Monday, October 19, 2015

Another Chance for Justice - Chabelo's trial reconvenes

Solidarity Action continues
the week of October 19th.

Spread the word through your social networks. Use the hashtags #justiceforchabelo #justiciaparachabelo

Chabelo's Trial Reconvenes
(for background info please visit: or )

October 19, 2015
Greg McCain

There was a greater anticipation for this hearing than the previous ones because, before the trial was suspended 2 weeks ago, the judges had strongly requested that the Prosecutor impress upon his witnesses that they need to show up. Indeed, that was the whole reason for the 2 week suspension; key prosecution witnesses were not appearing. The 2 weeks was to give them time to schedule accordingly.

The main witness, known as Protected Witness 2 (PW2), was the only survivor of the incident in which 11 people lost their lives in a fire that burned the house belonging to the Osortos to the ground.  PW2 was pulled from the house, ironically enough, by one of Chabelo's brothers.

Through out the initial investigation PW2 never identified Chabelo as one of those involved. It was only after the prosecution and Henry Osorto, a Sub-Commissioner of the National Police and whose family was involved in the conflict that resulted in the fire, decided to manufacture the case around a photo of Chabelo.

PW2's testimony changed in the first trial from what he had been saying in the investigation. He was now implicating Chabelo and one other person, Carlos Maradiaga, in the murder of Manrique Osorto. His testimony changed again in the 2nd trial due to Maradiaga having been found innocent in the 1st trial. Chabelo was being solely accused by PW2. It was due in part to these irregularities that the Supreme Court annulled, twice, the convictions of Chabelo.

Another important witness is Henry Osorto himself. Although he was not at the house during the incident, he claims that he was on the phone with his nephew, Manrique, during the events that led to Manrique's death. Osorto's testimony changed as well between the 1st and 2nd trials.

These 2 prosecution witnesses, amongst others, are refusing to come to the hearings in Trujillo. The Prosecutor stated that he spoke with Osorto on the phone and Osorto says that it is too dangerous for him and the other witnesses to go to Trujillo.

It is important to note that Osorto was recently elevated from a Sub-Commisioner to a Commisioner of the National Police. He has sufficient resources at his disposal to ensure his and the other witnesses' safety.

In today's hearing, the Prosecutor solicited the court to have the trial moved to La Ceiba or Tegucigalpa where Osorto feels safer (?). He also solicited that 3 prosecution witnesses be removed from having to testify. The judges asked the Defense if they agreed with the elimination of these testimonies. The Defense accepted this and the judges let it stand.

On the question of moving the trial which would require another suspension, the judges asked for the Defense's response. Atty Omar Menjivar stated that by law trials could not be suspended for more than 15 days. This trial has already had a 10 day suspension and the chances of getting it added to the docket in La Ceiba or Tegus in less than 5 days would be almost impossible. Omar also stipulated that the law states that "victims" have the right to testify, but there is no legal obligation that they do so. In other words, if they don't show up, the court is under no obligation to compel them to nor make it more convenient for them to. They have the power to order a witness to appear, but they are under no obligation to.

The judges deliberated at the bench for a short period than stated that today's hearing would be adjourned so that they could consider thoroughly the Prosecution's solicitation and they would deliver their decision.

There was one witness for the prosecution today, a medical examiner from the Public Ministry. His testimony consisted of his having examined PW2 and confirming that he had received wounds from a high caliber arm. He had no evidence that connected Chabelo to the incident.

It is clear that Osorto is once again manipulating the court proceedings. There is much speculation as to his true motive beyond his claims of safety. Some speculate that it is a psychological game to keep Chabelo and the Guadalupe Carney community off balance and fearful that this nightmare will never end. Others state that Osorto is buying time to solidify his plan to kidnap and assassinate Chabelo to keep the trial from having the possible outcome of Chabelo's innocence.

Chabelo accompanied by
Greg McCain October 5, 2015
Whatever the true motives, it is clear that Osorto has the power to manipulate the justice system as he has done for the past 7 years with regard to Chabelo's case. Just as Chabelo's incrimination has become a symbol for the criminalization of  campesinos and social movements across Honduras, his court hearings are emblematic of how the justice system works only for those with power. It has only been through the collective power of the national and international human rights communities that Chabelo and his defense team have pushed through the corruption and kept his case alive to fight another day.

Help keep the pressure up. Spread the word through your social networks. Use the hashtags #justiceforchabelo #justiciaparachabelo

Friday, October 16, 2015

Honduran Peoples' Movements Assembly

V. Cervantes October 12, 2015

Social movements; movements and communities in permanent resistance, and organizations with a vision of popular power built from below, met in a national assembly in early October in El Progreso. The  Social and Popular Movements Platform was formed two years ago with the goal of building unity among these movements to “retake the strategic political initiative” for a “national transformation”. 

The October 2015 assembly had representatives from more than 20 organizations, somewhat smaller than at their founding assembly. The meeting discussed the challenges they face from the new dictatorship represented by President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the general economic-political crises in the country, repression and criminalization of social protest, and the urgent need for unity by the social movements and groups that want fundamental change.  The assembly agreed on a communique that summarizes their goals, demands and their solidarity with others under attack by the current regime and power groups. The gathering also ratified the Platform’s commitment to “continue building popular power based on a citizens’ mobilization and a proposal to create the structural change that Honduran society wants; to build popular power  with a people’s communication media… and to continue working in an ethical, honest, respectful and fraternal manner to advance unity… the national and international level.”  

photo V. Cervantes
Social movements in Latin America refer to movements that represent certain sectors of society,  for example, campesinos, labor, indigenous peoples, or women. The social movement organizations and other groups active in the Platform include the organizations that formed the “Refoundational” trend in the FNRP and were opposed to the FNRP’s move into electoral politics with LIBRE, for example, COPINH, OFRANEH, and the Movimiento Amplio para Dignidad y Justicia (MADJ), as well as the Jesuit human rights, social research and communication group, ERIC-SJ/Radio Progreso.  The assembly also had the participation of important campesino organizations from the Bajo Aguan and regional centers of the CNTC that participate in LIBRE and the FNRP,  but also represent the campesino sector as a social movement. 

The campesino organizations spoke eloquently about the need for unity if they are to have a chance to survive the current attacks against them and win any space for their communities with an agrarian reform. The coordinator of OFRANEH, Mirian Mirando and of COPINH, Berta Caceres, spoke strongly about the attacks and challenges to their peoples’ continued existence as peoples and the difficult situation for their movements. Also participating in the meeting were human rights defenders, environmentalist community organizations, activists from poor people's movements (pobladores), the indignant (indignados) movement, unions, and popular movements from the Aguan. 

October 1
Photo Honduras Tierra Libre
There was thoughtful discussion at the assembly about the last two years and the challenges brought to the social movements by the rise of the Indignados (Indignant) movement.  There was an acknowledgement that as the Platform they had difficulty in developing a program or relationship related to the indignados. The indignado movement rose massively in the Spring of 2015, against corruption and impunity, and demanding an international, independent investigative commission (CICIH), after the blatant corruption of President Hernandez’s government and National Party in robbing more than 350 million dollars from the public health system was uncovered. However, there were several different orientations in that movement including people and groups from the resistance movement against the coup, people who were opposed to the coup but stayed outside the FNRP,  as well as people and groups that supported the coup in 2009 but were outraged by the corruption. The indignados movement as a mass response was analyzed to be fading out; it was noted that turn out for a national day of action on October 1st by the indignados closest to the FNRP and youth organization was very small numerically compared to earlier mobilizations and was boycotted by the more conservative sectors of the indignados. Despite being much smaller than before, there were highway takeovers and other actions in many parts of the country and in multiple neighborhoods of Tegucigalpa, all of which were repressed by military and police forces.  The assembly discussed concern on how to build unity with the people and groups that were activated by this indignation and who share the desire for structural change in Honduras. 
Repression - October 1
photo Honduras Tierra Libre

Another point of discussion was concern by many of the participants in the assembly was that once the electoral season opens again (next year), it will be even more difficult to mobilize for action in support of the social movements’ ongoing and permanent resistance because of the “electoral fever” generated by the media and the political parties. 

The PMSP reiterated its support and participation in the campaigns in defense of the defenders of the right to public education, the right to land, common-good resources, freedom of expression and women’s rights; called for justice for all the assassinated activists, condemned criminalization and repression against protest and social movements and declared the struggles of the Garifuna people as well as indigenous peoples in general to be the struggle of all the movements. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

War on Drugs? War on Campesinos

The country is buzzing about the arrest of Yankel Rosenthal in Miami for money laundering and the indictment  of Jaime and Yani Rosenthal from one of the most powerful families in Honduras. Karen Spring, the Honduras Coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network has a very thoughtful piece in her Aquí Abajo blog that that lays out both background and things to think about in this "war on drugs" run by Washington DC.  Talking about wars, I am publishing below an article from my visit on Wednesday with the campesino leaders in Progreso from the CNTC.

Conversation with Magdalena Morales & CNTC regional leaders - Progreso
Campesino Movement Still Fighting for Justice and Survival

Wednesday October 7th .
V. Cervantes

The National Center for Rural Workers (CNTC) in the province of Yoro has 42 organized communities, each with several cooperative projects (campesino empresas).  Magdalena Morales is the general secretary and we were joined by Francisco, Julian and Bernabe, the other members of the regional secretariat. I was eager to get an update on one of their communities in Sulaco that, on August 18th,  was violently evicted from its land after 15 years. The community is named Hernando Figueroa and has been home to two former national General Secretaries of the CNTC.
Sulaco eviction

At least 200 police and military, accompanied by the government Human Rights Commission, arrived at the community with 12 patrol cars, an ambulance, firemen and armored vehicle. No eviction order was shown, but the troops destroyed 20 homes, an evangelical church and about 350 acres of beans, corn and other food crops which represented all the community's cultivation.  Only the intervention by phone of a regional official from the government's Agrarian Institute stopped the violence before the Catholic church and preschool and water purification system were destroyed.

Magdalena said that the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez seems to have new protocols for violence in evictions: using quantities of tear gas, sending in ambulances, firemen and armored vehicles with larger numbers of both military and police troops---as if they were going to war. The group talked about the recent attacks on settlements in Choluteca and Villanueva as examples of how far the government is willing to go in making poor people homeless. Those attacks were documented by social and traditional media so that the whole country could see them, most evictions are not shown on television.

The group also talked about the ongoing intimidations against campesino leaders. In Progreso there was an intense campaign against the CNTC, especially Magdalena during the recuperation of land claimed by the ASUNOSA corporation (part of SAB Miller's operations). Magdalena was criminally charged and all the leadership was threatened. The case against Magdalena was finally negotiated but there remain threats and intimidations, such as surveillance of the leaders' movements. The group felt, in general, that the Hernandez government has unleashed a new campaign against campesino organizations and communities with threats, evictions and the criminalization of the campesino social movement. They said that one of the key fights for the agrarian movement is to fight this criminalization and intimidation.

Julian, Francisco, Bernabe
Francisco explained that his community, 6 de April,  is also under threat of eviction after more than 11 years on their land. They were being titled under President Zelaya's decree (18-2008), which was aimed at resolving hundreds of long-standing agrarian conflicts in favor of the campesinos living and working on recuperated land. After the coup, the decree was annulled and, in the case of 6 de April, a big landowner claimed the land, first demanding payment from the Agrarian Institute and when that was denied moving to the courts to claim title to the land. The campesinos have now been told by the Agrarian Institute that they need to get a lawyer to defend their title, but they do not have the resources to hire private representation. Juan Orlando Hernandez has slashed the budget and and functions of the Agrarian Institute in the past few years so that it no longer provides the same legal and advisory services to the campesinos that it once did.

Magdalena with poster
for Credi-Mujer Law
In the middle of this discussion a reporter and cameraman from the television station, TV Progreso arrived to interview Magdalena about a recent success for the campesino movement, the passage of the Credi-Mujer law in Congress. This law is aimed at increasing gender equity so that poor women and campesinas in the rural areas can get access to credit and other economic assistance. Magdalena talked about the importance of this access in a country with a high percentage of women headed households and single mothers who are struggling to survive. After the reporter left she told me that there are some people who don't feel this small victory is important but that she and other women leaders believe that it will not only help women directly but indirectly will increase access to other services and assistance for poor women in the countryside.

Magdalena began talking about the determination of the organized campesino movement to begin the fight again for Congress to pass their project, the Law for Integral Agrarian Reform with Gender Equity.  She said that they had not been able to win in Congress over the past two years but are gearing up to fight again because only with a just agrarian reform will it be possible to begin to address the extreme poverty and the agrarian conflicts and violence against communities  in the countryside.

Margarita Murillo
Another important campaign that Magdalena said they want to take up is an independent investigation of the assassination of Margarita Murillo, a campesina leader and member of the resistance, killed on August 26, 2014, in nearby Villanueva while working on her parcel of land.

Margarita was a founding member of an early campesino organization, the FENACAMH (National Unity Campesino Front) and of the CNTC. She was kidnaped and tortured during the repressive period of the 1980's and had to go into hiding. She returned and after the coup became active in the resistance. At the time of her murder she had protective measures ordered by the Interamerican Human Rights Commission but, as is usual,  the Honduran government had not complied with requirements to provide protection. Magdalena said that there is a real need for an independent investigation to find out the facts because otherwise there will not be a serious attempt to know what happened.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chance for Justice - Support for Chabelo and other News

Below are links to two statements in support of Chabelo Morales, one from La Voz de los de Abajo and one from Alliance for Global Justice, published by Radio Progreso and taped during this accompaniment visit for Chabelo's new trial. The trial is set to reconvene on October 19th. There is much hope for his complete liberty but concerns remain for his security as well as that of his family and community.

Meanwhile Honduras has been rocked today by the news that a member of the powerful Rosenthal family (Yankel Rosenthal) was arrested in Miami for money laundering and that the patriarch of the family media and agricultural empire (Jaime Rosenthal) and politician (Yany Rosenthal) as well as the Rosenthal bank (Banco Continental) are also named for money laundering of dirty (narcotics and organized crime) money. Yankel was a Vice Minister in President Juan Orlando Hernandez's government until recently. More to come on this twist later.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Celebrations and Evictions: Honduran Reality

October 6, 2015
article and photos of the community,  V. Cervantes

In honor of the International Monetary Fund congratulating the Honduran government on its economic successes (La Prensa October 6) and Honduras Armed Forces Day on October 3rd, today we visited the community of Regalo de Dios (Gift from God) in Villanueva, Cortes, between Progreso and San Pedro Sula.
 The Regalo de Dios community was evicted from its land on September 23, 2015 by police and military who killed a 16 year old boy during the violent attack against the settlement.

The community had lived on the land for more than 7 years, constructing houses of cinderblock as well as wood, a church, and other buildings. 70 families live there and there were 20 houses under construction at the time of the eviction which started at 6 am on the morning of the 23rd when
police and military under the command of the Commissioner of the National Police in San Pedro Sula arrived. Members of the community told us that at least 32 troops came in and went house by house, beating and shoving around men, women and children while forcing them out of their homes. The people were yelling at the police and soldiers while moving and the police began firing tear gas. At some point many more troops arrived.  Residents from the surrounding neighborhoods began arriving to support the people in Regalo de Dios and the police fired more gas and then began firing live ammunition. 

Tear gas blanketed the area not only of Regalo de Dios but the entire area, made of numerous settlements on both sides of the highway. There was so much gas that it was heavy even at a school in session at least the distance of 3 football fields away from Regalo de Dios. One of the women told us that she and a boy ran from her home and took refuge in another building a little further away from the police but that the gas was so asphyxiating that they felt like they might die, and had to run further away. A nine month old baby was severely affected and had to be rushed to the hospital. The men we talked to told us that not only were the police and soldiers using incredible quantities of gas but they also were firing the canisters directly at the people, not up in the air, so that many people were injured by the canisters. 
The 16 year old boy, Fernando Castro was not even in Regalo de Dios but was with others who either fled or had come from other communities and were outside the land when he was fatally wounded by the gunfire from the police and army. 

The authorities finished by bringing in bulldozers and destroying the homes and community church. (Video  from Facebook via Orlin Martinez Almendares. 

The community leaders told us that this land was originally part of the Tela Company property (the US corporation that became part of Standard Fruit and owned most of the northern coast of Honduras for much of the 20th century. When the Company left it gave the land over to the Honduran government, thus making it eligible for distribution to people for agrarian reform. The landowner claiming the land is Alejandrina Elan Maldonado, the widow of Carlos Israel Martinez — the community leaders say that neither Carlos nor Alejandrina legitimately have title. One man told us that,  “it always happens that the State and all its forces just favor the rich and not poor people like us”. 

Meanwhile the IMF conducted its second review of the Honduran government’s economic program and approved the structural reforms and policies for economic development, predicting that the Honduran economy will grow 3.6% in 2016. Roberto Garcia Saltos, head of the IMF mission to Honduras this month said that, “We congratulate the Honduran government on its macroeconomic success….The mission is pleased to by the positive results achieved thanks to the appropriate political and economic decisions made in the past 22 months.”

These decisions include support for “charter or model” cities, destruction of the public health system and violent evictions and an intensification of the criminalization of the agrarian land movements. It is all too obvious that any growth occurring is not for the country’s poor. 

Photo La Prensa, Honduras
The eviction in Regalo de Dios occurred while Juan Orlando Hernandez was in the area celebrating the inauguration of various government projects and handing out baskets of food in the extremely poor agricultural communities in Yoro which have been devastated by the drought and government policies. 

On October 3rd, the military was celebrated (and by extention, the government's policy of militarization throughout the country) by the government with a massive parade and festival in the national stadium in Tegucigalpa and smaller activities in some other areas. The people of Regalo de Dios are in no mood to celebrate repression; the families there have started returning to the land and rebuilding homes, but they fear what might happen in the future. 
Official government photo

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