Two human rights lawyers assassinated in Honduras: take action! September 26, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: antonio trejo, bio fuel, dinant, eduardo diaz, honduran government, Honduras, honduras assassination, honduras privatization, human rights, mgk group, miguel facusse, roger hollander, soa, soa watch
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This past Sunday and Monday, two human rights lawyers, Antonio
Trejo and Eduardo Diaz, were brutally murdered in Honduras, bringing to over 60
the number of victims caught in the struggle for life and land in the Bajo Aguan
in Honduras. The debate over the production of food for families versus
bio-fuels for corporations has reached a high note
After the 2009
coup that was led by SOA graduates, massive privatization has become the order
of the day for Honduras, with almost everything, from land to entire cities, on
the docket for privatization.
Lawyer Antonio Trejo had the valor to take
a stand against this. He was defending the right of the MARCA peasant collective
to the restoration of their lands in the Lower Aguan valley. These lands were
seized 18 years earlier by Honduras’ wealthiest man: Miguel Facussé. Facusse’s
Dinant Corporation was using this land to produce African palms, a source of bio
Trejo’s efforts led to initial success, with a June court
decision calling for the return the land to the campesinos, However, pressure
from the private corporation led to an overthrow of the court order, as well as
the arrest of Trejo and other campesinos protesting the
Saturday night unknown assailants riddled Trejo’s body and car
with bullets as he left a wedding. On several occasions, Trejo denounced the
threats he had received to the media and had publicly said that if he were
killed, Facusse would be responsible.
Trejo had also taken a stand on
the controversial proposal by the Honduran government, in conjunction with a US
company, MGK Group, to build three privately run cities with their own police,
laws and tax systems. Just hours before his murder, Trejo had participated in a
televised debate in which he accused congressional leaders of using the private
city projects to raise campaign funds.
Only hours after Trejo’s
assassination, another human rights lawyer, Eduardo Diaz Madariaga was killed in
Choluteca, 84 miles (135 kilometers) south of the capital.
Antonio Trejo and Eduardo Diaz lost gave their lives to the struggle for
dignity. If you have at least 3 minutes to spare or a 3 cents in your pocket,
this is what you can do:
- 3 minutes to spare? Contact
your Member of Congress and demand an end to US military aid to
- 10 minutes to spare? Learn how Nicaragua found the
courage to withdraw their troops from the SOA last month, while neighboring
Honduras continues to pay the price for actions of SOA graduates, by reading the
from a recent SOA Watch delegation.
- 3 days to spare? Go to
Honduras as an
election observer. The National Popular Resistance Front formed a political
party, LIBRE, to compete in next years national elections, and primary elections
for LIBRE and Honduras’ traditional parties will be held this November. Four
LIBRE primary candidates have been killed to date and violence against FNRP
activists and members is committed daily
- 10 days to spare? Join
Witness for Peace and the Friendship Office of the Americas to see the effects
of militarization in Honduras and then take action at the SOA
Watch vigil in Georgia.
- No time, but some pocket
change? Help sponsor
SOA Watch’ Human Rights Accompanier with the PROAH Accompaniment Program of
“Oligarchs beware: the Honduran people of struggle will
continue to place our bet on the construction of a dignified life, until we
achieve a new society and a new country that we will refound with equality,
justice, peace and sovereignty”
- statement by COPIHN, September 25,
Honduras: Wealthy Landowners Attempt to Quash Farming Collectives September 16, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: andrew kennis, cartagena accords, farming collectives, fnrp, Honduras, honduras assassination, honduras collectives, honduras corruption, honduras coup, honduras land, honduras land grab, honduras paramilitaries, honduras repression, honduras violence, human rights, land disribution, Latin America, oas, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, zelaya
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The Bajo Aguán region of Honduras is a rich, fertile valley that comprises land that is worth nothing less than millions upon millions of dollars. It was not even two months ago that Secundino Ruiz, 44, proudly boasted to Truthout: “this valley is numero uno for agriculture in Central America; there’s corn here, beans, rice, fantastic African palms and everything that a human being would need.”
Hospitable and friendly, Ruiz extended a personal invitation to Truthout: “I’m going to propose you something, I would like for your colegas and you to all come to Bajo Aguán to see for yourselves just how beautiful it is here.”
Several masked men prevented Ruiz’s offer from ever being realized, as they shot him to death on August 20, and also seriously injured Eliseo Pavon, who suffered head wounds. Ruiz’s killers approached the taxi that he and Pavon occupied shortly after they had exited a bank with $10,260 of organizational funds in their possession.
The government and authorities have painted the event as nothing more than a robbery, but local farmers, researchers and activists do not agree with that perspective. Given Ruiz’s position as the vice president of the Authentic Peasant Protest Movement of Aguán (MARCA) and Pavon’s role as its treasurer, they argue that the killing was just one of many politically motivated killings that have been occurring on a regular basis in the region throughout the year.
Marcelino Lopez, a fellow MARCA activist and friend of Ruiz’s, described the loss: “He was a very accessible and dedicated activist filled with solidarity, who was a fantastic representative of the movement, who is going to be a tremendous loss to the movement.”
While 2011 has been a year filled with killings of activist farmers in the conflict-ridden region, August was an exceptionally violent month during what has been an exceptionally violent year.
Just one day following Ruiz’s murder, Pedro Salgado of the Unified Movement of Campesinos of Aguán (MUCA) and his wife were both shot and killed in their own home. Teenagers have been among the August victims as well: 17-year-old Javier Melgar was killed in the Rigores community on August 15, while 15- year-old Roldin Marel Villeda and 18-year-old Sergio Magdiel Amaya were slain just three days later in the municipality of Trujillo. Marel’s and Magdiel’s deaths occurred in the same incident that brought an end to the life of Victor Manuel Mata Oliva, aged 40. All were part of the Campesino Corporation of San Esteban, one of the two dozen cooperatives that form the base of MUCA. Examples of more teenager victimization included 17-year-old Lenikin Lemos Martinez and 18-year-old Denis Israel Castro, who were beaten by police, arrested and charged with murder (which residents claim were trumped-up charges). The beating occurred in the community Guadalupe Carney, which is home to the Campesino Movement of the Aguán and located near the eviction-riddled Rigores community (earlier this past summer, police evicted Rigores farmers by burning down well over 100 homes, as reported by Honduras-based journalist, Jesse Freeston and confirmed by international human rights observers).
Why is this violence occurring? What is the root of the conflict? Is the depiction of the situation in Aguán given by the Honduran government – only recently recognized internationally by the Organization of American States – an accurate reflection of what is going on? Bajo Aguán campesinos, as well as researchers and activists who have been visiting the region for decades worth of collective time, provided Truthout first-hand testimony in an effort to shed light on an otherwise largely overlooked, underreported and ongoing human and land rights catastrophe.
Plantation-Like State of Affairs Long Existent in Bajo Aguán
Annie Bird has been visiting Honduras for the last dozen years and is the co-director of Rights Action, a nonprofit and non-governmental organization, which funds community efforts in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador. Bird explained to Truthout that the campesinos first started organizing farming collectives and cooperatives back in the 1960s and ’70s. Those same groupings form the bedrock of most of the organized collectives in the region today.
By the 1990s, however, a temporary change to a previous law preventing land purchases of over 300 hectares devastated the farming cooperatives of the region. Among those that pounced on the opportunity to take advantage of the law was one of the wealthiest businessmen of Honduras, Miguel Farcusse, owner of Exportadores del Atlantico (Atlantic Exporters).
The 1990s land grab was shrouded in corruption and violence, according to Bird: “literally through kidnappings, at gunpoint and through corrupt methods and practices, much of the land was ‘sold’ to wealthy individuals.”
Those wealthy individuals were at the heart of an initiative by former President Zelaya. His administration had forged ahead with a decree announced on June 12, 2009, which contained the intention to return much of land to the campesino groups via a commission formed to do so. The process of investigating land titles to determine authenticity and validity had just begun when the coup which overthrew Zelaya occurred, completely interrupting the process.
As a result, the plantation-like land distribution and labor arrangements continued. The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief found that some one-third of the most desirable agricultural lands in Honduras are owned by just 1 percent of its populace.
MUCA first started issuing demands for a return to its land and eventually resorted to occupying lands (from December 2009 to February 2010).
Many of the landowners hired armed security guards, with Farcusse being the most prominent among them. The impunity enjoyed by the armed guards is what is chiefly responsible for the continuing violence in the region, Bird has argued, as no less than four dozen farmers have been killed by the guards since the latter’s training first began in January 2010.
While the government has accused the farmer collectives of using foreign firepower, there is little evidence to support such allegations – which have been roundly denied by the groups themselves. Further, some reports have indicated that it was Farcusse himself who had resorted to hiring 150 Colombian paramilitaries as the basis for his private army.
“We can assume that the recent violence is a means of terrorizing the farmers. After all, the people who have died are important farmer activists and not just random people; clearly, they have been targeted,” explained Gilberto Ríos, the director of the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN) Honduras, an organization that has been following the situation closely.
Negotiations Continue to Flounder, Related Frustrations Lead to Increased Violence
The violence in the region has been a continuing source of embarrassment and concern to state authorities, who finally managed to broker a deal in April 2010. In the agreement, some 11,000 hectares of land would have been returned and distributed to the MUCA and MARCA farming collectives. Further, the arrangement included provisions for additional social services, such as additional education and health care facilities, as FIAN’s Claudia Pinera pointed out to Truthout.
The agreement’s implementation, however, was marred by violence, evictions, arrests and a general lack of follow-through. When Farcusse and other wealthy landowners got in on the act and negotiated their own arrangement with select MUCA representatives, the resulting June 2011 agreement had reduced the land to be distributed down to 4,000 hectares, not even half the total included in the April accords.
The farming representatives who negotiated the more recent agreement, however, were limited to farmers hailing from the northern bank. According to Bird, Farcusse and his landowner colleagues took on a divide-and-conquer strategy: “Since most of the leadership is comprised by northern bank representatives, the perception is that the landowners have been deliberately dividing the movement by favoring them in negotiations.”
Of the 28 most important farming collectives in the region, some 24 belong to MUCA, with about four associated with MARCA. Of those two dozen MUCA collectives, around two-thirds belong to the southern bank region of Aguán. None of their representatives, however, were present during the talks which led up to the June accord.
At the end of July, the southern bank representatives of MUCA re-emphasized its opposition to these arrangements.
Marcelino Lopez of MARCA revealed to Truthout that some breakaway farming collectives were retaking land above and beyond the June agreements, out of frustration from their exclusion and in opposition to the trajectory of the talks: “there are some unaffiliated farmers who are starting to recover lands that are outside of the scope of the agreements, as they are completely opposed to the way matters have developed.”
Lopez speculated that these breakaway groupings and their respective attempts to recover and reclaim land may have provoked the additional violence from the landowners’ security guards in August.
Nevertheless, Lopez expressed hope about forthcoming unity: “There is a little division in the MUCA, because of misunderstandings, but there are some indications that there is growing unity between the two wings [the northern and southern banks] and talks between them are ongoing.”
In the meantime, the armed guards employed by Farcusse and other landowners, continue to operate at will, a situation which has only worsened with the passage of time.
“There have been paramilitaries and death squads operating since January 2010 and the army started moving in around March 2011,” remarked Bird.
Organization of American States Recognition Pointed to as Exacerbating Factor, as Campesinos Continue to be Killed in September
Back in June, the lead Amnesty International researcher on Honduras, Esther Major, expressed some hope and cautious optimism to Truthout about the Organization of American States’ (OAS) decision – long lobbied for and supported by the US – to finally officially recognize Honduras: “We were hoping that Honduras would have made more progress before its admittance, but hope that they seize this opportunity to improve matters and likewise, that the OAS tracks matters so that this can be accomplished.”
Gerrardo Torres, who is the international representative of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), offered a contradicting prediction to Truthout: “The Honduran regime has gained a legitimacy that it does not deserve and from our perspective, this will likely raise – not decrease – the level of violence present both in Aguán and beyond.”
As the month of September begins after a bloody August, the prediction by Torres is largely being borne out, as yet another killing was announced by MUCA and relayed by FIAN on Friday, September 2: “Olvin David González Godoy, a young 24-year man – married and with an eight-month-old baby girl – was assassinated today in the early morning hours. He was a member of the July 21st Cooperative, affiliated with MUCA … the organizers of the cooperative don’t have any doubt that his death was related to the agrarian conflict that continues without a solution.”
The cooperative also expressed its opposition to a continually escalating military and police presence in the region, as 600 more soldiers and 400 more police were dispatched to Aguán in the wake of August’s violence.
Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University who specializes in research on Honduras, and has regularly visited the country since 1997, criticized the OAS and US policy on Honduras, linking the stances taken to the continuing abuses:
The State Department’s lobbying efforts to bring Honduras back into the fold and recognized in the international community were successful. But the Cartagena Accords, which re-inserted Honduras into the global community as a legitimate state, means that there’s less pressure from international institutions such as the OAS. The implicit and explicit agreement was that the State would be recognizing human rights. But any of us who was following this with a critical eye, didn’t believe a word of it. Now, we’re seeing the results of that.
Elaborating on US support for the regime and non-action on internal abuses, Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy told Truthout that the March 2010 restoration of military aid by the US to Honduras prompted “widespread criticism.” Alexander Main of the Center for Economic Policy and Research echoed such sentiments, pointing out that “full throttle support for the regime” dated back all the way to November 2009, with the decision to support the election which elected the Lobos regime, an election that was not recognized by most of Latin America.
Will impunity for hired “security” agents of wealthy landowners against the long-running struggle of Aguán’s farming collectives continue to reign? Whatever the outcome, Aguán will certainly continue to be a central part of crafting the future of a country still reeling from the effects of the July 2009 coup and the subsequent coup-supported Lobos regime. For the time being and as Torres told Truthout, “the police and the military continue to terrorize the population with impunity.”
Tags: andres thomas conteris, democracy, hilary clinton, Honduras, honduras assassination, honduras coup, honduras military, honduras repression, human rights, Latin America, latin america politics, negroponte, otto reich, roger hollander, zelaya
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In the Top Ten Ways You Can Tell Which Side the United States Government is On With Regard to the Military Coup in Honduras, Mark Weisbrot correctly illustrates U.S. backing for the coup regime and its lack of support for democracy. For more than 100 days, I have been holed up inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, accompanying President Manuel Zelaya and covering the story for Democracy Now! and other independent media. In case Mark’s points were not convincing, here are 10 more ways to help you decide.
10. The resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on June 30th strongly condemned the coup in Honduras. The United States, however, prevented the UN Security Council from taking strong measures consistent with the resolution.
9. When President Zelaya returned to Tegucigalpa and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy on September 21st, Lewis Amselem, the U.S. representative at the Organization of American States (OAS), called it “foolish” and “irresponsible.” Amselem, whose background is with the U.S. Southern Command, is known in the halls of the OAS as “the diplomator.” He led the charge for validating the Honduran elections, while most countries opposed recognition of elections held under the coup regime.
8. The U.S. Southern Command sponsored the PANAMAX 09 joint maneuvers from September 11-21 off the coast of Panama with military forces from 20 countries. Even though the U.S. publicly stated that ties had been severed with the Honduran military, the invitation for Honduras to participate in these maneuvers stood firm. The Honduran armed forces finally said they would withdraw from the exercises, only after several Latin American countries threatened to boycott them.
7. Key members of the Honduran military involved in the coup received training at the School of the Americas (which changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation — WHISC), including Generals Romeo Vasquez and Luis Javier Prince. Even after the June 28th coup, the Pentagon continued training members of the Honduran military at WHISC in Ft. Benning, Georgia.
6. The negotiating teams for both sides of the conflict reached an Accord on October 30th. Days later, when the U.S. made it clear it would honor the November 29th election whether or not he were reinstated as president, Zelaya declared the Accord to be a “dead letter”. In spite of the U.S. claim that they only recognize Zelaya as the president of the country, they refuse to accept that he withdrew from the Accord. The practice of ignoring the will of the Honduran president is also evidenced by the failure Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama to respond to letters he sent them.
5. Although U.S. officials continue to sing the praises of the Accord, they have been cherry picking around which parts of the agreement to underscore and which to ignore. The Verification Commission mandated by the Accord only came together on one occasion for a photo-op. The Accord stipulates the need for international aid for the Commission to function, but the U.S. provided no economic or political support. Had the Verification Commission been activated, it would have denounced the November 5th deadline passing without the formation of a government of national unity. It would have to consider rebuking coup leader Roberto Micheletti for assuming he would preside over this new government. Given these violations, the Commission would have to rule whether or not the November 29th elections should have proceeded, or be recognized.
4. The U.S. supports a comprehensive amnesty, a component intentionally left out of the Accord. The coup regime filed 24 criminal charges against President Zelaya, yet he is willing to face all of them in an impartial court of law. He has called for an independent international tribunal and rejected the option of amnesty for himself and the coup perpetrators. If amnesty is declared, impunity will be enshrined for the “golpistas,” as well as for the U.S. Pentagon and civilian officials complicit in the crimes of the coup.
3. The Accord calls for the establishment of a Truth Commission during the first half of 2010. U.S. officials say they favor this; however, “truth-lite” seems to be what they prefer. In recent decades, most Truth Commissions have limited truth-telling to circumstances within their country’s borders. One exception occurred in Chad where the role of foreign governments in funding and training the perpetrators of human rights crimes was investigated. If Honduras followed Chad’s example, its Truth Commission could examine the U.S. role before, during and after the coup. Some possible questions: What role did those formerly employed by the U.S. government, like John Negroponte, Otto Reich, and Lanny Davis, play before and after the coup? Why did the plane carrying the kidnapped president on June 28th land just 60 miles away from the capital at the airbase where the U.S. Joint Task Force Bravo is headquartered? (U.S. officials claim it was to “refuel”). Why did the U.S. allow aid to continue to flow to the coup regime while not declaring that a “military coup” took place against the advice of the State Department’s legal advisors? Top U.S. officials labeled what happened in Honduras as a coup; but given their actions, it’s more like “coup-lite.”
2. In August 2009, at the Summit of North American Leaders in Mexico, President Obama had harsh words for opponents of his policy by declaring, “The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we’re always intervening. . . I think what that indicates is that maybe there’s some hypocrisy involved in their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations. . .”
The ongoing U.S. intervention and hypocrisy in Honduras goes well beyond what Mark Weisbrot and I have described. Aid continues to flow to the de facto regime, despite U.S. law that mandates cutting aid to military coups; that is intervention. Lifting the symbolic sanctions temporarily imposed on the dictatorship after the Accord was signed but not implemented; that is intervention. Bestowing harsher criticism on President Zelaya and his nonviolent supporters rather than on the perpetrators of gross human rights crimes; that is hypocrisy.
1. Here in the Brazilian embassy, death threats are part of the psychological warfare directed against those who continue to accompany President Zelaya. Elsewhere in Honduras: resistance leader Carlos Turcios was kidnapped and beheaded on December 16th; two members of the United Peasant Movement of Aguan were abducted by four hooded men on December 17th; resistance member Edwin Renán Fajardo, age 22, was tortured and murdered on December 22nd. In an open letter to fellow Central American Presidents on December 28th, President Zelaya cited over 4,000 human rights violations by the coup regime, including 130 killings, over 450 persons wounded, over 3000 illegal detentions, and 114 political prisoners.
The silence of the U.S. government over the last six months regarding the ongoing human rights atrocities by the “golpistas” in Honduras confirms that the Obama regime has sought to support a death-squad democracy, rather than reinstating its elected leader.
That is intervention. That is hypocrisy.