Sunday, September 16, 2012

Honduras Delegation- Tocoa, Colon - September 15, 2012- Independence Day

According to the local activists, the annual Honduran Independence Parade in Tocoa, in the Aguan Valley of Honduras always takes hours to make its way down the main street to the Central Park even though it is not a big town. This year was no exception. It took nearly 3 hours for the several hundred  campesinos, teachers, and FNRP and LIBRE activists who entered the official parade with bright red flags and the banners of the FNRP, LIBRE, MUCA, COPA, COPEMH and more to get to the park and official podium. When they did though it was a big surprise for the officials and guests sitting at the decorated tables up on the stage because the resistance contingent quickly filled the park and leaders from the local FNRP and LIBRE moved to the stage and began giving speeches - turning the even into a resistance celebration. The stunned officials, including the mayor, listened as their policies, support for mining concessions, and the ongoing violence against campesinos were denounced from their own stage.
Last year the resistance's alternative independence day events were brutally attacked by the police leaving many people injured and detained at the police station. Because of that, after discussion with the Permanent Human Rights Observatory in Aguan,  our delegation decided to stay in Tocoa to accompany the march. This year the resistance contingent was able to negotiate with the police and there were no serious incidents. at one point a truck decorated with publicity for a local candidate from the National Party (The current president's party) forced its way into the parade in the middle of the resistance contingent and youth ripped off one of the candidate's posters and stomped on it.

The march had participants of all ages, including a contingent of young campesinos on motorcycles. Placards had slogans decrying the dependence of Honduras, supporting the campesino's struggle for land, and calling on people to vote for the LIBRE presidential candidate, Xiomara Castro Zelaya, in next years presidential race.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Security guards threaten, fire warning shot at human rights observers today

Updated September 16
September 13, 2012 
Masked security guards of Honduras's largest landowner verbally threatened and then fired a warning shot at nine human rights activists in Tocoa, Honduras, in the country's violence wracked Aguan valley at about 3 PM local time today.  The incident was captured on videotape and in still pictures.
The activists are on a solidarity tour organized by the Chicago-based La Voz de la Abajo organization, which is investigating human rights violations and the social and political conditions in the country, including its dubious distinction of having the world's highest murder rate.
At the time of today's incident, the La Voz delegation was investigating a combined raid by over 500 private security, national police and army last Sunday, Sept. 9 which killed Hector Navarro, aged 69.  The raid was part of the violent eviction of a campesino group from land claimed by big land owner Miguel Facusse on the Los Laureles plantation. Accompanied by the coordinator of the Permanent Human Rights Observatory in Aguan, Ediberto Aleman, the delegation interviewed residents of the neighborhood that is adjoined the plantation who were affected by the raid. The campesinos from the recuperation were dispersed and not available at the time of our visit. 
Witnesses from the surrounding neighborhood told the delegation that the armed men ordered them to go into their houses during the raid. They then fired tear gas cannisters into the homes and broke down doors looking for any campesinos who may have fled into some of the homes. The campesino camp was destroyed (see photo) and 34 people arrested, including many youth. Early the next morning, Navarro, who had been resting in a hammock in his backyard, died of apparent excessive tear gas inhalation. We were able to see  several tear gas canisters (see photo) that had been thrown into the small houses in which women, children, infants and elderly people were present. Residents also told us of being threatened and mistreated by the combined police-military - private guards force. 

During today's incident, as the La Voz delegation was standing well outside the plantation land waiting to interview more neighbors, five masked guards approached, some pointing their weapons at the La Voz delegation. They shouted threats and one guard said, "This is your last warning," and then fired a rifle.   Video and still pictures of the incident are available at and
"That we were not shot at directly is probably only because most of us appear to be North Americans," said Vicki Cervantes, co-coordinator of the La Voz delegation. "Hondurans don't have that same protection, which explains the rampant political violence in this country."
"Today we visited three campesino encampments in Aguan and people at each of them emphatically requested that we stop U.S. aid to the Honduran military and police," said Alexy Lanza, another co-coordinator of the La Voz delegation. "Yesterday at the Garifuna land encampment in Vallecito we learned of the murder the same day of Aguan campesinos Herman Alejandro Maldonado and Ivis Ortega (Ortega was gravely wounded, and lingered before dying this morning).
After the shooting incident at Los Laureles, the delegation filed a formal complaint against the security guards at the police station in Tocoa. Delegation member Sarah Sommers of the Cleveland InterReligious Task Force on Central America stated that one of the police officials who took the complaint, Wilfredo Bautista, who is in charge of investigating murders in the Aguan Valley, told the delegation, "that even we [the police] can't go into that plantation; there [sic] are very bad people. We can't investigate because we can't go there; we might get killed."
"It is disturbingly clear who is in charge in the Aguan," said Cervantes. "Police and military carry out raids on behalf of the big landowners like Miguel Facusse and essentially say that they can't control heavily armed private guards who shoot and kill at will."
Besides Cervantes, Lanza and Sommers, members of the La Voz delegation include Lois Martin, Tucson and a member of No Mas Muertes, an organization dedicated to preventing the deaths of migrants crossing the deserts in the border region; Sidney Hollander, an activist with the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America; human rights activists Mary Dean and Greg McCain, formerly of Chicago and now of Colon, Honduras; and Andy Thayer, a Chicago-based anti-war activist and co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network.

In Aguan Region, Campesinos Murdered

U.S.-Honduran Delegation Reports
Escalating Violence and Repression

While a delegation from the Chicago-based La Voz de los de Abajo organization and another international delegation from Germany are visiting a campesino land occupation in the Aguan region of northern Honduras, they received news of another political assassination in the country's lower Aguan Valley. The La Voz delegation plans on visiting the scene of the murder on September 13th. 

On September 12th, at approximately 12:30 PM local time, campesinos from the group Refundacion Gregorio Chavez were fired on by private security guards working for Miguel Facusse, the country's largest land owner and one of its wealthiest men. Herman Alejandro Maldonado was killed and Ivis Ortega was gravely wounded and died later. 

Maldonado and Ortega were working on the plantation (finca) of Panama, which is near the town of Tocoa in Colon province of Honduras. This brings the number of murdered compesinos in the Aguan Valley to 79 since a U.S.-supported coup in 2009.

"This latest assassination by Miguel Facusse's employees is one more indicator of an escalating violence in the midst of an already severe human rights crisis as the country moves into  elections," said Vicki Cervantes of La Voz de los de Abajo. Primary elections are scheduled for this November, and national elections for November 2013. 

"This escalating violence includes the murder of the resistance political party (LIBRE) candidates and activists, threats against the Honduran human rights organizations themselves in the country," said Cervantes.

Campesino, Garifuna and indigenous communities are threatened by new mining and water concessions, and plans to wipe out labor, civil rights and environmental regulations in select areas dubbed "Model Cities." Protests are developing in the capitol of Tegucigalpa today over these plans to sell Honduras to the highest foreign bidders.

The La Voz delegation has spent four days visiting campesino communities in the Honduran provinces of La Paz, Progreso, Cortes, Atlantida and now Colon. The delegation has been told by community members in Aguan of the presence of U.S. military personnel in the region.

"We have witnessed hundreds of campesino families living under plastic sheets after violent evictions in the last three weeks and have received testimony from the men, women and children who have been detained and prosecuted for the 'crime' of wanting to survive," said Alexy Lanza of La Voz. "Everywhere the same story is told, 'they are trying to exterminate the campesinos,' they want to eradicate the poor not poverty.'"

Besides Cervantes and Lanza, members of the La Voz delegation include Sarah Sommers of Cleveland's Interreligious Task Force on Central America; Lois Martin, Tucson and a member of No Mas Muertes, an organization dedicated to preventing the deaths of migrants crossing the deserts in the border region; Sidney Hollander, an activist with the Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America; human rights activists Mary Dean and Greg McCain, formerly of Chicago and now of Colon, Honduras; and Andy Thayer, a Chicago-based anti-war and gay rights activist.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Honduras! - Repression and Struggle

Delegation to Honduras - Day I Part I
La Voz de los de Abajo is leading a delegation in Honduras of 9 people from Illinois, Ohio, Arizona, Colorado and Honduras from September 6-16. We will be posting reports as we travel around the country visiting organizations and communities. 

We arrived in Honduras on September 6th and amid news of new campesino evictions and detentions and disappearances we drove from San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa. In Tegucigalpa we met with the FNRP International Commission’s Gerardo Torres and then with Bertha Oliva the Coordinator of the Committee of the Families of the Disappeared (COFADEH). Later in the afternoon we visited the offices of Via Campesina and met with Rafael Alegrias (Via Campesina, FNRP, LIBRE campesino movement) Yony RIvas (MUCA) Esau Piero (ADCP Progreso) and other members of MUCA and Via Campesina. We will report in more detail on the meetings with the campesinos as part of our reports on visiting the campesino communities in later posts. 

Both Bertha and Gerardo talked about the ever worsening human rights, political violence and general violence that have made Honduras the most violent country in the world according to the United Nations. Gerardo cited figures from international reports that show Honduras has 87 violent murders for each 100,000 people which is even more than in Iraq or Pakistan.  Bertha made the  point that that there is directly political violence and there is general criminal violence but that the criminal violence has to be seen as a product of the general political crises in the country. 

LIBRE Party and the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP)
Gerardo talked about  the process of entering into the electoral struggle with the new political party formed by the resistance movement, LIBRE. He told us that Honduras had a history of being one of the countries most obedient to and dominated by the United States. “After the coup d’e’tat many thousands of people were in the streets every day for months in protest but many people thought that the U.S., the UN , or the Organization of American States (OAS) was going to help them;  then they realized that it wasn’t going to happen and that they had to do it themselves. “The FNRP is the biggest organization for social demands in the history of the country; we have resistance groups organized all around the country”.  

After almost 2 years of resistance, a debate on whether or not to form an electoral political party took place. At first the decision was made not to form a party. Then negotiations took place in Colombia (brokered by Presidents Chavez and Santos) with Pepe Lobo and President Zelaya that ended with the Cartegena Agreement being signed. This agreement allowed Zelaya and other exiles to return to Honduras and guaranteed the right of the resistance to form a legal political party with the right to participate in elections. The  majority of the members of the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) agreed with forming a political electoral movement and keeping the FNRP as a movement of social action and resistance. After fierce debate inside the FNRP the LIBRE Party  was formed. This has left a division in the Front with some organizations and individuals deciding not to participate in the electoral party even though they continue to be in resistance and are organizing for social demands (for example indigenous rights). Because the LIBRE Party itself represents a broad movement of resistance it has five formal factions corresponding to differing viewpoints and ideologies within the resistance movement.  Right now they are preparing for the primary and internal elections on November 18th in which LIBRE supporters will choose the candidates from the slates offered by the different factions. Then the national elections will take place in November of 2013 There are slates of candidates for local, municipal, provincial and national positions. The internal groupings have each proposed their own slate of candidates for congress, municipalities, etc. but all have united around one candidate for the presidency Xiomara Castro Zelaya, the wife of President Zelaya. 

The most recent polls are showing Xiomara with more than 25% of the vote more than any other candidate. Alvarez of the National Party was polled at 18%. This means that if there is no fraud or violence that interferes, LIBRE should win the Presidency in November 2013. Gerardo noted that the government and the oligarchy are selling off everything in the country that they can. More than 30% of the country has been concessioned to mining interests, privatization and privatizing of utilities, pension systems and militarization are taking away everything the people everything they have. Most people in Honduras want a change and “ for the first time in Honduran history there is a left wing party with the possibility of winning” so the oligarchy is unsure of whether they can keep their power in Honduras. There are risks that they won’t allow LIBRE to win. He feels that the Frente is not putting all of its hope in elections, they know that they need to keep the Frente organized as a movement.  He ended by asking the international solidarity and human rights organizations to come to Honduras as international observers, “we need people to be here for the elections”. 

Berta Oliva - Committe of the Families of the Disappeared (COFADEH)
On September 1, COFADEH always sets up a vigil in front of the Congress Building in Tegucigalpa to commemorate the victims of human rights abuses over the past 30 years after commemorated all the disappeared on August 30 with is International Day for the Disappeared. Our delegation visited the vigil and interviewed families of the disappeared who were participating, then we went to the COFADEH office to talk to Berta Oliva. 

 “They are hunting down campesinos; the big landowners are powerful enough to be able to get judges to issue orders of eviction  for land that they don’t even own. We have a situation where there are death squads, assassins and absolute control of the people but it is a hidden war. Everyone who has been with the resistance has a file and they (the government and the powerful) are taking revenge.  For example, at least 7 of the people who stayed with Zelaya while he was in refuge at the Brazilian Embassy have been killed. Now with the elections coming the political elite are so afraid of the LIBRE Party they are killing candidates” (4 candidates have been killed and other LIBRE party activists have also been murdered). The people from LIBRE are getting killed, and it's going to get worse.  The increasing violence is a product of the desperation of the two party system… So they're going to have to step up repression even more before the elections so as to terrorize people from voting”. Berta also worries that the oligarchy and repressive apparatus may not allow LIBRE to take office even if somehow fair elections are held. 

Berta is raising the alarm as well about a new development in which defenders of human rights such as COFADEH have become the targets of human rights violations. “Compañeras working for COFADEH have been threatened, followed and even had their homes placed under electronic surveillance and broken into”. 

One case that COFADEH has been involved in is the case of the  indigenous villagers in Ahuas who were killed and wounded in the DEA-Honduran security forces operation in the Mosquitia. “COFADEH and others had to intervene to obtain medical care for the survivors and continue to be involved in  obtaining the ongoing medical care needed at the same time as they try to pursue the case in the legal, human rights arena. Bertha expressed outrage at the recent report issued by the Honduran government that claims that the two women victims were not pregnant as their families had reported, “ officials did perform an autopsy and then 40 days after the deaths they exhumed the victims without following proper procedures to protect the chain of evidence and right in the cemetery they opened up the bodies and removed organs which they say proved the women were not pregnant.  Witnesses contradict  that claim and at any rate there is no proof because there is no evidence now”
The situation has become very critical and Bertha emphasized that COFADEH needs international support and help in meeting the challenges that they are facing, “international solidarity needs to prepare to play a role like it did right after the coup. We also need people who can help us take the testimony from victims to make reports on the situation in all the regions that we're not in. Victims of violations are coming to COFADEH  but under the current situation they are not just coming to file a complaint and don’t just need some support and legal representation; victims are coming to COFADEH in need of emergency relocation and medical and psychological help as well as representation to pursue a complaint.
“I'm not going to paint you a pretty picture, because it's not pretty. It would be irresponsible of me”

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