Urge Your Members of Congress to Call on State Department to Denounce Intimidation of Human Rights Defenders December 20, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: annnie bird, german alfaro, Honduras, honduras election, honduras election fraud, honduras military, honduras paramilitary, honduras repression, human rights, Latin America, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch
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Last week, School of the Americas (SOA) graduate and Honduran military Colonel German Alfaro made outrageous accusations against a leading U.S. human rights defender, Annie Bird, Co-Director of Rights Action, which is based in Washington, DC. Alfaro declared that the military is investigating Annie for alleged subversive activities with campesinos, including filing false reports about military abuses of human rights. One of the Honduran newspapers, La Tribuna, picked up the story and even ran a picture of Annie, putting her at further risk.* The allegations are completely trumped-up and dangerous given the pattern of violence in Honduras, of which Alfaro himself is a propagator. Please email your Members of Congress and the State Department to demand that they forcefully denounce this attack on Annie Bird and other human rights defenders.
Honduras is in crisis right now, as rampant fraud in their recent elections has allowed the current regime to continue the violence and intimidation against Honduran and U.S. human rights defenders. The Aguan Valley is an area where well over 100 campesino activists have been murdered by the military, police, paramilitary, and private security guards. These attacks on Annie are part of a growing strategy of intimidating and trying to silence international human rights advocates whom report on the state sanctioned violence. It is especially vital that the State Department speak out given that this attack on a U.S. citizen was carried out by a leading member of the US-funded and trained Honduran military, who himself received training at the School of the Americas. Ask your Congressperson and Senator to contact the State Department and U.S. Embassy now.
Information on the recent attack on the SOA Watch election observation delegation can be found here.
*La Tribuna, “Estamos investigando denuncia que una norteamericana desestabiliza en el Aguán”: http://www.latribuna.hn/2013/12/12/estamos-investigando-denuncia-que-una-norteamericana-desestabiliza-en-el-aguan/
Tags: eban yanes, foreign policy, honduran police, Honduras, honduras elections, honduras military, honduras repression, human rights, libre party, roger hollander, soa, soa watch
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Justice for Ebed Yanes!
One year ago this week, 15-year old Ebed Yanes was returning home in Tegucigalpa by motorcycle when he was murdered by the Honduran military. Soldiers pursued him in a Ford 350 truck donated by the US government to a checkpoint staffed by the US-trained, vetted, and equipped special forces. Second Lt. Josue Antonio Sierra, a 2011 graduate of WHINSEC/SOA, and member of the unit specially vetted by the US, gave the order to start shooting at the unarmed 15-year old. Ebed died immediately, his life forever cut short. Click here to call for justice for Ebed Yanes and an end to US military aid to Honduras.
Tomorrow, 6 military officials – 4 of whom are SOA graduates – will appear in court where they are being charged for covering up Ebed’s murder. The cover-up runs deep and includes several high ranking officials, some of whom have since been promoted despite their role in hiding the murder of an innocent young person. Three-time SOA “Distinguished Graduate” Col. Jesus A. Marmol Yanes, the Commander of “Operation Lightning” and the checkpoint, is said to have lied to investigators. SOA graduate Lt. Col. Juan Rubén Girón told the soldiers involved to return to the scene of the crime and remove evidence of the murder while SOA graduate Lt. Col. Mariano Mendoza suggested to the soldiers who were to be questioned the testimony they should tell the investigators.
Ebed is just one of the hundreds of Hondurans murdered by military or police since the 2009 SOA-graduate led coup, often with funding or training from the United States. In spite of links to numerous human rights abuses including extrajudicial executions, many of these U.S.-trained soldiers have been vetted by the US for human rights compliance. Such is the case of Col. Funes Ponce, the previous Commander of Honduras’ 15th Battalion, who turned over the wrong weapons to investigators so that ballistics testing wouldn’t trace the soldiers to Ebed’s murder. The 15th Battalion, with SOA graduate Selman Arriaga in command of its special forces, is also funded and trained by the US and has been implicated in repression against campesinos in the Lower Aguan Valley, where almost 100 campesinos have been assassinated since the 2009 military coup.
This week in the Lower Aguan Valley, members of the Honduran military’s Xatruch III joint task force, commanded by SOA graduate Col. German Alfaro, together with private security guards of Honduras’ most powerful landowner, have been inside the Paso Aguan Plantation firing automatic weapons to intimidate the campesinos of the neighboring La Panama community. The bodies of two campesinos who disappeared in the past year have been discovered on the Paso Aguan Plantation and it is widely believed that there may be additional clandestine graves of other missing campesinos there. In addition to his forces terrorizing the La Panama community in conjunction with paramilitary security guards, Col. Alfaro has also been waging a media campaign aimed at discrediting the campesino movements struggling for their land in order to publicly justify the mounting number of murders.
Despite widespread human rights abuses by the Honduran military and police, the US continues to pour millions into military and police aid in Honduras. US-vetting and certification unfortunately do not seem to mean much. In 2012, the State Department certified that Honduras was making sufficient progress on human rights to be able to receive the 20% of aid that Congress had specified should be withheld pending human rights certification. This starkly contradicts the reality on the ground, where repression, murders, and impunity still reign. Click here to contact your Senators, representatives, the State Department, and White House to demand an end to US military and police aid in Honduras.
With the Honduran presidential elections just six months away and the new LIBRE party — which grew out of the resistance to the military coup — leading in the polls, the repression is only expected to increase between now and November. Click here to receive updates and action alerts from the SOA Watch activantes on the ground in Honduras and add your voice to that of thousands of Hondurans calling for justice and self-determination.
Year after year, Honduras continues sending more and more soldiers to be trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. As the ongoing repression by Honduran military forces against the Honduran people show, it is more important than ever to close the SOA and demand a change in US foreign policy. Stay tuned for an update on organizing for this November’s Vigil at the gates of the SOA in Ft. Benning!
Carbon Blood Money in Honduras March 10, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: bio fuel, cdm, deforestatiion, environment, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras repression, human rights, palm oil, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, rosie wong, zelaya
With its muddy roads, humble huts, and constant military patrols, Bajo Aguán, Honduras feels a long way away from the slick polish of the recurring UN climate negotiations in the world’s capital cities. Yet the bloody struggle going on there strikes at the heart of global climate politics, illustrating how market schemes designed to “offset” carbon emissions play out when they encounter the complicated reality on the ground.
Small farmers in this region have increasingly fallen under the thumb of large landholders like palm oil magnate Miguel Facussé, who has been accused by human rights groups of responsibility for the murder of numerous campesinos in Bajo Aguán since the 2009 coup. Yet Facussé’s company has been approved to receive international funds for carbon mitigation under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The contrast between the promise of “clean development” and this violent reality has made Bajo Aguán the subject of growing international attention — and a lightning rod for criticism of the CDM.
The Coup and Its Aftermath
In June 2009, a military coup in Honduras deposed the government of Manuel Zelaya, stymieing the government’s progressive social reforms and experiments with participatory democracy. “It was not only to expel President Zelaya,” says Juan Almendarez, a prominent Honduran environmental and humanitarian advocate. The coup happened “because the powerful people in Honduras were acting in response to the people’s struggles in Honduras.”
The result has been social decay and political repression. The homicide rate in Honduras has skyrocketed under the Porfirio Lobo regime, registering as the world’s highest in 2010. Human rights groups highlight the ongoing political assassinations of regime opponents. In this small country of 8 million people, 17 journalists have been killed since the coup. LGBTI organizers, indigenous rights activists, unionists, teachers, youth organizers, women’s advocates, and opposition politicians have also received death threats or been killed. Those responsible are rarely punished by the justice system, which instead devotes its energies to prosecuting social and human rights activists. Protests are often met with teargas canisters and live ammunition.
The coup has also proved a setback for campesino activists seeking to halt the encroachment of large landowners on their farms.
The Struggle for Land in Bajo Aguán
Highly unequal land distribution has long been an issue in Honduras, and genuine land reform has been evasive. However, partial agrarian reform in 1961 made the rainforests of Bajo Aguán available for cooperatives of farmers who migrated there from other parts of the country. Clearing the forests to make the land suitable for farming was extremely difficult work, but the farmers’ perseverance turned it into one of the most desirable and fertile agricultural lands in the country.
However, under pressure from international financial institutions, Honduras’s government passed the Law of Agricultural Modernization in 1994, allowing large producers to extend their territories beyond the maximum legal property limits. As a result, large landowners began to buy up the land of small farmers, effectively reversing whatever limited land reform had been achieved. The human costs were immense. According to Juan Chinchilla of the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguan (MUCA), “it forced masses of farmers to migrate to the cities and to the U.S. under terrible conditions.”
An older movement, the MCA (Campesino Movement of Aguan), has organized several dramatic acts of resistance to this dislocation. In May 2000, the collective orchestrated a remarkable mass occupation of a former U.S. military base on a large tract of arable land controlled by agro-industrialists. Coordinating with landless farmers from all over the country, the MCA organized 50 trucks and, early one morning, entered the former base and tore down its fences. This occupation continues today, despite threats and persecution.
In 2008, MUCA occupied one of Miguel Facussé’s palm oil processing plants and subsequently entered into negotiations with then-President Zelaya to have occupied lands legally transferred to small farmers. When the coup occurred and jeopardized these hard-won gains, landless farmers mobilized against it, with MUCA officials travelling to the Nicaraguan border to meet Zelaya on his second attempt to return to Honduras. It was there that MUCA decided to organize a mass land occupation starting on December 9, 2009.
But despite this resistance, aggressive landholders buoyed by the coup have continued their onslaught against the farmers of Bajo Aguán. According to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, 42 farmers were assassinated between September 2009 and October 2011 in Honduras. More recent reports have the numbers in the 50s by 2011. In one surprisingly brazen incident in November 2010, after five farmers were killed in El Tumbador, Facussé gave a press statement acknowledging that it was his hired security guards who were responsible.
A community member from the Marañones settlement in Bajo Aguán described an eviction of small farmers from the Guanchía cooperative on 8 January 2010, carried out by a contingent of 500 police and soldiers with teargas and guns: “It was a violent eviction where they had nothing legal to show us; the first greetings they gave us were the weapons. They began to shoot at us, to capture and beat our compañeros. There were captured children, nine of them…compañeras were raped…our homes were destroyed, our food – they took part of it and destroyed the other parts.”
Almost every farmer I interviewed said that it was unsafe to leave their settlements. The countryside is dotted with military checkpoints, and farmers have been killed travelling to or from their settlements. “The way we see it, it has become a crime to be a farmer here,” Heriberto Rodríguez of MUCA explained. There have been at least four military operations in the area since 2010.
Palm Oil and Power
Bajo Aguán’s small farmers are already under siege. But carbon trading with the global North could help to fuel in this aggression even further under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Set up under the current UN climate treaty, the CDM is supposed to encourage “clean” technology in the South and to provide Northern actors with the most efficient (i.e., cheapest) way to reduce global pollution. The basic equation is simple: a project in the global South that ostensibly reduces carbon emissions generates carbon credits. These credits can then be bought and sold by companies in the global North, who can use them to meet government requirements to reduce pollution without actually reducing emissions in their factories or power plants.
Dinant, Facusse´s palm oil company, has set up one of these projects. In the past, the company’s palm oil mill pumped its waste into large open pits, a process that produces large quantities of methane. Dinant’s project involves capturing this greenhouse gas and using it to power the mill. The project’s blueprint claims that it will reduce pollution in two ways: first, by not letting the methane from open pits escape straight into the atmosphere, and second, by preventing pollution from burning the fossil fuels that were formerly used to power the mill.
Dinant’s approval is obviously problematic for a number of reasons.
First, with the expanding palm oil industry contributing to massive deforestation in sensitive tropical regions, it’s ironic that Dinant would be rewarded for environmentally sound practices. Moreover, its CDM approval essentially endorses a business model of producing palm oil for export—instead of food for local consumption—in a country where one in four children suffers chronic malnutrition. As Heriberto Rodríguez argued, “We don’t need palm oil here. We need what we can eat.”
Finally, if Wikileaks cables detailing some of Facussé’s more unsavory dealings—including but not limited to his potential links to drug traffickers (to say nothing of his documented violence against local farmers)—are any indication, Facussé’s misdeeds are no secret to the North. And yet one CDM board member told a journalist that “we are not investigators of crimes” and that there is “not much scope” to reject the project under CDM rules.
As rights groups have brought these problems to light, Northern companies associated with the project have pulled out one by one, including a consultant that contributed to the project application, the German government bank that had agreed to give a loan to Dinant, and the French electricity company that had agreed to buy the credits. This has left Miguel Facussé and Dinant out on a limb. However, the struggle to stop European carbon market money from flowing to Bajo Aguán is not finished: the CDM board has re-approved the project, and the British government has not withdrawn its support, which means that new buyers could still appear.
Not for Sale
At an international human rights conference held in Bajo Aguan in February, MUCA signed an agreement with the Lobo regime that included a financing plan for the farmers to pay the large landholders for occupied land. But critics say that even if the government can be trusted (itself a questionable proposition), the crucial issues of assassinations and impunity were ignored. Facussé´s company is now accusing farmers of new “invasions.”
Needless to say, the situation in Bajo Aguán continues to be incredibly dangerous. Local rights groups have called for a Permanent Human Rights Observatory to witness, document, and discourage the ongoing violence against farmers in the region.
Although growing international condemnation has made it more difficult for Dinant to access carbon market money, the project remains officially sanctioned, and loans from international development banks have not been cancelled. Heriberto Rodríguez, speaking from his roadside hut in an Aguán settlement, had no doubt about the impact of this international support: “Whoever gives the finance to these companies also becomes complicit in all these deaths. If they cut these funds, the landholders will feel somewhat pressured to change their methods.”
MUCA spokesperson Vitalino Alvarez rejects the idea of carbon trading projects altogether. “To get into these deals is like having [our land] mortgaged,” he said. “So to this we say no; this oxygen, we don’t sell it to anybody.”
Rosie Wong has accompanied the anti-coup movement in Honduras since 2009, visiting Honduras three times and doing organizing work in Sydney, Australia. She compiles monthly updates at http://www.sydney-says-no2honduras-coup.net and can be contacted at email@example.com. Kylie Benton-Connell, currently based in Brazil, provided research support.
Honduras in Flames February 16, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: comayagua penitentiary, dana frank, Honduras, honduras fire, honduras military, honduras opposition, honduras police, honduras repression, la granja, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, zelaya
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Tuesday night, February 14, at least 357 prisoners died in a fire at La Granja penitentiary in Comayagua, Honduras, in one of the worst prison fires in the past century. The fire, though, is only the latest deadly outcome of the larger politically-driven firestorm that is Honduras today. The Comayagua fire must be understood in the context of the near-total breakdown of the Honduran state since the June 28, 2009 military coup that overthrew democratically-elected President José Manuel Zelaya.
Relatives of inmates stand outside the prison in Comayagua, Honduras, Wednesday Feb. 15, 2012. A fire late Tuesday tore through the jail killing 382 inmates. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Honduran authorities were quick to insist that the dead were hardened criminals and blame the fire on a crazy inmate who set his own mattress on fire. But human rights advocates, prison experts, and the opposition media have been quick to underscore that the biggest criminals in this story are the police and the Honduran state.
Daniel Orellana, director of prisons until he was suspended in the fire’s aftermath, was the mastermind managing the Honduras police during and after the military coup, according to the July 2011 report of the Commission of Truth and Reconciliation convened by the coup government of President Porfirio Lobo. Héctor Ivan Mejía, currently the police spokesperson reporting to the public about the Comayagua fire, was previously fired as Chief of Police of the nation’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula, in part because he issued the notorious order to tear gas a peaceful opposition demonstration on September 15, 2010, including a high school marching band. When the fire broke out just before 11:00 pm, the prisoners were locked into spectacularly overcrowded cells, in some cases sixty to a room. Their guards, ordinary police, in many cases didn’t have keys or refused to use them and fled, abandoning the screaming prisoners. Rubén García, a survivor, has testified that guards shot at the prisoners before fleeing. Outside, police held back firefighters for thirty minutes before allowing them to enter.
Although some of the inmates were, indeed, gang members and drug traffickers, as the media has reported, the Comayagua penitentiary is a second-tier prison, housing ordinary criminals from the area; the most dangerous are housed in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Many of them had never been convicted and were awaiting court dates that would never arrive, in a country widely acknowledged to have no functioning judicial system.
When the fire broke out, their family members rushed to the prison, only to be met by bullets and tear gas. All the following day the Jesuits’ opposition radio station, Radio Progreso, read out the names of the dead, and the incantation of their classic Honduran names underscored the magnitude of the blow to the Honduran people.
This is the country’s third major prison fire in recent years. In 2003, police deliberately set a fire killing 69 gang members in El Porvenir. In 2004, 104 inmates died in San Pedro Sula, unable to escape. In both cases the government called for dramatic reform; yet conditions worsened.
Over 300 people have been killed by state security forces since President Lobo came to power in a November 2009 election boycotted by most of the opposition and almost all international observers. At least forty-three campesino activists have been killed by police, members of the military, and private security guards.
This past fall the country was further rocked by a massive scandal when authorities revealed that on October 22 police officers had allegedly killed the son of the university rector, Julietta Castellanos, and a friend of his, and then the culprits were allowed to go free. Throughout the fall former government officials and others came forward to denounce widespread involvement of the police at in drug trafficking and assassinations, at the highest levels. The most prominent of the critics, former Congressman and Police Commissioner Alfredo Landaverde, was himself assassinated on December 6.
Who, then, is to blame for the Comayagua maelstrom? Former police commissioner María Luisa Borjas, herself a target of ongoing death threats because she has criticized police corruption, charged the next morning that the fire was a “criminal act” by the Honduran government. Attorney Joaquin Mejía called it the “institutionalized violence of the state.”
They know that the Lobo administration is still riddled from top to bottom with coup perpetrators, drug traffickers, and those responsible for the repression of the opposition. The danger, now, is that the Honduran police and military will take advantage of the prison fire to further justify a rapidly increasing militarization of Honduran society, as Oscar Estrada, who has studied the Honduran prison system, warns. Indeed, the government already passed a controversial law in November 2011 allowing the military to take over ordinary police functions.
This militarization is being fueled by the US State Department, which continues to throw its financial and diplomatic support behind the corrupt and illegitimate Lobo regime. Obama in his 2013 budget proposed to double the funding for Honduras, despite growing Congressional pressure to suspend all police and military aid to Honduras. US military funding has increased every year since the coup, and the United States is currently pouring $50 million into expanding its strategically important Soto Cano Air Force Base in Honduras, using the fight against drug trafficking as a pretext to expand both its military presence and its direct control of the Honduran police.
The Honduran human rights community and opposition are clear, though: they want the United States to cut the aid—”stop feeding the beast,” as the university rector has famously asked—and they want to clean up the state security forces themselves. They do not want the United States, whether itself or through its puppets, to take over their country further through an alleged cleanup operation in service to the very coup regime into which it continues to pour millions of dollars.
Dana Frank is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of “Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America,” which focuses on Honduras, and Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism. She is currently writing a book about the AFL-CIO’s Cold War intervention in the Honduran labor movement.
Attorneys Urge Court to Hear Lawsuit Against Honduran Coup Leader November 7, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
Tags: honduran military, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras justice, honduras repression, Latin America, micheletti, porforio lobo, roger hollander, san jose agreement
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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: extrajudicial executions, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras government, honduras military, honduras repression, human rights, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch, violent repression
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This photo says it all. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledging US taxpayer dollars and support for the illegal and repressive regime of Porfirio Lobo in Honduras. The American taxpayer is financing the repression you will read about below. SHAME
A delegation of ten SOA Watch activists, accompanied by Fr. Roy Bourgeois, has just returned from Honduras, a country devastated by a 2009 coup led by SOA graduates. Over nine days the delegation met with with a broad spectrum of society in the capital, as well as in towns and farms on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.
From start to finish the days were marked by testimonies of extrajudicial executions, violent repression, death threat and harassment aimed at individuals and sectors of society opposing the coup and current illegal regime of Porfirio Lobo.
From our first morning – when a body was dumped at the headquarters of the striking teacher´s union – to just hours before our departure flight, when we learned of a campesino deaths in a community we visited, the days unfolded with a litany of tragedy. There were, quite simply, not enough hours in the day to meet with the numbers of people and organizations that wanted to share with us their concerns and fears.
As we prepare to leave, we find ourselves profoundly concerned by this increase in human rights violations, the involvement of government security forces, and the total impunity that reigns in the country. The severity and extent of repression of the Lobo regime in recent months exceeds that of the first weeks under the initial coup regime of Micheletti.
We are especially concerned about the clear complicity between government security forces and the private security guards that protect large landowners and corporations. The country´s wealthiest citizens are literally locked in a battle with the poorest ones, using Honduran security forces to do their dirty work. All this is made possible because of guns, tear gas, tanks and ammunition purchased with US aid to the country´s military and police.
Finally, we return in awe of the extraordinarily brave and profoundly committed community of human rights activists in Honduras. We feel a renewed commitment as an SOA Watch movement to accompany the Honduran people in their struggle for dignity and for life.
Please read more about the delegation in Lisa Sullivan’s report , “Honduras is Open for Business Plunder”
For more information about upcoming delegations to Costa Rica, Colombia and Haiti, email Lisa Sullivan at LSullivan@soaw.org
Urge your Representative to also pressure President Obama to shut down the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC) by executive order and to also sign on to the Congressional sign-on letter to Secretary of State Clinton regarding the situation in Honduras.
Tags: community media, community radio, emma volonte, honduran government, honduran resistance, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras repression, honduras resistance, Media, roger hollander
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|Written by Emma Volonté, Translation by Alex Cachinero-Gorman|
|Monday, 02 May 2011 14:12|
|Controlling the media is a fundamental part of reproducing and holding on to power. Known as the “manufacture of consent”, it has been a crucial principle upon which the Nazi/fascist dictatorships of the past century were based—not unlike the current Honduran government, which by consolidating control over the media into its own hands has turned democracy into a farce. All of this is not lost on grassroots broadcasters, who have managed to create independent spaces for democracy and discussion, even in countries where such things have all but been extinguished.
In Honduras, where sensationalizing and manipulating the truth is a common practice among journalists, community radio stations have emerged as a critical part of the anti-coup movement: they can project and expand the many voices of resistance while at the same time they are able to reach and educate listeners who may not have been in the streets in the days following the coup.
Community radio is not just a social and political commitment to ‘give voice to the voiceless’—rather it is the shared property of a community, which articulates itself as a whole through the mics. And while there might be a coordinator or supervisor of some kind, all decisions are made collectively by volunteers. Brendaly Rivas, of Radio Durugubuty, San Juan Tela, explains that “as soon as you introduce money into the equation, you start to have problems: everyone wants to stick their hand in it, while on the other hand, when there’s no money involved, everyone works in a more relaxed environment.” Community radio is not-for-profit, supported only by solidarity efforts, profits from broadcasting advertisements from sister organizations, or from community-wide raffles.
In a country like Honduras, where the ruling oligarchy is constantly trying to stamp out indigenous and Afro-Latino culture, community radio becomes an indispensable instrument in anti-assimilationist cultural resistance: announcers are free to talk in the language of their people and denounce the pillaging of their ancestral lands. According to Salvador Zuñig of COPINH (the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations in Honduras), “community radio programs have managed to become a thorn in the side of the oligarchy.”
Consequently—to prevent themselves from being ‘pricked’ too sharply—the Honduran oligarchy does its best to eliminate them in every way possible.
In January 2010, Radio Faluma Bimetu (Triunfo de la Cruz), which for 14 years has been denouncing the construction of mega-tourist attractions on the beautiful Caribbean coastline of Honduras, was burned down and their equipment was robbed.
On the pacific coast, where ADEPZA (Association for the Development of the Zacate Grande Peninsula) is fighting an ongoing battle against Miguel Facussé’s personal oligarchy—which is trying to appropriate over 5,000 acres of land from peasants—the situation is equally tense.
“A colleague and I came up with the idea of having a radio program to inform people about what was happening each day in Zacate Grande and other places when we went to the Hemispheric Forum Against the Militarization in La Esperanza [a municipality in western Honduras]. This way, we could let people know about our struggle, and open their eyes to what Miguel Facussé is doing,” Elba Yolibeth Rubio, a correspondent with La Voz de Zacate Grande, told me.
Elba and other youth from Zacate Grande, all around the same age as her, participated in COMMPA’s Popular Communication School: they learned how to write up news items, use equipment, and become confident as announcers. “At any rate, before creating radio personalities we created a kind of consciousness: you cannot communicate the people’s struggle if you haven’t been formed politically,” one of the youth from Zacate Grande told me.
On April 13, 2010, the night before the program’s inaugural broadcast, a hail of warning bullets thundered over the community. Rubio recounts that “the following day, after the inauguration was over, Miguel Facussé ordered one of his men to beat one of our colleagues. But we were ready for anything by then, and so we spread our denunciation of the attack across community radios and on the Internet. A month passed, and then suddenly over 300 police arrived (in a place with a population of about 50, mind you), placing cautionary tape around the station that said “crime scene, do not cross”—as if someone had been assassinated—and they told us that if we kept broadcasting, those of our colleagues with warrants already out for their arrest would be the ones who would have to answer for the rest of us. We remained steadfast and stayed on air, though. But now, our kids are traumatized; when they see a policeman they come running and crying, because they’re afraid of what they might do.”
On December 15, 2010, while they were working on coverage of a community being evicted, two correspondents from La Voz de Zacate Grande were detained and assaulted. On March 13, the President of La Voz de Zacate Grande’s Administrative Board was threatened and later beaten with a gun, injuring one of his legs. After the attack, the police called the desk asking to “not make a scandal” out of it.
COPINH, as well, has been the victim of intimidation tactics. Tomás Gómez Lembreño, a correspondent for Radio Guarajambala, alleges that “they have been systematically sending electrical shocks to our transmitters to damage our equipment. This is in addition to the fact that on January 5th, one of Arturo Corrales Álvarez’s companies, SEMEH [Electrical Surveying Service of Honduras], sent people from Tegucigalpa to cut off our lighting without the requisite eight days warning. They cut it off just like that, and then they threatened us saying that they never wanted to hear anything from us again, or they’d come back to cut the lights again, or take away our radio equipment. They said that we were instigators and ‘misinforming’ people.” Before leaving, Álvarez’s coup-sympathizing men tried to rough up some COPINH members that they came across outside of the building.
“In the face of increasingly repressive tactics meant to silence our voices, our alliance of radio stations and other media outlets has strengthened, coming out with unequivocal responses to these violations of our right to free expression,” reads the statement written by Honduran community radio stations following the birth of the Honduran Community Radio Network. On February 6, 2010, one month after the fire, Radio Faluma Bimetu went on air once more with even greater energy. Its re-opening was also used as an opportunity to host a forum called “The right to broadcast our voices”, in which various community radio stations came together and formed the network. Some of the common needs that led to the creation of the Honduran Community Radio Network included strategizing reactions to repressive measures (more and more frequent due to the coup), the possibility of sharing material and training, and the need to forge common legislative proposals addressing media laws.
The regime’s attacks on community radio stations has been taken up on this legislative front as well, which if anything demonstrates the significant role community stations have played in the struggle. With the excuse that the radio industry is overly saturated with operators, the National Commission of Telecommunications (CONATEL) is threatening to suspend the granting of permits and licenses for frequencies for low-power stations. In other words—community radio stations. In this respect, Tomas Gómez Lembreño comments, “This is a clear threat to free expression and the people’s media, alterantive media. They are trying to find a way to shut us down and restrict free expression, even though ILO’s Convention 169 guarantees the right for community radios to exist wherever vital information and news about our communities is being ignored, and the right to defend our natural resources. We believe that this measure is tantamount to annihilating media in our country, because it will affect not only Radio Guarajambala or La Voz Lenca, but all community radio stations. It is also a threat to indigenous movements—they are trying stop them from building a better Honduras.”
SOA Watch in Honduras May 3, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America.
Tags: Honduras, honduras coup, honduras military, honduras repression, human rights, Latin America, lisa sullivan, roger hollander, roy bourgeois, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch, zelaya
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An SOA Watch delegation, including SOA Watch Latin America Coordinator Lisa Sullivan and SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois, is currently in Honduras to see firsthand the numerous and serious human rights abuses carried out against the people of Honduras. The human rights activists are meeting with members of the resistance, human rights groups, teachers, union leaders, religious leaders, and members of the administration of deposed President Manuel Zelaya.
They are currently visiting the Bajo Aguán where horrendous human rights violations have been occurring since the School of the Americas graduate-led coup d’état in June of 2009. Less than a month ago, the bodies of two campesino leaders were found decapitated in Bajo Aguán. The delegation will also visit the U.S military base in Palmerola, involved in the military coup.
The two men orchestrating the military coup in Honduras in June of 2009, the former Chief of the Armed Forces, Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, and the Chief of the Air Force, General Luis Prince Suazo are both graduates of the School of the Americas.
The violence and human rights violations that are currently happening in Honduras are being funded with Honduran money as well US tax dollars. Including US aid to Honduras are gas bombs priced from $160 to $220 used by Honduran security personnel to terrorize and even kill people. Teacher and co-founder of a leading human rights organization, Ilse Ivania Velásquez was killed after a tear gas canister fired at her head. A two-month old is in critical condition after Honduran security personnel fired a gas bomb inside a family’s home, informed Bertha Oliva, a leading Honduran activist. Live bullets and toxic chemicals are also being used against unarmed demonstrator.
Visit www.SOAW.org to stay tuned for updates from the SOA Watch Honduras delegation and take action now: Ask your representative to join Reps. McGovern, Schakowsky and Farr and sign on to the Congressional sign-on letter to Secretary Clinton calling for the U.S. to pressure the Honduran government “to end abuses by official security forces by suspending, investigating and prosecuting those implicated in human rights violations.” The letter also calls for a suspension of all military and police aid among other proposals.
Urge your Representative to also pressure President Obama to shut down the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC) by executive order.
Honduras Repression Continues September 2, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: Honduras, honduras coup, honduras government, honduras military, honduras politics, honduras repression, honduras resistance, Latin America, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, rou bourgeois, school americas, soa, soa watch, zelaya
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The teachers resistance and collective strength was shown over the past month. Due to their grassroots organizing against the oppressive regime of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, on August 31, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported that Honduran teachers have ended their month-long strike on the promise that the government will pay 3.6 billion lempiras, about $189 million, which is only part of what is owed to the educators’ pension fund. It is still unclear though what will occur with the general strike, which is still in its preparatory stages.
Images shows repression and aggression used by police and military against peaceful teacher protests in TEGUCIGALPA, the capital of Honduras.
The illegitimate regime of has proven this August that it has little respect for human rights and democracy. The militarization of the country under this regime has a direct connection to U.S. military training. Gen. Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez, who overthrew democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in a military coup on June 28, 2009, was educated at the School of the Americas which promoted a mind set advocating for military solutions and lack of respect of democracy and civilian leadership. “We’re not surprised. Vásquez is one of the key players, an SOA grad who’s keeping alive the school’s nickname, the School of Coup,” says Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of Americas Watch.
The teachers of Honduras have been on strike in opposition to the Lobo military regime – a last resort to get the respect they deserve. According to human rights advocates, violence against the strikers has increased dramatically during the past couple of weeks. In protests on August 26 and 27 outside the presidential residency and the National Pedagogical University Francisco Morazan in Tegucigalpa, police countered the peaceful strikes with tear gas and rubber bullets, detaining some and denying medical access to the wounded.
The Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) has expressed that “the recent brutal attacks by government forces against non-violent protests show that there has been no reconciliation after last year’s coup d’etat, and the U.S. government’s policy of support for the current government must be changed.” But while the relationship between the people and the government is becoming more conflicting, the masses are joining together in opposition. Members of campesino organizations, trade unions and student groups joined the teachers in solidarity. Although they have different struggles, all are joining together under the umbrella of the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) to oppose Lobo’s military regime and his attempts to privatize public sectors, including education.
“Our protests are in opposition to the actions and intention of the dictator to apply laws that favor the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, that abolish social conquests and hand over public goods and natural resources to corrupt business people and transnational corporations.” -FNRP Comminique No. 17
Among the protestors were women and children who were shown no mercy at the hands of the military and police brutality. Some of their demands include:
The National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) “calls on all people to continue permanent actions of peaceful resistance in order to weaken the regime and require the convocation of a constituent assembly in accordance with the contents and structure defined by the Frente.”