On June 30 the delegation traveled to the prison in Ceiba (Central Penal de La Ceiba) to visit the campesino political prisoner Jose Isabel Morales. Jose Isabel is one of the campesinos from the Guadalupe Carney community jailed over two years ago after an attack on the community by heavily armed security guards working for a large landowner resulted in a confrontation that left 1 campesino and 11 guards dead. Jose Isabel spoke to the delegation about the injustice of his case and the urgency of continued international and national pressure on the court and defacto government to free him.
Guadalupe Carney was founded when landless campesino organizations moved on to an abandoned military training base and filed for legal title under the land reform law. It was named for the priest, James Carney, a Jesuit who served the poor campesino communities in the 80’s and was “disappeared” by the military death squads in 1983. The community has resisted the attempts of the big landowners to seize the land and won legal titles for the majority of the parcels, however some still remain in conflict. The community currently has more than 600 families and is a stronghold for the resistance movement and a symbol for the landless campesino movement in the country.
Jose Isabel and Carlos Antonio Maradiaga were detained a month after the confrontation and, without evidence of their involvement in the deaths, they were held for more than 2 years before going to trial on June 14 charged with more than 14 crimes and facing from 250 to 350 years of prison.
The trial was attended by international and national observers including members of the Guadalupe Carney community and other campesino communities. On one day there were at least 200 people gathered at the court in support of Morales and Maradiaga. Witnesses from the community testified on behalf of the two campesinos.
On June 25th the court handed down a verdict of not guilty for Maradiaga and declared Jose Isabel to be guilty of one homicide charge. His sentencing is expected in a few weeks. Jose Isabel told the delegation that he was very surprised by the verdict because of the lack of evidence or witnesses. Other observers have commented that the since the two cases were linked it doesn’t make sense that one person is found innocent and the other guilty and that most likely the judge was feeling the pressure from the powerful landowners while recognizing that there was no good evidence.
During the time that Jose Isabel has been in jail his father and one of his children died. He was denied permission to attend the funerals. For the past 8 months he and Maradiaga were kept separate from the general prison population because a plot to murder the two men in prison was discovered. He continues to be kept separate.
The prosecution of the two campesinos is emblemic of the repression against the campesino movement in Honduras. Wealthy landowners like Miguel Facusse or Osorto in Colon and in other states have private paramilitary forces at their disposal as well as control of local and state police and most of the national media. Their influence at the national level gives them total impunity for crimes against the campesinos and allows them to ignore land reform decisions in favor of the campesinos.
In Colon, since the coup d’etat, violence against the campesino communities has increased alarmingly. Guadalupe Carney has been threatened and has a military outpost set-up in its park right in front of the community elementary school. Another campesino community of the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguan (MUCA) is under siege by the military and the paramilitaries. One of their members, a 16 year old boy, was murdered only 2 weeks ago.
Carlos Maradiaga was released from prison after the June 25th. Jose Isabel talked about his hopes that a planned appeal will bring justice and he will be freed.
Human rights organizations and organizations in the resistance are continuing support for Jose Isabel and asking for international organizations to continue pressuring the defacto regime and the judicial system for justice. For more information: email@example.com
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