Posts Tagged ‘repression in Honduras’

The Flame of Opposition in Honduras

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

September 5, 2019

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ousted president Manuel Zelaya (Photo by Seth Berry)

Ousted president Manuel Zelaya (Photo by Seth Berry)

The Battle Against Privatization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Student protests in August (Photo by Seth Berry)

Student protests in August (Photo by Seth Berry)

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

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

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

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

The Electoral Reform

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

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

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

Protests in June (Photo by Seth Berry)

Protests in June (Photo by Seth Berry)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Verge of Collapse

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

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

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

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

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

Student protests (Photo by Héctor Edú)

Student protests (Photo by Héctor Edú)

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

September 6, 2019

Honduras opposition protest in 2017 (Photo by Heather Gies)

Honduras opposition protest in 2017 (Photo by Heather Gies)

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

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

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

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

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

Protests in Honduras (Photo by Valda Nogueira/Flickr)

Protests in Honduras (Photo by Valda Nogueira/Flickr)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karen and Edwin (Photo courtesy of Karen Spring)

Karen and Edwin (Photo courtesy of Karen Spring)

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

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

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

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

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

NACLA: Why were you the target of threats?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hondurans Are Still Fighting the US-Supported Dictatorship

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

By James North

JULY 1, 2019

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEATHS DUE TO THE USE OF LETHAL FORCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMPUNITY 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why People Flee Honduras

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

06/07/2019

Honduras

Nichole Sobecki/VII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gang grafitti and policing in Honduras.

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

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

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

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

The cemetery in Corazol.

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

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

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

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

Members of a migrant caravan in San Pedro Sula.

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

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

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

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

The disappeared

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

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

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

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

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

The political prisoner

Jesús García of Carrizal, a Catholic lay preacher

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

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

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

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

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

“Central America has a lot of martyrs.”

The bereaved mother

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

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

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

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

The indigenous leader

Indigenous leader Jesús Pérez, Corralito, Copán

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dying man

Fausto de Jesús Vásquez, Los Patios, La Paz

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We rebuilt everything after the war.”

Jesús died peacefully at home earlier this year.

The hungry child

Jesús Ángel Vásquez, from San Marcos de Sierra, Intibucá

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

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

The land rights activist

Activist Jesús Salazar, in Suyapa, Pespire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The midwife

María de Jesús Pérez Vásquez

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

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

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

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

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

The seed saver

Indigenous corn saved by Jesús Martínez

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

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

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

Jesús Martínez, from Santa Elena, La Paz

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

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

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

The survivor of domestic violence

María de Jesús Gabarette, from Tierra Colorada, Lempira

María de Jesús Gabarette is from Tierra Colorada, Lempira.

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

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

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

The rubbish picker

Yolanda Jesús Lozano, municipal dump, Rio Abajo, Tegucigalpa

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

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

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

The tenant farmer

Jesús Alberto Ramírez, in Sinaí Chimichal, Copán

Jesús Alberto Ramírez, lives in Sinaí Chimichal, Copán.

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

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

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

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

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

The carpenter

Jesús Alberto Mayorga Lemus, of Copán Ruinas

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

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

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

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

The farmer

Jesús García Hernández, of Langue, Valle

Jesús García Hernández, is from Los Horcones, Valle.

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

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

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

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

The LGBT activist

Emanuel de Jesús Barrientos, of Comayagüela

Emanuel de Jesús Barrientos lives in Comayagüela.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The migrant

Jesús Hernández, on the migrant caravan

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

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

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

tinuing on their walk to the US border.

Berta Cáceres: seven men convicted of murdering Honduran environmentalist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was an American missionary in Honduras. I witnessed firsthand the violence they endure.


In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, 3-year-old Brithani Lizeth Cardona Orellana, bottom right center, stands with her 5-year-old sister Janeisy Nicolle and brother 9-year-old brother Kenner Alberto, flanked by their aunt and uncle at their home in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

There is an armed security guard at every Dunkin’ Donuts in Honduras. When you enter a pharmacy, the guard with a shotgun slung across his chest will considerately hold your pistol while you wait for your prescription to be filled. On holidays, there are no official fireworks, only a handful of illegal firecrackers and gunshots exploding in the night air. On Christmas Eve, New Year’s, Independence Day, in every barrio across the country, shots echo in the dark like a posse galloping out of town in an old Western.

Five years ago, I left the States to volunteer alongside other Americans and Nicaraguans at a children’s home on the northern coast of Honduras that served orphans and kids who could no longer live with their families due to extreme poverty, abuse or both. We learned firsthand that paradise and hell are next-door neighbors, and you can hear the gunshots at night from both places.

I first had a gun pointed at me while waiting for a cab before dawn in the wealthiest neighborhood of San Pedro Sula, the industrial center of the country and, at the time, the “murder capital” of the world. The security guard saw me standing outside the seminary where I had spent the night as a guest. He climbed down from his turret on the street corner and approached me with a machete in one hand and a raised revolver in the other.

“What are you doing here?” He squinted at me, blinking back sleep.

“I’m just waiting for a taxi. I’m headed to the airport,” I said.

“Then why would you be waiting here on the street?” he asked. “Nothing good happens here this time of night.” Surrounding us were houses that were mansions even by U.S. standards. I wanted to go back inside the seminary, but the 15-foot-high gate had slid closed behind me, and I could not open it again without waking up all the priests, nuns and seminarians inside.

“I can go wait on another block,” I offered. “My cab is just five minutes away.”

“No!” he responded firmly. “You wait right there. Don’t move. Just wait.”

When my taxi finally did arrive, he holstered his gun and offered an apology, but I did not stick around long enough to acknowledge it.

•••

Before I moved to Honduras, I visited the country. For a week, I helped lead a group of high school students from all of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas who wanted to offer some manual labor and supplies to our “sister diocese.” In the shadow of a massive green mountain, we worked to rebuild and paint a crowded school where Luis, our local guide, and his wife were teachers. Luis was the closest thing the small village had to a mayor. He ran the school, helped settle disputes, led the community Bible study and Sunday service, and as one of the only residents with a car, also provided ambulance service.

One morning he greeted us with bags under his bloodshot eyes. He had taken a neighbor who had stomach pains to the hospital in the middle of the night—more than an hour’s drive each way, around to the other side of the mountain. He returned in time for breakfast and prayers and to greet us in the morning at the school.

Luis and his wife stood out as towering examples of what was possible even amid extreme poverty. With determination and a good heart, one could be a pillar of the community—a community worth staying for. I once asked Luis if many of the young men in his village would eventually leave for the United States. “All of them,” he told me. There was no shame in his voice; it was simply a fact. When I asked if he had ever thought of making the journey, he shook his head. He had a wife and young son, a good job, a community where he was making a difference; he could not imagine leaving.

Years later, when I moved to a town just on the other side of that mountain, I jumped on the bus to visit Luis and his family. He was thrilled to see me again but cautioned me not to take the bus next time. “It was not safe” is all he would say.

During my two years in Honduras, I learned to love those kids at our children’s home like they were my own. Our goal was to prepare them for healthy and productive lives in Honduras, despite the brutal and heartbreaking childhood they had suffered. If we could only offer them enough love and stability and peace in the midst of the tempest around them and behind them in their past, they might have a fighting chance, we believed.

Yet violence does not issue warnings, and it will not take into consideration sincerely held beliefs. I had just returned from teaching my English class for the day when I learned that one of our volunteers and our executive director, who was visiting from the States, had been attacked on the beach next to our property. Maybe 200 yards from the house, our sanctuary, they had been held with machetes to their necks, and the volunteer, one of my best friends, was raped. “We know where you are from,” their attackers had said when they let them go. “Tell anyone and we come back and kill you and all the children.”

After going to the hospital and giving her testimony to the police, my beloved friend spent the night surrounded by the rest of us on the floor, several of us with machetes by our sides and all of us unable to sleep. In the morning, she was evacuated out of the country, and the rest of us were offered the option by our board of directors to leave as well. Suddenly the cursed choice to flee this country that so many of our Honduran neighbors had been forced to make became my own. The men responsible had still not been caught, and our already limited community of volunteers was quickly dwindling as many admitted they no longer felt safe enough to continue working. The next day the rest of us left as well.

•••

A few years later I reached out to Luis via WhatsApp. It turned out he and his family had snuck away from their small town in the middle of the night. A local gang had demanded he pay for “protection,” and when Luis refused, they threatened to kill him and his family. They fled to a larger city, but he and his wife were unable to find any work as teachers and were still fearful the gang would eventually find them. He asked if I could help him claim asylum in the United States.

I got in touch with a few immigration lawyers, who told me Luis would have to make it to the Mexico-U.S. border and apply for asylum there. But even if he got that far, I had to tell Luis, it was very unlikely his family would be granted asylum. Luis was heartbroken. He needed to protect his family, he said, and the best way he could do that was to leave and provide some kind of living for them. Maybe you and I could get married, if only on paper, he offered sincerely. He was right that such a union was now legal here in the United States, I explained, but I could not just marry him to get him citizenship. Despite the absurdity of the suggestion, I struggled to type out my response, knowing my decision was a matter of life and death.

I still receive messages from Luis every few weeks begging me for help, though to be honest, I no longer have the courage to open them. Constant reminders that I am helpless simply became too much. I know ignoring him is wrong. I know it is my privilege to be able to log off of the violence of Honduras and pretend I do not live in the country that created Luis’s desperation, which is also the country that could help to fix it.

For all I know, Luis may be part of the infamous caravan, waiting on the other side of the southern border to claim asylum. It is the type of thing a real friend should know. It is important to know who these people are and that what they are doing is legal. There is no way for them to claim asylum from within their country of origin. Implying that those who peacefully present themselves at ports of entry have broken any American laws is simply not truthful.

When I first met Luis, I assumed that in Honduras it was possible to get an education, work and become financially stable enough that you would never need to leave. But the image in my head of the “virtuous Honduran” proved an illusion when even Luis was forced to flee from the unyielding violence and poverty of Central America. If we want to end the cycle of families fleeing in the night for our border, it is necessary to learn why their nights became so terrifying to begin with.

The weapons that plague their streets came from us. The corruption that infests their governments is a direct result of the coups and instability our country has consistently directed or condoned for over a century. Before Banana Republic was a chic clothing store, it was a dismissive term for a country made entirely dependent on a more powerful economy outside its borders. It was merely an updated version of colonialism, and the original victim was Honduras.

Poverty and violence, the causes of these caravans, are diseases we infected these countries with. Getting mad at the migrants is like the conquistadors and white frontiersmen wondering why the Native Americans they found were always getting so sick.

Those of us who live north of the Mexican border have to learn just how intertwined our lands are and why our neighbors to the south still hear gunshots at night. I have fled from one side to the other myself and watched in vain as those I care about try to follow. But being born in paradise is no reason to condemn those still stuck in hell.

Central American migrants—mostly from Honduras—descend from a truck at a temporary shelter in Irapuato, Mexico, on Nov. 11, 2018. Some caravans fleeing violence are now stuck at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Central American migrants—mostly from Honduras—descend from a truck at a temporary shelter in Irapuato, Mexico, on Nov. 11, 2018. Some caravans fleeing violence are now stuck at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Alfredo Estrella—AFP/Getty Images
By Amelia Frank-Vitale

November 23, 2018

At the end of October, I sat with my friend Graciela, counting up all the murders we’d heard about over the last week in her sector of Choloma, a city in Honduras. We thought it was about seven. It turns out, between us, we’d heard of at least 10.

Murders. In one sector. In one week. Four young men, three young women, one bus driver, one older man who worked for the municipality, and one “colgado”—a body hung up as a warning.

This was at the same time the Central American caravan was making headlines in the international press, when people started speculating that mysterious political forces were behind this mass exodus of people from Honduras.

As Graciela—whose own brother was murdered a little over a year ago—and I went back and forth, I thought, This, this is why people leave. And this is what people outside of Honduras seem to not fully understand.

Months earlier, 9-year-old Andres told me about the first time he saw someone killed in front of his eyes, and the second time, and the third time. He talked about the murders he’d seen in a halting way, wishing he could unsee the things he’d witnessed. I told him I’ve actually never seen anyone be killed. His eyes widened, incredulous. That seemed impossible to him: someone my age, a grown adult, never having seen these things. He dreamed about going to the U.S., a place he imagined he might be able to live without seeing any more murders.

I have been living in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second-largest city and economic center, since September of 2017. I came to Honduras to research migration and life after deportation for my doctoral degree; I chose San Pedro Sula because it had become famous for being one of the most violent cities in the world, making migration and deportation questions of life and death. While Honduras has made significant strides in reducing its murder rate (from a high of 86.5 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 43.6 in 2017), it is still devastatingly high.

But what I’ve learned is that life here is so much harder than murder statistics could reveal.

One day, around noon, I showed up at Bayron’s house in Villanueva to collect a camera I’d lent him as part of a photography workshop I was running. His mother told me he was still sleeping, and I gently made a joke about him sleeping so late. No no, she told me, he was in line all night long last night. For school.

I didn’t understand at first. She explained that in order for Bayron to register for high school, he had to get in line the night before. Like devoted fans waiting for the box office to open, Bayron and his friends slept in that line, determined to get a spot in the public school this year. If he got there too late to get a spot, he would just have to wait until next year. This is how the public school system works across Honduras.

Bayron’s been deported once already; he left in search of better opportunities, safety, and stability. Back in Honduras, he’d rather be in school but the options before him are few if he cannot get a spot. Like so many, the next best choice might be migrating again.

Darwin, in the Rivera Hernandez sector of the city, also worries about what his son will do next year when it’s time to start high school. Here, the issue i­sn’t whether or not he would get a spot. Darwin’s neighborhood is controlled by one gang; the public high school is in a rival gang’s territory. His son would literally risk his life by going to school. Darwin has thought about sending him to private school, but he sometimes cannot find work for months and his wife, who is in her 40s, can’t get hired anywhere because of her age. They just shook their heads, tears welling up in their eyes, when I asked them what they would do.

Darwin looked up and told me, “Here, it’s a crime to be poor. The police treat us like criminals.” Darwin is careful to never leave home with more than 100 lempiras in his pocket—roughly $5—because he worries constantly that if the police find him with more money on him, they’ll arrest him for extortion. Many of his neighbors are in the “pozo,” Honduras’s maximum security prisons, awaiting trial for the crime of extortion. The apparent proof? Each was found with 300 lempiras on them.

People live on edge in Honduras, never sure when a stray bullet might hit them, whether they will be able to feed their families tomorrow, or if they will end up in jail without having done anything wrong. When word spreads that a caravan is forming, it doesn’t take much for people to join. No one needs to convince them, pay them, or promise them anything.

Even now, as Mexico has met the caravans with repression, protests, and deportation; Honduras has shut down at least one of its border crossings; and Donald Trump has sent troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, people in Honduras talk every day about forming new caravans, ready to walk thousands of miles for a chance, not even for a better life, but just at having a life at all.

Amelia Frank-Vitale is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Michigan. After working in Mexico from 2010 to 2015, where she focused on the multiple kinds of violence that Central Americans face while in transit, she now works in Honduras, studying how deportees reconfigure their lives and reimagine their futures after being sent back to some of the world’s most violent neighborhoods.

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.”