July 2013 Honduras Coup Update

Honduras coup update – July 2014

Political persecution in July 2014:

Brutal and murderous eviction by police and army, against Gregorio Chavez farmers movement in Panama community in the Bajo Aguán palm plantations

On 3/7/14, a contingent commanded by current head of Xatruch, René Jovel Martínez, of 300 police and military entered occupied palm plantation land Paso Aguán at 6.15am and between 11-3pm, carried out a brutally violent eviction with live gunshots, teargas, batons, chasing and a number of arrests against 400 families of the Gregorio Chávez farmers movement that only came to re-occupy after previous evictions the afternoon before, without ever showing an eviction order.

These live gunshots from police and military killed José Sánchez Hernández – his compas tried to save him, taking him in a pickup truck to the hospital, but he died before they made it.

They arrested at 11am seven farmers, going beyond the occupation and breaking into people's homes in the community to capture them, however, the police only brought them to the police cells at 4pm, when the workday for prosecutors was over and the security forces no longer had to present a report to them. All arrestees sustained injuries from torture and cruel treatment by police and military, the seven face usurpation charges and are: Jorge Meléndez (46), Moisés Meléndez (56), Gloria Enamorado, Jeremías Cruz, José Chavez (60), Hernán Ricardo Omar Ocampos and Ricardo Rodas (16).

This was one of many evictions this community has suffered since their initial occupation on 4/7/2012. The land is in conflict with Dinant – of palm giant Miguel Facussé, accused of a large number of the more than 130 organised farmers in the last four years. This land had been occupied by others farmers groups in the past, but was since 2012 occupied by neighbours, after one of the neighbours, Gregorio Chávez, an independent farmer, was murdered and disappeared by Dinant guards.

José Isaías Sánchez Méndez and David Ponce both suffered serious gunshot wounds. With a gunshot wound of a 223 military bullet that entered him from one side and left through the other, damaging his liver, José Isaías, who had trouble speaking while resting on a hammock, recounted what happened for human rights defender Bertha Oliva. He said when they shot him in front of the football field, 'they were in front of us, only they (the soldiers) were in front when I felt the impact, I went backwards and fell over a bit after that, I lost consciousness'. He only regained consciousness later in hospital, when the doctors extracted part of his liver and commented that he was at a point of dying. Afterwards the surgeon told him it was a miracle that he didn't die. For 18 days he stayed in hospital and couldn't talk. The gunshot wound however, is irreversible, he won't be able to do farm work again. He spent his whole life working on the palm plantation and never had the opportunity to learn to read and write. He is worried about the survival of his family. His mother and sister are looking after him and struggling to pay for the medicines and diet that he needs to recover. Unlike José, David Ponce expects to recover well enough to return to work – he has a gunshot wound at the height of his left collarbone – the bullet stayed in the upperpart of his back as seen through x-rays, he needed surgery to extract that. Mariano Baquedano and Roger Rodríguez were injured too, with batons, they received medical attention in hospital.

Everyone in the community, including women, children, men and old people, suffered psychological trauma and were affected by gases. Other abuses reported in the eviction: goods and means of the transport of the community were damaged under police and military custody. Aguan Human Rights Watch OPDHA coordinator Martha Arnold was intimidated by Xatruch Subcommissioner Santos Nuñez who sneered at her saying, 'who are you to go around documenting what happens?', he said they may be backed by national and international human rights organisations but these are 'good for nothing' and demanded the registration paperwork for OPDHA. Also, Bajo Aguan Agrarian Platform coordinator Jaime Cárccamo said police and army agents have him identified and many times pointed to him as a 'land invador'.

200 re-grouped hours after the eviction to occupy the highway that connects Tocoa city with the left margin of the river – a region they belong to; they demanded justice for the bloodshed committed against more than 1000 now assassinated farmers involved in land struggle since 2010.

On 5/7/14, the same 400 families re-occupied, calling on OPDHA to come accompany and observe. OPDHA noted heavy presence of military and private security guards all armed and with weapons pointing at farmers. They saw military request more reinforcement and noted that between 10-11am 40 more agents arrived, firing their guns towards the farmers group as they entered. They saw soldiers attack human rights defenders Glenda Chávez and Digna Idalia Perdomo Díaz, who were forced to take off and hand over their human rights vests, two mobile phones and a camera, and attempted to arrest them and impede them from doing their work as the observatory's defenders. With the NGO FIAN-Honduras, they managed to recover some of what the soldiers took, but still missing one vest, one phone, the camera memory card and some cash.

On 30/7/14, between 7-9am OPDHA coordinator Martha Arnold was waiting for a bus to Sonaguera outside the Metro Plaza in Tocoa when a 3.0 double cabin white vehicle with tinted window watched her. On 31/7/14, at 10am, before the hearing at the Trujillo Court where 6 farmers of this Panamá community faced usurpation charges at the 3/7/14 eviction, a soldier who gave the name of Rolando Maradiaga filmed against OPDHA members Irma Lemus, Rigoberto Durán, and CIPRODEH human rights organisation lawyers Alex Navas and José Alejandro Mairena. Then between 6-7pm after the hearing, Irma and Rigoberto were stalked by two 3.0 double cabin white vehicles with tinted windows, forcing these to take refuge in a corner shop and get help from human rights organisations, which arrived and recognised one of the cars.

Armed assault and abduction against a liberation theology priest in company of another priest and 3 international human rights observers.

Cesar Espinoza is a priest from Guatemala. He accompanies the la Nueva Esperanza community in their struggle to blockade the Minerales Victoria company. On 4/7/14, he was driving in the Arizona parrish car with another priest Abel Carbajal, and three international observers (of PROAH – Honduras Accompaniment Project) one from Switzerland, the others France) at 7pm. They were driving home from Tegucigalpa after a celebration at the US embassy for US independence Day, when a white car – similar size to a typical Honduran cab pulled up in front of them and three men jumped out pointing their guns and forcing all five into the backseat of the white car while a fourth attacker drove away the parish car. The attackers drove the five for about 45 minutes, to a hotel in El Porvenir neighbourhood, and gave them death threats before leaving them in Siguatepeque. The priests, along with 16 community members of La Nueva Esperanza have been ordered protection measures by the Inter American Court of Human Rights, stemming from threats and violence from Minerales Victoria representatives, advocates, and police. The company owner is Lenir Perez, a son-in-law of infamous palm giant Miguel Facussé. On 25/7/13, two international human rights accompaniers of PROAH (French and Swiss) were abducted for 2.5 hours from this company by seven armed men.

Lecturer and union leader attempted against, again

on 8/7/14, in the night time, uni lecturer and Sitraunah unionist Hector Martínez Mortiño's car lost control, because five screws were taken of the back tyre. It happened at the Choluteca campus UNAH carpark. His car was parked within five metres of the newly contracted private security office. He started the car and drove for 8 metres when the car spun out of control and almost ran over five students as the tyre went flying – only one of the screws were found after. This was witnessed by 18 uni lecturers and 58 students. He had been attempted against before. He actively speaks up about human, economic and labour rights violations within the UNAH, and is also a directive member of the Honduras Cuba Friendship Association.

Specialist human rights defenders under threat

Dina Meza is a journalist of the Honduran human rights organisation Cofadeh, she investigates human rights violations in Honduras and reports on these nationally and internationally and accompanies victims seeking for justice, she has a history of receiving threats and intimidation and also of recognition for her work at the international level: awards she received includes the 2014 Oxfam Novib/PEN International Freedom of Expression Award, and the 2007 Amnesty International UK's Special Award for Human Rights Journalism Under Threat. On 5/7/14, Dina was followed by unknown people in Tegucigalpa when she was with a relative. There has been a chain of harrassment lately: on 28/5/14, just minutes after Dina published some news about the murder of a political activist on her facebook page, she received a call from an unknown person with a high-pitched voice at 9.05pm saying, 'I'm going to beat you up if you continue messing around', on 5/6/14 she was followed by an unknown person on a motorcycle without numberplate, who took off his helmet to show Dina he was looking at her, causing her to run, on 23/6/14, Dina was interviewing in a public place when an unknown person approached her and started taking photos of her, and on 25/6/14 an unknown person took photos of a close relative who was meeting a friend in a public place – he approached this relative and showed them the pictures he took of them.

Annie Bird is the co-coordinator of human rights organisation Rights Action, that has for many years monitored and published reports on human rights violations in Central America, reports that make authorities uncomfortable. On 16/7/14, Coronel German Alfaro, the now head of FUSINA – National Interinstitutionaly Security Force head, and previously head of Xatruch Operation which militarises the Bajo Aguan region, together with Jorge Pineda, high executive of Dinant (company of infamous palm giant Miguel Facussé) made declarations to press and on TV (including Canal 11) and radio about the work of Annie Bird, accusing her of illegally entering Honduras, of promoting 'land invasions' in Bajo Aguan, and of internationally discrediting Honduras through dozens of organisations and press around the world including Al Jazeera – that German Alfaro said is 'under Al Qaeda control' insinuating that the media is controlled by 'terrorists'. He said Annie was 'working to destabilise the Aguan region. Annie Bird's reports had involved investigations against Alfaro as ex head of Xatruch and current head of FUSINA, for human rights violations.

Journalists killed, threatened

At the beginning of July, investigative journalists Yanina Romero, Carlos Martínez and Lourdes Ramírez, received death threats by telephone calls from unknown persons who claim to be doctors or nurses, after the journalists reported about a possible corruption case in Mario Catarino Rivas hospital in San Pedro Sula, investigating suspicious deaths of patients there looking into if the doctors had intentionally caused the death of a few patients to support the markets of funerals and organs trafficking. The hospital PR denied that the calls came from the hospital.

People have been observed to be outside the media station in intimidation. The KTV team needs protection measures. Of Canal 27, another received death threats – in his case calling as audience while he was on air is Ricardo Oviedo – of political program 'Frente al pueblo, ante la audiencia', he was told by telephone 'you haven't learned anything, so we are going to follow you, te vamos a pelar' – he already had to exile in 2010.

On 10/7/14 when journalist José Ramon Maldonado of La Ceiba asked defacto President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) if he would allow a marble mármol and canteras mine in the Nombre de Dios National Park, saying that the mining and natural resources departments (INGEOMIN and SERNA) would be granting concessions for these mines with the support of the presidential house, JOH's tone went up against José Ramon, and JOH ordered his assistants to get the camera and take a picture of José Ramon's face and warned him that they will be prosecuting him for his 'accusation' as a form of threat. José Ramon was not afraid though. This occurred in the context of a press conference where different medias interviewed JOH marking the inauguration of the third central park that he calls 'Internet del Pueblo' in La Ceiba.

On 20/7/14, journalist Herlin Espinal was abducted and reported disappeared, when he was going home to Santa Rita, Yoro, after having dinner with some friends in a restaurant there. Herlin arrived to leave his car at the home of his aunty in Barrio El Centro, and was not seen after that, until on 21/7/14, when his body was found with multiple gunshots, in the La Danta village in the same municipality. Herlin worked as a TV reporter and chief correspondent of 'Hoy Mismo' at Televicentro, San Pedro Sula. He has been a candidate of 'regidor' of the National Party.

Axel Daniel Menjívar (23), son of journalist Jesús Alberto Menjívar and grandson of well-known journalist Jesús Vélez Banegas, was assassinated with three gunshot wounds in the head, in the Céleo Gonzales neighbourhood in San Pedro Sula, after he got a haircut at the barber's. He also played some time ago in the reserves of the first division football team Parillas One.

***look up the date

On 22/7/14, at 8pm, as journalist Geovanny Castro was arriving at Canal 51 where he directs 'La Voz' program that starts at 8pm, he was forced into his car by heavily armed men who drove him to an unknown direction, they took his TV equipment and documents. As this was reported by most medias immediately and police was pressured to announce an operation to arrest the attackers, Geovanny was almost immediately freed, abandoned onto a city street.

Vallecito – Garífuna (Afro-descendent) territorial struggle under attack – twelve kidnapped

This land Vallecito, which was a land coconuts and cassavas grew on, has the Garífuna community in an extremely vulnerable position. Forces against the Garífuna community include giant palm companies and their paramilitaries, drug traffickers and organised crime, and military that militarised the place in the name of war against drugs, that in reality makes the community unsafe, rather than attack drug traffickers. Miguel Facussé invaded the land in 1998, but when the Garífuna community won land title the year after, organised crime took over control of the land, having possession of 80% of the land. They built a clandestine landing pad where drug planes landed over years with the authorities knowing about it and doing nothing. The community took control to destroy this landing pad about six months before. Last year, the Agrarian department sent a brigade to survey and measure the land, but the community, despite collective property rights, have been subject to a permanent state of siege.

Days before 17/7/14, the community noticed strange movements on the territory and decided to go and check what was happening. What they saw was some men repairing the destroyed landingpad – refilling the holes etc. On 17/7/14 a big group organised with Ofraneh (fraternal organisation of black people in Honduras) went back to Vallecito, the coordinator of Ofraneh, Miriam Miranda recounted, 'several men with high calibre weapons ambushed and captured us,' these men had their faces covered. 'Luckily, a few of the group managed to escape and hid in the forest and were able to send out alerts and inform people what was happening'. Twelve were captured. Those captured could not communicate with anyone as they were made to hand over their mobile phones, and people were separated, 'there was a clear intention to disappear us, because we witnessed what happened with the clandestine landing pad. What's more, they insistently asked for me, for the Ofraneh coordinator, and I was really lucky that they did not know me. One of our captors spoke on their mobile with someone called 'the boss', who supposably wanted to negotiate our freedom to the condition that we called out for the villagers to gather. However, the national and international reports and fast mobilisation of solidarity and the pressure to national authorities helped stop this criminal plan. The armed men then left, and we could go back to the town.' The ordeal lasted for two hours, but the terror, repression and psychological warfare remain. People can't go out, they stay waiting for others in solidarity to come accompany them, but, they firmly affirmed that the defence of their ancestral territory will continue.

Migrant tortured and imprisoned in Mexico for being black

On 17/7/14, reports came out about Honduran migrant Ángel Amílcar Colon Quevedo, also a human rights defender and ex president of Ofraneh, who has now been detained in Mexico since his arrest on 9/3/2009. His story just came out now, about how he tried to migrate to the US to pay for treatment for his 8 years old son Alexander who had cancer. He found a coyote at Tijuana who promised to help, and stayed in the coyote's house on the coyote's instruction, which was subsequently raided by police and while Ángel tried to escape, he was captured. The recent reports came out following human rights organisations' recent investigations and confirmation of the torture he suffered by the Mexican authorities. Over 16 hours he was beaten in the ribs, exposed to unhygienic situations, was forcefully stripped naked and made to lick clean the shoes of other arrestees, suffocated with a plastic bag over his head, deprived of normal sensory stimulation, made to walk on his knees, kicked, punched in the stomach. He was blindfolded and taken to a military base where he could hear the screaming of other arrestees and threatened with having the same thing the arrestees were under happen to him. They made racist insults against him. After that, he was made to make a 'confession' to the prosecutors that incriminated him, under torture, with his retraction later ignored. Ángel continues to be detained, and as time went on, Alexander forgets the face of his father, and, six months after the arrest of his father, died. There may be other Hondurans subject to similar torture in Mexico, allegedly for delinquency, but actually, for being black.

Uni student beaten up and arrested in a protest and further abused while hospitalised

On 24/7/14, at a protest at UNAH against reforms the authorities are imposing that involve increasing school fees as well as not allowing students to continue if they repeat a class three times and measures along those lines, Darío Moran was injured and arrested by police. Dario studies at UNAH and is also a resistance activist. He was taken to the Kennedy police station and was then taken to the emergency department of Hospital Escuela as he was bleeding from skull trauma, but even there he was harrassed by the emergency coordinator Francisco Fernández, who asked for him, and then asked for food to be suspended from him and for him to be discharged as soon as possible. Dr Fernández also harrassed and insulted an accompanying human rights defender as well as Darío's family.

News from July 2014

Mine-workers fucked over even before they were stuck

It felt like much of the world were hanging on for the miners in Chile during the mine-workers' ordeal when they got stuck in the mine. Maybe the San Juan Arriba mine in El Corpus, Choluteca was less heard of, but many around Honduras at least followed this with their heart and hoped. Those most committed to the rescue work were the community, the miners, the firies – over 100 involved, taking turns. They looked for signs of life through sounds. Initially they also had the support of rescue missions from Guatemala and El Salvador.

El Corpus is actually not a company-run mine. It is a gold mine where 200 work for between $12.50 and $15 a day. It's extremely dangerous work for not much money, but being in a region where gold mining is the main source of work since colonisation, and where the option of working for the rock melon industry for $4.25 a day really is not an option, and even after this disaster, it is still not an option, just as survival is not an option.

The workers may have always known the dangers of that work as disasters happened before too, but that morning, when the eleven men went to work at 7.30am, they had no idea that they weren't going home that day. They worked in a 600 metres+ long tunnel, and it collapsed.

As news kept rolling in, it felt like some time from when contact was made by the firies with Nehemías Méndez Rodríguez, Bayron Maradiaga and Brayan Escalante, to when they were rescued. For a few minutes, there was news coming from COPECO (permanent contingencies commission of Honduras) re-sounded by president Juan Orlando Hernández that suddenly the other 8 who they had no contact with before were rescued and were being checked by doctors, even naming them. This was denied minutes after, the initial mis-information breaking the hearts of the families of the 8. Shortly after that, it was then recognised that the other three were being given water. Very dehydrated, hungry, in shock, saying only their names. Bayron almost walking. Brayan and Nehemías carried. And of the other eight, nor contact. There was, however, a strong smell already indicating likely deaths.

At this point, we heard that Chilean government was sending a mission and just before they left, they were told by Honduran authorities not to come, because they 'decided to end the rescue work because of the region's difficulties. Mexican specialists were turned down as well. And just as miners announced they were going back in, even if it is just to get the bodies, the Honduran government commissioned three geologies and a mines specialist engineer who said the rock instability made rescue attempts and any mine work there too dangerous, and ordered for the mine to be evicted and closed and the rescue to be ended.

Miners went to enter the mine in a last effort to try despite the danger and now also the dangers of confrontation with the army and police, with the militarisation that came with the Honduran authorities' decision. 'The decision is that we are going to keep looking for them...we gathered and talked about it and decided that it is our duty to hand the rest over to the families.' In addition, many feel that COPECO lacked efficiency in how it led the operation. As well as continuing the operation, the mine workers said they will keep working in the mine despite of the danger and order because they have no survival alternatives. Two years ago, the Geology and Mining Department of Honduras INGEOMIN carried out a technical study on the risk of this El Corpus mine – they recognised the risks and recommended to the Natural Resources and Environmental Secretary, Work Secretary and El Corpus Council and DPP to adopt preventive measures including stopping the work immediately. That was not executed and the workers never had any options either ways.

With more and more Central American children migrating to the US, US militarise even more their borders

While Obama calls the children coming a humanitarian crisis and asks the congress to increase $3.7 billion spending to 'deal with this', his plans are far from humanitarian. A humanitarian response would mean recognising the children as refugees and helping them re-unite with their families in US with open arms, and spending on welfare services accessible to these. A justice response would mean recognising that the US government has always and continues to actually create the situation in which these Central American (from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala) children have no choice but to migrate – and actively withdraw from this role and recognise its debt to these children for the tremendous and historical harm caused, having financed state forces of El Salvador and Guatemala in the 80s to stop grassroots revolutions and supported the 2009 coup in Honduras, not to mention money spent to support police and military in these countries that already massively violate human rights and increase violence. Already, before the $3.7 billion increase, Obama has deported more immigrants than any previous US president in history, and spending on border and immigration enforcement is already the highest too at $17 billion a year. Obama's 'humanitarian' response of increasing $3.7 billion in spending is broken up into $1.533 billion for National Security department (mostly for accelerating the deportation process, but $433 for targeting coyotes at borders), $1.8 billion for health and human services (insde of, funding, detention centres), $300 million for State Department, $64 million for justice. In short, literally, towards increasing jailing and deportation of refugee children without taking into consideration the context. The children leave Honduras running from military, police, drug traffickers, violence of private companies and extreme poverty in Central America to reunite with their families, risking already deportation, theft, rape, mutilation, extortion and murder on the way.

News shorts

Politicians from both sides on the wrong side of justice. From the left, after taxi drivers complained to traffic police about Libre party parliamentarian and journalist José Luís Galdamez going in the wrong direction to the traffic and felt that police were overlooking that and giving the parliamentarian special treatment because he is a politician, apparently to support the police he got out of the car, and fired a shot in the air followed by another hitting the abdominal region of the taxi driver. He said, (the drivers) 'began to accuse him of being corrupt and I found myself obligated to shoot'. Imagine. From the right, Nationalist Mayor Arnaldo Urbina Soto alias 'Moreno' was accused of money laundering and illegal possession of arms and was found to have many luxurious homes, cars, properties, with prohibited weapons buried in the ground and even fighting roosters. He was identified by the authorities as heading a criminal band 'Los Urbina', that has over 37 people in his team running operations, and which is responsible for killing over 100 and disappearing over 40.

Gang violence more precarious than ever. One killing after another with words of warning from gangs. Emilio Sánchez Rodríguez (40), assassinated in Tegucigalpa, had a message on a cardboard near his body, saying, 'for not wanting to hand over his home, attentively, the 18'. Three women's bodies were found in body sacks in Comayagǘela with a sign next to them, saying, 'this is how bitches end up, attentively, MS'. Also in Comayagǘela, a youth was assassinated, with a knot tied around his neck and a sign saying, 'attentively la MS, the MS gang killed him because he didn't do what we told him to.'

World bank ranking to facilitate landgrab against indigenous lands. It produced Doing Business Rankings, a points system based on how much each country facilitates business. This means countries competing to have less tax, less administrative requirements, less protection for people and environment, reforming laws to push land onto markets, etc.

Drought damages crops in 10 provinces of Honduras and over 64 municipalities. Winter came late and summer was prolonged – it meant not enough rain, around 30% loss of crops of basic grains..