Honduras coup update for April 2013


Honduras Coup Update, April 2013

News of Political Persecution in April 2013

Summary of Political Assassinations in April 2013 – 4 farmers and a human rights volunteer

Three farmers of Dos Bocas community in Santa Rosa de Aguan: Wilfredo Cartagena Castillo (28), Edwin Geovanni Rivera Castillo (18) and Wilmer Rivera Castillo (15) were murdered by hitmen in their own home on 3/4/13.

Also at Dos Bocas, hitmen murdered farmers’ leader Alfronzo Vasquez Bonilla in his home on 21/4/13.

Human rights volunteer Ronald Jovel Mirand Ávila was assassinated, with little traces as to who or why.

Assassinations, kidnappings and media campaigns against organised farmers

On 3/4/13, with information from palm company Dinant guards, farmers of Paso Aguan – land they reclaim and occupy - located a clandestine grave, in which they found the remaining parts of a farmer disappeared more than a year ago.

On 3/4/13 at 11am, 4 heavily armed men - two of whom were hooded, kidnapped the youth Zulema Villatoro Mejía and interrogated her exhaustively on who and where are leaders of the MUCA farmers movement, before she was released and abandoned. Zulema belongs to the La Lempira MUCA cooperative, and administers MUCA's poultry and fishery projects.
The kidnappers rode a wine-red car.

On 3/4/13, hitmen kidnapped Villatoro Mejía from the La Confianza turnoff at Tocoa, where he was taken to Trujillo and interrogated repeatedly about who and where MUCA leaders are. They searched his wallet for information and pulled his phone apart, but they didn't take his belongings. After that they threatened him with that if he spoke up about what happened he would be the next to be assassinated, before they abandoned him at 1pm at the Aguan Amarilla community. Villatoro was returning after doing some personal errands.

Also on 3/4/13, the Aguan Agrarian Platform was in Tegucigalpa denouncing the negative media campaign by Xatruch III operation headed by Germán Alfaro Escalante (a SOAW graduate 1984) against farmers of Bajo Aguan. This negative media campaign was reinforced later in the month with the use of two ex MUCA members as 'protected witnesses'.

On the night of 3/4/13, at the dos Bocas community in Santa Rosa de Aguan, Colon, heavily armed men from a black van fired shots at and assassinated Wilfredo Cartagena Castillo (28), Edwin Geovanni Rivera Castillo (18), and Wilmer Rivera Castillo (15) in their own family home. After that, the hitmen left two women of the family, Maria Agustina Castillo Sánchez (52) and Tania Carolina Cartagena (14) tied up by the feet and hands, inside the home. This took place during a heavy Xatruch III operation by a contingent of 250 at the turn-off of the dos Bocas community in Trujillo, with the paramilitary squads preparing the conditions to provoke massacres inside the farmers’ settlements.

On 21/4/13, at 3pm, also at the Dos Bocas community, armed men driving in a grey pickup truck arrived and entered the home of farmers’ leader Alfonzo Vásquez Bonilla (48) and assassinated him in front of his spouse and children with 30 shots fired using AK47 and 2.23mm guns. Alfonso belongs to the Via Hermosa community of Santa Rosa de Aguan in Colón, Alfonzo is also directive leader of ANACH (Honduran farmers national association) in Colon, and of the cooperative Esfuerzos Unidos and was also an active member of the national resistance front. Alfonzo was a farmer who worked the land early every morning to feed his family of 6 children

The April diary of persecution against communities fighting the Agua Zarca hydro-dam project

A highway occupation began on 1/4/13 and went for all of April and continues, with communities demanding the withdrawal of the Agua Zarca hydroelectricity dam project that has gone ahead illegally with a 20 years concession awarded despite clear community opposition. The community demands that the companies (DESA, Ficohsa bank, Sinohydro, Copreca) and their staff and machinery and accompanying security forces leave. The community faces political persecution and harassment every day and there were specific incidents as well. Regular occurrences include presence of police and company spies, harassment and surveillance against communities and copinh leaders, including the taking of photos and videos by representatives of the companies, offers of bribes (money and foods like Maseca) by the companies, companies representatives asking the communities to stop protesting, sexual abuse, detention threats, blocking the organisation’s vehicle, and death threats.

Specific incidents:

On 3/4/13, there was pressure to accept the project and stop protesting - intimidation, racial abuse and threats reported to be coming from a staff commission of the companies, headed by David Castillo and Francisco Rivas of DESA and Christian Toledo of Sinohydro, accompanied by state investigative and police agents. Christian Toledo threatened protesters with riot cops. José Humberto Madrid Muñoz made threatening gestures against Copinh (council of grassroots and indigenous organisations of Honduras) coordinator Berta Caceres, and another employee Aquilino Madrid Muñoz pounced at Berta too to attack her. Copinh members accompanied by two international observers reported being followed by cars without numberplates and watched with still and video cameras.

On 6/4/13, reports were made of men dressed in military uniform, with handkerchiefs covering their face, moving on motorcycles, carrying long weapons in intimidation and threat.

On 7/4/13, reports were made of police arriving in a company vehicle to come to the occupation with company representatives and the mayor, to intimidate.

On 9/4/13 Salvador Zuniga, who was a Copinh leader until very recently and remains committed to the causes of Copinh, reported being watched and followed by a security guard located opposite Salvador’s rented home. The guard was seen to pick up the phone to make a call as Salvador left his home, and as he passed in front of his sister's home, a man from inside a black tourist van with dark windows and no numberplate watched Salvador and also picked up his phone to call as Salvador passed through. This is in the context of the Rio Blanco highway occupation. Salvador fears for the safety of his daughter Olivia Zuniga and grandson Camilo Espinoza, as they live with him.

On 12/4/13, at 7.30am, seven riot patrols (about 50 police and investigative agents), under the command of Comayagua regional police chief Fredy Lagos and Intibucá police chief Miguel Ponce Sorto, forcefully evicted the communities without citing any eviction order, according to Copinh activists and international observers. Police violently snatched international observers' cameras and took Copinh's media equipment to limit evidence and coverage of the operation. The patrols destroyed tents, snatched supplies, threw away drinking water, and made lists of people who were part of the occupation. The police arrived at 6am, first searching suitcases and backpacks, saying they were looking for weapons – they confiscated machetes and cameras. Police asserted that dam projects bring development to the community. The community quickly re-occupied and was joined in by other communities in Intibucá, Zacapa and Agua Caliente in solidarity.

On 20/4/13, communities reported having had to stop a tank that transports the military (Primer Batallón de Ingenieros de Siguatepeque) together with other machinery that were attempting to enter in complicity with the companies DESA and Sinohydro.

Intimidation and bribes against communities fighting mining companies

On 5/4/13, police used gunfire to threaten the communities of Valle de Lean at Nueva Esperanza, who are defending their territory. The communities put up a strong opposition against the mining company - Empresa Lempira / Honduras Or Company / Empresa Constructora S de RL - which has again entered the hill it wants to exploit. The first two applied for a concession of 2000 hectares, and Empresa Constructora for 11,000 hectares – this last company is owned by Lenir Perez who is a son-in-law of the infamous palm giant Miguel Facussé, accused of many of around 100 murders of farmers in Bajo Aguan.

El Negrito community, who are showing strong opposition against four mining companies, reported offers of bribes by the companies
Threats and a murder against human rights defenders

On 9/4/13, Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda received messages that if she wants to live she must resign from her position, apparently for supporting an initiative to democratise the frequencies of broadcasters that are being controlled by powerful groups.

On 25/4/13, human rights defender Ronald Jovel Miranda Ávila, who volunteers at Ciprodeh human rights organisation, was assassinated. Ronald had focussed on working with youths linked with gangs, especially with the organisation JHA JA Honduran Youths, Adelante, (together we go forward). Ronald was very committed. It is unknown who killed him and why.

Attempts, threats and surveillance against alternative journalists and media
On 8/4/13, at around 8.25am, TV Globo journalist Fidelina Sandoval was about to cross to go to the Globo building when a gun was shot towards her from a moving grey van with at least two men in the front. Fidelina escaped unharmed. Hearing the deafening sound of the gunshot, she touched herself over to check if she was wounded, and looked to check if anyone else was, when she realised that it was an attempt against her because some guards and a taxi driver approached her saying, 'do you have any enemies, miss? Because those guys were shooting at you'. Fidelina is young and dynamic and has been covering the topics of police reform and the killing of farmers in Bajo Aguan. During that week she received two strange calls from unknown persons who sought personal information from her with the pretext of talking to another person. When that happened she had just finished having breakfast with a colleague from the media Conexihon, and it was her birthday. Colleagues helped her place a complaint at Cofadeh.

On 20/4/13, C-Libre journalist and executive director Hector Longino Becerra was given death threats first via a phone call at 9.42pm by an unknown number 97375471 in which someone could not be understood and Hector said it must be wrong number and hung up. The phone rang again, and again Hector could not understand but the person insisted and Hector recorded the conversation. On the third call, a man left a message saying, 'I have a campaign to kill you, your mum, your dad, your grandparents, your friends and the friends of your friends. If they are dead I will revive them and kill them again, you hear me?', with a woman's voice in the background. C-Libre is Comité Por la Libre Expresión.

C-Libre has also been warned by people with technical knowledge in criminal investigation that the mobiles of the digital daily news www.conexihon.info might be tapped. The journalists are receiving calls of unknown mobile numbers that when they answer either nobody answers or they immediately hang up. One of the conexihon.info journalists had their email accounts hacked into. Conexihon is alternative media currently investigating cases of corruption, agrarian and mining conflict and the situation of journalists and other news. C-Libre is investigating media laws aimed at democratising media

Political party office under attack

On 2/4/13, members of the FAPER (Frente Amplio Politico Electoral en Resistencia) political party were surprised as they entered their building to find that it was forcefully opened and entered and that all the belongings in the office had been stolen.

Dismissals of teacher union leaders

Within the last 4 weeks, Education Minister Escoto has dismissed four leaders of a teachers’ union Pricphma, and on 23/4/13 was reported to have made a threat to dismiss Edwin Oliva, president of teachers union Colprosumah. As Escoto made the threat he announced, 'we want to highlight that now it is the state that controls the education system and not the teachers’ union leaders which had been the case in the past'. There are government and IMF directions to cut education staff and end teachers unions.
Snapshot of actions of resistance and solidarity in Honduras in April 2013
300 people from five Copinh communities, accompanied by international observers, began a highway occupation at Rio Blanco on 1 April 2013 and lasted the whole month and beyond, despite repression, threats and an eviction. They occupied demanding a hydroelectricity project Agua Zarca (its companies Sinohydro and DESA, staff, machinery and accompanying state and private security) to leave, in firm opposition to the privatisation of water, river, territory and energy. After eviction, a community assembly was held which decided to re-occupy, and Zacapa and Agua Caliente communities decided to join in. They also re-affirmed that they were not there to negotiate.

An international Solidarity Conference for the Recognition of the Garífuna territory in Vallecito – land reclaimed by community - which is under permanent threat and harassment – was held over April 26-30.

The Negrito community is showing strong and united opposition to four mining companies that want to move in. They held a public meeting that was community-driven and supported also by church representatives and the council mayor. They realised that for just a little revenue, they would be allowing grave environmental damage. Council representatives resisted bribes from companies.

Exhumations were carried out by an expert team from Guatemala weeks after further body remains were found by the MUCA farmers movement in a clandestine grave on the Paso Aguan farm in Bajo Aguan. This time the remains were of Jose Antonio Lopez Lara. The team came in response to a request from the human rights organisation Cofadeh, relatives of disappeared farmers, from MUCA and the human rights prosecutor. At the same time, hundreds of organised farmers mobilised to accompany the family of Jose Antonio, holding up placards and banners demanding justice. EU Ambassadors were also there, following up on Bajo Aguan's human rights situation.

News briefs from April 2013

'Bad things coming soon' – monitoring the Honduran Congress
Mining law moves in ... on 2/4/13, the Mining law was published to come into force on 23/4/13, having been approved in January 2013. A suspension order came from the presidential office to the mining and geology department to delay approval of any mining concession – but not to stop the mining concessions that will facilitate the mass destruction of natural resources by mining transnationals, steal water, evict people, destroy communities and violate freedom of information to protect 'confidentiality' of companies. The Mining Law facilitates the establishment of public-private alliances in the mining sector.

Communicating about the new Communications Law bill.... the bill is presented as making the media more democratic, in the distribution of frequencies, setting percentages for commercial, community and religious media, to allow a greater percentage of community media to hold frequencies than they have held in the past. However, there is also a provision for forced expropriation of media in the law that can easily be used as a censorship tool by the state. The bill also ignores the uneven playing field between community media and commercial media, in relation to financial, technical and administrative resources.

Bill for privatising fishing... Congress is now discussing a bill that would allow 'leases' and 'concessions' to become property of renters, introducing 'transferable fishing quotas' that facilitates fishers to sell the agrarian reform rights granted to them. This is comparable to the agricultural modernisation law in the 90s that moved large amounts of land from the hands of small farmers’ collectives to large landowners, who forced small holders to sell the land under economic pressure, and by using violence against those who resisted. By having quotas, the bill appears to be conservationist, but the transferability that it introduces is towards privatising fishing rights. This are promoted by USAID and the World Bank.

Petrol concession approval looms... Concession for the British BG Group for massive petrol exploration and exploitation in Mosquitia was awaiting signature by the General Prosecutor, Ethel Deras. Her institution has already made a favourable ruling for the contract, after which the concession goes to the Congress for approval.

Equipment to intercept 1000 telephone lines simultaneously under military control... a while ago, a law of private communication interception was introduced (as part of an 'anti terrorism' package), and there is now equipment capable of tapping 1000 telephone lines simultaneously, which operates in a state military building. This was revealed to the media by ex-member of the Central American Parliament, Raul Pineda Alvarado.

Bill '747' to tackle crime rates presented by ex-police official and 80s death squad member Billy Joya... Billy Joya said he is available to manage a district police to show it can lower crime rates. The plan involves the approval of a security budget. He proposed for police to be at bus stops and bus stations in morning hours when people go to work, and the for police to be at markets before midday, and then for police to go onto sporting grounds, and in the afternoon for police to go to the bus stops again in the peak hour, and for police to patrol the universities at night. He said it will establish 'special services' where agents stay in schools and universities. Bill 747, involves seven measures to be executed by four state institutions that would be promoted to be approved in Congress in seven months. Amongst the measures are one of strengthening council / district police, and one of increasing benefits such as guarantees and insurance for cops, soldiers, judges and prosecutors. Billy Joya spoke of going into politics. Billy Joya is close to the aspiring presidential candidate and military head under coup president Micheletti, Romeo Vasquez Velasquez. He is deciding in coming days whether to join Partido del Alianza Patriotica.

More monopolisation of power by Congress? Head of Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández, announced that it will be dismissing some high officials of justice and security departments for being inefficient in dealing with violence. Soon after that, Congress swore in a DPP intervention commission that will have the power to dismiss the general prosecutor, Luis Rubi, and his Assistant, Roy Urtecho, and restructure the institution. This is in the context of Congress having dismissed High Court judges who declared the model cities law unconstitutional, and then almost immediately pass the model cities law again, early in 2013. And to be clear, Luis Rubi was at no point a defender of social movements. Transformation is needed to end impunity, which is shown by many different human rights reports to be very grave – just this month a prosecutor against organised crime Orlando Arturo Chavez, who focusses on prosecuting money laundering, was shot dead by unknown persons. But social organisations such as Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y Justicia point out that the Congress should not be trusted in this task. Consider the notorious case captured by video of hitmen killing youth, http://www.elheraldo.hn/Secciones-Principales/Sucesos/Repudio-e-indignac.... According to many observers, some of these hitmen could only be part of a government operation, due to the professional way they had carried out the killings. This is a death squad government in which the buyers of the Congress literally call the shots, in which there is less separation of powers every day, and that has US president Obama arming and funding Honduran police, in violation of US laws.

Bad things have happened

Educators under fire... the university workers’ pension Inpreunah has been subject to frequent audits by the Comision Nacional de Bancos y Seguros despite never having any irregularities detected. The frequent audits forces Inpreunah to spend its reserves and so it had to suspend pension payments because of this unnecessary financial pressure. The Education Minister Escoto has also been busy attacking education workers' unions, having dismissed four Pricphma (one of the unions) leaders in recent weeks, and having been reported to have made a threat on 23/4/13 to dismiss Edwin Oliva, the president of the Colprosumah teachers' union. Escoto, who is visibly at the service of the regime and the IMF, announced that, 'we want to highlight that now it is the state that controls the education system and not the teachers union leaders which had been the case in the past'.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights made a media statement confirming its involvement because of the Honduran regime's lack of compliance with its obligations to the Triunfo de la Cruz community... of not issuing the deed of community land title, not consulting with the community, and the courts' lack of parameters for defining indigenous territories to international standards IACHR said this had exposed the community to occupation and land-grabbing by businesspersons. The community as a result lives in permanent conflict and struggles to maintain its traditional mode of living. This case 12548, was heard 21/2/13.

700 nurses of Hospital Escuela were unpaid in February... these include assistant nurses, and they were organising assemblies to plan industrial action.
Report of a Micheletti (coup president 2009) official, Pineda Ponce, squandering state monies... the official audit was for the period of 1/7/09-31/1/10, for this period Pineda Ponce was assigned a $2 million budget for a program of cleaning, construction, repairs, reforestation and decoration in six major cities in Honduras. The budget approval decree was published on 1/10/10. The report shows irregularities include several non-executed projects for which money was transferred, of major contracts without a tendering process, of receipts of payments not signed by supposed recipients, and of lack of job allocation paperwork.

Latest stats on journalists and lawyers killed since the coup... Under Lobo's 35 months, at least 53 lawyers, judges, prosecutors and judicial advisors died violent deaths so far, 10 of whom are women, and 95% are in impunity. In the same period, 27 journalists were assassinated, making up 79% of assassinations in the 2010-2013 period. Only one of the 27 cases saw someone punished for the crime.

Reports of some limited pressure against coup forces

Rare case – police sentenced to 5 years for torturing journalist... the then Globo TV cameraperson Uriel Gudiel was tortured in May 2011 while covering police repression against the resistance near the San Pedro Sula campus of UNAH university. Police Hortencio Lopez facing the evidence, pleaded guilty.

Police head Juan Carlos Bonilla under investigation, under pressure... Juan Carlos El Tigre Bonilla is accused of human rights violations including by Washington, and is accused of more recent murders - business person Reginaldo Panting in 2003; the son of ex-head of police Ricardo Ramirez del Cid this February, and Bonilla was recently shown in a video planning with others to capture Zelaya in July 2009 shortly after the military coup. He is under investigation, not for these, but, according to human rights prosecutor German Enamorado, to see if there have been irregularities in his nomination of officials, for having promoted officers to high positions who failed lie detector tests.

Mission for EU to follow up on human rights violations in Bajo Aguan... A mission including the Ambassadors of Spain, Germany, France and Italy re-visited Bajo Aguan over two days from 24/4/13, meeting with different sectors and sides, discussing the violent deaths of around 100 farmers and a smaller number of security guards of the palm oil giants. The visit coincides with Honduran human rights organisation Cofadeh being in the region collaborating with a team of Guatemalan forensic exports carrying out an exhumation of a clandestine grave at Paso Aguan. The body of José Antonio Lopez Lara was found in this clandestine grave on 3/4/13. José's daughter confirms that José was threatened repeatedly with being disappeared if they saw him around there anymore, and he was disappeared when he went there to go fishing for food for his family, by private guards of palm oil plantations.