Monday, May 9, 2016

Human Rights Observation Mission in Honduras

A member of La Voz de los de Abajo and coordinator of the Honduras Solidarity Network in North America, Vicki Cervantes, is traveling in Honduras and participating in an observation mission organized by COFADEH. 

The international mission is made up of 18 human rights observers and journalists from Colombia, El Salvador, Chile, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Spain, France, Italy and the United States. The focus of the mission is on the Aguan Valley but we spent the first day, May 7th,  in La Esperanza, Intibuca with the family of Berta Caceres. This was at the same time that the court hearings were beginning in Tegucigalpa for the first arrests in Berta's case. Four men, including one retired and one active military officer and one Desa employee were brought to court. (Two additional men have been arrested: one is said to have been one of the hired guns,  but little information has come out about  the sixth man arrested on May 8). Berta's daughter Bertita was traveling Laura and Olivia were attending court in Tegucigalpa so the delegation met with the rest of her immediate family including Berta's mother Astraberta and her siblings.

Doña Astraberta with a grandson
Carlos H. Reres, Bertha Olvia
,and a delegation member
Sometimes in tears all the family spoke and shared their experience of Berta's passion and dedication and the events the days and hours before her murder. They explained that the government has not kept the family informed,of the investigation and that they learned that there had been arrested through the media. They strongly emphasized that they continue to demand that an independent investigation team from the Inter-American Human Rights Commission be involved as they have no faith in the government's investigation, its forensic process nor in its ability or will to prosecute the intellectual authors of the crime and all of those who ordered, organized, finances, informed and carried out the assassination. Just as one example of why they don't have confidence in the integrity of the process is that the head of the government department prosecuting the accused killers has a private practice as well and the defense lawyers for the same accused killers come from that private practice law firm.  Berta's sister Agustina said, "I am not tired of crying for my sister but I am tired of so much injustice".
Bertha Oliva of COFADEH spoke briefly about the situation in the country and the campaigns against human rights defenders of all kinds. We were also joined by Carlos H. Reyes, leader of the beverage workers' union and important figure in the resistance movement, who with Berta Caceres had been preparing to run for President and Vice President as independent peoples' candidates in 2009. Carlos spoke on the context in which repression and violence is taking place in Honduras and the Hernandez' governments ruthless economic and political agenda to privatize and exploit Honduras' resources with no regard for the consequences for the people as well as the role of the United States in setting the agenda and doing everything possible to continue the coup.

After the meeting the delegation was invited to Doña Astraberta's house where the family has set up photos and an altar dedicated to Berta. We ended the day by going to the cemetery to pay our respects.

Felix (gray shirt) with members of the delegation
Later in the evening we were happily surprised when the jornalist and community radio station organizer Felix Molina showed up in La Esperanza.  Felix survived two attempts on his life on May 2nd. The second attempt left him with gunshot wounds to both legs. He got out of the hospital on May 7th and along with film-maker Jesse Freeston came to La Esperanza to see Bertha's family and to greet the delegation. Felix hosted a radio show on Radio Globo called Resistencia for several years after the 2009 coup; he continues to broadcast his own show and also coordinates an effort to organize community radio stations all over Honduras and get them legal permits to funciton. He has often been threatened and is one more journalist in Honduras to suffer violence.

This violence is also ferocious against anyone opposing the government's programs. As we were meeting in La Esperanza, high school students in San Pedro Sula were in the streets, blocking the toll road in protest of new regulations in the school system. The students were attacked by police and 100 high schoolers were arrested. They were later released. Meanwhile the government suspended the teaching license of Jaime Rodriguez,  president of the secondary teachers union COPEMH,  accusing him of being responsible for the students' protests across the country. There have been a number of cases of students disappearing or being attacked after protests which continue to grow, especially in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
V. Cervantes, May 8, 2016, Honduras

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