Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Honduras Delegation May 2015

May 25th Protest Against Corruption, Tegucigalpa
From May 22- June 2 a delegation from La Voz de los de Abajo, a member of the Honduras Solidarity Network,  traveled in Honduras, participating in events for the International Week Against Forced Disappearances with the Honduran human rights organization COFADEH and visiting other organizations in the resistance movement, human rights defenders, campesino communities under attack and the campesino political prisoner, Chabelo Morales Lopez. We were there as the protest movement against corruption and impunity was just beginning to heat up—— that movement now has grown to massive protests with many thousands of people in the streets in nearly every city in the country on a daily basis for the past three weeks.

Honduras May 2015 International Week Against Forced Disappearances Past and Present — Impunity Remains
Part of the content of this blog post  is from the Delegation Report and Statement to be published soon.
Photos of the "disappeared" at Cofadeh's 
office in Tegucigalpa
COFADEH (Committee of the Families of Disappeared Detainees) was founded in 1982 by families of people who were forcibly disappeared by military and paramilitary forces linked to the Honduran and Salvadoran military, the US supported “Contras” (a counter revolutionary paramilitary fighting against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua), and U.S. covert operations in the region. Honduras was used as a US military base against the Sandinistas and against the insurgency of the FMLN in El Salvador but was not officially at war itself. Nonetheless by the end of the conflict there were more than 200 persons documented to have been disappeared in Honduras.  Among those disappeared are Tomas Nativi - the husband of COFADEH’s coordinator, Bertha Oliva, disappeared in 1982. 

Our delegation was accompanied by COFADEH members in traveling the Ruta (Path of Historic Memory) which began in the city of Tegucigalpa in COFADEH’s office, passes their original office site near a police and Honduran Bureau of Investigation (DNIC) office. One of the COFADEH compañeras described answering the door bell at the original office in the mid-1980’s and finding a DNIC officer who immediately pointed a gun at her head and told her to deliver a message that COFADEH must stop investigating the case of one of the disappeared. She was only 14 at the time and had joined COFADEH after her brother’s disappearance.  

Delegation member at El Reventon

The Ruta de Memoria Historica then leaves the city and goes to the site of a clandestine cemetery (El Reventon) used by the Honduran military to dispose of the bodies of the disappeared. The site was discovered by COFADEH after a witness finally overcame his fear later in the 1990’s and disclosed the location. The Ruta includes two former clandestine detention and military sites (the Casa de Terror/Terror House and the Cuartel de los Contras/ Contra Barracks)  and at the end of the Ruta is the COFADEH Center against Forgetting (El Hogar en Contra el Olvido), a beautiful mountainside center for meditation, retreats and conferences with a garden of trees honoring the disappeared of the 1980s. 

El Hogar en Contra el Olvido - COFADEH
House of Terror
Blood spatters found
The most difficult part of the journey on the Ruta was visiting the “Casa de Terror” (Terror House) located not far from the cemetery on a property that was owned by a military officer and is now abandoned. This location has been visited by survivors of kidnapping and torture who confirmed that they were held there. Blood splatters that were identified by chemical testing are outlined in black marker. On the property there are two odd concrete structures— concrete boxes with concrete lids that have only a very small opening, resembling some kind of detention box. 

Delegation member at "Terror House"
One group of survivors were young high school and university students, kidnapped by masked men thought to be part of the Honduran death squad military Battalion 316. The survivors tell the story of being held for 8 days, tortured with beatings and electricity, starved and terrorized. It is believed that they were eventually released rather than being murdered only because the father of two of the students was a highly placed official in the Honduran government - he was beaten by the death squad members when the students were kidnapped from his home, but the youth were finally released.It is unknown how many people were detained at the site,  tortured and then murdered.  The presence of the disappeared is not only felt from the victims of the 1980’s who have yet to find justice for their loved ones -- new disappearances continue. 

Since the military coup in 2009 the practice of forced disappearances, detentions and torture has returned to Honduras.  On Tuesday, May 26th our delegation participated in a press conference with Bertha Oliva, coordinator of COFADEH and Jaquelin Jimenez, the sister of Donatilo Jimenez who was disappeared from his workplace, during his work shift,  on April 8 and has not been found either alive or dead. Donatilo was a long-time member of the union of employees of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (SITRAUNH) and past president of his local union in La Ceiba. Before his disappearance he told his family of labor conflicts with the university administration regarding security for workers at  the campus where he worked; the presence of organized crime on the university property and  collusion of university security guards with the criminal gangs. Donatilo was also still active in the union and was participating in a slate of workers running for positions in the regional SITRAUNH. The slate had to withdraw after his disappearance. 

Press Conference May 26th
photo by Defensores En Linea
Members of SITRAUNH from Tegucigalpa and the northern La Ceiba region attended the press conference in COFADEH’s office. They talked of the many conflicts with the university administration both regionally and at the national level, especially since the coup. The rector, Julieta Castellanos, is very close to President Juan Orlando Hernandez who recently arranged for a decision to change the government university rules so she could serve another term as rector. 

The family does not know what exactly happened to Donatilo the day he disappeared. At first local university officials claimed that he had left work in his car, although no one identified him,  which was found abandoned; later officials said that he was killed and that they have someone arrested, but with no details and without Donatilo's body.  Donatilo’s sister explained that after Donatilo’s disappearance, the university administration did not issue any statement, show any concern, investigate what happened or call for any investigation into his disappearance. When COFADEH accompanied the family to the site of his disappearance they were first denied access to search for him, then they were told they could enter but with a warning that it was unsafe which caused the team to decide not to search the extensive grounds of the campus. Donatilo's family insist that they want a real investigation that uncovers the intellectual and well as material authors of any crime. The university authorities have not only been uncooperative but the highest level administration of the National Autonomous University has had a lawsuit for “slander and damages” filed against Donatilo’s sister and his wife for their public statements about Donatilo’s concerns before he disappeared.  

Gladys Lanza at C-Libre event
The use of defamation charges is the latest weapon used by the government and oligarchy against human rights defenders, victims of abuses, and journalists. On Wednesday, May 27th, we attended an event held by the organization C-Libre, an advocate for protection of journalists and the freedom of expression, in which they presented their report on attacks against journalists for the year 2014 and also gave awards to human rights defender Gladys Lanza and journalist Gilberto Gálvez. Gladys Lanza is a member of the human rights organization VIsitación Padilla which focuses on women’s rights. She is currently facing time in jail after a prominent head of an NGO  filed a defamation lawsuit against her after her organization took on the case of a woman former employee who accused him of sexual harassment and violation of her rights. Besides Gladys Lanza and the Jimenez family, at least two journalists also are facing these charges and the indigenous and environmental activist, Bertha Caceres of the Lenca indigenous organization COPINH has been threatened with similar legal action after she denounced the murder of a member of COPINH this spring. 

COFADEH documents and maintains the historic memory of the disappeared both past and present and is a constant voice in representing the voices who demand, “they were alive when they were taken, we want them back alive”. 
They have a website  Cofadeh and the electronic press site, Defensores En Linea

More reports from the delegation coming soon
Unless otherwise noted, all photos by V. Cervantes

Victoria Cervantes
for La Voz de los de Abajo
June 11, 2015

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