Thursday, October 1, 2015

From Honduras: Chance for Justice #2

 Chabelo’s Trial - Day 4
Thursday, October 1, 2015

V. Cervantes

It was already dark Wednesday evening when we got off the bus at the entrance to the community of Guadalupe Carney on the highway to Trujillo. We walked through the community, quiet except for the dogs and roosters announcing our arrival, to the house where we are staying while we accompany Chabelo, his family and community during this trial.

During the bus ride we were listening to Radio Globo’s audio broadcast of a video from a very violent eviction of campesinos in Palomar, near Choluteca, by the National Police in which one campesino was killed and many injured. The audio was chilling with women and children screaming, people yelling and the noise of tear gas and people running. Those sounds were still ringing in my ears as I looked at the community that has been a symbol of success for organized campesino recuperation of lands since its beginnings 15 years ago when 900 families moved on to an abandoned joint US/Honduran military base. Despite evictions, assassinations, and all the problems that affect the poorest campesinos, the community persisted and fought to win titles to most of the land they cultivate; only two landowners continue to dispute the campesinos’ right to the land, the most powerful landowners in Honduras, the Facusse  family, and former military death squad member, now a police commissioner, Henry Osorto.

Today, Thursday, the Morales family and supporters from Guadalupe Carney, the Human Rights Observatory of the Aguan, COPA, Fundacion San Lorenzo and other campesino movements in the Aguan mobilized early to get to the court in Trujillo before 9am. Only a handful of people were allowed into the courtroom to observe, but everyone else continued their accompaniment by hanging up banners and placards in from of the court and maintaining a visible presence, keeping an eye on the 8 or so armed soldiers who were standing watch outside. In the courtroom we watched the panel of judges file into the room and call for the prosecution witnesses. One witness appeared, a doctor who received the body of Carlos Manrique Osorto; the doctor read out loud his original statement which details the injuries but, of course, has no information or evidence relevant to the charges against Chabelo. That testimony lasted about 20 minutes then it was announced that none of the other prosecution witnesses had come to court, including Henry Osorto  and that the trial would reconvene tomorrow morning.

The trial so far, like the previous 2 trials, has seen no concrete evidence presented linking Chabelo to the death of Carlos Manrique Osorto and has been marked by the failure of witnesses called by the prosecution to show up to testify. Henry Osorto himself has missed two scheduled appearances. (See the report from Greg McCain below for Tuesday and Wednesday’s court sessions).

Of course, we can only imagine what would happen if campesino witnesses ignored the summons to court to testify, but it is unlikely they would be allowed to delay a trial the way the prosecution witnesses are doing.

It seems that these delays, that may now stretch out the trial through the end of the month, are part of a strategy to wear out the supporters; reduce the number of international observers and hope that the Honduran media and people lose interest in Chabelo’s chance for justice. This is important also because attempts to intimidate defense witnesses and fear of violence against Chabelo, his family and the community to prevent a verdict in his favor continue.

This afternoon, we gathered with Chabelo and his family members and were watching the news on TV Globo when the video of the eviction in Choluteca was aired. We were frozen with outrage and sadness, watching the police attack the campesino community, mostly women of all ages and a few young men and small children. The women rushed to defend the community members being beaten and one woman passed out with blood seeming to pour out of a head wound. The policeman stood over her and a young man lying on the ground,  with his combat style nightstick still raised. The TV Globo commentator was indignant and cited the statistics that there is enough land for everyone in Honduras to have 20 manzanas (50 acres) of land.  One of Chabelo's brothers turned to me to say, imagine what we could do if everyone had land like they are saying,  but the big landowners and government only want to do that, and he pointed at the violence on the screen.

Link to another broadcast of the Choluteca eviction video

We also got word that today there were multiple protests blocking streets in Tegucigalpa as students, youth and other resistance members continued the protests against Juan Orlando Hernandez. The police violently displaced all the blockades.
Greg McCain
Defensor Internacional de Derechos Humanos Honduras

September 30, 2015
Yesterday, after the lunch time break, the trial resumed with a witness for the prosecution. It was an investigator from the DNIC, his testimony was intende to basically to back up one of the protected witnesses' testimony. Instead he added to the inconsistency of the testimony by stating that the protected witness stated that he could identify with 100% certainty who killed Enrique Osorto, the man Chabelo is accused of killing. The problem being that the protected witness has changed his testimony on several occasions, unable to identify Chabelo until instructed to by investigators.

This was the only testimony given before the hearing ended for the day. The other witnesses for the prosecution didn't show up so the judges adjourned for the day.

Today, the trial started around 9:30am.
Again only one prosecution witness showed up. This was a fireman from Trujillo who got to the scene after the fact. He wanted to read his testimony from a notebook that he brought in, but the judges told him he needed to tell it from his own memory. He basically offered nothing to the prosecutor's case against Chabelo.

The judges wanted to offer suggestions on how to proceed in light of the prosecution witnesses not showing nor being able to state when they will show up. This includes Henry Osorto. The Prosecutor informed the judges that Osorto was upset with being expected to state exactly when he would show up stating, "he is concerned for his saftey and can't give specifics in advance." This from a police officer who has recently been promoted to a police commissioner thus having the entire police force at his disposal.

It was finally decided that the hearings would proceed tomorrow and Friday. If the two protected witnesses didn't show  the prosecution agreed to give up that evidence. The judges then stated that after this Friday the trial would be suspended until Oct 19th so that the Prosecution could have ample time to have their agenda for witnesses in place. Nevermind that they had 2 months since the initial hearing to get their agenda in place, let's see what they accomplish in 19 days.

After the hearing I spoke with one of the international jurists who are here to observe. He stated that it appeared to him that it was obvious manipulation of judicial proceedings on Osorto's part and that the judges had the power to order him to testify on a specific date.

In the meantime, more suspicious men have been seen walking around Guadalupe Carney. Yesterday, two of Chabelo' sisters saw a man enter the yard of Chabelo's mom stood there for awhile than wandered off.

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