URGENT ACTION : Concern for the situation of members of the San Francisco de Locomapa Tribe

July 15, 2015

PROAH expresses deep concern for the lives of 7 members of the Tribe of San Francisco de Locomapa who joined the hunger strike in Tegucigalpa, and for the situation of impunity and extreme violations of human rights in the community of Locomapa, Yoro.

foto tolupanes

On June 30, seven members of the San Francisco Locomapa tribe decided to join the hunger strike in front of the Casa Presidencial in Tegucigalpa, demanding an end to impunity in the country, in the department of Yoro, and the installation of an International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras (CICIH.)

The seven Tolupanes participating in the hunger strike were issued protective measures by the Inter American Commission for Human Rights in December of 2013. These measures were issued following the triple murder, on August 25, 2013, of three members of the community who opposed illegal logging. The IACHR requested the state of Honduras to protect 18 members of the community and their family members, a total of 38 people at high risk.

Since August 2013, seven members of the community have been murdered, including five people struggling to protect land and natural resources in opposition to the illegal mining of antimony and logging of communal lands. The most recent murder of land rights defender, Erasio Vieda Ponce, occurred on June 18, 2015 in the community of Las Brisas Locomapa.

Witnesses state that the murders of five land rights defenders were committed by men belonging to a group that works for the mine and powerful business elites in the region. Arrest warrants were issued for two of the men following the triple murder on August 25, 2013.

Despite numerous complaints presented to judicial authorities and the International Commission for Human Rights, the situation of impunity and high degree of vulnerability of the community continues. The alleged perpetrators of the murders and other members of the group enter and exit the zone freely, threatening and harassing those who oppose mining and keeping the community in a state of terror. All of those working to defend land rights and natural resources live in a situation of extreme insecurity.

At least 11 community leaders have received death threats and 13 have been murdered in the last decades. Another actor who harasses the community is Finlander Uclés, a retired general who claims rights to community lands. Recently, Mr. Finlander issued death threats against two members of the community, who are also members of MADJ and beneficiaries of IACHR protective measures The police and authorities responsible for investigating the crimes, capturing the suspected murderers and protecting the population, consistently cite material difficulties as obstacles to their work. For the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ), which provides legal support for the community land rights defenders, ongoing impunity is due to lack of will on the part of the state of Honduras.

NEW THREATS TO HUNGER STRIKERS

The Tolupanes on hunger strike and their families are currently in even greater danger. Since beginning the hunger strike, different people are patrolling around their homes, family members receive harrassing telephone calls, even death threats. Hunger striker Sergio Ávila denounced that on July 8, unknown armed actors yelled at his son, «Get off that horse or we are going to kill you too. » They began to struggle and finally his son threw himself from the horse and ran away. The armed men then killed his horse.

In response to this alarming situation, the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, which provides legal support for the Tolupanes, requests the international community to register concern with the Honduran authorities, urging them to :

– Immediately adopt the necessary measures to arrest those responsible for the murders and harassment in Locomapa; process them in the appropriate, independent and impartial court and apply sanctions according to the law.

– Conduct an immediate and exhaustive investigation to clarify the reported crimes and present a detailed report.

– Implement, in a timely and effective manner, all of the protective measures necessary to end all forms of harassment and acts of violence against the Tolupanes de Locomapa.

PLEASE SEND CONCERNS TO :

Attorney General

Óscar Fernando Chinchilla

and Assistant to the Attorney General Rigoberto Cuellar

Tel : 504- 2221-3099

Tel : 504 -2221-5670

Fax :504- 2221-5667

Email : fg@ministeriopublico.gob.hn

Facebook.com/Ministerio Publico Honduras

twiter.com/MP_Honduras

www.mp.hn (seccion contactenos)

Fiscalia for Ethnic Groups and Cultural Patrimony

Yany del Cid

Tel : 504-2221-5620

Email : janydelcid@yahoo.es

National Human Rights Commissioner

Roberto Herrera Cáceres

Telefax : 504 2231-0204/0882

Email : central@conadeh.hn

President of the Supreme Court of Justice

Jorge Alberto Rivera Avilés

Email : cedij@poderjudicial.gob.hn

Secretary of Security

Attorney Sagrario Prudott (Department of Human Rights)

Tel : 504-3152-8878

President of the Federation of Xicaques Tribes of Yoro, FETRIXI

Noe Rodriquez, Tel : 00504-9924-7948

For more information regarding this urgent action, please contact : madjorganizacion@gmail.com

For more information on the human rights situation in Locomapa :

See PROAH’s blog: https://hondurasaccompanimentproject.wordpress.com/tag/locomapa/

Cultural Survival piece by Jim Phillips: http://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/tolupanes-put-their-lives-line-defending-all-hondurans

INDIGENOUS TOLUPANES JOIN THE INDIGNADOS HUNGER STRIKE IN TEGUCIGALPA

June 29, 2015

PUBLIC COMMUNIQUE

Original Spanish version on: http://redefensorashn.blogspot.com/2015/07/indigenas-tolupanes-se-unen-la-huelga.html

Tegucigalpa, June 29, 2015

madj huelga

We members of the Tribe of San Francisco de Locomapa, declare that we are on HUNGER STRIKE INDEFINITELY, assuming the struggle of the indignados who are fed up with so much corruption, made all the more evident and offensive with the sacking of the Social Security system. We are also highly distressed by extreme levels of corruption in the department of Yoro. This will only stop with the removal and prosecution of functionaries involved in the biggest and and most shameful criminal action against the public welfare and the collective property of the Tolupan people in the department of Yoro.

Corruption on the part of the current government and of those preceding it, has dispossessed and sunken the poorest of Honduras into misery. The impact on the Tolupan people has resulted, more than in any other sector of the population, in total abandonment in terms of healthcare, education, access to communication and justice, culminating in the death of our local leaders who dared to defend their natural resources.

National corruption has converted the Tolupan community into a zone of usurpation, dispossession, theft and sacking of our natural resources. It has condemned to death more than 100 indigenous whose cases have never appeared in court. We have identified our murders but the authorities are accomplices, refusing to act on arrest warrants and to capture them.

With this hunger strike, we ask the national and international community to demand the end of the killing to which the state has condemned us. The hit men are hired by businessmen but they are protected by national and department level authorities who do not uphold the law, but rather use it to terrorize, threaten and murder those who defend the common good and the right to life.

In light of this, we define our struggle in the following terms;

  1. We stand in solidarity with the indignados in favor of the installation of a CICIH and we reject the proposal for a false dialogue on the part of Juan Hernández, who is a principal actor in the grand larceny committed against state institutions.

  1. We condemn the efforts of Prosecutors Oscar Chinchilla and Rigoberto Cuellar as well as Eli Mauricio Murillo, Environmental Prosecutor for Yoro, to leave in full impunity, the murder of 5 compañeros, defenders of human and environmental rights and the right to life.

  1. We demand the capture of Selin Eliazar Fúnez Bonilla and Carlos Roberto Varela Laques, material actors responsible for the murders of María Enriqueta Matute, Ricardo Soto Fúnez and Armando Fúnez Medina as well as the murders of Luis Reyes de Masías and Eracimo Vieda. We will not abandon the hunger strike until these murderers are captured.

  1. We demand compliance with ILO Convention 169 requiring prior, informed consent regarding any extractive activity carried out in the Tolupan community.

fot

 

COMMUNIQUE: Hunger Strike, indignados respond to corruption

June 26, 2015

Public communique by CIPRODEH, COFADEH, ACI-PARTICIPA, EIDH, CDM, CPTRT, C-LIBRE.

As Human Rights organizations we have accompanied a permanent process of observation and vigilance of the universal right to protest and respect for the human dignity of the young people engaging in a hunger strike since June 22, 2015 in the zone of the Casa Presidencial; we have been with them for five days.

See the communique HERE

URGENT ALERT: The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ) informs:

June 19, 2015

URGENT ALERT: The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ) informs:

Today, June 19, 2015 at 5 am indigenous Tolupan, Erasio Vieda Ponce was murdered in Las Brisas of Locomapa in the mountains of Yoro. Vieda Ponce strongly opposed the use of forests by local business and political figures who for years have exploited natural resources, using all manner of criminal methods against the Tolupan people, in particular the indigenous leaders of this sector. There is clear evidence that the assassins are closely linked to the large land holders and business elites and were contracted to kill Ponce. The same assassins are also responsible for the murders of María Enriqueta Matute, Ricardo Soto and Armando Fúnez in 2013 for defending the forest.

We want to denounce that since 2013, we identified Selvin Matute and Carlos Matute as directly responsible for those murders and warrants have been issued for their arrest. However, the national police have not arrested them despite testimonies from members of the indigenous community assuring that they are also responsible for the murder of Erasio Vieda. The alleged suspects enter and leave the area, carrying out these crimes, threatening and terrorizing the community. They remain in strategic hiding places, with the knowledge and tolerance of members of the police of Yoro who have been assigned in an irregular manner, to provide security and to capture the suspects.

Today, with greater imperative, we hold the State of Honduras and its representatives in the office of the Attorney General of Human Rights, Yoro, Secretary of Justicia, Attorney General for Ethnic Groups, National Police.

and the other institutions responsible for the investigation and prosecution of crime, access to justice and citizen security. We have presented all of the evidence merited in these cases and taken action in international human rights platforms (IACHR) resulting in the issuance of protective measures for the indigenous leaders under threat. State functionaries have not implemented protective measures in a responsible manner, elevating the vulnerability of the indigenous to such a degree that in the month of May,

Luis de Reyes Marcía, husband of Consuelo Soto, was murdered and two weeks after burying her husband, she was the target of an attack on her home by the same assassins forcing her and her entire family to flee the zone.

While the level of conflict intensifies in the zone, evidenced by the number crimes in the last three months, there is neither response nor direct intervention on the part of the Secretary of Justice whose staff has demonstrated complete negligence in response to the requests for security and justice that the Tolupan people demand.

Once again we demand that the State of Honduras fulfill its functions and capture those responsible for these deaths.

¡¡WE ARE FED UP WITH LIES AND THE DEATHS OF OUR INDIGENOUS COMPAÑER@S!!

Community of Locomapa: Impunity, violence and harassment continue against Tolupán indigenous

June 17, 2015
Photo: MADJ

Photo: MADJ

On April 11, 2015, PROAH accompanied an activity organized by the Preventative Council of the Tolupán Tribe of San Francisco de Locomapa and MADJ (Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice), which included a walk along one of the tribal boundary lines in recognition of their lands.

The activity included a homage for Luis de Reyes Marcía, Tolupán indigenous member of the community of Locomapa, Yoro, who was assassinated on April 4, 2015. Luis is the fourth land rights defender murdered in this small community, following the murder of three of his companions in the land struggle, in 2013.

Two years after the murders of three Tolupán land rights defenders in 2013, these crimes remain in impunity:

On August 25, 2013 three indigenous Tolupán were murdered by gunfire in the community of Locomapa, Yoro, in northern Honduras. The victims were María Enriqueta Matute, Armando Fúnez Medina, and Ricardo Soto Fúnez. They, along with other members of the Tribe of San Francisco de Locomapa, were organizing to protect natural resources and to oppose the illegal mining of antimony and logging on their communal lands. The murders occurred after 12 days of protest by the community, peacefully blocking the road. Witnesses testify that the murders were committed by two men belonging to a group that works for the mine and powerful business interests in the region. (see PROAH article 2013).

In response to a petition for protection for the community issued by MADJ, in December 2013 the Inter American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) issued protective measures for 18 members of the community and their families, a total of 38 people. On February 22, 2014, in a public ceremony, which PROAH team members attended as international observers, Honduran authorities committed to fulfill their obligation to protect those under threat and to capture the suspected assassins.

However, the State of Honduras has not fulfilled its obligation to implement protective measures. The situation of impunity and extreme vulnerability of the community continues. Following the three murders, several families had to flee the zone for six months; one person exiled from Locomapa, has not yet been able to return. Two years after the crime, the alleged assassins, for whom arrest warrants have been issued, remain at large in the community; they and others in their group, continue to harass and threaten those who oppose mining, creating a state of terror in the community.

Another land defender murdered

On April 4, 2015, tragedy struck the community again: another member of the community, Luis de Reyes Marcía, was killed.

His body was found, brutally murdered with several stab wounds in the thorax and neck.

Luis Marcía was the husband of Vilma Consuelo Soto, a beneficiary of protective measures by the IACHR and an active member of MADJ. Her family had returned to their land on February 22, 2014 after being forcibly displaced for six months due to death threats. On returning, Consuelo Soto and Luis Marcía continued with the land struggle. Just before his murder, Luis and Consuelo had presented a complaint to the local police regarding new death threats and damage to their crops. The principal suspect for his murder is part of the same group that constantly intimidates the community.

Consuelo Soto.

Consuelo Soto.

On May 22, just six weeks after the murder of her husband, Consuelo Soto suffered another attack. According to Consuelo, a neighbor who was bothered by a visit of the District Attorney for Ethnic Groups, investigating the murder of her husband, came to her house where she was with her two grandchildren, and fired on them three times. Consuelo Soto threw herself to the ground with the two children to protect them. She fled to the home of another neighbor and then had to leave the community (listen to her testimony here, Radio Progreso). It is supposed that the gunman is also part of the group working for powerful business interests.

The police and authorities responsible for investigating these crimes and protecting the population receive constant complaints from members of MADJ and are well informed about activity in the zone. However, they constantly cite difficulties that impede their work: lack of personnel, vehicle etc. For MADJ, this reflects a lack of will on the part of the State of Honduras. According to Víctor Fernández, attorney for the organization, “many efforts have been made to compel the State to assume its responsibility to implement protective measures but it has not done so. The situation is getting worse.”(see Radio Progreso)

Those who struggle for land rights in the community live in an extreme state of insecurity. At least eleven community leaders have received death threats. Another actor who harasses the community is Finlander Uclés, a retired general who claims rights to community lands (see PROAH article June, 2014.) Recently, Mr. Finlander issued death threats against two members of the community, who are also members of MADJ and beneficiaries of IACHR protective measures.

Photo MADJ, Protest in front of the Public Ministry, May 12, 2015

Photo MADJ, Protest in front of the Public Ministry, May 12, 2015

Due to the situation of extreme vulnerability for the Tolupanes of Locomapa, MADJ demands: that authorities duly investigate the 2013 and 2015 murders; arrest warrants issued for the capture of those responsible for these crimes be acted on; the responsibility to implement protective measures and guarantee the safety and integrity of beneficiaries be fulfilled; and finally that the companies illegally exploiting natural resources in the zone be removed as they are causing violence and conflict.

For more information:

Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia, MADJ:

VIDEO on the land rights struggle of the community of Locomapa: https://www.facebook.com/MADJhn/videos/10207298064316136/

Comunicado April 5, 2015: “Dan muerte violentamente a indigena Tolupán en Locomapa,Yoro.”

Red nacional de Defensoras de derechos humanos en Honduras: Alert, June 4, 2015: Todas Somos Consuelo

Radio Progreso, April 10, 2015: Ante muerte de Tolupanes, Estado no atiende ni actúa

The Garífuna community of Barra Vieja on trial for defending ancestral territory

June 3, 2015

From May 12 to 14, PROAH accompanied the Garífuna community of Barra Vieja in Tela, where 66 members of the community appeared in court for a public hearing, accused of “usurpation of lands in detriment to the State”.

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The Garífuna community of Barra Vieja, located in the municipality of Tela, like many other Garífuna communities on the northern coast Honduras, faces the threat of forced eviction from their ancestral lands by private economic interests and the State of Honduras.  Ever since residents became aware of the plan to install a luxury hotel complex in their community, the struggle for recognition of their ancestral land rights and the defense of Garífuna culture intensified. The community has suffered two eviction attempts and legal complaints against them for land usurpation resulted in the entire community being summoned to court from May 12-14th, 2015.

Indura Beach & Golf Resort, a tourist project promoted by big business and the State of Honduras

The construction of the Indura Beach Resort complex began in 2006, taking several acres of community land. The hotel was inaugurated in November 2013, but further expansion of the project is planned. Today, the gated entrance to the resort is located next to the Barra Vieja community. The hotel fence, borders the access route to Barra Vieja (see photo).

The Tela Bay Toursim Development company (Desarrollo Turístico Bahía de Tela-DTBT), owner of the Project, is a prívate-public Enterprise with 49% of its financing from the Honduran Institute of Tourism (Instituto Hondureño de Turismo IHT) and 51% from the Honduran Fund for Tourism Investment (Fondo Hondureño de Inversión Turística FHIT), comprised of some of the most powerful businessmen in Honduras (1).

Photo S Bartlett

Photo S Bartlett

The legal fight for land and criminalization of land rights defenders

In 2007 the Honduran Institute of Tourism, through the National Port Authority (ENP), filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor in Tela against the residents of Barra Vieja for usurpation of State lands and declaring itself owner of this territory. According to OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras), the ENP “mysteriously became the owner of a good portion of Garífuna territory in the Bay of Tela”. Since then, the community began a legal battle for recognition of its right to live on ancestral lands, confronting powerful private and State investment interests.

The criminalization began in July 2013 when several members of the community were captured and detained by the police for several hours. Since that date, almost all of the adult members of the community have been issued alternative measures to prison, accused of usurpation, which require them to sign before a judge each week and prohibits them from leaving the country.

One year later, the community of Barra Vieja suffered two evictions: on September 6 and 30th, 2014. In both instances, the armed forces removed all of the personal belongings of 150 families from their homes. The population peacefully resisted the eviction and returned the same day to their community. The community of Barra Vieja has denounced the psychological impact of these evictions on the population, in particular on the children who are strongly impacted by the heavy police and military presence which PROAH observed during an eviction attempt on the 29th of September, 2014:

Barra Vieja 12.14

Oral and public hearing:

On April 12 – 14th 2015, 66 members of the community were summoned to appear before the court in Tela, accused of usurpation in detriment to the State. Due to lack of space in the Tela courtroom, the proceedings took place in the old installations of the Tela Railroad Company, a subsidiary of the United Fruit Company, which since the 1930s has promoted the removal of Garifuna communities for banana plantations.

juicio bv

During the three days of proceedings, nearly 400 people from different Garifuna communities accompanied the people of Barra Vieja in solidarity. Of note, only 66 people from the community were summoned; the majority of the community leaders and over 40 other people from the community were not summoned although they continue to be processed and under alternative measures to prison. The prosecution was represented by the Public Ministry, the Attorney General’s Office and the National Port Authority.

After three days of proceedings, the judge accepted a request from the prosecution to postpone the hearing so that they could have time to find their witnesses who had not appeared for the hearing so that they could testify at the next hearing which was set for June 3, 2015.

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS LAW vs TRANSNATIONAL CORPORATE INTERESTS

According to OFRANEH, “The case of Barra Vieja is a violation of ILO Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples” which is ratified by the State of Honduras. For OFRANEH, the pressure on Barra Vieja is part of a Honduran government strategy to remove Garífunas from their lands in order to exploit their territories; it represents a danger to their right to land, prior consultation and places their survival and culture at risk.

The pressure of indigenous lands in Honduras intensified in 2013 with the passage of the Law for Employment and Economic Development Zones (ZEDEs – model cities) which includes over 20 Garifuna communities impacted by several of these ZEDEs which are to be concessioned to foreign investors with the objective of creating zones which are independent of state institutions and in which the justice system is outsourced.(2)

The IACHR calls on the government of Honduras to respect the rights of the Garifuna people

In the preliminary report on its in situ visit to Honduras in December 2014, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights called on the government to: 1) “recognize the cultural identity of the Garífuna” people and 2) “intensify its actions to respect and guarantee their lands, adopt the necessary measures for completing the obligation of the state to guarantee prior, free and informed consultation regarding projects developed in their lands, territories and that impact their natural resources, taking into consideration the special relationship between these peoples, the land and natural resources.”

In light of the heavy pressure and economic interests at play in the case of Barra Vieja and depending on the decision of the court in June, the community may have to appeal to the Inter American Court of Human Rights which has developed a body of jurisprudence reaffirming the right of indigenous peoples to ancestral territories.

Update – June 10, 2015:

On June 4, 2015 the Court in Tela aquitted 66 Garifuna members from the community of Barra Vieja who were charged with land usurpation. However, a trial against eight leaders of the Barra Veija community continues. They face a new hearing on June 30th. For more information, see this article by OFRANEH (in Spanish) and the Interview of Miriam Miranda, OFRANEH coordinator: http://t.co/O9Y8wLxjof

1. In February 2015, the First Encounter of the Alliance for Prosperity for the Northern Triangle was held at this resort, with the presence of the Presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and CEAL. The official purpose of the event: secure private sector backing for the Alliance for Prosperity Plan for the Northern Triangle. A group of civil society organizations from Central America and the United States expressed grave concerns regarding the Alliance in a public letter directed to the heads of State of these countries. In particular, their concern “is based on the fact that the Plan reinforces the same economic policies that have resulted in inequality, detonated generalized violations of labor rights, an increase in violence targeting labor leaders and the forced displacement of the population throughout Meso America.”

Swiss delegation expresses concern over the human rights situation in Honduras

May 13, 2015

conferencia_foro_hond_suiza

The Honduras Switzerland Forum, a Swiss NGO which advocates for democratic processes and respect for human rights in Honduras, organized a delegation to Honduras from May 4 to 11, with the objective of monitoring the general human rights situation in the country. The delegation met with representatives of civil society, national and international organizations, CONADEH and communities impacted by the mining industry.

PROAH acompanied the delegation in its various meetings and visits.

Click here to see the communication of the delegation (in English) and HERE to read the entire report (in Spanish).

SUMMARY OF HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES AND EVENTS IN HONDURAS, JANUARY 2015

March 6, 2015

You will find HERE our latest Summary, for January 2015.

SUMMARY OF HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES AND EVENTS IN HONDURAS. OCTOBER TO DECEMBER 2014

March 5, 2015

You will find HERE our latest Summary, from October to December 2014.

Here is an introduction to the report:

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) featured prominently in the last quarter of 2014, with its on-site visit in early December (see below), as well as its 53rd session of

hearings from October 23 to November 7, which included three on Honduras (see Annexe on P.34 for more details). Its primary concerns included the alarming rates of violence in the country as well as the murder and harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and justice operators.

Unfortunately, there was no let-up from October to December. Four lawyers were killed in the space of a month, including two public prosecutors and a public defender (P.4), adding to the climate of fear for the legal profession which is making a number of judges consider resigning. Another journalist was killed in December (P.7), bringing the total for 2014 to 9, making it one of the worst years for such murders since the coup, and securing Honduras’ place in the top 10 of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world over the past 5 years.

Three land rights activists were also murdered, including a member of COPINH opposed to the dam project in Rio Blanco (P.21), and a campesino leader in the Bajo Aguán (P.23). The number of murders of children and young people continued to increase, with disturbing allegations of social cleansing in Yoro (P.16). There were also numerous instances of attempted criminalization, for example, of journalists through the abuse of defamation laws (P.11) and of land rights activists on charges of sedition (potentially) (P.22) and usurpation (P.24). These groups also continued to suffer other forms of persecution, including death threats and illegal detention.

Meanwhile, there were a number of crimes committed by the security forces, including the TIGRES and PMOP (Public Order Military Police), set up as alternatives to the corrupt National Police force. 50 TIGRES were suspended for the theft of $1.3 million (P.29); in two separate incidents, PMOP were involved in a rape, and in the shooting of bus, wounding four people (P.30), and 10 policemen and two soldiers, including an army colonel, are alleged to have regularly used child prostitutes (P.29).

Who really benefits from Honduras’ Model Cities?

October 25, 2014

An article by Erika Piquero, former PROAH volunteer, published on Latin Correspondent

The Honduran government’s website for Zones for Economic Development and Employment (ZEDEs) boasts promises of bountiful investment and employment opportunities.

These ZEDEs, commonly referred to as ciudades modelos – model or charter cities – are promoted by the government as free trade zones that will generate attractive foreign and national investment opportunities, coupled with legislative and governance systems that will offer substantial freedom: ZEDEs will have their own legislative systems. In a report regarding ZEDEs, the National Lawyers Guild maintains that “ZEDEs represent a significant expansion of free trade zones in that they facilitate the creation of autonomous privatized city-states designed to exist independently from the legal, administrative and social systems of the Honduran state.”

ZEDEs have gained support from free market enthusiasts and proponents of neoliberal development policies, especially libertarians who are eager to see their ideas put into practice. The ZEDEs are promoted as an opportunity to overcome some of the problems plaguing Honduras: poverty, social crisis, underdevelopment and so on.

Yet this plan, though it may seem innocuous to some, is not seen as a positive one among many Hondurans, especially rural and indigenous communities. Communities that have already been affected by plans for ZEDEs have read between the lines and see a more sinister side of these plans.

An ocean view looking out from Zacate Grande, where developers want to build one of Honduras' model cities. Photo: Erika Piquero

Decades of Land Struggle

The community of Zacate Grande, an island in Honduras’ Pacific Gulf of Fonseca (now connected to the mainland via a highway constructed in the 1970s), has dealt directly with the effects of ZEDEs as part of a decades-long territorial struggle.

The area was uninhabited until the 1920s, when indigenous Hondurans moved there. According to Honduran law, if uncultivated lands are occupied and worked for a minimum period of years, community land titles can subsequently be earned. However, this has not happened for the people of Zacate Grande.

To this day, Zacate Grande’s residents do not have land titles. They were promised under former President Zelaya, but the promise went unfulfilled after he was overthrown in the 2009 coup d’état, and the decree was declared unconstitutional in 2011.

Meanwhile, the community has been subject to the whims of a handful of wealthy Hondurans, who are eager to develop the lands in Zacate Grande for tourism, private vacation homes and (more recently) ZEDEs.

Some of the biggest names interested in the scenic waterfront lands of Zacate Grande are Miguel Facusse (owner of the Dinant Corporation) and his son-in-law Fredy Nasser. The terratenientes (large land holders) have been accused of forging land titles to ‘prove’ ownership, destroying the local ecosystem and engaging in numerous strategies to threaten and intimidate Zacate Grande’s community members off of their lands.

A sign in Zacate Grande: "Welcome to TK land, a zone free of big landowners." Photo: Erika Piquero

Land issues like this can be found throughout Honduras, following frighteningly similar patterns, especially among the Garifuna communities in northern Honduras and inhabitants of the Bajo Aguan region. According to University of California, Santa Cruz history professor Dana Frank, “you can see the pattern all over the country of these corporations and domestic Honduran elites using state security forces and private armies of security guards to intimidate indigenous people, afro-indigenous people and campesinos out of their lands.”

The Reality of Ciudades Modelos

In 2013, the Honduran government passed legislation allowing the corporations and individuals funding the ZEDEs to dictate the entire structural organization of the zone, including laws, tax structure, healthcare system, education and security forces. This kind of flexibility is unprecedented even in similar models around the world. More recently, specific zones have been identified for the implementation of the first ciudad modelo.

However, ZEDE law does not protect basic rights like Habeas Corpus, the inviolable right to life, freedom of religion, protection for free press and freedom from non-legal detainment, among many others. There is a blatant lack of transparency within the ZEDE structure, and it can even be imposed upon unwilling inhabitants under legislation recently passed in Honduras.

In a country where most citizens already lack political power, the potential implications of this are alarming. Daniel Langmeier, a human rights observer with experience in Honduras, notes: “We already have a state of defenselessness where laws and institutions are failing to protect citizens. Now, you get rid of those laws and the situation will spiral out of control, into true lawlessness.”

The Honduran state is actively surrendering Honduran sovereignty itself, allowing corporations and individuals to circumvent Honduran laws, while marginalized groups that already experience threats and extreme violence will face even greater threats of human rights violations.

A piece of street art reads  "Without Model Cities." Photo: Erika Piquero

Potential Violations of International Law

Rather than fulfilling promises of economic opportunities, ciudades modelos actually pose serious threats to human rights and indigenous rights in Honduras – which are already concerns in the current Honduran context.

Honduras has ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In doing so, it is obligated to uphold its citizens’ right to self-determination and property rights. However, the recent legislature permitting advancement of ZEDEs is poised to violate both of these rights.

Additionally, Honduras has ratified the ILO’s Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples and has signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, indicating an obligation to engage in free, prior and informed consent of indigenous groups when legislative issues might affect them. The Honduran government has failed to do this in many recent cases, and the increased lawlessness that ZEDEs bring will exacerbate this situation.

Dire and Deadly

What can be done? U.S. citizens should be having a public conversation about what is happening in Honduras, and the role that the U.S. government and foreign policy (and the lack of transparency around it) is playing. Media coverage and portrayal of the Honduran situation should be challenged and responsible, investigative journalism should accurately represent the Honduran situation.

There should also be greater awareness within the U.S. of citizens involved in the ZEDEs themselves: Michael Reagan (Ronald Reagan’s son), Grover Norquist, and others join the Committee for the Adoption of Best Practices for the Honduran ZEDEs.

There is an urgent need to strengthen human rights defense efforts in Honduras and for U.S. citizens to hold their government responsible for its foreign policy in Honduras and the region. The international community must remain vigilant and support those people and communities suffering these devastating impacts.

Erika Piquero was an international human rights accompanier with PROAH in Honduras from March to May 2014. PROAH provides international accompaniment to human rights defenders who find themselves under threat or harassment due to their individual and collective human rights work in an environment of repression and political persecution. For more information about the organization, please see their website.


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