Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Reports from Honduras - February 3-4

Report from Honduras - Chabelo’s Trial  Day 5-6
February 3-4   Many thanks to Dunia Aracely Pèrez for use of her notes
text and photos by V. Cervantes

Both the defense and prosecution are continuing to present evidence (supposed evidence in the case of the prosecution); more prosecution witnesses have also appeared, mainly policemen and forensic experts. As has been the case from the beginning the prosecution has continued to present evidence that proves  that there was a confrontation with many weapons resulting in the deaths of 11 people - unrelated to the specific charges against Chabelo. 

The courthouse in La Ceiba
However it was notable that on February 3rd, a policeman from the investigatory unit of the National Police out of Tegucigalpa (DGIC) gave testimony that was different from his testimony at the earlier trial and hearing in 2010 and different from the written affidavit that he signed. In 2010 he stated that the witness he interviewed (the protected witness A2 that I mentioned in an earlier blog) told him that Chabelo was the one who opened the gas cans to start the fire and said nothing about Chabelo being related to the death for which he is charged (Carlos Manrique Sorto Castillo). But this time, he testified that the witness told him that Chabelo also killed Pedro -- which is the same change in testimony made by the protected witness A2 at this trial - also different from his testimony at the 2010 trial. When the defense asked the police officer why the information sworn to now is not in the affidavits and testimony of 2010, he said he didn’t know. As I reported in earlier blogs, other witnesses have testified that Chabelo went to the scene after 4pm, was not close to the house, and only went to find the body of his friend Arnulfo Guevara who was killed in the confrontation. I can only speculate that someone decided that the original dubious testimony didn’t implicate Chabelo enough so they changed it. The defense lawyers were finally able to state for the record that there were serious inconsistencies and contradictions in the testimonies.  

Today (February 4th) the defense presented a video that was taken the day after the confrontation when police were supposed to be investigating the crime scene and removing bodies. The video shows all kinds of policemen, press, and other individuals coming and going all over the property and surrounding area, walking around even where crime technicians were working etc. The defense introduced the video to show the massive contamination of a crime scene, noting that there were also objects seen in the video that were not on the inventory list of items found (a big blue container for example) and that there was a pile of burnt weapons (they looked like  AK47s) just laying out in the open and that the bodies were not being examined and removed by forensic or other medical personnel as required. The response from the prosecution was that “all crime scenes are contaminated” and that “humans aren’t perfect”.

The landowner and police official who began the war with the campesinos, Henry Vicente Osorto was supposed to testify since last week but has not shown up despite being ordered to do so by the court and despite many messages being sent to the National Police in Juticalpa, Olancho where he is the departmental chief. He is again expected tomorrow along with some additional forensic doctors. 

Once the witness and evidence presentations are through the procedure will be for Chabelo to speak on his own behalf and then the concluding arguments of the defense and prosecution. The 3 judge panel supposedly has to decide the case in 2 days but the  defense expects that the decision will come down on Friday. 
Interview with Magdalena Morales, Regional Secretary of the CNTC in Yoro 
February 4, 2014

“In this country only the powerful have justice, not the poor” 

I spoke with Magdalena via telephone to get an update on her case.  She is charged with usurption of land, inciting protest and inciting the land occupation, and with "destruction of property" - all of this based on the fact that the CNTC is supporting the struggle of its members and members of the Association Pro-Development for the Campesinos of Progreso (ADCP) in Progreso, Yoro against the multinational sugar company, AZUNOSA, which occupies land that was declared to be eligible for land reform. She is one of more than 3,000 members of the CNTC facing criminal charges related to the land struggles. 

Magdalena in November 2013 
Magdalena told me that despite the fact that  the sugar company AZUNOSA has agreed to negotiate with the campesino organizations, she is still facing charges. Her next scheduled  court date in February 11th and she has been told that she may have to pay 12, 000 lempira (about 600 US Dollars) even if a solution is reached and she is no longer charged. She also told me that during the negotiations AZUNOSA keeps saying that a solution  is near but they have not made any concrete proposals. Meanwhile the campesinos continue living under tarps and in shacks on government land next to the land that should be theirs but remains heavily guarded by private guards, police and military. Just yesterday there was another attempt against one of the campesinos - he was walking to the highway to catch a bus near the land recuperation when a car tried to run over him. Luckily he escaped; another member of the campesino group was killed in a similar incident in 2013. 

Magdalena expressed her thanks for the international support and the publicity given to her case and the  CNTC and ADCP campesinos. She denounced the fact that the politicians pay no attention to the social problems of poverty and land reform and that in the justice system only the powerful and rich find justice. 

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