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

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