Sunday, September 29, 2019

Political Prisoners and More Criminalization

A member of La Voz de los de Abajo was in Honduras in August 2019 - This article is the second report from that visit with some  more recent updates as of September 27, 2019

Political Prisoners and More Criminalization in Honduras
by V. Cervantes

On the morning of August 21, I was at a meeting of the National Committee to Free the Political Prisoners (Comite Nacional para la Libertad de los Presos Politicos) in the offices of the Honduran human rights organization COFADEH.  The members celebrated the arrival to the meeting of political prisoners Raul Alvarez and Edwin Espinal.  Edwin and Raul  had been released from pre-trial imprisonment from the notorious maximum security, military controlled prison La Tolva on August 11 and August 16 respectively. Their release came after many months of pressure both in court and in the street. The first week of August, Edwin, Raul and Rommel Herrera another political prisoner,  launched a hunger strike that was echoed by a rolling hunger strike of leaders and activists from the social movements and political opposition in Honduras; international solidarity and human rights organizations supported the strike demanding freedom for the political prisoners with a major social media campaign.

The celebration was real but dampened by news that another political prisoner being held in prison in the city of Progreso. Gustavo Caceres, had been denied release from pre-trial detention  at a hearing that morning. There had been optimism that after Edwin and Raul were released, Gustavo would also get bail. Gustavo's case is especially disturbing because he has a significant cognitive disability and cannot speak in whole sentences only words and fragments.  He supported his family selling water and was selling water near a protest  in Progreso when the police arrested him as they swept through the neighborhood. The police took him to a police station and then they pulled out police equipment and marijuana and claimed that he had "stolen" police equipment and marijuana in his possession when they arrested him.

The Committee was fired up, talking about how to step up organizing to free, once and for all, all the political prisoners being held, and to pressure for permanent freedom for the approximately 171 people still facing charges and trials from the protests after the election fraud of November 2017. They also talked about the newer arrests and ongoing criminalization of protest. The mother of a new political prisoner, Rommel Herrera, was at the  Committee meeting;  Rommel is the young (23) teacher being held pre-trial in  La Tolva related to the burning of some tires in the doorway of the U.S. Embassy during on of the massive protests in defense of public education and health in Tegucigalpa on May 31, 2019. The Committee planned a press conference, a statement and other activities; but things were about to get even more difficult.

JOH Strikes Back - More Imprisonment and Prosecutions
Only a week after the August 21st Committee meeting,  Edwin and Raul got the news that the government prosecutor was appealing their release from pre-trial detention. If the government wins the appeal, Edwin and Raul will end up back in prison awaiting their trials which are currently scheduled for late Spring 2020.

 At the same time in late August another group of people with arrest warrants related to protests against a mining project and destruction of water resources in the community of Guapinol in Colon turned themselves in to the police. An earlier group had done the same last February and finally had the charges removed after an international and national outcry over their criminalization.  This time, because of that victory for justice and the recent release of Edwin and Raul, many people thought that the 7 Guapinol  activists would spend a few days in jail  and then their hearing would result in releasing them to await a future trial date - if the charges were pursued.   It is  another sign of the increasingly vicious dictatorship that on September 2 the 7 were ordered to be held in prison until trial. Then, the ruling of the judge to hold them in a regular Honduran prison was countermanded by the government, and all 7 were transferred to La Tolva. On September 26th Rommel had his appeal denied so he continues to be held in La Tolva awaiting trial.

The first week of September protests broke out over a planned luxury housing development given permission to build in the temperate rainforest nature reserve near Tegucigalpa,  La Tigra. The development would destroy acres of the reserve, and have consequences for the water supply (already in short supply) for Tegucgialpa and nearby communities -- police responded to the protests with live ammunition.

In another case, also in September, 18 students had charges reinstated by the government for protests after the 2017 election fraud during 2018 - the charges had been inactivated earlier. The student movement continues to be the subject of an especially harsh repression, criminalization,  and a campaign of slander and derision by the dictatorship.

Meanwhile the web of corruption and narco-government crime is more tangled than ever. Tony Hernandez, the brother of Juan Orlando Hernandez, goes to court beginning October 1st in New York. He has been indicted and extradited, accused of running a drug cartel and even stamping the packages of cocaine with his initials. In the investigation so far, the prosecutors have included Juan Orlando as a co-conspirator (CC4). Nevertheless, the US government continues to praise Hernandez. High level meetings were held between US and Honduran officials in September in Washington DC and on September 21 in Tegucigalpa. The US persists in providing all types of support for the repressive apparatus of the corrupt and violent narco-dictatorship in Honduras in the face of ever growing rejection and resistance to the regime by the Honduran people.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras August 7, 2019 [Jorge Cabrera/Reuters] published in Aljazeera

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Moment in Honduras: Celebrations and Threats

A Moment in Honduras: Celebrations and Threats
Report from Honduras
August 17, 2019
V. Cervantes

San Juan Pueblo August 13
As the bus entered the small town of San Juan Pueblo (SJP) on August 15th we passed a police station where an unusual crowd (more than 20) of police were hanging around.  Later, walking with a friend who lives in SJP near the highway that runs from Progreso to La Ceiba,  we saw a military style truck full of police headed in the direction of the police station.  Only a couple of days earlier on August 13th, police had opened fire on protesters blocking the highway with burning tires - the emblematic sign of protest in Honduras. Four men were injured, one very seriously with a chest wound- a few days later it was being reported among the population that one man had died. This was the second very recent violent attack against protesters in SJP, one of the centers of resistance and protest in the province of Atlantida in northern Honduras.

Campesinas from the CNTC June 10th Movement
after receiving titles to their cooperative land
One of the wounded men is part of the families of the campesino group "10 de Junio" a women's land recuperation affiliated to the campesino organization the "National Center for Rural Workers (CNTC). I was there because La Voz de los de Abajo was invited to participate in a celebration of the women winning legal title to their land after 18 YEARS of fighting for their rights to the land. La Voz has accompanied the women for more than 16 years. Many of the women had been single mothers when they recuperated the land that was originally owned by the National University of Honduras but had been left abandoned and fallow for years before the recuperation. Over the years the women had been violently evicted, insulted publicly, their crops destroyed, and their lives threatened  now they had finally won legal ownership of the land and were determined to celebrate.

Secretary General of the CNTC with 
The women organized a celebration and even though the officials from government agency the National Agrarian Institute (INA)  (responsible for distributing the titles) rewrote the celebration agenda to put themselves and the government more into the spotlight, everyone who gathered on August 16th recognized the enormous achievement of the women.  Narcisa, one of the campesinas showed me her corn field and explained that she had done an experiment, planting part of the field with corn and a bean plant that is thought to fertilize soil and another part with only the corn. The field planted with the bean and corn was much more productive and she talked about how much she loves agriculture and what having a legal title to the land after so many years means for the women. Many of the women were joined by their grandchildren and children in receiving the titles and for photos.  There was music, lots of food and the most important speeches of the day came from the campesinas themselves who recounted the difficult 18 years, the importance of their being organized, and dennounced the criminalization and violence against the campesino movement for so many years.

On the same day, August 16th there was more to celebrate as a second political prisoner, Raul Alvarez was released from pre-trial detention in the maximum security military run prison, La Tolva. Raul and Edwin Espinal were imprisoned after participating in a militant protest in January 2018 against the installation of the fraudulent and violent dictatorship of Juan Orlando Hernandez. After 18 months of imprisonment they were released and will be preparing for their trials outside prison.
Free! Political Prisoners Edwin Espinal and Raul Alvarez
with Karen and Janet Spring - August 16, 2019

The night of August 15th my friend from the CNTC June 10th Movement and I walked around her neighborhood  where there have been many protest  road blocks and where the police have blanketed the area with tear gas and beaten and shot at protesters. It was a pretty quiet night and people were outside relaxing, but the stress of the weeks of repression and protest were showing. At around 9 pm we heard and saw fireworks being shot into the sky a ways from the neighborhood by the time we got home we could hear the sound of tear gas bombs being launched. A neighbor asked my friend if she had any vinegar in case the police tear gassed the neighborhood again and began to tear up and  become frantic. She had witnessed the police beating a man right outside her house the night of the shootings and I realized she was showing signs of traumatic stress. That night the sounds of possible conflicts died out early and the town seemed quiet, but after the campesinas' celebration, the night of the 16th, there were more protests and repression, but I was already on the road to Tegucigalpa.

Edwin and Raul still face trial (scheduled to begin in about a month). There are still 2 more political prisoners in pre-trial detention, Gustavo Caceres and Rommel Herrera.  and there are more than a hundred people facing trials for protest activity. There are also more activists at risk from  from the nearly daily protests and repressions. and from the anti-mining and defense of the territories struggles around the country such as Reitoca, Guapinol, Rio Blanco, and Vallecito,  with the government and National Party supporters threatening organizations such as MADJ, COPINH and OFRANEH. On August 17th a delegation of the Assembly of Women in Struggle was threatened in Rio Blanco and the road blocked by pro-government hired thugs. On August 18th MADJ was the subject of a threatening tweet calling on the government to arrest their leaders and  activists (a list of their names was included) because of the many protests in San Juan Pueblo.

Honduran resistance organizations and leaders are calling for unity against the dictatorship and for a plan to unite the social movements into a force that can make deeper change in the country once JOH is gone.
More to come...

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

"The coup d'état transformed into a dictatorship that cruelly and clearly creates the migrant exodus." -Gathering of Black and Indigenous Women of Honduras

Honduran Women's Manifesto of Rebellion
In the rebel Garífuna territory of Vallecito, Iriona, Colón, Honduras, surrounded by elements of nature that nourish life and hope, 1,200 women and approximately 350 children gathered and embraced each other with life and words, arriving from Choluteca, El Paraíso, Copan, Olancho, Valle, Francisco Morazán, Gracias a Dios, Colón, Yoro, Cortes, Atlántida, Intibucá, Lempira, La Paz, Comayagua, and Santa Bárbara.
We felt ancestors Margarita Murillo, María Enriqueta Matute, Berta Cáceres, Magdalena Morales and aunt Macucu with us in all of our actions as spirit, as thought and as strength. We felt the energies of our peoples, of the Tolupán, Lenca, Misquito, Garífuna, Pech, Maya Chortí and all other peoples in struggle, coming together after ten years of the coup d’état and the resistance of the Honduran people, of the women of Honduras.
The gathering salutes the strength and rebelliousness of women, those present, those who could not come, and those who are no longer physically with us. Despite the wounds and pains from violence and oppression visited upon our bodies, territories and organizing processes, we have enormous conviction and dedication to continue thinking, creating and acting together.
The strength of the worldview of indigenous peoples was present and manifested through spirituality, wisdom, experiences of resistance and forms of relating to nature and life. Through debate and conversations during meals, breaks, and work, we assembled these words, which we now share.
The coup d'état transformed into a dictatorship and continues to deepen the extractive model that threatens the livelihood of women and indigenous peoples. This is a regime that plunders the common good, identities, bodies, wisdom, spirituality; that is sustained by corruption, impunity, drug trafficking, militarization, persecution, criminalization of our sisters who struggle throughout the territories of Honduras.
We are living through an humanitarian crisis produced by that plunder, which cruelly and clearly creates the migrant exodus by our sisters and brothers, an exodus which empties our territories, with disastrous results for our people and the community social fabric, benefiting the extractive projects that have less and less opposition to confront.
We call upon all of us to respond to the urgent necessity of reclaiming and multiplying autonomous practices and envisioning sovereign alternatives that are anti-patriarchal, anti-racist, inclusive and diverse, due to the evident failure of masculine exercise of power based on the colonial electoral democratic model, which threatens women and indigenous peoples.

The increasing normalization violence against the bodies of women worries us. Our bodies become a territory for the expression of machista and hetero-patriarchal culture and frustration, often perpetrated by men from the social movements and exacerbated by the increase in militarization and religious fundamentalism. The role of women in the struggle has been at once set back and strengthened, with better political clarity, wisdom, ability to mobilize and inspire in diverse struggles where we have been putting forth our thought, voice, bodies and action. No violence will hold us back.
From this gathering, we commit ourselves to continue coming together in collective rebellion, to embody each other’s struggles and to envision a Honduras without dictatorship, with autonomy and sovereignty for the people, for women.
After 10 years of the coup, we continue to struggle together.
For a Honduras without dictatorship.
Vallecito, Iriona, Colón, Honduras, June 29th, 2019

Monday, June 3, 2019

Guadalupe Carnay Community Faces Siege by Honduran Security Forces for Participation in Protests Defending Healthcare and Educaiton against the U.S.-backed Dictatorship

Condemnation and Solidarity in the face of Human Rights Violations
The Municipal Committee in Defense of the Common Public Good in Tocoa, given what has happened in the community of Guadalupe Carney, declares:

That today, June 1st, the community of Guadalupe Carney has suffered the gravest of abuses and violations of the rights granted by the constitution of the republic and international law, solely due to the struggle for the human right to healthcare and public education. It is under a siege that even includes helicopters flying over the community.

As a social movement we united with the public denunciation by many solidarity organizations in holding the security forces of the police and military responsible for having entered the community launching teargas on girls, boys, youth, women and elderly people.

We demand justice for 24 year old Jairo Leonel Hernández Ramirez, 19 year old Nerlin Ignacio Hernández Hernández, 58 year old Ezequiel Urrea and minors 15 year old Jorge Soto Portillo and 8 year old William Aron Ruiz Sánchez, all of whom are victims of the regime of Juan Orlando and the police and military forces assigned to the Aguan region.

We denounce the direct persecution by these repressive bodies of the State against peasant leader Adolfo Cruz who, along with his family and neighbors was victimized by teargas launched directly into his house as a clear message of intimidation and aggression, with his family placed at risk by the Honduran state.

We also denounce the attack on human rights defender Obed Ulloa, who had all of the equipment he need to carry out his work as a human rights defender taken by the police. According to the human rights defender about 9 people have been wounded by the police during the community's protests in defense of healthcare and education.

We remind the Honduran state that the community of Guadalupe Carney has been a beneficiary of collective protective measures since the year 2003 and that the public protest it has been engaged in along with the teachers and medical associations in the area is a constitutional right that all communities and people have when fundamental rights like the right to healthcare and education are under attack.

We encourage the rural communities, the teachers unions, the doctors and nurses, the students, the mothers and fathers, the communities fighting for water and the environment and to protect their territory and all social movement organizations to stay firm in the struggle. The truth and human rights are on the side of the people.

We alert the human rights defense organizations nationally and internationally to stay tuned to what is happening in this region of the country and especially to what is happening in the community of Guadalupe Carney.

Tocoa, Colón, June 1st, 2019
Tocoa Municipal Committee in Defense of the Public Common Good

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Report from Emergency HR Delegation on Criminalization and Political Prisoners

March 26 - April 2, 2019La Voz de los de Abajo with Alliance for Global Justice and CODEPINK, all members of the Honduras Solidarity Network sent an emergency human right delegation to Honduras focused on following up on criminalization and violence since the November 2017 electoral fraud crisis began. 

We visited political prisoners, Edwin Espinal and Raúl Álvarez, indigenous and campesino communities criminalized and attacked for their struggle, human rights organizations, families and supporters of murdered and criminalized journalists. 

LINK TO REPORT IN ENGLISH- El informe en español estará publicado pronto.

Support for political prisoners  and against criminalization of
protest at a vigil in front of the US Embassy

Nacaome REDEHSUR human rights defenders with delegation after a vigil
for assassinated journalist Gabriel Hernandez

Two of the three political prisoners being held pre-trial in prisons
Edwin and Raúl 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Miriam Miranda and other OFRANEH leaders detained this morning in Saba, Colon

Miriam Miranda is one of the most well-known human rights defenders and organizers in Honduras. She is the leader of the Organización Fraterna Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH – the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras) and was a close friend and collaborator of assassinated indigenous leader Berta Cáceres. She has faced repeated death threats, criminalization, persecution, harassment and intimidation for her continued and fearless work in defense of the human rights of the Garífuna people. The Garífuna are descendants of marooned Africans and indigenous peoples and have resisted and resided on the Caribbean coast of Central America for close to 500 years. Their territory, culture and survival are under continued threat from national and transnational tourist corporations and developers who for years have been working to take over the entirety of the North coast of Honduras, the ancestral home of the Garífuna people. Under the present day illegitimate U.S.-backed regime of dictator Juan Orlando Hernández, whose brother is in a Miami prison facing charges as a top drug trafficker and whose 2017 election was denounced internationally as fraudulent and illegal, the threats and harassment against Miriam and other human rights defenders have intensified. We have translated the below statement from the Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras (National Network of Women Defending Human Rights in Honduras) denouncing the arbitrary and illegal detention this morning, April 19th, 2019 that was just the latest development in the ongoing persecution faced by Miriam and OFRANEH. We call on all people of conscience of the world to denounce this situation and continue to accompany Miriam, Aurelia, OFRANEH and the Honduran people in their struggle.

[Denuncia original]


Today, April 19th, at the Elixir community in Sabá, Colón, Honduras, the National Police and Military Police detained the vehicle in which human rights defenders Míriam Miranda and Aurelia Arzú were travelling as they were en route to attend to an emergency situation facing the Organización Fraterna Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH – the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras).

The police and military forces stopped their vehicle at 9am and held onto the personal documents of these human rights defenders and the OFRANEH team that was travelling with them.

Miriam and Aurelia state that they are still stopped after 45 minutes, waiting for contact with a prosecutor on call and they point out that no other vehicle travelling through the area has been stopped.
As the Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras (National Network of Women Defending Human Rights in Honduras) we are worried about Miriam Miranda being repeatedly stopped despite having been granted protective measures from the Mecanismo Nacional de Protección (National Protection Mechanism).

We call on the National Protection Mechanism to implement the protective measures that were granted to these human rights defenders.

UPDATE: Miriam Miranda and Aurelia Arzú were finally released after being held up over an hour. They call on the national and international community to denounce the continued harassment, threats and persecution that they have faced as defenders of the Garífuna people and human rights in Honduras.
What can I do?

 One of the most effective ways that people in the United States can show solidarity and hold the Honduran regime accountable for these ongoing human rights abuses is to pressure for an end to U.S. economic support of the Honduran security forces who continue to kill, harass and detain Honduran human rights defenders with impunity. Please call and write your representative to ask that they sign on to the Berta Caceres bill for Human Rights in Honduras.
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