Friday, June 24, 2016

Progreso - Fighting Against Privatization and Repression

La Voz de los de Abajo has a fact finding and accompaniment commission traveling in Honduras this week.  We arrived Wednesday and driving from the San Pedro Sula Airport to Progreso we stopped to accompany the ongoing protests against the construction of a new toll road on the highway between these two important cities in the North at the invitation of some of the activists in this movement.   Recent protests on June 4, 8 and 11 have been repressed violently with tear gas, police beating participants and journalists and the detention of protesters who have set tires on fire to help block the road.  Wednesday the number of protesters was much smaller but they still blocked the highway, facing off against at least 50 armed National Police and Cobra riot police without any violence.  Organizations supporting the protests include the CNTC Progreso, ERIC-SJ, teacher activists, LIBRE, student groups and poor peoples organizations working together in the Mesas de Indignación.  The Chamber of Commerce of Progreso is joining in now;  they called for a civic strike Thursday the 23rd  of the small business owners and Progreso's population with a public assembly to discuss and debate what to do. More than 100 small and medium businesses supported the civic action.

Since taking power in January 2014 President Juan Orlando Hernandez has intensified the campaign of privatization of public goods and the cutting of services to the people. One of these campaigns is for the privatization of the major highways through the construction of toll roads. These toll road schemes bring in revenue for the private/public partnerships (Coalianza near Tegucigalpa and DASA in the North) that build and manage them through the contracts awarded to companies and the collection of the tolls themselves.  They cause immense hardship for the population and are widely hated and protested.  The cost of a toll is around $1 for a regular private car and approximately $10 for a large truck. At the same time the alternative roads are being blocked with drainage ditches and other construction. Toll roads have been completed on the highways in and out of Tegucigalpa and between San Pedro Sula and Choluma, and more are planned on the highways in and out of Progreso. There have been many protests blocking the road and refusing to pay the tolls but now people have decided to protest to prevent the construction of new tolls.
Padre Melo on the air Radio Progreso

Radio Progreso ERIC-SJ and the Teachers movement represented
LIBRE congressman Bartolo Fuentes, City council woman Araminta Pereira

One of the organizations working to build this rebellion against privatization of the roadways in Radio Progreso, and ERIC-SJ. We visited Padre Melo during his nightly show, America Libre. He was receiving calls from the public dennouncing the tolls and he called on the social movement organizations and resistance movement to make it a national movement. He believes that it is urgent for the popular movements to strengthen these broader civic protests so that they are less vulnerable to manipulation by the government.

Friday, June 17, 2016

COPINH - Unrelenting Rebellion - New Documentary Available Online

COPINH documentary released - Telling the story of the organization Berta Cáceres gave her life for

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Businessmen collude with Honduran government to jail residents of Zacate Grande and displace them from coastal lands

For decades the communities of the Zacate Grande peninsula have suffered from constant harassment and arrests ordered by big businessmen and government functionaries.

Those who continue to resist pay with jail time, as is the case of Abel Antonio Perez and Santos Hernandez from the Puerto Sierra village in the Playa Blanca community, who were sent to the Nacaome penitentiary on May 19th, 2016. Both are peasant leaders and members of the Association for the Development of the Zacate Grande Peninsula (ADEPZA).

They appeared on Thursday at 2pm in front of the Amapala court for a sentence review hearing where Judge Iris issued a warrant for their arrest for not having showed up to sign the registry verifying their presence in the country.

They have several previous charges and arrests for the crimes of usurping land and building on the private land of José Casis Leiva and Edilberto Cruz.

Santos and Abel are part of a group of 44 families who are affected by the wall built by Edilberto Cruz, owner of the Puma gas station in San Lorenzo, who has been showing up with the Relleno and Nacaome police since May 14, 2011, to ask the people left inside of his wall to abandon the property that they live on.

Don Faustino Perez, Abel Perez’s father and now one of the two arrestees has been living on this land for over forty years, yet only has a certificate of use (dominio útil) to validate him as the owner of the land wher he lives, since the State always considered the Zacate Grande peninsula as private rather than national lands, which is why Don Faustino never received a title from the Property Institute or the National Agrarian Institute (INA).

Every year during Holy Week, Zacate Grande’s beaches fill up with visitors, and at Playa Blanca Santos and Abel helped clean up the beaches and parking areas for visitors. A few days later Jorge Casis Leiva accused them of using the area of his supposed property for parking. Now they are jailed for not have followed the court-ordered probationary measures stemming from the accusation.

The government’s hands have long been dirty for harassing and jailing peasant leaders and organizers. In 1902 the State bequeathed the Zacate Grande island to General Terencio Sierra as a reward for his good work as President of the Republic, who went on to grant it before his death through a colonial title to his Nicaraguan niece Carmen Malespin, giving her 500 lots of Zacate Grande lands, but never mentioning in the document what part of Zacate Grande those lands were in.

In 1970 the construction of an artificial land bridge connected Zacate Grande with the mainland and turned the island into a Peninsula. This and the building of the port of Amapala led big businessment and investors little by little to show up and take over ownership of the beaches, with Carmen Malespin giving her approval without having ever set foot on the island. She began to sell off small beachside lots, and that is how businessmen like the Facusses, Nassers, Rosentals, Kafatis, Canahuatis, Larachs, Maduros, and prominent functionaries linked to corruption such as Lena Gutierres, Juan Orlando Hernandes, Arturo Corrales, Leonardo Callejas etc. began taking ownership over the majority of the beaches of the peninsula.

After Callejas pushed through the 1992 Agrarian Reform law, 32 beaches were given away almost 70% of the peninsula was legally given over to Miguel Facusse Barjun, a businessman implicated in enormous thefts such as that of the National Investment Corporation (CONADI) who was also the uncle of ex-president Carlos Flores Facusse.

Miguel Facusse Barjun died in 2015, but amongst his heirs is his son Miguel Mauricio Facusse, who today is considered one of the two richest Hondurans in Central America, as well as his daughter Elissa Facusse, wife of Fredis Nasser, owner of Petrosur, majority investor in Grupo Terra, stockholder in the gasoline company Uno as well as DESA. As a wedding gift, Miguel Facusse gave his daughter ownership of the Gaviotas beach, leading to the brutal eviction of the Cárcamo Sanchez family, who lived on the beach, in 2003. Narda Ofelia Sanchez, after being sent to prison, won her case on three occasions and was never removed from her beach, yet to this day nobody has paid for the material damages suffered by the family nor the immense damage to Honduras as a country cause by the privatization of one of the most beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Fonseca, the Gaviotas beach.

Next to the Gaviotas beach is the Blanca beach and the village of Puerto Sierra, where since 2012 there have been warrants for the arrest of Faustino Perez, Santos and Abel, and Gabriel Moreno. The accusations were made by Edilberto Cruz, the supposed owner of the Uno Gas Station in San Lorenzo. On what is left of the community Jorge Casis Leiva has put up signs warning not to enter because it is his land, since he considers himself the owner of the whole community for having purchased it from the Malespin family.

Currently there are 36 accusations against residents of Zacate Grande for the same charges faced by Santos and Abel – usurping land, damaging the environment, and building on private land. At any moment any of them could go to jail for not complying with measures such as showing up to sign the court registry or not having the money they have to come up with every month so they can make the trip.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

From the Aguan Valley: La Lucha Sigue

May 9, 2016, meeting with campesino
organizations in Tocoa, Colon
Article and photos by Vicki Cervantes
Video: Massacre en El Tumbador courtesy of Alto Al Riesgo, written and directed by Laura Bermúdez. 

On May 24, 2016 at around 6:30 in the morning, Jinson Aldin Alfaro Almendares, a young member of the campesino group Empresa Campesina Gregorio Chávez was shot in the back without warning by private paramilitary guards working for COFRUCO, a large land holder in the Aguan, as he worked in his fields. The COFRUCO plantation as well as the land Jinson was working are next to the Paso Aguan plantation controlled by the Faccusee family's corporation Dinant. The Paso Aguan plantation and the nearby community of Panama have been the scene of many attacks on local campesinos including the murder in 2012 of Gregorio Chavez, which has never been investigated and remains in impunity.   Jinson survived, but this incident is one of many, recent attacks against campesinos and their organizations. The day before the shooting, the home of the coordinator of the campesino umbrella organization the Regional Agrarian Platform for the Aguan Valley, Jaime Cabrera was surrounded for a time by armed men wearing ski masks while Jaime was inside the house. Police refused to take action against the guards who shot Jinson. (Information on the attack as reported by the Plataforma Agraria del Aguan via Karla Zelaya). 

In Guadalupe Carney on May 9, premier of documentary
of 2010 El Tumbador massacre of 5 campesinos

Just two weeks ago, I participated in an International Human Rights Observer Mission organized by COFADEH (May 6-12) that met with campesino organizations in the Aguan, including the Movimiento Revindicador Campesino Gregorio Chavez, Movimiento Unificado Campesinos del Aguan (MUCA) Movimiento Authentico Revindicador Campesino del Aguan (MARCA)  and the Permanent Human Rights Observatory of the Aguan (OPDHA).

That same day we also participated in an event to commemorate and launch a new struggle to demand justice for the November 2010 massacre of 5 campesinos from the MCA by guards working for DINANT.  COFADEH has been working with the survivors of the massacre and the families of the murdered campesinos and is getting ready to take the case to the international justice system. The event held in the community of Guadalupe Carney included a photo exhibition of the survivors and victims and the premier showing of a new documentary about the El Tumbador.

May 9, Meeting with survivors and victims
of 2010 massacre at El Tumbador 
The meeting with campesino organizations, social movement organizations such as the Coordinator of Peoples' Organizations of the Aguan (COPA), and community organizations from the towns in the region who are defending the environment from mining and mega-tourism projects took place in the town of Tocoa. Participants in the meeting gave moving testimony about the violence, including murders, against campesinos, and different trickery and pressure being used to facilitate campesino lands passing into the hands of the large landowners and agro-businesses. Testimony also denounced what is seen as a new phase in the violence in the Aguan in which large scale violent attacks have been replaced with a more selective violence, infiltration of communities, threats and intimidations to terrorize and disorganize all opposition to land grabbing, mining and dispossession of the poor residents of the Aguan.

MUCA leaders speaking
MUCA leaders talked about the establishment of outright death squads, one group calls itself "head collectors of Colon"; on September 1, 2015 after police attacked a local protest with live ammunition and tear gas, a Coronel was reported to have said that he wanted the heads of two campesino leaders which he named by their names. Around the same time a 'hit list' came to light with more names of leaders and activists. Environmentalists, members of organizations opposed to the coup and current government also spoke of threats they are receiving. Employees of the National Agrarian Institute spoke of being threatened personally and having their jobs threatened because they support campesinos or because they belong to LIBRE (the left opposition party). Another woman who works for the municipality but is opposed to mining concessions that will affect her community. She was told at work that her job was at risk and that furthermore that bad things happen to people working against mining.

Members of the human rights observatory (OPDHA) also gave testimony about recent attempts on their lives. Irma Lemus and Rigoberto Duran were run down by a car that was obviously waiting for them as they rode by on Rigoberto's motorcycle. Both suffered serious injuries. There were previous incidents in which cars with darkened windows and without license plates followed them and attempted to intimidate or run them off the road. Campesino activists and members of COPA and other social movements emphasized that Juan Orlando Hernandez's government is firming up a dictatorship that is "asphyxiating" the campesinos and that there is a strong alliance between National Party politicians, big businessmen, judges and police against the campesinos in the Aguan.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


To the grassroots social movements, organizations and civil society around the world:

The death of Berta Cáceres has filled us with indignation. We carry the pain with us, but we also carry the strength of her thought, her work, and the longing for justice. The principles that she fought for are what will save humanity, which is why we call on you to participate in a worldwide protest that will bring all of our voices together to demand justice for Berta Cáceres, justice for Gustavo Castro, justice for COPINH and justice for the people of Honduras.

On June 15th in Honduras social movements and organizations, institutions and people of action will protest to demand the immediate creation of an independent investigative body to transparently, deeply and completely investigate the assassination of our sister and compañera.

On that day we would like our sisters and brothers from other countries in the world to join us by carrying out protest actions in front of the Honduran embassies of your respective countries to demand the following:
  • The immediate creation of an international, independent investigative body sponsored by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to seek the truth about thise vile crime and assure that all responsible parties are prosecuted.
  • The immediate and definite cancellation of the concession given to DESA, the company building the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in Río Blanco.
The actions carried out by the Honduran state and its organizations are insufficient and are not aimed at achieving justice. On the contrary, they are assuring that this crime will go unpunished.
Let’s join together and put an end to death, impunity and injustice.

With the ancestral strength of Berta, Lempira, Mota, Etempica and Iselaca we raise our voices full of justice freedom, dignity and peace!

Justice for Berta is Justice for the World!
Wake up humanity, there’s no time left!

Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras
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