Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

SAN FRANCISCO DE LOCOMAPA: DISPLACED TOLUPANES RETURN TO THEIR LANDS WITH IACHR PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES

March 19, 2014

 

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On February 23, in response to an invitation from the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), PROAH observed a publicly organized event for the return of indigenous Tolupan members to their community in San Francisco de Locomapa, Yoro.

Last year, members of the community were forced to flee Locomapa following the assassination of three members of the community, Maria Enriqueta Matute, Armando Funez Medina, and Ricardo Soto Funez, on August 25, 2013. The triple murder occurred after twelve days of peaceful demonstrations by the community to protest mining and illegal logging on their tribal lands.

In response to a request by MADJ for protection of the community, on December 19, 2013, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights awarded precautionary measures to eighteen community members and their families, thirty-eight people in total.

This gathering, organized for the return of community members who had been forced to flee last year, was attended by a Commission representing the state of Honduras including the vice minister of the the Ministry of Human Rights, Justice, Governance, and Decentralization, members of the Ministry of Security, the Attorney General’s Office, the Public Ministry’s Office of Ethnic and Cultural Heritage; and the regional delegate of the National Commissioner for Human Rights.

This Commission arrived by helicopter and emphasized that it was the first time such a ceremony has been carried out, and that the government is commitment to fulfill its obligation to defend human rights. The deputy superintendent of Yoro, Ventura Rodriguez, also spoke and pledged to capture the alleged murderers and give protection to those threatened.

Coordinator of MADJ and lawyer Victor Fernandez also spoke, emphasizing the responsibility that the Honduran State has to give protection to the thirty-eight people in the zone with protective measures from the IACHR.

After the event, MADJ authorities and representatives signed an agreement, in which these commitments were documented and where the precautionary measures and their content were explained.

 

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Other civil society actors also accompanied the event, including ERIC-Radio Progreso; COPA (Coordination of Popular Organizations of Aguán); the Human Rights Observatory in the Aguán; the Forum of Women for Life; OFRANEH; the coalition against impunity; and a representative of the Honduras Solidary Network in the United States (HSN).

The event ended with the planting of three trees in memory of those murdered last year while peacefully opposing mining efforts.

 

To date, the alleged murderers have not been arrested, despite arrest warrants in their names. One community member, the MADJ coordinator in Locomapa, who fled following the murders, has not yet returned to the community as he still fears for his life after gunmen hung a note with death threats on the door of his home last September.

 

More Information:

Our blog : Murder of three Tolupan community members in Locomapa. August 27, 2013.

 artículo de Radio Progreso:

Tolupanes retornan a sus tierras con promesa de seguridad del Estado hondureño

Artículo del MADJ sobre el otorgamiento de medidas cautelares por la CIDH

 Pronunciamiento del MADJ

2013 PROAH ANNUAL REPORT

March 14, 2014

Please find here our 2013 annual report.

SUMMARY OF HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES AND EVENTS IN HONDURAS (January and February, 2014)

March 12, 2014

Please find here our latest Summary of Human Rights issues and events in Honduras, for January and February, 2014.

AZUNOSA: Conciliation Process stalls while Criminalization continues

February 5, 2014

On 29 January 2014, PROAH observers attended the latest conciliation hearing between representatives of AZUNOSA and of the campesinos – the CNTC (National Farmworkers Federation) and the ADCP (El Progreso Association for Campesino Development). The two parties are locked in a dispute over land in Agua Blanca Sur, occupied by AZUNOSA, the sugar company owned by the British multinational SAB Miller which operates in the Sula Valley.1

 The conciliation process, which began in November, in theory should allow the lifting of the charges against the campesinos (who had been occupying the land under dispute until their eviction in June 2013) and their supporters. However, very little progress was made at the conciliation meeting on 29 January, the fourth in the process, as AZUNOSA failed to make any concrete offers. Magdalena Morales, CNTC’s Regional Secretary for Yoro department, based in El Progreso, faces another court hearing on 11 February.2

Magdalena Morales                                            Magdalena Morales

According to the latest figures from the CNTC, there are currently a total of 108 people subject to judicial proceedings in connection with this case. Magdalena Morales was arrested on 26 July 2013 in her office and, in a case with close parallels with that of the COPINH leadership, charged with usurping land. As a result of the alternative measures to imprisonment, she is unable to visit the area under dispute, seriously affecting her work in support of the campesinos. Another of the people affected, Félix Torres Meraz, aged 65, has been under house arrest since June3 and has to sign regularly at the court-house, which he has been unable to do recently because he has pneumonia. The court has threatened to imprison his daughter if she fails to sign in his place. As well as this judicial persecution, Magdalena and others have also suffered death threats and surveillance. According to Magdalena, at the second ‘conciliation’ meeting on 2 December, Víctor Ramos, the chairman of AZUNOSA himself, told her to “cuídese el pellejo” (“watch her back”).

 At the meeting on 29 January, AZUNOSA’s lawyers focused on the Supreme Court verdict which found in AZUNOSA’s favour.4 Although it was issued on 9 December 2013, it was apparently not made public until 20 December, leaving little time for the campesinos’ legal team to react. In the end, they lodged an appeal against the judgment on the grounds of unconstitutionality (recurso de amparo). The Supreme Court judgment endorses the National Agrarian Council’s ruling, in November 2012, which overturned the decision made by INA (National Agrarian Institute) in March 2012 in favour of the campesinos.

INA had ruled against AZUNOSA because its land holdings in Agua Blanca Sur exceed the ‘sobretecho‘ – the ceiling imposed under Article 25 of the Agricultural Reform Act and continued under the LMDSA (1992 Agricultural Sector Modernization and Development Act), restricting land ownership to 250 hectares in the Sula Valley. AZUNOSA has argued that the purpose of the LMDSA was to discourage the accumulation of idle land for speculative purposes and was not intended to be used against farms in full production, claiming that this is made explicit in the preamble of the LMDSA. (The preamble actually stresses the importance of food production and food security – AZUNOSA has a contract with Coca Cola and SABMiller, its owner, is a beer company). AZUNOSA argues that it was on that basis that SAG (Ministry of Agriculture and Cattle-Rearing) had formally granted it a waiver from the sobretecho.

 At the conciliation meeting, the lawyers also focused on the bilateral investment treaty between the UK and Honduras signed in 1993 (Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Republic of Honduras for the Promotion and Protection of Investments). Under its Article 5, there should be no expropriation of either party’s investments except if this is considered to be in the national interest and, if so, it should be subject to ‘prompt, adequate and effective compensation’. INA had offered AZUNOSA 10 million US dollars, although AZUNOSA’s lawyers had claimed that the actual losses suffered by AZUNOSA would be nearer 83 million5 – a further incentive for the state to find in AZUNOSA’s favour. It was clear that there had been significant diplomatic pressure from the UK to overturn INA’s decision – it was the British ambassador herself who announced the National Agrarian Council’s ruling in November 2012 against the campesinos.6

The European Union has introduced a trade pillar into its Association Agreement with Central American countries, applied in Honduras since August 2013, which means that the bilateral investment treaty between the UK and Honduras will ultimately be replaced by an EU one, if that has not happened already. However, in the final article of the existing treaty there is a ‘sunset clause’ under which investments made while it is in force will continue to be subject to the treaty’s provisions for 20 years after it has been terminated.

In the meantime, Magdalena and the campesinos she supports remain in a legal limbo and continue to receive threats.

1SOAWatch article The Struggle for Land in Agua Blanca Sur provides extensive background on the case.

2See interview with Magdalena Morales by La Voz de los de Abajo

6 El Heraldo Consejo Nacional Agrario falla a favor de Azunosa.

See also Giorgio Trucchi’s interview with Marco Ramiro Lobo of INA SABMiller lands expropriated – Strong pressures to withdraw resolution

SUMMARY OF HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES AND EVENTS IN HONDURAS (OCTOBER, NOVEMBER & DECEMBER 2013)

February 3, 2014

Please find here our latest Tri-month Summary of Human Rights issues and events in Honduras, for October, November and December 2013. It includes a four-page annex on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearings in October 2013.

La Nueva Esperanza: Villagers Flee Homes in Fear

July 24, 2013

Below is a translation of an urgent alert issued by the National Coalition of Environmental Networks on 20 June (Coalición Nacional de Redes Ambientales) about the increased intimidation of villagers by armed men employed by Lenir Pérez, who is carrying out mining exploration in the area against the community’s wishes (see article Mining project in La Nueva Esperanza: Alarming escalation in intimidation of the community and Mining in Atlántida: The Diocese of La Ceiba issues a public statement). He is trying to intimidate villagers into selling land for the mining operations, forcing some to flee their homes in fear.

Meanwhile, the mining exploration continues, with the rivers now so contaminated by mud from the excavations that they can no longer be used by the villagers, who are living under a curfew imposed the armed men (see photo below). The school has been closed since early June, because of the security situation which led in the end to the teacher being forced to leave the area with his family due to death threats, leaving 35 children without classes.

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URGENT ALERT IN LA NUEVA ESPERANZA, TELA

Reliable sources have reported that at about 5.30 pm on Saturday 20 July, two armed men with Mr. Wilfredo Fúnez, an employee of the mining company owner Lenir Perez, visited the communities of El Zapote and La Nueva Esperanza to threaten families who are refusing to sell their land to the mining company. We have also been informed that families have had to abandon their homes and take refuge in the countryside or in the homes of neighbours, for fear of the constant phone calls being made by the outsiders who have come to the community, and of the dozen armed men, who have kept the community in a virtual state of siege for over a month.

We call on social movements and organizations to report these abuses and to demand urgently that the security is provided to the families at risk and under threat in El Zapote and La Nueva Esperanza, Tela municipality.

We also demand the presence of the Office of the Human Rights Public Prosecutor (Fiscalía de Derechos Humanos) in order to safeguard the life and physical integrity of the people at risk.

 We urge the national police to provide the security currently required by the families of these communities and to evict the people who are spreading terror and fear in these communities.

We demand that Aldo Santos, the Director of INHGEOMIN (Honduran Geology and Mines Institute), settles once and for all the lawsuits filed to cancel the concession granted to Lenir Perez, so that the natural resources that form the basis of the rural economy of these villagers can be safeguarded.

We request that this alert is publicized and that the authorities are called upon to halt the harassment, persecution and threats targeted at those defending their right to live in peace and with dignity on the land which is theirs as of right.

NATIONAL COALITION OF ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORKS

(COALICION NACIONAL DE REDES AMBIENTALES)

ORIGINAL SPANISH TEXT

¡ ALERTA URGENTE!  EN NUEVA ESPERANZA, TELA.

Fuentes de entera confianza nos han informado que a eso de las 5.30 Pm de este sábado 20 de Julio,  2 hombres armados junto al señor Wilfredo Fúnez, empleado del empresario minero Lenir Pérez,   han llegado a las comunidades de El zapote y Nueva Esperanza, para amenazar a las familias que se resisten a vender sus tierras al empresario minero. Se nos informa igualmente que las familias han tenido que abandonar sus casas y refugiarse en el monte o en casas de vecinos, por temor a las continuas llamadas telefónicas que están realizando los extraños que han llegado a la comunidad y se teme que estén llamando a la docena de hombres armados que desde hace más de un mes mantienen prácticamente un Estado de sito en la comunidad.

Hacemos un llamado a las organizaciones y movimientos sociales a denunciar estos atropellos y exigir de manera urgente que se brinde seguridad a las familias en riesgo y bajo amenaza de las comunidades de El Zapote y Nueva Esperanza, en el municipio de Tela.

 

De igual forma exigimos la presencia de la Fiscalía de Derechos Humanos para que garantice la vida y la integridad física de las personas en riesgo.

 

Hacemos un llamado urgente a la policía nacional para que brinde la seguridad que en estos momentos requieren las familias de las comunidades antes mencionadas y que desalojen a las personas que están sembrando el terror y la zozobra en estas comunidades

 

Al abogado Aldo Santos, Ministro Director de Inhgeomin le exigimos que resuelva de una vez por todas las acciones judiciales interpuestas para que se cancele la concesión otorgad al empresario Lenir Pérez y se salvaguarden los Bienes Naturales que constituyen la base de la economía campesina de esos pobladores.

Se solicita Difundir esta alerta y llamar a las autoridades para el Cese del Hostigamiento, la persecución y las amenazas a quienes defienden su derecho a vivir en paz y con dignidad en las tierras que les pertenecen por Derecho Propio.

COALICION NACIONAL DE REDES AMBIENTALES

Militarization Ramped up in Honduras

April 1, 2013

On February 8, 2013, the Honduran government announced that it would be sending its military to patrol the streets of its two largest cities: San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the capital.1 With a murder rate of 92 per 100,000, Honduras far exceeds its nearest competitor (El Salvador, with a rate of 66 per 100,000) as the most violent country on the planet.2 In Tegucigalpa, the front pages of local, daily newspapers bearing gruesome photos of corpses riddled with bullet holes are blown up and pasted on the walls around town providing a disturbing display of the brutal violence.

President Porfirio Lobo has been lashing out at the press for Honduras’s violent reputation,3 specifically in the wake of surveillance footage released by one of Honduras’s main newspapers that depicts the execution of two brothers, aged 18 and 20. In the video, taken at 9 pm in the Comayagüela section of Tegucigalpa, the brothers are seen walking home as part of a group of five when eight armed men in bullet-proof vests emerge from two vehicles and open fire. Three of the youths ran for their lives, but the two brothers could not get away and, after being placed face down on the pavement, were shot in the back of their heads at close range.4

Just over a week after troops were deployed, on February 17, the son of the former Director of the National Police was gunned down in a restaurant along with his three armed body guards at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday evening in the south of Tegucigalpa.5 His father has since accused the current Director of the National Police, Juan Carlos Bonilla, of being responsible for the murder.6 Bonilla also faces accusations regarding alleged ties to death squad activity,7 for which units under his control are ineligible to receive US aid under the Leahy Law. However, a recent Associated Press report reveals that under Honduran law, as Director of the National Police, all police units in Honduras fall under his control. Members of U.S. Congress are now asking the State Department to explain what appears to be a violation of the Leahy Law. 8 Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield maintains that no money goes to Bonilla or those directly below him in order to maintain “two degrees of separation”.9

According to the Associated Press, the government is on the brink of bankruptcy: due to lack of government funds, teachers haven’t been paid in months, surveillance cameras in the capital have been turned off, stolen manhole covers aren’t being replaced, and even many soldiers have now gone months without being paid.10 Add to the mix last year’s failed depuration of the national police11 and December’s “technical coup” against the judiciary,12 and you begin to get the picture of a country that doesn’t just have a few problems, but rather is in the midst of a serious crisis. Hence, the government’s solution: put soldiers on the streets.

Deploying soldiers to patrol the streets is not without precedent in this country that less than four years ago suffered a military coup, bringing to an end less than thirty years of civilian rule. Thousands of soldiers have been deployed in the Aguán region of the Colón department since at least April of 2010 when 7,000 soldiers were dispatched to the area under Operation Trueno, which was then replaced by Operation Tumbador, and then Xatruch Task Force, currently in its third incarnation.13

In November 2011, the Honduran Congress altered the constitution to allow the military to fulfill police functions, and within a few short months, the military could be found in city streets, on inter-city buses, and performing a wide range of anti-narcotics and police operations.14 Since then, the order giving the military these police powers has been re-approved three times.15 It is merely, then, the latest incarnation which places some 1,200 soldiers on the streets of the country’s two most important cities.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Opinion and Expression recommended that the armed forces not assume police functions.16 The military checkpoints instituted previously in the Honduran capital faced strong criticism last year after soldiers chased down and killed a 15 year old boy, Ebed Yanes.17 The Special Forces unit responsible for the murder had been trained by the U.S. and even vetted as free of corruption and involvement in human rights violations. Lieutenant Coronel Reynel Funes, a graduate of the infamous School of the Americas, has been accused of covering up the murder, ordering his subordinates to lie about what had happened, remove evidence from the scene, and exchange their weapons. One of the soldiers involved is now a protected witness.18

The new troops, recently deployed, are not merely patrolling the streets, but also performing certain “operations”. To give a few examples of what these operations look like, the other day, as I was walking along the only pedestrian thoroughfare in Tegucigalpa, I witnessed a group of six or seven soldiers randomly selecting men to search and had placed about ten men against the wall with their legs spread; soldiers entered a high school and cut male students’ hair19 .

At the same time as the military presence is being ramped up throughout the country, the commander of the Xatruch III Task Force recently called a press conference to denounce human rights defenders, accusing them of launching a “disinformation campaign” against the armed forces.20 Human rights organizations widely condemned his statements, calling them an attempt to silence concerns regarding militarization,21 making Honduras less secure,22 and in fact of committing human rights violations themselves.23

The situation is only expected to grow more tense leading up to national elections in November.

18Ibid.

Honduran Civil Society on the Move

March 24, 2013

On March 6 the “March for Dignity and Sovereignty, Step by Step” reached the Honduran capital after a journey of 130 miles.  PROAH accompanied social movement organizations on the way to Tegucigalpa where approximately 300 exhausted but highly determined participants occupied the plaza in front of the Honduran National Congress. Their arrival represented the end of a ten day march that began on February 28, 2013 in different regions of the country. The great “guancasco”[1] between groups from the north and center of the country took place on March 2 in Siguatepeque, about 70 miles from the capital.

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The collective demands: Dignity and Sovereignty

Day after day, step by step, Honduran citizens walked under the banner of their demands in an effort to make their voices heard by Honduran members of Congress.  Among their demands are three major priorities[2]: the abolishment of the New Mining Act[3] as well as the “Charter Cities” Act[4], both approved by Congress on January 23.  Additionally they demand freedom for political prisoner José Isabel “Chavelo” Morales.[5] These three demands reflect the growing unease on the part of civil society regarding the exploitation of natural resources, the violation of national sovereignty and the repression against peasant movements. The reason for organizing a march as a means of protest is explained as reflective of the great desire on the part of civil society to promote their visibility while emphasizing important values including effort and humility.

The participants

Social movement organizations taking part in this national effort include the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), the Unified Peasant Movement of the Aguán (MUCA), the Honduran Women’s Collective (CODEMUH), the National Center of Fieldworkers (CNTC), the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras. (COFADEH), the Reflection, Investigation and Communication team of the Jesuits in Honduras (ERIC) and the Inter-Municipal Association of Development and Social Vigilance of Honduras (AIDEVISH).  Emblematic leaders of the resistance also participated including Padre Fausto Milla, who didn’t let his advanced age deter him. Padre Melo (ERIC’s director), who is also a daily host on Radio Progreso (part of ERIC as well), took part in the march and opened a space for free expression to the participants in a live broadcast. Numerous other Medias covered the march as well.

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 Under the banner of sharing and conviviality

International observers were present during the journey and witnesses to this human and social experience that provided lessons in conviviality for all.  Participants from different organizations with  indigenous Lenca,  Afro-Caribbean Garífuna or mestizo background, women, men and children, from the countryside and the city, shared food and shelter day after day, night after night. While the march was mostly contemplative and silent[6], evenings were often filled with cultural activities. Fatique, tensions, muscular pains and heat-induced migraines resulting from the miles-long daily march, was displaced by a game of soccer, a dance session or a concert by Garífuna participants. The evenings offered participants opportunities to discuss local problems and reflect on their lives. As a result members of the different organizations learned from the variety of social movements inside Honduras. When fatigue seemed to take over body and mind on various occasions, the leaders of the organizations found comforting words or emphasized the importance of their struggle.  Emotions culminated on the eve before arriving in Tegucigalpa, when news of President Hugo Chavez’ death was made public.  As elsewhere in Latin America, an improvised wake was organized for the participants to unite in a moment of grief and recognition.

A political significance

At the end of the march participants held a vigil in the plaza front of the national congress for 24 hours, waiting to be received by members of Congress.  An objective of the march was to open a space for discussion with the members of Congress who approved the new laws. The next day, after a chilly but animated night in a makeshift camp on the same plaza, a delegation of the participating organizations was received by the members of Congress. [7] The demands for dignity and sovereignty for the Honduran people were expressed but delegates left the Congress disillusioned lamenting the absence of political will.

At the same time, just miles away, a four person delegation including representatives of the international community, met with the President of the Criminal Court of the Honduran Supreme Court. During this occasion Chavelo’s supporters and his brother were able to bring forward their concern regarding the backlog of his case. As a result the President advanced considerably the date of the appeal regarding Chavelo’s sentence and announced that it would take place in the first week of April 2013 – instead of January 2014.[8]

A march for more social justice

Heading back home to their respective communities, participants had a hard time saying goodbye after having passed so much time together but concluded this social endeavor with optimism and commitments to strengthen coordination between movements.  There was some success regarding the case of José Isabel “Chavelo” Morales.  Nevertheless, the need to continue this collective effort was emphasized as the New Mining Act and the “Charter Cities” Act are still in place and represent a daunting future for the indigenous communities as well as for the environment. This march was a further step towards social justice and the leaders of the social movements announced forthcoming actions to assure that the struggle for justice lives on.

For more information please consult the following Spanish articles:

1) http://conexihon.info/site/noticia/derechos-humanos/derechos-humanos-ddhh/caminata-paso-paso-cumple-con-m%C3%A1s-de-200-kil%C3%B3metros

2) http://www.defensoresenlinea.com/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2474:avanza-paso-a-paso-la-caminata-por-la-dignidad-y-la-soberania&catid=58:amb&Itemid=181

3) http://voselsoberano.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14816:avanza-paso-a-paso-la-caminata-por-la-dignidad-y-la-soberania&catid=1:noticias-generales

4) http://movimientos.org/es/content/honduras-llega-tegucigalpa-caminata-por-la-dignidad-y-la-soberan%C3%ADa

5) http://www.latribuna.hn/2013/03/06/termina-marcha-campesina-en-honduras-contra-mineria-y-ciudades-modelo/


[1]El guancasco“ is a tipical dance of the Lenca. “Los Guancascos” are meetings between different villages.

[2] There are seven demands in total: http://copinh.org/article/declaracion-caminata-por-la-dignidad-y-soberania-p/

[3] The new mining act is rejected by many civil society organizations. In addition to environment impact, there are also problems regarding national sovereignty and low tax regimes. Additionally there are no measures put forward in case of environmental violation by the companies.
For more information in Spanish: http://www.noalamina.org/mineria-latinoamerica/mineria-honduras/blog
Please also see our own articles regarding this topic.

[4] “Charter Cities“ or  “Special Development Zones” are enclaves inside the Honduran nation state with their own judicial system, tax regime and in general almost complete independence. Their implementation would displace a great number of people, mostly Afro/indigenous communities.
For more information in Spanish: http://www.litci.org/inicio/newspaises/honduras/3697-zonas-de-empleo-y-desarrollo-economico-io-zonas-de-saqueo

[5] “Chavelo” is a peasant farmer and member of the “Movimiento de Campesinos de Aguán” (MCA). He has been innocently incarcerated for nearly 5 years for homicide on the base of unsubstantiated proof and testimonies. He has appealed his 20 year prison sentence however it is still unknown if there will be a retrial.

A summary in English can be found here: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/01/22/the-framing-of-chavelo-morales/

[6] On many occasion during the march total silence was requested by the leaders, most importantly for the arrival in Tegucigalpa. There are several reasons for this. On the one hand silence stands in opposition to “political noise”, i.e. the silence stressed the politically independent aspect of the march and desire not to be exploited by any political party for the coming election in November. On the other hand organizers stressed the need for the personal introspection that the silence enabled all participants to have a deeper connection with the root motivations of all people involved in the social movement.
See the following article in Spanish: http://www.defensoresenlinea.com/cms/index.php?view=article&catid=42%3Aseg-y-jus&id=2479%3Acaminata-por-la-dignidad-y-la-soberania-arribara-en-completo-silencio-a-la-capital&tmpl=component&print=1&page=&option=com_content&Itemid=159

[7] http://www.laprensa.hn/Secciones-Principales/Honduras/Tegucigalpa/Honduras-Aprueban-Ciudades-Modelo-en-el-Congreso-Nacional#.UUxylhkls7A

[8] The appeal took place on April 9 and the judges now have 5-20 days to decided on the matter

COFADEH celebrates 30th anniversary; symbolically presenting 4 cases before the ICC

December 21, 2012

4 EMBLEMATIC CASES

Just two weeks after celebrating its 30th anniversary the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) announced (link in Spanish) their intention to present four cases of human rights violations before the International Criminal Court  (ICC). According to a December 14th press release these cases are emblematic of the impunity of human rights offenders in Honduras as well as of the influence of United States hegemonic hemispheric security policy.

Ebed Yanes's father (link in Spanish). The 15-year-old was killed by the Honduran military. The case is one of 4 to be presented to the ICC.

Ebed Yanes‘s father (link in Spanish). The 15-year-old was killed by the Honduran military. The case is one of 4 to be presented to the ICC.

The four emblematic cases COFADEH will present to the ICC are symptomatic of a system of impunity in which the U.S. government has a heavy hand. Each of the cases point to U.S. involvement in rights violations and impunity for the perpetrators. In the Ahuás case, the role of U.S. DEA agents in the May 2012 massacre of indigenous villagers is addressed. Preliminary conclusions released in annex to COFADEH’s press release on December 14 state, “In the Ahuás case evidence threw light on direct intervention of U.S. agents in favor of the killers and in the interruption of criminal process.” They also highlighted the militarization of the country as a direct result of U.S. influence and a direct cause of human rights abuses in Honduras.

HISTORIC MEMORY

COFADEH is recognized as one of the foremost authorities on human rights in Honduras. Founded in the 1980s in response to the massive detentions and disappearances of that decade, the organization has grown from a small group of women demanding justice for their loved ones into a leading organizational force in the field of human rights. Members of COFADEH are regularly threatened for their work. COFADEH as an organization has been granted protective measures by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. Most recently, journalist Dina Meza reported threats she received on November 19, 2012. These follow threats made against her in April, which were denounced by international human rights organizations including Amnesty International.

COFADEH declared 2012, the year of their 30th anniversary, to be the “Year Against Impunity.” In commemoration, the organization raised a monument on August 30th, the International Day of the Disappeared, at the site of an unmarked grave exhumed in 1995 5 kilometers outside the city of Danlí. Days after the dedication, the monument was riddled with bullets and 50 days after its installation it was disappeared. COFADEH General Coordinator, Bertha Oliva denounced this attack on the memory of the disappeared at the organization’s 30th anniversary celebration.

First shots fired into COFADEH's monument to memory (photo credit COFADEH)

First shots fired into COFADEH’s monument to memory (photo credit COFADEH)

COFADEH celebrated its anniversary on November 30, 2012 with a discussion forum in the morning followed by a concert the same evening. The forum,  “Historic Memory and Impunity,” began with presentations by Lisa Sullivan (SOA Watch), Bertha Oliva (COFADEH), Ludivina Hernandez (COFADEH), and Oscar Aníbal Puerto (Honduran Institute for Rural Development, IHDER). During his address Mr. Puerto said, “We are celebrating the anniversary of the moral reserve of this country.” Lisa Sullivan underscored the role of the U.S. in Honduras and shared a symbolic story from her plane ride into Tegucigalpa when a Honduran man fainted and three North American doctors came to his aid. She noted that instead of stealing his wallet and his shoes in his defenseless state, they assisted the man and helped to revive him. “That’s how relations between our countries should be,” Sullivan said.  Bertha Oliva stressed the importance of memory to ensure that history does not repeat itself. COFADEH’s anniversary was also celebrated in London where COFADEH lawyer Kenia Oliva was visiting at the time.

Banner at COFADEH’s 30th anniversary celebration: "30 years of memory demanding justice"

Banner at COFADEH’s 30th anniversary celebration: “30 years of memory demanding justice”

The overwhelming message received from those present was one of gratitude.  COFADEH’s struggle will continue, according to journalist Marvin Palacio (link in Spanish), “with its memory, informing past and present acts, working for justice, communicating and articulating voices against forgetting.”

The Garifuna People Defend Their Land in the Area of Future Model Cities

October 3, 2012

 

From August 27 to 30, PROAH accompanied OFRANEH (Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras) during its campaign in Vallecito (in the Department of Colón) in which OFRANEH demanded formal recognition of the boundaries of their land, which had been taken over upon by large landowners.

Expelled from their own land

Between Limón and Punta Piedra to the west of Trujillo there is an acute land conflict between the Garifuna community, organized in 6 Garifuna cooperatives, and businessman Miguel Facussé on the one hand and the family of rancher Reinaldo Villalobos on the other. In a 1997 court ruling, the Garifuna cooperatives received titles to 1600 hectares of land in this area.  This was confirmed by a 1999 Supreme Court of Justice ruling against Miguel Facussé, who had planted 100 hectares of African palma on this same piece of land. In the case of Villalobos, he illegally took possession of the majority of this Garifuna land.  Reinaldo Villalobos has since passed away but his family still has security guards patrolling this land and controls access to the beach.

Since 2005, a regime of terror has been unleashed in this corridor between Trujillo and the Mosquitia by people associated with organized crime.  Many families that lived in Vallecito have been expelled and economic activities have been reduced to a minimum.

For the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), the struggle for this ancestral territory that has historically belonged to the Garifuna people is of utmost importance.  They consider it a territorial reserve for food security and the site of a future Garifuna University (1) . An OFRANEH video shows the steps they took to reliably establish the true boundaries of their land in order to assert their ownership of it.

In June 2010, they signed an agreement with representatives of the National Agrarian Institute (INA) to demarcate the boundaries of the terrain in Vallecito.  Nevertheless, those who had occupied this land refused entry to the employees of the INA and the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público), effectively preventing the agreed upon demarcation process. [2]

Two years without advances followed until July of this year when OFRANEH and 200 Garifuna representatives met with INA representatives in Corozol to demand demarcation of the land belonging to 15 Garifuna communities on the North Coast.  In her speech, Miriam Miranda, President of OFRANEH, denounced the government’s silent policy of expulsion through powerful industries and tourism programs that only serve to sell the Garifuna culture.  During this audience, Cesar Ham, Director of the INA, promised to demarcate those communities according to the existing titles and to provide the necessary measures (police, military) to be able to enter onto land that had been stolen.

A Camp to ensure the demarcation of the land

For OFRANEH, the boundary demarcation has real and symbolic importance.  According to Alfredo López, Vice President of OFRANEH, they organized more than 40 communities to take part in a camp to watch the re-measurement process. On Sunday, July 26, 6 busses with about 200 people – including many young people – arrived to demand their right to the land. [3]

The Honduras Accompaniment Project (PROAH) visited the camp to be present when the government representatives arrived.  Additionally, people from the United States, a group of German journalists, and several delegations also provided international presence in the camp.

The camp seemed like it could have been a restful place if it were not for Facussé and Villalobos’ guards and their intimidation of the Garifuna community: they interrupted the night with bursts of machine-gun fire, entered the camp heavily armed, and patrolled the area.  The night dances and drumbeats of the Garifuna community intermingled with fear and vulnerability.

On Tuesday, August 28, the third day of the camp, the INA technicians arrived and surveyed the boundaries of one of the six Garifuna cooperatives, accompanied by over 50 Garifuna men and women. After finishing, they affirmed that their work was very limited by the lack of protection from the authorities, which they needed to demarcate the rest of the land.  They pointed out that they needed the presence of the police, military, and Public Prosecutor’s Office in order to break the Villalobos’ gigantic gate that blocked access to the beach.

A contingent of the national police and Public Prosecutor’s office did arrive in the area the next day, but stayed in Tocoa, which is 80 kilometers from Vallecito. Via phone, radio, and communiqués, OFRANEH called for them to come to Vallecito in order to carry out the boundary demarcation and protect the camp members, who were constantly threatened by armed men who surrounded the camp.  Daily, the authorities justified their absence with a variety of reasons, including insufficient personnel, the need to wait for orders from “above,” and even a lack of gas to transport their personnel from Tocoa to Vallecito.  In this way, the first week of the camp ended without their presence.  OFRANEH concluded:

If there has not been any response from Pepe Lobo’s government up to this point, it is because he supports and endorses the theft of land by the groups who have taken control of the territory in the Vallecito area.[4]

Vallecito – Future Model City?

It is well known that Vallecito is in one of the three zones for future model cities in Honduras.  The model cities will be located in three Special Development Regions (RED), two in the north and one in the south of the country.  These are autonomous zones with their own government and laws to promote free trade and attract investment.  In the Vallecito area, there are multiple natural resources that are of economic interest: minerals, petroleum, beautiful beaches, and fertile land.

According to OFRANEH, there is an unresolved problem with the implementation of model cities: What to do with the inhabitants who own their land and are not willing to leave?  The government claims that the model cities will be in uninhabited areas but OFRANEH assumes there will be evictions because there are almost no uninhabited zones in the country.  In the case of Vallecito, where the inhabitants have legal titles to the land, OFRANEH suggests that the expulsion strategy could be the absence of the government, which leaves the inhabitants subject to the will of the powerful interests and their armed groups.

In response to the daily intimidation, OFRANEH constantly requested police protection for the camp members.  However, the police patrols stayed in Tocoa, saying that they lacked orders from higher-up, were awaiting reinforcements, or lacked gas.  OFRANEH denounced this as a policy of a “Failed State,” because it appeared the state was incapable of incapable of reacting in the face of organized crime:

“All day we have been waiting for answers from the government and there has not been a positive response by the police or military to come to the area in order for the re-measurement of the land that powerful groups have stolen from us to proceed. As a result, the night is closing in is with our worst fears confirmed.” [5]

Belated Response from the Government

Due to strong national and international pressure, OFRANEH was able to dialogue with the Lobo Administration.  During a meeting in Tegucigalpa, the government committed to designate protection for the Vallecito community and to establish the boundaries of the land that had been taken over. [6]

Shortly afterward, on September 13, the INA complied with its commitment from two years ago – accompanied by police and military entities and with an order from the Public Prosecutor’s Office — the Villalobos’ gate was broken and they succeeded in entering the land to begin demarcating its boundaries.

The process had not yet concluded when the threats by the Villalobos’ guards began.  They declared they would murder any Garifuna who came to Icotea, a neighboring town where the widow of Reinaldo Villalobos lives.

OFRANEH hopes the authorities issue an eviction order to return the land to the Garifuna cooperatives and guarantee the security of the community in Vallecito, who continue being harassed by powerful interests in the area.  OFRANEH stated that “any attack suffered by the Garifunas will be the responsibility of Reinaldo Villallobo y de Miguel Facussé’s thugs as well as the government.[7]

 

[1] “Piratas en Honduras: De Gregor Macgregor y la República de Poyas, a la Ciudad modelo de Paul Romer” OFRANEH. Julio 18, 2012.

[2] “Pueblo Garífuna reocupa tierras usurpadas en Vallecito”, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 27 de agosto del 2012, documento: doc decl.Ofraneh2.

[3] Amenazan con desalojar garífunas tras recuperación, Artículo del periódico digital conexihon del 29 de agosto del 2012, http://conexihon.info/noticia/derechos-humanos/pueblos-indigenas/amenazan-con-desalojar-gar%C3%ADfunas-tras-recuperaci%C3%B3n-de.

[4] Crisis en Vallecito (Colón): Aclaración pública ante infundios del INA, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 29 de agosto del 2012, http://ofraneh.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/crisis-en-vallecito-colon-aclaracion-publica-ante-infundios-del-ina/.

[5] “Honduras, sospechoso silencio del Gobierno de Pepe Lobo ante caso de Vallecito”, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 30 de agosto 2012, documento:sospechoso silencio.

[6] “Se reanuda el Proceso de Remedición de Tierras en Vallecito, Colón, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 5 de septiembre 2012, http://ofraneh.wordpress.com/2012/09/05/se-reanuda-el-proceso-de-remedicion-de-las-tierras-de-vallecito-colon/.

[7] “Se logró romper el Portón de la Verguenza en Vallecito!”, Comunicado de OFRANEH del 13 de septiembre 2012, documento:Portón de Verguenza.


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