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Step by Step: Honduras Walk for Dignity and Sovereignty

By Greg McCain | Upside Down World | March 13, 2013

Photo by Greg McCain

From February 25 to March 7, I participated in the 200 km Walk (about 124 miles) referred to as Caminata Dignidad y Soberanía Paso a Paso (Walk for Dignity and Sovereignty Step by Step), which culminated with over 400 people from various groups representing the social movements in Honduras reaching the National Congress in Tegucigalpa to demand three things:

1. Abolish the new mining law, which basically gives foreign mining companies carte blanche to take the natural resources of Honduras for their own enrichment while having no regulations to stop these companies from poisoning the rivers and ground water and destroying the environment through mountain top removal and deforestation. In addition, these mining companies have historically exploited the labor of the local communities, paying little to nothing while poisoning the local populations with chemicals such as cyanide used for extraction.

2. Abolish the new Model Cities legislation. This is new legislation passed by decree by the Congress after having been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in November of last year. The following month, the president of the Congress, Juan Orlando Hernandez(JOH), staged what has been referred to as the second coup by holding an emergency session of Congress to vote out 4 of the members of the Constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court who found the original version in violation of the sovereignty of Honduras. JOH and President Pepe Lobo claimed that these magistrates were traitors who were holding back the economic development of the country. He also claimed to have fixed the issues that these “traitors” found to be unconstitutional.

It is for all intents and purposes the same neo-liberal package that gives up huge areas of land to outside developers to create neo-colonial enclaves that don’t have to operate under constitutional regulations. The further claim is that the land under consideration is uninhabited. Two areas that have been proposed, the communities of Puerto Castillo and Santa Rosa de Aguán are traditional Garifuna land along the northern coast in the Department of Colon. The Garifuna are the Afro-Caribe people who have inhabited the northern coast of Honduras for over 200 years. They have been struggling to maintain their land from rich foreigners such as the Canadian Porn King Randy Jorgensen who has bought up at bargain prices much acreage in and around the area of Trujillo.

Jorgensen has built a cruise ship dock on the beachfront in the town of Trujillo, not far from Puerto Castillo, which is also the location of the fruit company, Dole’s, shipping docks.  The Congress refers to the model cities as Special Development Regions (RED in its Spanish acronym). They will combine the exploitation of local labor and natural resources perpetrated by foreign corporations with the destruction of the natural environment such as has happened in Cancun, Mexico and other resort areas around the world, with all of the profits going to the foreign directors of the REDs, and their foreign investors.

3. Freedom for the Political Prisoner Jose Isabel “Chavelo” Morales Lopez. Chavelo Morales has become a symbol of the campesino movement and his imprisonment illustrates the criminalization of the campesinos as they struggle to maintain the land that is theirs by all rights under the agrarian reform laws that had existed prior to 1992. These laws were subverted by the ruling elite when so called “free” trade agreements were first being thought up and hammered out by corporate lobbyists in the US Capital.

Chavelo was framed for the 2008 murder of a family of rich landowners, the Osortos. This moneyed family had illegally obtained thousands of hectares of land at rock bottom prices (some of it free of charge) that were legally recognized as being set aside for peasant farmers. In the late 1990s, the Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MCA), of which Chavelo is a member, took legal routes to obtain the land and began to work it for their own subsistence. The Osortos and their paramilitary guards terrorized the communities, killing leaders of the MCA, and shooting into the houses of families. This occurred while the national police and the Honduran government turned their backs on the illegal actions of the Osortos, presumably due to the bribes that the rich landowners doled out. Indeed, the police and the district attorneys played an active role in criminalizing the campesinos by issuing trumped up arrests warrants (Currently there are over 3080 campesinos with arrest warrants against them). Click here for a more complete background of Chavelo’s story and the travesty of justice in his case.

Chavelo spent the first 2 years in jail without a trial. It was another 2 years before he received his sentence. This is a clear violation of Honduran Penal Process Code 188, which states that a person cannot be incarcerated for more than 2 years from the time of his arrest until sentencing. This alone should be enough for the Supreme Court to annul the conviction and set him free, and indeed this is what Chavelo’s lawyers are hoping to happen in their appeal of causation that they have filed with the high court. But additionally, the sentencing statement that the judges in Trujillo issued gives no concrete evidence linking Chavelo to the deaths that occurred other than a photo of him close by to the scene where some 300 other campesinos and dozens of police had been during a standoff at the Ranch of Henry Osorto, the ex-military, ex-police sub-commissioner, and current penal system investigator. It is with Osortos influence alone that Chavelo is currently imprisoned. Chavelo has spent close to 4 ½ years in prison based on hearsay evidence and the political and economic influence that Henry Osorto has over the judges. Chavelo faces 20 years in prison unless international pressure convinces the Supreme Court of Honduras otherwise.

With these three demands energizing our every step, we entered Tegucigalpa with 400+ walkers who made a silent vigil through the streets until we reached the National Congress. Once there, hundreds more joined us. A small group, accompanied by Padre Melo Moreno, a Jesuit priest and director of Radio Progress, was able to meet with Marvin Ponce, vice president of the Congress. Promises were made that the protesters concerns would be addressed. No one is holding his or her breath.

Another group was able to meet with the President of the Sala Penal of the Supreme Court, basically the chamber of the court that deals with prison issues. This group was made up of Omar Menjivar, Chavelo’s lawyer; Esly Benegas from COPA (the Spanish acronym for the Coordinated Popular Organizations of the Aguán); Merlin Morales, Chavelo’s brother; Myself, Greg McCain, representing La Voz de los de Abajo and the Honduran Solidarity Network, and Brigitte Gynther from SOA Watch. The President of the Sala Penal, Jacobo Antonio Cálix Hernández, began by stating that the court was backlogged by two years, they hadn’t even begun to hear cases that had been sent to the court in 2011. Chavelo’s case had just reached the court at the end of January 2013. He stated that cases were very complicated and that they took a lot of study on the part of the judges. He was basically letting us know that nothing happens fast in the justice system.

We each made our case for why we were there and what we expected from the court, reiterating the lack of evidence and the violation of the procedural code. Chavelo’s brother made explicit Osorto’s influence on the judges in the Trujillo tribunal and the fact that the only evidence was a photo of Chavelo and that the context of the photo was not addressed in the sentencing. He also made the emotional appeal that Chavelo has been unjustly incarcerated while his daughter, father, 2 aunts and grandfather have all passed away without his being able to attend the funerals. I piggybacked on Merlin’s plea by noting the money and political power of Osorto and my hope that it does not reach to the Supreme Court. I also underlined the amount of time that Chavelo has spent in jail and hoped that there weren’t further undue delays of justice.

Judge Cálix made the promise that he would speed up the process for having the trial transcripts of the lower court transcribed by no later than the following week. He then stated that he would schedule the hearing of the case for sometime between April 1st and the 5th. This hearing is basically a formality so that each side, the Defense and the Prosecutor, can present their cases. The judges then legally have up to a year to make a decision. This was huge news. We in the room, along with the threat of having 400+ demonstrators that were still at the National Congress converging on the Supreme Court, cut the process down by two years. Again, none of us are holding our breath. The campaign to put pressure on the Supreme Court has just begun. We need to reduce the year long wait and bring Chavelo home. Pronto!

To send emails and make phone calls to the court between now and the promised April hearing, click here, and you can also follow future actions and the progress of Chavelo’s case.

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Step by Step: Honduras Walk for Dignity and Sovereignty

Thousands hold demonstrations against journalist killings in Honduras

People protest violence against members of the media with signs that read in Spanish "United for peace and freedom," left, and "Stop corruption" in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Friday, May 25, 2012.
People protest violence against members of the media with signs that read in Spanish “United for peace and freedom,” left, and “Stop corruption” in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Friday, May 25, 2012.
Press TV – May 26, 2012

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of many cities across Honduras to protest the killings of journalists in the Central American republic.
The demonstrators, who were chanting “Killing journalists does not kill the truth,” marched past the offices of the president and the human rights commission in the capital Tegucigalpa on Friday, AFP reported.

According to organizers, some 5,000 people attended the demonstration in Tegucigalpa, but protests were also staged in San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Comayagua and Choluteca.

“No more impunity,” said one sign held by an activist. Another sign read, “United for peace and freedom.”

Since President Manuel Zelaya was toppled on June 28, 2009 in a military coup twenty journalists have been killed in Honduras.

Last week, the body of 47-year-old HRN Radio journalist Alfredo Villatoro Rivera was found blindfolded and with gunshot wounds to his head, a police spokesman said.

A week before Rivera had been kidnapped.

Honduras has been plagued by political turmoil following the 2009 military coup. Military rule, corruption, an enormous wealth gap, crime and natural disasters have turned Honduras into one of the poorest and least secure countries in Central America.

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Honduras and the Obama Administration

By LAURA CARLSEN | CounterPunch | March 20, 2012

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Honduras on March 6 with a double mission: to quell talk of drug legalization and reinforce the U.S.-sponsored drug war in Central America, and to bolster the presidency of Porfirio Lobo.

The Honduran government issued a statement that during the one-hour closed-door conversation between Biden and Lobo, the vice president “reiterated the U.S. commitment to intensify aid to the government and people of Honduras, and exalted the efforts undertaken and implemented over the past two years by President Lobo.”

In a March 1 press briefing, U.S. National Security Advisor Tony Blinken cited “the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order.”

You’d think they were talking about a different country from the one we visited just weeks before on a fact-finding mission on violence against women.

What we found was a nation submerged in violence and lawlessness, a president incapable or unwilling to do much about it, and a justice system in shambles.

Two-Year Slide

The crisis in human rights and governance in Honduras has become apparent to the world and is a fact of daily life within the country. In the two years since Lobo came to power in elections boycotted by the opposition, Honduras catapulted into the top spot in the world for per capita homicides — the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Global Homicide Survey found an official murder rate of 82 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010. There were 120 political assassinations in the country in 2010-2011. In the region of Bajo Aguan, where peasants are defending their land from large developers, 42 peasants have been murdered, and alongside 18 journalists, 62 members of the LGBT community, and 72 human rights activists have been killed since 2009. The Honduran Center for Women’s Rights reports that femicides have more than doubled and that more than one woman a day was murdered in 2011.

An Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report on the Honduran coup found at least seven deaths, harassment of opposition members, disproportionate use of force by security forces, thousands of illegal detentions,
systematic violations of political rights and freedom of expression, sexual violence, and other crimes, with almost no investigation or prosecution.

Despite the fact that security forces perpetrated many of these crimes, the response of the Honduran government — with the support of the United States — has been to beef up military presence. One of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, Honduras increased its military expenditure from $63 million in 2005 to $160 million in 2010. The Lobo government justifies the militarization saying that its own police forces can’t be relied on. He told us in a meeting, “We’re working on cleaning up the police but it’s going to take some years. The corruption is deep.”

The impunity with which common criminals, powerful transnational interests, and elements of the state violate the most basic principles of society with government complicity or indifference derives from the fact that the government itself is erected on the violation of those principles. The crisis in human rights and violence—as deep as it is—is but a symptom of a greater evil. When the 2009 coup was allowed to conserve power and seal itself off from prosecution, it immediately undermined governance, rule of law, and the social compact. Honduras’ constitutional crisis has now become a prolonged social and political crisis.

A Coup for Criminals

The coup d’état on June 28, 2009 was not only a criminal act. It was an act designed to benefit criminals.

When members of the armed forces kidnapped democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya and took him to Costa Rica in his pajamas, they destroyed the the fragile democracy built since the era of military dictatorships. None of the convoluted discussions of what the president had supposedly done to deserve forcible removal changed the fact that the millennium’s first coup d’état had taken place in the Americas. The OAS and every major diplomatic body in the world immediately realized that Honduras had become the symbol and the reality of the world’s new battles for democracy.

What many people don’t know is that the unraveling of the story is more tragic than the coup itself—and holds even greater lessons for global governance.. To make a long story short, the Honduran coup regime incredibly survived international embargos and diplomatic negotiations that in the end only served to extend its grasp on illegitimate power. The disturbing suspicion that the U.S. government, the historic godfather of the region, had given its blessing to the new regime became certainty when the State Department negotiated an agreement that paved the way for coup-sponsored elections without assuring the return of the elected government.

Porfirio Lobo came to power, and a nation pummeled by poverty splintered into an ungoverned free-for-all characterized by political polarization, a surge in crime, and widespread land grabs. Honduras is not a failed state. It’s a violated state.

Crime—common crime, organized crime, state crime, and corporate crime—has thrived since the coup. Drug trafficking in the country has increased. The most recent U.S. International Narcotics report calculates that 79 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America use landing strips in Honduras. Reports that Mexican kingpin El Chapo Guzman and others use Honduras as a hideout surface frequently. Militarization of the country has taken place alongside the spread of organized crime—a phenomenon that should provoke some reflection. But the Honduran and U.S. governments have been too busy promoting the drug war to pay attention to the correlation between militarization and organized crime.

Land grabs to transfer land and resources from small-scale farmers, indigenous peoples, and poor urban residents into the hands of large-scale developers and megaprojects have generated violence throughout the country. Many of the testimonies of violence and sexual abuse that we heard from Honduran women regarded conflicts over land, where the regime actively supports wealthy interests against poor people in illegal land occupations for tourism, mining, and infrastructure projects, such as palm oil magnate Miguel Facusse’s actions in Bajo Aguan.

The lack of investigation and prosecution for crimes — and the evidence that state forces are involved in human rights violations against opposition and “undesirable” sectors — creates a paradise for criminals and a hell for the majority of citizens.

U.S. Engagement or Complicity?

U.S. responsibility for what happened after the coup is a question that deserves far more analysis and soul-searching. By choosing not to support a return to democratic order and political healing before presidential elections, the United States helped deliver a serious blow to the Honduran political system and society. The United States has a tremendous responsibility for the disastrous situation, and the urgent question is what to do about it.

Biden stressed U.S. programs to vet police and justice officials. When we met with U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubriskie, she insisted that continuing to fund Honduran security forces would eventually lead to reform by “engaging” with government forces.

But even if that did happen, in the meantime those government forces are murdering, raping, beating, and detaining Hondurans — with U.S. aid.

When does engagement become complicity? Citizen groups and members of the U.S. Congress have come to the conclusion that the line was crossed some time ago. So far, more than 60 members of Congress have signed a letter circulated by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) to cut off aid to the Honduran military and police, claiming that the funding of these institutions fuels the abuse.

There’s no excuse for spending U.S. taxpayer dollars on security assistance to Honduras as human rights violations pile up. No amount of money poured into these programs will change the systemic corruption and human rights violations until there’s a real political commitment to justice and reconciliation. And that does not appear to exist under the current regime.

Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas Program based in Mexico City. She is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.

March 20, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , | 2 Comments