Posts Tagged ‘Radio Progreso’

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

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

Iván Benítez   July 03, 2019

 

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

 

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

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

Scrambled eggs with corn tortillas

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

Melo being offered coconut water (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

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

The 5 men of Honduras

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

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

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

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

15 days at Melo’s house

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

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

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

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

Freedom of the press

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

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

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

Armored crystals

Recipients of the RAFTO Norwegian [Alternate Nobel) Award

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

“Good morning, God gave us this day”

Melo in his office (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

“You will be the next”

The martyrs of the UCA

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

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

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

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

Carlos Mejía – murdered in 2014 Marketing Manager of Radio Progreso

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio Progreso- Defending Human Rights in Honduras

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

An interview with Fr Ismael Moreno, Director of Radio Progreso


 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean Hawkey:  How has this affected Radio Progreso?

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

Reflection on the murder of Carlos Mejia, Radio Progreso


Radio Progreso Manager Murdered

Was Carlos Mejía a Target?

*This reflection was written by Lucy Edwards (PROAH, Hope in Action, Congregational United Church of Christ, Ashland, Oregon)


On the evening of Friday, April 11, Carlos Mejía Orellana, 35, was stabbed to death in his home in El Progreso, Honduras. The white Rosary his mother had given him that day was broken and on the floor of the living room of his home. Nothing of value was taken from house. His well maintained Toyota sedan sat on the carport, its alarm sounding. Why was Carlos murdered? Was he targeted for his work at Radio Progreso?



Carlos was the eldest of 11 children to parents Salvadora and Nicolas. The family moved from a rural area near Ocotepeque to the growing northern city of El Progreso when Carlos was 8 or 9. He was entrepreneurial man, an intelligent and diligent worker who began at the Jesuit radio station Radio Progreso in his early twenties, and eventually became promotion and marketing manager. He was quiet and thoughtful, and knew how to get things done. He seemed to anticipate your needs before you knew you had them.



His house was well constructed and secure. He paid attention to issues of security. The home had a high wall surrounding it, with strong gates and tightly coiled barbed wire. He had a boyfriend, but lived alone, with two socialized and friendly dogs; they were not part of the security plan. He adored them and spoiled them. They were companions.


carlos photo 2


His work at the radio station took him into the community. While shy in social settings, Carlos was not shy about the radio station. He loved his work selling ads and producing events promoting the station. He also had other jobs outside the radio station, all approved by his supervisor, Catholic priest Ismael Moreno, known as Padre Melo. Carlos had taught management classes, and recently was helping a community radio station get off the ground. He had just purchased a washing machine for his parents. It was still wrapped in plastic on in the carport the day I visited.



Carlos Mejia was one of 16 members of the Radio Progreso team granted protected measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Station employees had received threats of violence, and many journalist colleagues in Honduras have been murdered. Radio Progreso studios were occupied by the armed forces during the 2009 coup, and the station was surrounded by police on another occasion.



In a country with so many layers of corruption, militarization, violence and impunity, Radio Progreso, and its affiliated Jesuit research team ERIC (equípo de reflección, investigación y comunicación) are an irrepressible daily affirmation of freedom of expression, creativity and courage in Honduras. Their work confronts and directly challenges the corruption and impunity.



Was Carlos targeted because of his work at the Jesuit radio? At this point one can only speculate. He was murdered at his home, stabbed several times with a knife. It appears his body was posed. It appears the killer or killers removed his clothes and tried to create the illusion of another kind of murder. But the shirt he was wearing that night was never found. Someone took it. Someone took the knife. Someone left by the front door and the front gate, leaving them both open.



It appears Carlos’ attacker came to the house with him, perhaps in Carlos’ car. They ate chicken, and shortly after Carlos was attacked–perhaps initially in the living room where the Rosary was broken, and then murdered in the bedroom where his clothes were then removed.



As the marketing manager, Carlos’ work provided the financial capital for the radio. His death has been a huge blow to his coworkers and a direct hit against the radio station economically. As a gay man, his killer or killers may have considered his sexual orientation a vulnerability to exploit. Someone gained Carlos’ trust enough to be invited to his home, and murdered him.



In an immediate newspaper online account, police declared their suspicions of a crime of passion before they had conducted any investigation. No one has ever investigated the many threats against the radio station staff and management that began in earnest in 2010 and remain as permanent threats.



On April 18, U.S. Representatives James P. McGovern (MA), Sam Farr (CA), and Janice D. Schakowsky (IL) released the following statement on the murder in Honduras of Carlos Mejía Orellana.



“We are shocked and saddened by the news of the murder of Carlos Mejia Orellana, journalist and marketing director of Radio Progreso in Honduras. We extend our deepest condolences to his family members, friends and colleagues. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in this difficult time.



“We are very familiar with the important work of Radio Progreso, a community-based radio station that is a work of the Jesuits of the Central American Province. We note that the Director of Radio Progreso, Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno, 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. Given the level of threats and violence, including assassination, targeted against journalists, the media and freedom of expression in Honduras, we are dismayed that the Government of Honduras has failed to implement protective measures for the employees of Radio Progreso, as called for by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights when, on four separate occasions over the past five years, it issued precautionary measures on behalf of 16 staff members, including Carlos Mejia Orellana, of Radio Progreso and ERIC. We are further troubled by news reports that the police had announced the murder was carried out by someone close to Sr. Mejia Orellana before any investigation had yet begun. We call upon the Honduran authorities to immediately implement protective measures for Radio Progreso and ERIC employees and to carry out a thorough investigation of the murder of Carlos Mejia Orellana to determine both material and intellectual authors of this heinous act and to bring them to justice in a timely manner.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conquering congress in the 1980s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So she quit.

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

Always the rebel

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

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

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

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

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

Sánchez remembers her fondly.

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

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

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

Awarded, attacked, arrested

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sánchez says those dark times strengthened her resolve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dream for true democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking with victims of violence in Easter light

By Phil Little

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violence in post-election Honduras could affect U.S. migration patterns, activists say

Claudia Mendoza (left) and Joaquin Mejia (right) were in Washington, D.C. to give an overview of post-election Honduras. (Photo: Esther Y. Lee)

Claudia Mendoza (left) and Joaquin Mejia (right) were in Washington, D.C. to give an overview of post-election Honduras. (Photo: Esther Y. Lee)

WASHINGTON, D.C.– The violent aftermath of the Honduran presidential election — triggered by allegations of electoral fraud — has led to serious human rights abuses, Honduran advocates said Thursday, strongly advising the Trump administration not to deport immigrants back to a country repressed by deadly government security forces.

At an event sponsored by Alianza Americas, a transnational network of immigrant organizations, two Honduran-based speakers shared their on-the-ground perspective of the dangers they have faced after President Juan Orlando Hernández’s reelection. Joaquin Mejia — a lawyer and human rights advocate who works as a commentator at the Jesuit radio station Radio Progreso — expressed concern over the legitimacy of his country’s presidential elections and indicated that his life was at risk for openly criticizing Hernández and the military police. The Honduran constitution has since the 1980s explicitly enforced a one-term presidential limit. Hernández sought to change the constitution to ban term limits. Claudia Mendoza — a freelance journalist who has worked with Univision — also pointed out at the event the “shameful” silence by the Honduran news outlets to suppress news about the brutality at the hands of the country’s military police.

Mejia and Mendoza both noted that violent clashes between opposition supporters and the military police have led to the deaths of dozens of activists, hundreds of injuries, and thousands of detentions. Into January 2018, the Honduran government reportedly used security forces to tamp down protests using tear gas, batons, and live ammunition, according to a Latin American Working Group Education Fund report, brutally stiffing press freedom and imposing curfews in post-electoral Honduras. In the face of mounting violence following Hernández’s reelection, the U.S. embassy accepted the country’s election results, despite misgivings by the Organization of American States (OAS) which called for a presidential election do-over.

Mejia has been advocating for a fair electoral process and said he was “hopeful” that the Honduran youth would turn out for future elections. He also wants the U.S. government to stop deporting people back to a country beset by violence and forced displacement. As of February 9, the U.S. government has deported 2,279 people to Honduras, according to Consular y Migratorio de Honduras (CONMIGHO) data. CONMIGHO receives USAID funding and is affiliated with the Honduran Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores y Cooperación Internacional. Tens of thousands of Honduran Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients may also be at risk of deportation if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) fails to renew their statuses by July 5, 2018.

Many people are driven to flee their homes for another city in Honduras because of ongoing threats and assassinations, as the Latin American Working Group Education Fund graphic below shows.

(Photo by Latin America Working Group Education Fund)
(Photo by Latin America Working Group Education Fund)

Mejia himself has faced a constant barrage of threats because of his stance against the Hernández government.

“From the time I worked at Radio Progreso to when I came here yesterday [on a three-city visit to the United States], I’ve had threats against my family,” Mejia said at the event, his voice going up an emotional lilt before he spoke again. “There is absolute impunity of crimes committed by the police.”

“You can see an increase of the forced displacement of the people because of the violence,” Mejia told ThinkProgress after the event. “Even though officially, there’s been a decrease in the rate of homicides in Honduras, it’s a mistake to see the reduction of violence in Honduras only in the perspective of murdered people because we have to see it in other types of violence like robbery, extortion, and other elements we have to take into account in that kind of violence.”

From the U.S. perspective, Honduras is so dangerous that the U.S. State Department has advised U.S. citizens to “reconsider” travel to the country on account of crime with some areas seeing “increased risk.” The federal government has also advised against traveling to Gracias a Dios, an isolated area where infrastructure is weak. Travelers who go there won’t get help since “U.S. government employees are restricted from traveling to the area.”

JOAQUIN MEJIA WAS IN WASHINGTON, D.C. TO GIVE AN OVERVIEW OF POST-ELECTION HONDURAS. (Photo: Esther Y. Lee)
JOAQUIN MEJIA WAS IN WASHINGTON, D.C. TO GIVE AN OVERVIEW OF POST-ELECTION HONDURAS. (Photo: Esther Y. Lee)

When asked his position on the Trump administration’s efforts to make it very difficult for people to seek humanitarian relief — like asylum or refugee status — on claims of fraudulent interviewees being “coached” to make up lies about Honduras, Mejia shook his head.

“The Trump administration has this theory about immigrants, but at the same time it’s supporting a regime that’s provoking a political situation that is going to provoke an increase in the immigration to the U.S., Spain, Costa Rica, and an increase in asylum and refugee seekers,” Mejia said. The United States has long had an over-sized influence in the country, investing hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance to help fund elite military and police units, The Guardian reported. As the publication explained, these units have helped push down Honduras’ murder rate, but the country is still one of the most violent places in the world.

“I don’t know what’s happening in the government of the United States, but if they really want to stop immigration, the logical thing is to support democracy in our country,” Mejia added. “But they are supporting a regime that is authoritarian, using the military force to attack those who are opposition and denouncing electoral fraud. This will provoke increased immigration to the United States.”

Mejia fears that mass deportation from the United States would trigger more instability at a time when Honduras has yet to resolve widespread doubts over electoral irregularities.

“Those people deported from United States — what they’re going to face is a very complicated situation – a political crisis and instability,” Mejia said, explaining that there are no programs in place that he knows of that would help resettle deported immigrants. “And I’m sure what they’re going to do is try to go back to the United States. They left the country because that violence and that instability but now they’re going to find the same instability, same violence.”

Beyond the scale of U.S. immigration policies, Mejia and Mendoza have noticed a troubling trend in Honduras that affects every resident. As a journalist Mendoza has observed other press coverage being too favorable towards the Hernández government or has presented no criticism of the brutal oppression. News coverage of the large-scale protests “emphasize property damage and not human life,” she said.

“The press should have been critical, but [their articles] looked like press releases from the government,” she said according to an English translation from an in-ear interpreter present at the event. “La Prensa and El Heraldo are theoretically independent but there is no criticism.”

Mendoza pointed to the death of Kimberly Dayana Fonseca, a 19-year-old who went to look for her brother during anti-government protests and was killed with a bullet to the head on the first night a curfew was put in place in the country. Military police shot live rounds into the crowd, but the prosecutor’s office “tried to blame” her death on a tear gas canister, the Miami Herald reported in January.

“Sadly, the press is taking a lot of the military line,” Mendoza said. “We are in a country where there is no freedom of press… we have one line and it’s the government’s line.”

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

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

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

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

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


Fr. Melo at a protest.

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

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

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

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

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


Matthew Ippel, SJ, with Fr. Melo.

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

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

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

Acusan de sedición a periodista hondureña

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

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

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

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

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

¿Un crimen perfecto?

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

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

Equipo Envío

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

“ERA UNA PERSONA CLAVE”

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

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

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

UN “CRIMEN PASIONAL”

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

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

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

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

“ES UNA MUERTE BUSCADA”

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

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

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

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

¿POR QUÉ TOCARLOS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOLPE DE ESTADO:
MÁS RIESGOS Y MÁS INFLUENCIA

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

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

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

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

EN UN PAÍS VIOLENTO

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

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

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

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

“ERA UN EMPRENDEDOR NATO”

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

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

LA RÁPIDA EXPANSIÓN
DE LA RADIO

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

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

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

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

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

UN CRIMEN PERFECTO

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

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

EN UN PAÍS HOMOFÓBICO

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

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

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

“CRÍMENES DE ODIO”

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

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

EN UN PAÍS DE IMPUNIDAD

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

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

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

UNA SOLIDARIDAD
QUE RECLAMA JUSTICIA

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

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

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

“LO QUE USTED NOS ENSEÑÓ, QUERIDO CARLOS”

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

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

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

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

“USTED, QUERIDO CARLOS
SE FUE DE VACACIONES”

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

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