Posts Tagged ‘corruption in Honduras’

The Flame of Opposition in Honduras

As Honduras deals with the fallout of political scandals surrounding President Juan Orlando Hernández, ousted former president Manuel Zelaya and his LIBRE party mount their opposition.

September 5, 2019

Military police at a student protest in June (Photo by Seth Berry)

Military police at a student protest in June (Photo by Seth Berry)


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Manuel Zelaya, Honduras’s ousted ex-President, eased into the couch in the headquarters for his LIBRE party and laid out the opposition’s mounting insurrection.

This summer marked 10 years since Zelaya was overthrown in a U.S.-backed military coup. The decade since has transformed Honduras, exacerbating the Central American nation’s preexisting social problems by turning it into one of the poorest, most violent places in the hemisphere. Since the coup, a junta of right-wing, billionaire drug traffickers has slipped into political power—including President Juan Orlando Hernández, who U.S. prosecutors recently accused of complicity in a drug money scheme to illegally fund his 2013 presidential campaign.

“Ever since 2009, when they got rid of me,” Zelaya said, “an authoritarian military regime was installed that centralized power, sacked the [government’s] institutions and indebted the country to remain in power. The regime only represents the interests of transnational corporations. And as long as [Hernández] serves them, the United States is going to continue supporting him, regardless of the accusations.”

On August 9, Zelaya and his left-opposition LIBRE party organized a demonstration in Tegucigalpa’s Parque Central to demand the immediate resignation of Juan Orlando Hernández (or “JOH,” as he’s commonly known).  But the battle LIBRE waged this summer wasn’t only in the streets. It’s also in the National Congress, through a proposed “electoral reform” designed to fix a democracy many believe has been corrupted beyond repair.

“The electoral reform is an instrument for elections,” Zelaya said. “And because the [current] regime refuses to do it, we’re going on in an insurrection, which is a peaceful but active protest, in the streets and the Congress.”

The electoral reform consists of the creation of two main bodies, the Tribunal Electoral Justice and the National Electoral Council. Carrying 44 representatives from each main party, they would oversee the next election cycle. This could potentially augur radical change in the electoral processes in Honduras, as the two proposed bodies would entirely replace the TSE (Tribunal Suprema Electoral, or Supreme Electoral Tribunal), the judicial body which became notorious for legitimizing the fraudulent elections in 2013 and 2017.

For many members of the opposition, the hope for a democratic defeat of JOH is juxtaposed with the cynicism the last 10 years have corrupted Honduran democracy beyond the point of repair.

“The truth is that no state institution is functioning as it should—none. Not even the Congress in which we work. Because it’s corrupted, because narcotraffickers have penetrated the majority of state institutions,” said Lenín Laínez, a congressman for LIBRE. “The legislative insurrection that we’re waging in the national congress is precisely for that.”

Zelaya and LIBRE compose only one part of a wide-ranging, fractured opposition movement though. That opposition remains divided over their post-JOH vision for the country. Opposition leaders like Zelaya have also faced criticisms for being mere manipulators of electoral politics rather than consistent fighters for social justice. Even so, one thing unites the opposition: The country can no longer wait for the 2020 election to get rid of the president.

Ousted president Manuel Zelaya (Photo by Seth Berry)

Ousted president Manuel Zelaya (Photo by Seth Berry)

The Battle Against Privatization

For many Hondurans, the boiling point after ten years of “narco-dictatorship” came with Hernández’s latest proposal for privatizations.

In late April, Hernández announced a sweeping plan to privatize Honduras’s public health and education systems, while the government simultaneously agreed to a $311 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Rage accumulated over years of frustration with Hernández’s governance transformed the anger over privatization plans into an all-out demand for the president’s resignation. Health workers took to the streets alongside teachers to protest the proposal, where they were joined by a broad range of students and environmental, LGBTQ+, and Indigenous rights activists. The protests came just years after a $300 million corruption scandal in the dilapidated public health system took thousands to the streets for weeks in 2015 to demand JOH’s resignation. The president admitted millions in embezzled funds benefited his 2013 electoral campaign. Teachers, meanwhile, have long been on the front lines of post-coup resistance, holding the line against creeping privatization.

“This attempt to privatize health and education was received with enormous resistance,” said José Carlos Cárdona, a leader of the human rights group Jóvenes Contra el Fraude and a history professor at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH).

Cárdona believes that the attempted privatizations came after years of deliberately underfunding hospitals and schools in order to sell the idea that they’d function better if only they were turned into profit machines.

“But the people don’t believe that,” he said. “So all of the doctors declared themselves to be in rebellion against the government.”

Protests soon turned ugly. Night after night, massive crowds of protesters burned tires throughout Tegucigalpa, shouting Fuera JOH! (Get out JOH), and drawing the ire of security forces, who responded by raining down barrages of teargas on them—or occasionally, live bullets. On June 21, President Hernández dispatched the military throughout the country to crack down on protests.  On June 24, the military invaded the UNAH and opened fire on students, injuring eight.

“It was a day you couldn’t forget,” said Dorian Alvarez, a sociology student and activist at the UNAH. “The entire university was protesting, basically. There were several confrontations between the police and students in which the police broke inside. And once they got in, they started shooting the students.”

“I was leaving class when they started shooting at us,” said Wendy García, another student activist at UNAH. “There were completely innocent people who had nothing to do with what was going on outside.”

For poor students such as García, the privatizations would all but preclude them from being able to study. “To be able to study is extremely costly,” she said. “I’m one of the few people from my village who was able to go to the university, but none of us would be able to come if the public university were privatized.”

“Our role now,” said Alvarez, “is to protect the university from the claw of the neoliberal system trying to eat it up.”

Student protests in the name of defending public education against creeping fees and undemocratic university decision-making processes have been bubbling at UNAH for years.

The violent crackdowns on protest weren’t limited to Tegucigalpa. Anabell Melgar, a student activist and member of Frente Nacional de Juventudes en Resistencia (National Front of Youth in Resistance), had been approaching a protest on the afternoon of June 12 in La Esperanza, Intibucá, the mountainous western city where Berta Cáceres, the world-renowned environmentalist, was assassinated. Sensing that teargas would soon be fired at at the protest ahead of her, Melgar stayed back—only to be captured and beaten by four police officers.

“One took me by the hair,” she said. “Another, my arms. Another came with a club, and beat me in the legs. Another had a teargas canister. He set it off, and put it against my face. He burned me; burned my face.”

Student protests in August (Photo by Seth Berry)

Student protests in August (Photo by Seth Berry)

When she was finally able to escape after a senior officer forced the other four to let her go, Melgar got away and hid in a nearby house, where she watched as several hidden patrols of police ambushed a crowd of students as they fled from the initial demonstration, opening fire on them.

“They were able to escape and run,” she said. “But the five patrols caught them afterwards. Not just with teargas. They shot at them with live ammunition.”

Violent crackdowns have become characteristic of the JOH regime. At least 33 were killed by security forces in protests in the weeks of violence following the December 2017 electoral fraud. And many worry as protesters have faced increasingly bloody crackdowns with the creation of special military police units, such as the notorious Policía Militar del Órden Público (Military Police for Public Order, PMOP) in 2013, which was accused of killing protesters in 2017 and 2018. The creation of such special forces—including the U.S.-trained, SWAT-style TIGRES in 2013—exacerbates the human rights situation in a country where the military has patrolled the streets for years and has been accused of death squad activity against anti-government protestors.

“Military policemen are ex-members of the national army. The government created a special course to be able to call them military ‘police,’ and then dispatch them to maintain ‘public order,’” said Mario Argeñal, a leader in COPEMH, Honduras’ largest union, as well as LIBRE. He has been involved in anti-government protests in the 10 years since the coup. “It’s a disguise. It’s the military in the streets. It’s a highly militarized society.”

The Electoral Reform

Honduran democracy, some would say, is already doomed to failure.

But recognizing that doesn’t prevent people like Lenín Laínez, a 24-year-old representative for the LIBRE party, from believing that the best—and the only—way to fight the regime is by working through the corrupted system itself.

Laínez is one of LIBRE’s two diputados for the Intibucá department—the other is Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, daughter of the murdered environmentalist. He is also the youngest member of Honduras’s National Congress, and speaks glowingly of the electoral reform. He holds faith that the peaceful route of elections and electoral reform can oust JOH. But that faith seems overwhelmed by bitterness over the depth of government corruption. It’s the reason, he says, so many have taken to the streets in often, volcanic displays of anger.

Protests in June (Photo by Seth Berry)

Protests in June (Photo by Seth Berry)

The latest blow came in November and December 2017, when JOH’S conservative Partido Nacionál (National Party) was widely suspected of stealing an election they’d already lost.

For people like Laínez, JOH’s fraudulent 2017 reelection stung particularly deep, not only because a democratic opening was lost, but because it was the latest in a succession of similarly corrupted elections. The opposition alleges JOH already stole the 2013 election from inaugural LIBRE candidate Xiomara Castro, wife of Manuel Zelaya. Salvador Nasrallah, the 2017 candidate for the opposition coalition between LIBRE and other smaller forces, also ran against in 2013 and alleged at the time JOH’s win was illegitimate.

“To participate in an electoral system without transparency is to certify the dictatorship,” said Argeñal of the need for electoral reform.

But he has his doubts about such reform efforts in the first place: He believes that as long as they work within the existing system, they’re still assenting to a regime that has rigged the democracy to its own advantage. For Argeñal, those doubts don’t come from nowhere. Criminal groups with suspected ties to the JOH administration assassinated his brother in 2013 after the electoral fraud took place.

LIBRE has been advocating electoral reform since before the 2017 vote, and European Union election observers have also stressed the need for reforms.

Laínez explained the proposal one evening in Santa Ana, Lainez’s rural home village in the state of Intibucá, watching the moon rise over the nearby mountains of El Salvador. The post-coup regime’s neglect of rural areas is palpable in Santa Ana. Its people are so impoverished that nearly half have left to the U.S. Potholes scar the road so deeply they’re nearly impassable. Now, Salvadoran gangmembers from MS-13—who began crossing the border in 2016 to escape their own government—have occupied several empty houses, killing three villagers in 2018, according to Laínez.

The place is haunted by a revolutionary past: only 10 yards from El Salvador, older residents remember when Salvadoran guerrillas used to pass through the village in the 1980s, ingratiating a mythology of armed struggle into the community. Yet despite revolutionary violence’s perverse allure as a tool for social change, Laínez adamantly rejects the notion of repeating that past.

“Any form of struggle, for us, is good as long as it doesn’t entail violence,” he said. “Any form of struggle. But principally, our objective is to take power through the path of peaceful elections.”

Even so, he’s well aware of the potentially bloody price they’ll have to pay should they fail in that endeavor.

“We’re conscious that if there aren’t electoral reforms, that if the electoral system isn’t cleaned up,” he said, “the next elections will come, and there will be a crisis even uglier than the one we had in 2017. More deaths. More repression.”

On the Verge of Collapse

If fixing Honduran democracy through electoral reform seemed useful after this summer’s protests, it became imperative—or, depending on who you ask, even more futile—after a damning report was released on August 3.

That day, a 44-page document from a U.S. district court seemed to confirm what Hondurans had known intuitively for years: Juan Orlando Hernández had colluded with cartels to illegally secure the 2013 presidential election. No longer could the graffiti scrawled throughout countless Tegucigalpa slums—Fuera, Narco-dictador! (Get out, Narco-dictator!)—be written off as mere hyperbole.

The summer’s second major wave of protests overtook the streets following the revelations, demanding once more that the president resign. And on August 15, 124 out of the 128 seats in the National Congress voted for the “Special Law for the Selection and Appointment of Electoral Authorities and Attributions,” which would stipulate the election of 44 representatives from each party to monitor election processes in 2020. The first major step towards completing a substantial electoral reform, after eight months of deliberations, was completed.

As of August 30, no further progress had yet been made.

“It’s divided between different sectors,” Zelaya said of the opposition to Hernández. “[But] we’re all united in that we want the regime to leave. We want the regime out. We’re telling the regime to get out. Fuera JOH. We’re all united in that 100 percent.”

Student protests (Photo by Héctor Edú)

Student protests (Photo by Héctor Edú)

“We can’t call it a dictatorship per se,” said a UNAH student, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, of JOH’s legacy. “But we can call it an authoritarian government…You can see how this is all boiling to a tipping point—how Juan Orlando created a military police; how he’s giving unprecedented power to the military.”

After a few days, the flurry of international press coverage the revelations died off. Media analyst John McEvoy wrote how, because their government is a client regime carrying out neoliberal policies favorable to U.S. companies, Honduran victims are seen as “unworthy victims” in the eyes of mainstream media, as compared to victims of regimes that don’t heel to U.S. interests, such as those in Venezuela. Press coverage was capped with an article in Foreign Policy, which proclaimed that even JOH’s unlikely ouster or extradition wouldn’t change the entrenched problems exacerbated by the violent, post-coup decade. The headline was as straightforward as it was bleak: “Hondurans have little cause for hope.”

Soon after the revelations, with media attention drifting elsewhere, protests against JOH fizzled out with no changes in government; the country had returned to business as usual. Nancy Pelosi visited Honduras on an August 10 state visit, making statements about governance whose perfunctory mildness—“You cannot have security unless you end corruption,” she said—wildly understated the enormity of the accusations against Hernández. Hernández himself visited the Organization of American States in Washington D.C., where he discussed “good practices and technical support in the fight against illegal drug trafficking.”

For Zelaya, any chance of ousting Hernández depends on the fractured opposition’s ability to develop organizational skills greater than those of Hernández’s ruling National Party. “The political future for Honduras depends on the majority of its people’s capacity for political organization,” he said. “The elites are well-organized. The corruption is well-organized. The narcotraffickers are well-organized.”

But Hondurans are well aware of the implications of failing to oust Hernández. Human rights leader Jose Carlos Cárdona believes that, should nothing change, Honduras is on the precipice of a catastrophe unlike any the country has yet experienced.

“You don’t know how these assholes screwed everything,” he said, only a few yards from where the military police opened fire on students at the UNAH. “The level of extreme poverty in Honduras is at four million people…the country is on the verge of collapse. We’re going to collapse at any time. We just need a little flame. And then everything goes to hell.”


Jared Olson is a Pulitzer Center grantee, writer and freelance journalist whose work focuses on the struggle for justice in Central America. He is currently a senior at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, studying international relations and journalism. He can be reached at Jolson455@flagler.edu or at jaredolson.org.

Political Prisoners Released as Government’s Legitimacy Crumbles in Honduras (Interview)

On August 9, the Honduran government released two political prisoners who had been in a military-run prison for the past year and a half for their participation in opposition protests. NACLA spoke with one of the prisoners and his partner about his experience and the ongoing resistance movement in Honduras.

September 6, 2019

Honduras opposition protest in 2017 (Photo by Heather Gies)

Honduras opposition protest in 2017 (Photo by Heather Gies)

Amid dismal news from Honduras of ongoing human rights crisis and high-level drug trafficking conspiracies, on August 9, a rare bright spot cropped up: political prisoners Edwin Espinal and Raúl Álvarez, jailed in pretrial detention in a maximum security, military-run prison for the past year and a half, were released on bail pending trial.

In January 2018, as protests against the deeply questioned reelection of President Juan Orlando Hernández rumbled across the country, authorities accused Espinal, a seasoned resistance activist, and Álvarez, a former police officer-turned-protester, of vandalizing the Marriott Hotel in Tegucigalpa during a large march. Both maintain authorities framed them. A social media smear campaign singled out Espinal days before police arrested him on January 19, 2018, on the eve of a national strike against electoral fraud. The focus on broken windows and burned lobby furniture at the hotel, steering attention away from the harsh and militarized crackdown on thousands of protesters that day, mirrored the government and corporate media’s broader framing of opposition protests throughout the post-election crisis.

Espinal was a vocal critic of the 2009 U.S.-backed coup whose involvement in the resistance movement became well-known after his girlfriend Wendy Avila died of teargas exposure during a protest three months after Manuel Zelaya’s ouster. Since then, he has supported diverse social struggles across the country, including working alongside assassinated Indigenous activist Berta Cáceres. Espinal has repeatedly suffered harassment and persecution as a result of his activism. Police abducted and tortured Espinal in 2010 and raided his home in 2013 ahead of the presidential election that first brought Hernández to power in a vote the opposition decried as fraudulent. Authorities have also detained Espinal on other occasions.

Espinal goes to trial for three charges related to property damage in May 2020, and in the meantime he is required to sign before a judge every week.

NACLA spoke to Espinal and his longtime partner, Karen Spring, the Honduras-based coordinator of the Honduras Solidarity Network, about the plight of Honduran political prisoners, current electoral reform negotiations, and the political outlook for the Honduran resistance.

Protests in Honduras (Photo by Valda Nogueira/Flickr)

Protests in Honduras (Photo by Valda Nogueira/Flickr)

NACLA: Obviously your release is the just outcome after an arbitrary detention, but it is still remarkable given the precedent of disregard for the law in Honduras. Is this a sign of cracks in the JOH regime?

Edwin Espinal: This is what we assume. We didn’t expect them to give us these medidas cautelares (precautionary measures) to be able to face trial out of prison. From the beginning, they had denied us due process, and all of the appeals we have filed in our defense have been denied. So it surprised us, and we came to the conclusion that the regime is losing strength. But we can’t forget that the work Karen has done [organizing for freedom for political prisoners] has been incredible.

NACLA: What was your reaction when you heard the announcement of release on bail pending trial? Did it come as a surprise or were there already hints in that direction as pressure mounted with the hunger strike?

Karen Spring: To a certain degree, I think the magistrates were acting independently, but for me, I would say that the decision was probably more political than judicial. I say that because right now Honduras is negotiating new electoral reforms. When the government was involved in a dialogue with the opposition last year from August until December, the issues on the table were electoral reforms, release and amnesty for political prisoners, human rights standards, and so on. That dialogue process failed, but for me that indicated that the release of political prisoners was very much tied up into negotiations around electoral reforms.

So when Edwin was released on August 9, a lot of people thought he was going to be released, and I was hopeful, but I kept my expectations low. He was released on Friday, and electoral reforms negotiations started in Congress the following Monday. For me it was very much a political decision, though I think there was a slight judicial decision as well.

When I found out about the news I was in the court hearing. I didn’t believe it. I said I wouldn’t believe it until he was physically standing in my house. I still kind of don’t believe it, even though he’s been out for more than two weeks. I feel like I just walked out of a war that lasted 19 months, and it hasn’t set in yet that life is kind of going back to what it was 19 months ago.

Karen and Edwin (Photo courtesy of Karen Spring)

Karen and Edwin (Photo courtesy of Karen Spring)

EE: When we got the news, we were in very difficult and precarious conditions. We were facing death threats, and the authorities in the prison were on top of us because we were still on a hunger strike. The director himself came to give us the news. We had another compañero with us, Rommel Herrera, and so we had a lot of conflicting emotions because it meant we had to leave him behind, alone. When he heard the news, he got very sad and almost cried. For us, we had mixed feelings. We didn’t show our happiness because we knew it was hard for him, due to the situation we were experiencing. We had to go on hunger strike to distance ourselves from the [criminal] structures that control the prison population, which had repeatedly threatened us for different reasons. We had to take that action to achieve some level of security.

NACLA: How many times did you go on hunger strike?

EE: We went on hunger strike for the first time two months after arriving at the jail. We did so because there was no water in the prison, and there was also an epidemic with many people sick with fever, diarrhea, and flu and no medical attention. We—Raul Alvarez and I—thought that if we were going to die, we may as well die fighting for our rights. We launched our first hunger strike, and we only lasted four days, because without water and without medical attention it was very difficult. But we achieved our objectives, because they had to provide us with water immediately on the condition that we would end the hunger strike. We also demanded a visit by a medical brigade to the 170 prisoners where we were.

Many prisoners thanked us, and showed us respect. But as a result of that hunger strike, we also received death threats, because organized crime structures in the prison did not agree with our action, because it challenged their leadership within the population. They told us that their way of resolving problems was to hang 10 prisoners so the authorities would respond to them. This was very psychologically and emotionally challenging for us to be told this soon after arriving.

The second hunger strike was five days before leaving the prison because for one month, we had been in a punishment cell without air circulation, without a toilet, without water. We spent a month there, and we couldn’t take it anymore. We saw the need to carry out a hunger strike. We achieved our objectives because they took us out of that cell, and on the fifth day we got the good news that they had granted us the medidas cautelares to be able to face trial in freedom. We had been put in the punishment cell because we had repeatedly reported to the authorities that we were receiving death threats.

NACLA: Why were you the target of threats?

EE: There were protests in Honduras when the government threatened to privatize health and education. Teachers and doctors organized a social struggle against the privatization plan with protests nearly every day for more than a month. There were many highway blockades, and traffic and public transport stopped, and so authorities cancelled the visitation days at the prison, or sometimes relatives of the prisoners weren’t able to get to the prison. Prisoners’ medical visits to public hospitals were also getting cancelled due to the protests. In the prison, many started to associate the protests with us, because we are part of the opposition. They started to conspire against us. They don’t care about the protests, which is logical, because if they have long sentences, they don’t care what happens outside the prison. We started to receive direct and indirect threats, and we saw indications that they were going to organize a mutiny within the prison module. That’s when we realized it was urgent for us to get out. Authorities ignored us.

Later, a new criminal code was introduced, and the prisoners were very happy, because they were going to benefit from it. The opposition was in the streets demanding that the health and education privatization reforms be overturned, but when that news got to the prison, it was distorted, and the prisoners heard that the opposition was also trying to block the implementation of the criminal code reforms—something that had made prisoners very happy. This complicated our situation. We felt they were speeding up their plans to do us harm as a way of stopping the protests in the streets. They started sharpening their knives. The organized crime kingpins had a list of the people who they were going to make pay. We were told we were on the list.

NACLA: U.S. court documents recently gave credence to what protesters decrying the Honduran “narco-state” have suspected or known for a long time: Juan Orlando Hernández is implicated in drug trafficking. This adds to a string of high-level officials being implicated in drug trafficking, including the security secretary, the chief of police, as well as the president’s own brother. But now there’s evidence the drug money reaches all the way to JOH himself and benefited his electoral campaign. Does this create a new opportunities for the resistance to increase pressure on the president?

KS: The resistance and the social movements are taking full advantage of the information coming from the New York Southern District court to keep justifying ongoing protests to demand “Fuera JOH.” But at the same time, Honduran movements, social organizations, and society in general have been talking about the narco-mafia government for years, so in many ways they already knew this. Granted, the court documents are providing proof.

It is also a reminder of how the U.S. government is who is going to make the decision [about Hernández’ fate] at the end of the day. You didn’t believe us when we said it, but when the gringos say it, well then it must be true. It’s that reminder that ultimately it will be the U.S. “go ahead” that will take Juan Orlando Hernández out of power.

EE: The government is in a very difficult position. The regime of Juan Orlando Hernández is weakening every day as more proof comes out about the direct links between him and his family to drug trafficking. This gives us hope, and that hope is the fuel that moves us to keep standing up to fight and to demand the end of this regime and to begin to create new processes that will help us build a more just and equitable society.

NACLA: Shortly after the revelations about JOH’s drug money ties, the president traveled to Washington and boasted what he claimed was a strong track record on fighting organized crime and drug trafficking. The Trump administration and OAS secretary Luis Almagro, who condemned JOH’s 2017 reelection as flawed, have stayed silent. The hypocrisy from all sides is staggering. Obviously US intervention has played a big role in Honduras. At this point, how determinant is the United States and its foreign policy in what happens next in Honduras?

EE: It’s really fundamental. It’s evident that the United States is giving oxygen to this dictatorship which, as we say, is en alas de cucaracha—it’s scrambling, it’s in a very difficult situation. But the government of Donald Trump keeps propping up and supporting Hernández, and the OAS is also endorsing the government despite knowledge of Juan Orlando Hernández’s direct links to drug trafficking. It’s unfortunate because we know what this means for us as the people of Honduras. Very tough times are coming, because when regimes like this face difficult situations they start to persecute and repress the opposition even more. This puts us in a vulnerable situation, and it is frightening because we are confronting this regime head on.

KS: There are many actors in the United States with different interests and different abilities to make these decisions with what will happen with Juan Orlando Hernández. The State Department has consistently supported Juan Orlando Hernández, but you look at the Department of Justice, which is bringing forward these cases against Juan Orlando Hernández and his family, and then you have Trump and the chaotic nature in which he seems to be making decisions. So it’s hard to know what the U.S. will do.

I think the decision has already been made about whether Juan Orlando Hernández will be taken out of power or not. I don’t know what that decision is. And Hondurans are waiting for it. We are waiting to see just how much the Americans are going to put out information about the degree to which Juan Orlando Hernández was involved with his brother in drug trafficking and money laundering. Really incriminating information has already come out, but it remains to be seen if that will mean he has to resign or face justice or be extradited. I don’t think we’re going to know what’s going to happen until after the electoral reforms are dealt with.

In those electoral reforms, the issue of reelection has to be discussed. There’s no law that regulates reelection. With these electoral reforms, decisions are going to have to be made about whether Juan Orlando Hernández will stay his whole term, or whether he will step down after two years, and it is also an interesting opportunity to see what the U.S. will do. Will they put pressure on the Congress to get Juan Orlando Hernández out in a legitimate way, or will he be taken out through embarrassing information that comes out of the New York courts? I don’t think he’s going to last a year. But it’s hard to know because things change daily here.

NACLA: There’s no shortage of scandals to fuel popular outrage in Honduras. Recently there’s been the case of corruption in the social security institute and other high-level corruption cases, the 2017 elections stolen in plain sight, the deadly crackdowns on protesters, the political prisoners and constant criminalization of human rights defenders, the privatization of the health and education systems, and now JOH’s drug money ties. What’s the priority for the resistance right now?

EE: The demand from different social and political movements lately is for Juan Orlando Hernández to leave power. But we know that is not going to be easy, and it also depends on the U.S. State Department. It is a top priority, but at the same time, the political arm of the resistance is also preparing itself for the next battle at the ballot box. The struggle continues.

The call for unity from all organized social sectors of the country still stands, continuing to demand the removal of Juan Orlando Hernández, since his presidency is unconstitutional and illegal.The people are organized, the mobilizations and different protests in all corners of the country from the north to the south and here in Tegucigalpa also continue. The call for unity from all organized social sectors of the country still stands, continuing to demand the removal of Juan Orlando Hernández, since his presidency is unconstitutional and illegal. The people did not accept the [2017] electoral fraud or his reelection, so he has remained in power by military force.

NACLA: There’s so much news coming out of Honduras and the region lately. What are the most important issues for folks with an eye to solidarity to be sure to pay attention to right now?

KS: The ongoing human rights crisis that started with the 2009 coup but got much worse after the 2017 electoral crisis is a huge priority. Also, political prisoners, which is part of the human rights crisis. There are still two political prisoners in prison and there are over 170 people who have to go before a judge and sign every week because of criminalization for protesting the electoral crisis.

The second issue is that the struggles in territories are becoming increasingly difficult. For example, in Vallecito—a newly-recovered Garifuna community in the last several years—the Garifuna organization OFRANEH is under serious threats of armed individuals that keep going into their territory and pressuring them to allow for criminal activities to occur on that land. COPINH is also facing significant threats in Río Blanco, where DESA [the company Berta Cáceres organized against] is still trying to exacerbate tensions in the community, and it’s getting worse. In the last three months, we are seeing that all these different struggles—against mining, against hydroelectric dams, for land reclamation projects—they’re all being attacked in a much more aggressive way.

Third, the Berta Cáceres case is a huge issue that still has not been addressed. Seven people have been found guilty, they have not been sentenced, they have not arrested the intellectual authors. Berta’s case is symbolic in so many ways; it always has to be a demand.

Fourth is the issue of drug trafficking and the narco-mafia government that is running Honduras. How can you deal with impunity and corruption if the highest levels of the government are involved in drug trafficking and money laundering schemes and stealing public funds? This issue is showing that Juan Orlando Hernández has less and less legitimacy every single day in the country. A lot of people think it is just a matter of time before he is taken out of power.

NACLA: Karen, you, your family, and supporters campaigned to get the Canadian government to speak out about political prisoners in Honduras. What has been the role of international solidarity in keeping eyes on Honduras and securing freedom for Edwin and other prisoners?

KS: International solidarity played a huge and critical role. Starting with my community in Canada, my mom and my neighbors and our community where I grew up formed the Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor to put pressure on the Canadian government. They made several trips to Ottawa to demand meetings with minister [of foreign affairs Chrystia] Freeland and to meet with members of parliament. They just kept chipping away, demanding Edwin be released along with all political prisoners and demanding that Canada pull support for the Honduran regime.

In the United States, the bases that make up the Honduras Solidarity Network played a fundamental role as well. When they went on hunger strike, we put out an action and within two and a half days we had over 2,500 responses and people who had sent emails to the Honduran, Canadian, and U.S. governments. There’s a European network as well that was constantly doing actions and fundraising for legal fees and medical costs. International solidarity was critical, and I don’t think we would have been able to the issue of Honduran political prisoners on the national and international agenda without it.

NACLA: How many political prisoners remain in jail right now and what kinds of conditions are they enduring?

EE: We—Raul Alvarez and I—still consider ourselves political prisoners, because we are still being processed, even though we are mounting our defense outside of jail. In jail, there are two compañeros, Gustavo Cáceres in El Progreso and Rommel Herrera who is in the Paraiso department in La Tolva prison, where we were. But there are also more than 180 people facing legal processes for political reasons who were jailed and then released to defend themselves outside of jail. They are still judicially persecuted and have to sign before a judge every week, like us.

Under the U.S. Eye: When is the Time for Honduran Democracy?

Photograph Source: Zack Clark – Public Domain

A U.S. Federal court released documents in which a known narcotrafficker, Don H, implicated Honduran elites and politicians in the drug business. Most untenable is the revelation that the sitting president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, took drug money as bribes for himself and the Nationalist party.

But let’s face it, this is not news to Hondurans who already knew about the narco-dictator, known as “JOH,” as in #FueraJOH (“Get Out JOH!”) and his cronies. For 10 years, since the U.S.-backed coup that put the Nationalist Party in power, various sectors of civil society have protested the party’s connections to drug kingpins and illicit activities, their theft of national resources and sacking of social welfare programs – that is, stealing from the poorest and most disadvantaged for the benefit of the rich. The corruption in the highest levels of the JOH administration is clear as day to Hondurans, and all sectors of society are protesting in the streets right now.

In the 2013 and 2017 elections, and particularly in the latter, the opposition known as the Alliance Against the Dictatorship won. The U.S. meddled and turned a blind eye to rigging of the results by the narco-dictator and his party of crooks. They obscured and circumvented every law to prevent Manuel Zelaya Rosales and the Libertad and Refundación-LIBRE party, part of the Alliance, to take office, fearing their leftist leanings and proximity to Venezuela. U.S., in collusion with Honduran impunity at the highest levels abscond the truth on the Berta Caceres case, and have destroyed the independent body investigating corruption and impunity, the MACCIH, and are oblivious on the real needs of the migrating thousands leaving the country.

U.S. foreign and diplomatic policy in Honduras has been tragic, embarrassing almost. The Republicans and the Democrats have done absolutely nothing to promote democracy. Their actions did absolutely nothing to improve the conditions in the country. In fact, their actions, or inaction, vis-a-vis the JOH regime, have made as many as 100,000 Hondurans migrate out of the country per year. Since the U.S.-backed coup d’état in 2009, Honduras regressed from Banana Republic to narco-dictatorship. The difference between the two is not so great; both require a servile head of state, pliant domestic elites, a weak infrastructure, and a marketable commodity.

Manhandling Honduras to fit the needs of the U.S. geopolitical agenda on Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua—has destroyed the Honduran court system, electoral system and brought the country to a familiar chaos that generated by foreign U.S. policy. Protestors are repressed brutally and painted as the culprit of the violence, instead of the corrupt military police. Peaceful protestors have been sprayed with live bullets by military police, a force created by JOH with the insistence of the U.S. Embassy. In the past week, Military Police, hurled tear gas cannisters inside a school bus full of university students. In the previous months they teared-gas an elementary school with small children inside, and hurled canisters inside private homes causing serious injuries. All of this under the approving eye of the U.S.

The curious thing here is that the various U.S. departments are in contradiction with each other as to what to do about Honduras—on the one hand the U.S. federal prosecutors are nailing down Juan Orlando Hernandez and the Nationalist party for taking bribes for their campaigns and themselves. On the other, the U.S. Embassy and State Department officials are posing for pictures and giving Orlando their vote of confidence. Meanwhile Trump in the oval office calls Honduran immigrants’ invaders and is going to great lengths to keep them out through family separation, incarcerating unaccompanied minors and Transgender immigrants in deplorable conditions with hard rules for asylum.

Whatever the tactics, it is all intervention, all the time.

Will the U.S. ever let Honduras have a participatory democracy?

Hondurans know the U.S. is giving them doublespeak and its intervention will not provide salvation or liberation. For Hondurans, it is clear they will have to bring democracy to their country by their own hands, on both sides of the border. Organizing around their issues locally and nationally, thousands of Hondurans, from all walks of life, have taken to streets in protest. 10 years of illegality and abuses of power in post-coup Honduras has reaped a new kind of resistance—one against the JOH regime—but also one seeking a new kind of participatory democracy to replace him. But the U.S. seems intent on ignoring the will of the people to continue its track record of foreign policy disasters in Central America.

What other abuse of power and suffering will the U.S. State Department inflict on the Honduran civil society to stop the mythical threat Communism (again)? Were 200,000 murders in Guatemala, 80,000 murders in El Salvador, 20,000 murders in Nicaragua, and over 2000 murders in Honduras and thousands of disappearances and displacement of entire communities not enough in the 1980s? What more blood will the U.S. agenda cost us Central Americans on both sides of the border?

Dr. Suyapa Portillo Villeda is an associate professor of Chicano/a Latino/a Transnational studies at Pitzer College. She spent 2018 on a Fulbright Scholar Fellowship in Honduras. 

10 years after the coup in Honduras, the US must reevaluate its policy

 
 
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Ten years ago, on June 28, 2009, a general trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas arrived with troops at the home of the president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and forced him at gunpoint onto a plane bound for Costa Rica. An interim president was appointed by his political opponents who was quickly legitimized by United States.

The United States has continued to support successive administrations in Honduras, even though elections have been biased by vote buying, fraud, and assassinations. The United States sends the Honduran military and police aid even though these security forces have been ordered to beat and shoot non-violent protesters and there are credible allegations of death squads formed to assassinate journalists and citizens working for social change. One of these citizens was the well-known environmental activist Berta Cáceres. No one is held accountable for these crimes.

The 10 years since the coup have resulted in increasing poverty, privatization of social goods keeping services out of the reach of the poor, violence from both drug cartels and state security forces against Honduran citizens, human and civil rights violations, corruption, and a dramatic increase of refugee migration fleeing the country, many to the United States. Almost 70 percent of Hondurans live in poverty, and Honduras now has the most uneven wealth distribution in Latin America. A narco-government has been consolidated around President Juan Orlando Hernández, who has appointed a national police chief and national security chief with cartel ties. The president himself and his sister have been investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency for large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering, and his brother and other officials involved in the coup have been jailed in the U.S. awaiting trial for the same charges. Still, U.S. government support for the Hernández administration continues.

Since late April, widespread and ongoing protests by doctors, nurses, and teachers against the privatization of education and medical services have been taking place in Honduras. President Hernández has ordered his security forces to attack the protestors; some have refused to do so. Does the United States really want to continue to support a leader such as this?

Under the circumstances, it is shameful that our government continues to send aid to this corrupt and illegally-elected government in Honduras. The security aid in particular is being used to lift up a dictatorial president who abuses power and implicates our country in the human rights abuses of his regime. It is high time for my colleagues in the House to co-sponsor H.R. 1945, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which would cut off U.S. aid to the Honduran military and police until such time as their human rights violations cease and impunity ends for the crimes they have committed.

Schakowsky represents Illinois 9th District and is a member of Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hondurans Are Still Fighting the US-Supported Dictatorship

Ten years after the coup, they have become the largest single Central American nationality in the refugee caravans fleeing north.

By James North

JULY 1, 2019

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEATHS DUE TO THE USE OF LETHAL FORCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMPUNITY 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[View in browser: https://mailchi.mp/rightsaction/ashamed-to-be-canadian-corruption-fear-humiliation-and-militarization-in-honduras]

 

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.

 

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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

Why People Flee Honduras

Immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are hoping to leave behind a home devastated by poverty, gangs and crime, and widespread violence against women.

06/07/2019

Honduras

Nichole Sobecki/VII

Hundreds and sometimes thousands at a time, Honduran migrants have joined caravans of Central Americans making their way north through Mexico to seek refuge in the United States. They arrive at the southern border only to face stricter asylum rules from an administration increasingly hostile to their entry. There are a number of reasons people may choose to flee their country, and when they do, it’s not an easy endeavor. Yet, they keep coming because of what they’re hoping to leave behind.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America. Two-thirds of its roughly 9 million people live in poverty, according to the World Bank, and in rural areas, 1 in 5 lives in extreme poverty. With a growing population, combined with high underemployment and limited job opportunities because of a largely agricultural economy, many Hondurans seek opportunity elsewhere. And many who stay are dependent on remittances.

Women sit outside their home on the hills overlooking the city of Tegucigalpa.

Women sit outside their home on the hills overlooking the city of Tegucigalpa. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

A family looks out from their home in the impoverished neighborhood of San Pedro Sula.

A family looks out from their home in the impoverished neighborhood of San Pedro Sula. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Honduras is one of the deadliest countries in the world and has one of the highest impunity rates. According to an analysis by InSight Crime, gang membership and activity have been on the rise in the past two decades, and the associated violence has hit the country’s urban areas the hardest. Extortion by gangs has forced many to flee in search of more security. Moreover, the Honduran police are both understaffed—in the northern district of San Pedro Sula, home to nearly 230,000 people and where well-known gangs like Barrio 18 and MS-13 operate, just 50 police officers watch over its 189 neighborhoods—and plagued by corruption and abuse.

Gang grafitti and policing in Honduras.

Top, the tag for MS-13 is sprayed across a wall in La Rivera Hernandez, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in San Pedro Sula. Bottom, police officers frisk civilians and check their ID cards on a criminal database outside a pool bar, while others search the facility, in another neighborhood in San Pedro Sula. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Violence—particularly domestic and sexual violence—in Honduras has taken or forever changed many women’s and girls lives. Gender-based violence is the second-leading cause of death for women of reproductive age. And in a country where emergency contraception and abortion are banned, even for rape victims, survivors of sexual violence have few options if they become pregnant. They can seek to terminate the pregnancy and risk prison time, or they can go through with it and face one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Latin America. As Jill Filipovic reports for Politico Magazine, for Honduran women, economic instability and physical insecurity are intertwined, and both are exacerbated by long-standing patriarchal social norms in the country.

Various women who have been affected by gender-based or sexual violence in Honduras.

Top, Debora Castillo, 17, outside her home in Corazol. Debora lost two children during childbirth. Honduras has an infant mortality rate over three times that of the U.S. Bottom left, Heydi Garcia Giron, 34, with her children, Daniel and Andrea, in their home in Tegucigalpa. Bottom right, Ricsy (a pseudonym), 19, outside her home in Choloma. Heydi and Ricsy are the victims of domestic and sexual violence, respectively. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

The cemetery in Corazol.

The cemetery in Corazol, Honduras. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Buses ferry workers to and from their jobs at a clothing factory in Choloma, Honduras, one of the most dangerous cities for women in the world.

Buses ferry workers to and from their jobs at a clothing factory in Choloma, one of the most dangerous cities for women in the world. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Almost 1,000 people gathered at the bus terminal in San Pedro Sula, after news of a new migrant caravan spread in April, one of several from Central America since late last year. The migrants travel the over 3,000-mile distance to the U.S. border in large groups for safety to avoid being robbed, kidnapped or killed by gangs on the way.

Members of a migrant caravan in San Pedro Sula.

A woman and her child rest on the floor with other participants in a migrant caravan leaving Honduras. | Nichole Sobecki/VII

Honduras president, others targets of DEA investigation

Juan Orlando Hernandez
The Associated Press

FILE – In this Sept. 26, 2018, file photo, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters. Recently unsealed testimony shows that a brother of the Honduran president admitted to U.S. federal agents that he’d accepted presents from violent drug traffickers he’d known for years and once asked Honduran officials about money the government allegedly owed the traffickers. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File

U.S. federal court documents show Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández and some of his closest advisers were among the targets of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation.

A document filed by prosecutors on Tuesday in the Southern District of New York mentions Hernández as part of a group of individuals investigated by the DEA since about 2013 for participating “in large-scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities relating to the importation of cocaine into the United States”.

Hernández was elected president of Honduras in late 2013.

The document is a July 2015 application to the court to compel Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL to give investigators email header information, but not emails’ content, for a number of accounts. Two of the accounts are believed to be of Hernández, the documents says.

There is no indication charges have been brought against Hernández.

Also included in the request are the email accounts of the president’s sister Hilda Hernández, his adviser Ebal Díaz and his security minister Julián Pacheco Tinoco. Hilda Hernández, who helped manage the finances of the president’s political party and his presidential campaign, died in a December 2015 helicopter crash. The request also named four members of the wealthy and politically-connected Rosenthal family.

Yani Rosenthal, a former national lawmaker and presidential candidate, pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court in 2017 for money laundering for the Cachiros drug trafficking organization.

The new court filing is part of the pre-trial motions in the case of Hernandez’s brother Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, who was arrested in 2018 in Miami and accused of scheming for years to bring tons of cocaine into the country. His trial is expected to start in September.

A spokesman for the Southern District of New York said on Thursday the court’s response to the application for email header information is not public information. He declined to comment further.

The document filed Tuesday raises the possibility that the DEA has email data for Honduras’ president and members of his inner circle dating to 2015.

Messages left for Díaz, who is Hernández’s de facto spokesman, were not immediately returned. Pacheco could not be immediately reached, but the government has previously denied allegations against him.

Pacheco has been dogged by allegations of his links to drug traffickers since at least 2017 when a leader of Honduras’ Cachiros cartel testified in another case in New York about his ties to drug traffickers.

Pacheco had served under Hernández’s predecessor, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, as the government’s chief of investigation and intelligence. Lobo’s son Fabio was sentenced to 24 years in a U.S. prison in 2017 for drug trafficking.

In another document filed Tuesday in Tony Hernández’s case, prosecutors said “the charges against the defendant arise out of a long-term investigation of politically connected drug trafficking in Honduras” that began in 2013.

On Thursday, a DEA spokeswoman referred questions asked by The Associated Press to the Southern District of New York.

The U.S. government has been a staunch supporter of Hernández’s government, pouring millions of dollars into security cooperation because Honduras is a key transshipment point for cocaine headed to the U.S. from South America.

Hernández had especially curried favor with Gen. John Kelly who had led the U.S. military’s Southern Command and later became President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Kelly advocated for continued U.S. support of Hernández’s government, noting their contributions to the war on drugs and progress in combatting corruption.

When Hernández’s already controversial re-election was marred by irregularities in late 2017, the U.S. government congratulated him while the opposition was still contesting the vote count.

With Hondurans filling the ranks of several large migrant caravans during the past year, the U.S. has continued to support Hernández while pressuring his government to stem the immigration flow.

Many Honduran migrants encountered making the journey to the U.S. border during the past year have referenced government corruption among their reasons for leaving. Thousands of doctors and teachers have been marching through the streets of Honduras’ capital for three weeks against presidential decrees they say would lead to massive public sector layoffs. On Thursday, a massive march led to clashes with police who fired tear gas against some protesters’ rocks.

Retired history professor Dana Frank, whose recent book “The Long Honduran Night: Resistance, Terror, and the United States in the Aftermath of the Coup” details the country’s recent political turmoil said the documents confirm the U.S. government has known about drug trafficking activities linked to Hernández for years.

“Why have U.S. officials — from the State Department to the White House to the Southern Command — continued for years now to celebrate, and pour security funding into, a government whose very topmost officials and security figures it has known were drug traffickers?” Frank said. “This evidence underscores the vast hypocrisy of U.S. policy, which backs a known drug trafficker and his police and military cronies, while claiming to do so in the name of fighting crime and drugs.”