of its plants in North America and relocated production to Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Haiti (it also produces clothing in Bangladesh).

The company settled on Honduras as its main base of production, opening its first plant there in 1997. Today Gildan employs 26,000 people at half a dozen facilities in the country, making textiles, socks, underwear and activewear.

Complaints about labour conditions have followed the company since the late 1990s. To critics, there’s a consistent pattern of foot-dragging and half-measures in Gildan’s responses.

Currently the third-largest exporter of apparel and textiles to the U.S., Honduras has been bedevilled by military coups, narco-trafficking and drought. It has the highest murder rate in the world, and is the second-poorest country in Central America. And while unions are legal, trade unionists are regularly murdered: 31 have been assassinated and 200 injured in attacks since 2009, according to the AFL-CIO.

The minimum wage in the country’s free-trade zones—set up with special rules to attract investment—is about $283 per month, or about $1.18 an hour, according to the Honduran government. Gildan’s Iliopoulos says that “we pay wages that are significantly above the industry minimum wage.” But Iliopoulos won’t disclose what those wages are, saying it is competitive information.

Honduran trade unions estimate that a Gildan worker earns an average of $351 a month. But the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a Washington D.C.-based NGO that monitors the industry on behalf of North American and British colleges and universities (the destination of much screen-printed clothing), estimates that a living wage—that is, sufficient to support a family—in Honduras is $683 a month, far higher than the minimum wage in the free-trade zones. (Iliopoulos won’t address whether Gildan pays a living wage, saying it is a “complex issue,” with the level varying from country to country, and from NGO to NGO.)

It was in Honduras that Gildan had its first major run-in with non-governmental organizations over pay, working conditions and the treatment of its workforce. In 2001, the Toronto-based Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), an NGO focused on labour rights, began researching Gildan’s record in Central America, with the help of a small grant from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a Crown corporation.

Before MSN could complete its report, however, things turned nasty. In 2002, according to MSN, Gildan fired close to 45 workers at its plant in the Honduran city of El Progreso after they began making noises about unionizing. NGOs complained, but Gildan refused to reinstate the workers.

The Fonds de solidarité FTQ did its own investigation and alleged that Gildan had violated the workers’ labour rights under Honduran law. Gildan refused to budge, so the Fonds divested its shares and resigned its seat on the board. “Pulling out is a last resort, where there is no indication there’ll be an improvement in the practices of our business partner,” says Patrick McQuilken, a Fonds spokesperson.

In the summer of 2003, MSN released its report about Gildan, stating that its Honduran workers were receiving less than a living wage: gross average weekly pay of $76.91 for working four 11-hour shifts. The report said intense production pressure at the El Progreso plant led to repetitive strain injuries. As well, employees reported that female workers were dismissed during their probationary periods if compulsory tests indicated they were pregnant. There were reports workers would be fired if they tried to join a union, the MSN found. Iliopoulos notes that this incident happened 10 years ago and “we have evolved tremendously with our corporate social responsibility program [since then].”

But back then, Gildan’s response was swift; it threatened to sue MSN. Then Gildan fired another 37 workers in El Progreso, according to MSN. Acting on formal complaints, the Fair Labor Association and the WRC found that the workers’ labour rights had been violated. The FLA produced a report in July, 2004, and another in December, 2006, that confirmed the violations of freedom of association, and the WRC produced a report in July, 2004, that also supported the complaints in detail. But by the time the WRC report appeared, Gildan had announced it was closing the plant.

After the FLA reacted by putting Gildan’s membership under review, the company relented and began negotiating a remedial plan with the NGOs. The FLA accepted the company back once Gildan had met some conditions. “[Gildan] apologized profusely when it came to light that everything we’d been saying actually was true, that the report was valid and that they had to eat their words,” says Kevin Thomas, a former MSN director of advocacy.

Gildan’s Iliopoulos admits “we had some issues back then” and “that was a starting point for us to create CSR programs.…Over the last 10 years, we have worked very diligently and placed a significant amount of emphasis on developing a robust corporate social program.” The company has an ongoing dialogue with MSN and other NGOs, he adds.

“They respond now, they don’t [threaten to] sue people,” agrees Lynda Yanz, executive director of MSN. “Some specific problems are resolved. But the fundamental issues of freedom of association and health and safety problems are not resolving.” When the WRC did a follow-up on Gildan’s compliance with its promised corrective action, it found mixed results.

Complaints in Honduras have continued. In 2012, the FLA was notified of worker unrest at the Star SA factory in El Progreso around the time it was being bought by Gildan; two managers used the changeover to demand concessions and foment dissension among the unionized workforce. Union leaders were threatened by other workers worried about layoffs. Reports by the WRC and the FLA chronicled the upheaval. A wildcat strike ensued. “Gildan was aware of what was happening and did nothing to stop it until it was pressured by outside groups,” says Scott Nova, executive director of the WRC, whose investigation was aired in its report. Iliopoulos says, however, “as soon as we completed the acquisition, we communicated with the workforce in respect to freedom of association and to deal with the union in good faith and in a constructive manner. We’ve respected every provision of the collective bargaining agreement that’s in place.”

Last year, workers at Gildan’s Villanueva plant sought the help of a human rights NGO to improve working conditions. Soon afterward, five workers involved were terminated (although the WRC says the number eventually rose to as high as 19). Gildan said that in fact these workers were among more than 300 who were let go owing to a drop in production. But a WRC report concluded that “Evidence demonstrates beyond any doubt that Gildan terminated the worker leaders because of their outreach [to the NGO].”

Iliopoulos says Gildan has co-operated with a Honduran Labour Ministry investigation into the case. “We’ve been in regular dialogue with the WRC to address the other employees on the list,” he says. This fall, the employees who had approached the NGO were reinstated after the WRC’s intervention.

Allegations about problems with freedom of association are not limited to Gildan’s Honduran operation. According to an FLA report, complaints arose at the company’s Dortex plant in the Dominican Republic in 2010, alleging the company had intimidated and fired workers who had been trying to unionize. When a union was formed, Gildan responded by negotiating a contract with another, less assertive union, according to the FLA. An independent assessor’s report in 2011 alleged that Gildan had undermined the first union’s efforts and signed a sweetheart collective agreement with the alternative union. Iliopoulos says Gildan has co-operated with all of the investigations, that no collective agreement was put in place owing to wrangling between the two unions, and the company has made the changes the first union wanted. “We fully implemented all of the benefits in terms of that agreement with those employees,” he says.

The Dominican Republic also figured in a different sort of controversy for Gildan. In 2010, the company agreed to pay $22.5 million (U.S.) to settle a lawsuit alleging that Glenn Chamandy had taken advantage of inside information. According to the suit, Chamandy cashed in more than $95-million (U.S.) worth of Gildan stock in 2007 after the company’s plant in Santo Domingo was hit both by a shutdown owing to managerial bungling and violent protests stemming from the plant’s pollution of local waterways. These problems, however, were not revealed to other investors; hence the lawsuit. No wrongdoing was admitted in the settlement.

(Through indirect control of two corporate entities, Chamandy has cashed in an estimated $280 million (U.S.) in stock since 2006, in addition to an estimated $12 million (U.S.) in salary and bonuses; he continues to hold stock options.)

****************************

The quest for lower costs eventually brought Gildan to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti has a GDP per capita of $1,300 (U.S.) a year, and by some estimates nearly 80% of its 10.3 million citizens live on $2 (U.S.) or less per day. The country has been devastated by colonization, environmental degradation, resource depletion, dictatorships, foreign invasions, hurricanes, coups d’état, an unscrupulous oligarchy, and finally an earthquake that killed 220,000 people in 2010.

In Port-au-Prince, the signs of a society teetering on the brink are glaring: Sidewalks are packed with people out of work, selling anything they can find. Shantytowns teem with people living in tin-roofed shacks. The high unemployment benefits employers, say activists. “It’s worse than slavery,” maintains Jean Bonald Golinsky Fatal, a union leader. “The slave owners had obligations to feed and clothe the slaves. Here you don’t have to do that.…The employer uses the extreme poverty and unemployment in Haiti because they know other workers will take the wage.”

Gildan opened three factories in Haiti starting in 2004. By 2009, it had sold them and begun contracting production to suppliers to have sewing assembly done in local factories. A key supplier is the Apaid family, led by André Apaid Jr. The Apaids’ factories also contract with Gildan’s competitor, Hanes, while the clothing of another rival, Fruit of the Loom, is also produced in Port-au-Prince. At least two Apaid factories—named Premium and Genesis—assemble clothes for Gildan. The family’s GMC factory has also done Gildan work.

The Apaid family is controversial due to its support for dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, its opposition to the governments of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and for lobbying against increases in the minimum wage (the Apaids backed the 2004 coup that removed Aristide from power, at a time when the minimum wage was a pivotal national issue). “They’re tough,” declares Yannik Etienne, spokesperson for the Haitian workers’ federation, ESPM-BO. “They have their own rules and are very authoritarian.”

In 2009, the Better Work program, run by the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corp. and the International Labour Organization (ILO), began producing surveys on wages and working conditions in Haiti’s apparel factories, including those supplying Gildan. In Haiti, the minimum wage has been, until this year, 200 gourdes a day (or $4.92), and 300 gourdes for piecework ($7.48). (The basic rate rose to 225 gourdes, or $5.61, this year.) In contrast, the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center estimates a living wage in Port-au-Prince is about $28 a day. Two Better Work surveys conducted in 2013 revealed that none of the Haitian apparel factories were paying their entire workforces as much as 300 gourdes, even though most employees are doing piecework. “Gildan has been aware of these violations for years,” says Scott Nova of the WRC.

Iliopoulos says the minimum wage matter is an “industry-wide issue” and that there is confusion in the language of Haiti’s laws about whether companies really have to pay the 300 gourdes. Indeed, in October, 2013, the Haitian government issued a statement that the piecework minimum rate should not be construed as a minimum wage.

Such semantic distinctions aside, the WRC investigated the minimum-wage issue in 2013, producing a report which concluded that nearly one-third of Haitian workers’ wages was being “stolen” by garment manufacturers that refused to pay the minimum wage. The report said these poor wages had “devastating effects on workers,” including miring them in debt and effectively denying them the necessities of life. The WRC and the AFL-CIO also did their own separate estimates of a living wage in Port-au-Prince, calculating that a family needed at least $850 a month—compared to the estimated $186 that a typical worker in one of the Apaid factories might earn.

The WRC report triggered a firestorm of controversy. Gildan immediately said it would investigate and urge its suppliers to pay the minimum wage. But the WRC says that while negotiations with Gildan did begin, wages haven’t changed (the company disagrees). This fall, Gildan helped its suppliers and unions to negotiate a new base piece rate, but it won’t disclose what it is. And while one of Gildan’s suppliers has signed a contract with the unions, the Apaids have not. “We’ve since conducted internal audits that the piece rate is being applied and we’ve agreed to the terms and conditions in writing,” says Iliopoulos.

That’s not much consolation to people such as 32-year-old Archil Feraire, who used to make Gildan clothes. He lives in Blanchard, Plaine du Cul de Sac, in a three-room cinder-block shack with his wife and two children. Hired at the Premium factory in 2010 as a machine operator, his shift typically went from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Feraire said the salary in the torrid plant was 175 gourdes a day ($4.36) to start, rising gradually to 225 gourdes ($5.61). He said there was no change in his wage after the WRC’s revelations in 2013. All told, his monthly salary was $133. “The salary is so low, you can only pay for food,” he says.

In April of this year, Feraire was fired. He says it was due to union activism. Feraire fears he’s been blacklisted from the industry. “Gildan has a tight relationship with the owners,” he says, noting that the company has sent representatives to the factory to gather workers’ complaints, “but nothing would change…Gildan wants the product but is not concerned about the situation with the workers.” Iliopoulos says Gildan conducts regular audits. “If there are issues with working conditions, I am quite surprised that the unions wouldn’t speak directly to us given our rapport with them,” he says.

Natacha Saint-Cyril is a quiet 29-year-old single woman with a gap-toothed smile who lives with her brother and his family in Village de la Renaissance, a town built on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince to house people displaced by the 2010 earthquake. She worked at the Premium factory from 2010 until this past August, inspecting and packing Gildan T-shirts. It was not uncommon for her to leave home at 5 a.m. to arrive at the plant in time to start her 10-hour shift, which paid 225 gourdes ($5.61) a day. She estimated her monthly salary ranged from 5,000 gourdes ($124) to 6,000 gourdes per month ($150). “I am used to being hungry,” she says. “Gildan should know what is going on in the factory.”

Wherever one looks, the workers’ living conditions are squalid. We visited the Delmas 33 slum one night to interview a worker employed at the Genesis plant. The shantytown is almost pitch dark because no one can afford electricity; we conduct our interview by the light of an oil lantern. The heat is oppressive, as is the crowding—noise from neighbours is omnipresent.

Many workers are driven into debilitating debt, borrowing from co-workers or street lenders at high interest rates. One former worker at the Genesis plant is 32-year-old Marie-Bénie Clerjo, a mother of three sons who lives in Solino, a slum of tottering shacks and crumbling apartment blocks. Clerjo’s home is one small room where she and her children sleep on two beds. There’s no kitchen, toilet or sink, and she is two months behind in her rent. “We are not treated like humans, we are treated like animals,” she says. “I am living a miserable life.”

Before she was laid off in November, Clerjo worked at Genesis six days a week and earned the equivalent of $160 a month. Since she can only afford to eat one meal a day, Clerjo is hungry all the time. To make ends meet, she has to borrow money and is $9,500 in debt.

She saw Gildan’s personnel visit Genesis every two to three months. “Gildan is responsible because when they come, they don’t talk to workers or inspect the shop floor,” Clerjo remarks. Iliopoulos again points to the regular compliance audits that Gildan conducts on its suppliers as evidence it keeps abreast of what is happening in the plants.

Employees of the Apaid factories feel they have good reason to be cautious about what they say: In 2011, four worker leaders at the plants were dismissed, allegedly for union activity. They were eventually rehired, but only after extensive lobbying by NGOs, including a letter-writing campaign and delegations travelling to Montreal to ask Gildan to intervene.

Jean-Robert Louis is a thoughtful 40-year-old former worker who used to work in quality control in a plant that supplied Gildan. Louis says he was fired for taking part in a protest demanding a hike in garment workers’ minimum wage to 500 gourdes per day, or about $12 (he earned less than half that). “Haitians are used to fighting against hunger,” he says, sitting in the hot sun in a small village on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. “We survive with only salt and water. But we are not healthy.”

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Things look different from Gildan’s headquarters in Montreal. “From our perspective, we have put a lot of investments in terms of working conditions and the health of our employees,” says Iliopoulos, noting the company has 16 employees devoted to CSR, and that it offers environmental and ergonomics programs at its plants. “We have 45 employees overseeing health and safety at all our operating locations. We have standard mandatory rest breaks that employees have to take, and specially designed ergonomic exercises. We have 22 doctors, 37 nurses on staff 24 hours, seven days a week, at our facilities, looking after our employees. Each factory has a health and safety committee and ergonomics committee.”

He points out that Gildan was named to the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for two years in a row—the only North American apparel company to be so honoured. “When they did the whole detailed assessment,” he says, “we are ranked in the 95th percentile.” Maclean’s has had Gildan on its list of Canada’s 50 most socially responsible corporations since 2009.

Gildan also passes muster with the giant Caisse de dépôt et placement, which manages the pension fund of Quebec’s public employees. The Caisse owns about 9% of Gildan’s shares. The fund’s policy on responsible investment says that the Caisse likes companies it invests in to “respect workers’ rights, to take the necessary measures to guarantee them a safe, healthful working environment and to prohibit any form of abuse.” But a Caisse spokesperson said the fund would not comment on its investment in Gildan.

Those critical of CSR programs say they function merely as window-dressing to hide the reality of how companies conduct business. Ronen Shamir, a sociologist and law professor at Tel Aviv University in Israel, says CSR programs are designed to meet certain “indicators” that often have little to do with substantive change on the ground. “I’m not saying it’s a sham, but I am saying there is an increasing gap between the indicators corporations use to report on their CSR and the actual efficacy of these systems when it comes to protecting communities, workers and indigenous people,” explains Shamir. “The indicators are about corporate risk and not about employee or community risk.… It becomes two different universes.”

This rings true with Gildan’s most vocal critics, like Scott Nova of the WRC, who characterizes Gildan’s record on labour rights as “ruthless.” He believes Gildan has “gotten very adept at making promises at moments of real pressure to fend off the prospect of harsher public criticism. But then we’ve had challenges to get them to fulfill commitments.”

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

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

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

Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act
Government Orders

March 31st, 2014 / 4:10 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me be clear. There are three fundamentally important criteria for assessing the merits of trade agreements.

First, does the proposed partner respect democracy, human rights, adequate labour and environmental standards, and Canadian values? If there are challenges in these regards, is the partner on a positive trajectory toward these goals?

Second, is the proposed partner’s economy of significant or strategic value to Canada? Third, are the terms of the proposed agreement satisfactory?

The proposed free trade agreement with Honduras clearly fails this test. Honduras is a country with undemocratic practices, a corrupt government, weak institutions and a record of human rights abuses. It has low standards and insignificant strategic value.

Honduras is a very poor country with a history of repressive, undemocratic politics and a seriously flawed human rights record. Leftist president Manuel Zelaya’s democratically elected government was toppled by a military coup in 2009. Since then, international observers have severely criticized the government’s actions and the elections because they fail to meet acceptable democratic standards.

I recently received some information from a friend on Vancouver Island as a response to an op-ed that I had written on the Canada–Honduras trade agreement. He had just conducted a development and peace workshop about Honduras, and had spent six weeks in northern Honduras last fall on a personal accompaniment project with Father Melo Moreno, S.J., the director of an independent radio station and a human rights centre called ERIC.

This is what he wrote me when referring to Father Melo:

Either job puts him at the front of the firing squad and he lives with death threats and intimidation. As well some of his workers have received death threats. Twice I accompanied Melo to a prison near La Ceiba to visit a political prisoner—a peasant farmer who has been in jail for almost 6 years but a leader of a campesino community.

….Canada is very much present in Honduras through mining companies and through the sweatshops…which are there because labour laws and environmental protection laws are weak or non-existent thanks to the Free trade agreement conditions that Canada imposed.

I would like to read again from a paper entitled “Faith in Action: Padra Melo”, written by a woman by the name of Molly Holden. It says:

On October 9, Rev. Ismael Moreno Coto, S.J. popularly known as “Padre Melo” spoke to a group of Boston College students and faculty on the violence and ongoing human rights violations in Honduras, currently the ‘murder Capital of the world’. His presentation, the Price of Truth: Human rights in Honduras since the Coup, addressed the struggles and successes of building a fair and inclusive society. In his testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Committee of the US Congress in 2012, Padre Melo asked members of the Committee how freedom of expression could ‘be defended in a country like Honduras where the biggest violators of the this fundamental freedom are the friends and partners of a “democracy” backed by the policies and agencies of the U.S. government?’ Padre Melo stated that around 80% of cocaine imported to the United States comes through Honduras by way of Colombia. However, U.S. attempts to combat drug trafficking in Honduras (and elsewhere in Latin America) place power and money in the hands of the Honduran military officials and politicians who are deeply tied to the drug lords. In other words, drug traffickers, weakening the rule of law and increasing violence, control the Honduran government at all levels.

I would like to finish by sharing an article entitled “Canada profiting off the backs of Honduras’ poor”, by the Troy Media publication columnist, Mark Taliano, who was part of a Canadian delegation that went to Honduras to observe elections. The article states:

In March of 2007, Gildan Activewear Inc., a Montreal-based textile manufacturer, decided to leave Canada for sunnier climes.

The company laid off hundreds of Canadian workers, and resettled where business was good: Honduras. The end result? Canada lost jobs and Honduras’ asymmetrical, toxic economy, was further entrenched.

Honduran sweatshop workers are basically commodities and their status will likely remain unchanged, or get worse. The 2009 coup that removed the democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya was condemned internationally (even U.S. resident Obama declared it illegal), and the new regime dismantled or corrupted institutions that might be of benefit to humans (including constitutional judges), and created a heavily militarized and murderous environment. “Since 2010,”reported Raul Burbano, delegation leader of election observers from Canada, “there have been more than 200 politically motivated killings.”

In the meantime, Canada’s Gildan profits from the misery. Gildan pays no taxes in Honduras, and the workforce (primarily women) is easily exploited. Unions and collective bargaining are not allowed and human rights are not a concern.

This is who we are dealing with in the free trade agreement.

It continues:

The Collective Of Honduran Women…a brave voice for freedom in Honduras, comprehensively documents the exploitation of workers. Spokespeople told us:

1) Workers produce T-shirts from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. four days a week, at jobs that are physically repetitive. Repetitive strain injuries are common, proper care is elusive, and injured workers are easily discarded.

Further, it states:

At Gildan, inspectors aren’t allowed in to the plant, and workers are fired (or worse) if they try to organize unions.

2) One former worker explained that she would be given a cortisone shot to treat her calcified tendinitis, and then sent immediately back to work.

Later, it states:

It’s no surprise then, that by age 25, chronic work injuries, coupled with poor medical treatment, often prevent workers from performing their fast-paced tasks.

Worse still, once a worker leaves Gildan, she is likely to have irreversible health problems which preclude her from finding alternate employment. Some women need crutches to walk; others can’t hold their babies or do housework. Savage poverty imposes itself on their already precarious existences, and decimated social institutions perpetuate the misery.

Healthcare, schooling, and other social/public institutions are abysmal, and only those (few) with money get adequate service.

What are the drivers behind such misery?

Those who control the levels of power in Honduras are governed by interests that do not include the common good, consequently, society and the economy have been spirally downward since the coup.

Prior to the 2009 military coup, freedom and democracy were making inroads into the malaise, but now the power structure looks something like this:

At the top of this asymmetrical and entirely dysfunctional political economy are transnational corporations, including banks. They are seamlessly aligned with governments in Canada and the U.S. They tacitly, if not overtly, drive foreign policy decisions.

On the ground in Honduras looms the invisible hand of the U.S. military, viewed by locals as an “occupying force”, that arguably enables destabilization—drug trafficking has increased since the coup—and is allied with the corrupt dictator Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Locally, the nexus of powerful polities includes narco gangs, the police, the military, the para-police…and rich oligarch….

Corruption throughout society is so pervasive that people trying to make a living often have to pay extortion money not only too gangs, but also to the police.

Now, with a growing number of U.S. military bases and the murderous dictatorship of Juan Orlando Hernandez solidified, profits are basically guaranteed for transnational corporations.

As Canadians, we need to continue asking important questions. For example,

“Why are these “Free Trade” Agreements, such as the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement, so secret?” and “Why have we chosen to profit from the misery of others?”

Once we get some answers, we might choose to pay a couple dollars more for our next T-shirt.—

This is who we are dealing with. This is the country we are trying to do a free trade agreement with.

By the way, in these agreements, we have provisions allowing companies to sue governments, similar to chapter 11 in NAFTA, if they are not treated to their liking. Theoretically, a Canadian company perpetuating injustices in Honduras could actually sue the Honduran government if it were not happy with the policies of that government.

Why are we signing an agreement with a country with this record of human rights abuse and that even allows our companies to continue this abuse in their country?

I think that is the question we have to answer here today before we talk about free trade with a country like Honduras.