Despite the concern generated nationally and internationally by the kidnapping of two members of the PROAH team on July 25, 2013 by armed men working for Minerales Victoria mining company1, the gunmen continue to terrorize the community of La Nueva Esperanza, in the full knowledge of the state authorities, including the Ministry of Security.
Although police were mobilized to search for the international observers, and the Public Prosecution Service (Fiscalía) is actively investigating the case, no effort has so far been made to capture the armed men who, since early June, have been threatening community members who refuse to sell their land to the company.
The family, at whose home the PROAH members were seized, were forced to flee La Nueva Esperanza for their own security, followed by another member of the community on August 3, after he received threatening visits by the armed men from the company that wants his land for its operations. Members of the community have informed PROAH that the men regularly fire guns during the night to intimidate villagers and that two more armed men arrived in La Nueva Esperanza on August 10, 2013.
The community school continues to be closed due to the security situation, and because the teacher was forced to leave the area after receiving death threats.
All of these incidents have been reported to the authorities and have occurred despite the existence of a “police station” very close to La Nueva Esperanza, in the community of Bella Vista, which was imposed on the communities in January 2013 by the Mayor of Tela, David Zaccaro, without any consultation. In reality, the “station”, manned by ten police officers, is the private home of a member of the community who collaborates with Minerales Victoria. The officers are fully aware of the presence of the dozen armed men linked to the company, having escorted them into the community on June 5, 2013. Local representatives of the Public Prosecution Service and the National Human Rights Commissioner (CONADEH) have confirmed that these police do not have a logbook to record incidents or their activities, indicating that they are carrying out their functions without any controls in place.2
Prior to the arrival of the armed men in the community on June 5, 2013, acts of intimidation on the part of the police installed in the zone included death threats issued to journalist Leonardo Amaya Guevara on February 18, 2013 as he reported on the activities of the community of Nueva Esperanza in defense of their environment .3 However, the most serious incident involving officers from the police station occurred on June 3, 2013, when members of the community were victims of acts of aggression and intimidation, including death threats, with two of the policemen firing at the feet of villagers including a 79-year-old man. In response to the community’s protests, all of the police officers involved were changed on June 5, 2013. However, that same evening, the community witnessed the new police officers escorting the armed men with the mining company into the zone.4
Since then, these police have turned a blind eye to the armed men’s activities, the kidnapping of members of the PROAH team being a prime example. The day before the incident, they had informed the police station of their arrival, identifying themselves as international human rights observers. However, during the kidnapping, not one of the 10 police officers was at the station.5
Despite the abuses they have suffered, the villagers of La Nueva Esperanza continue to be steadfast in their opposition to the mining operations, with the support of the national and international community. On July 27, just two days after the kidnapping, 250 national and international activists formed a convoy to visit La Nueva Esperanza and to show their support. On August 9, there were peaceful demonstrations in Tela and La Ceiba in solidarity with the people of La Nueva Esperanza and to protest against mining in the region. Outside Honduras, actions have included a letter sent to the US State Department in which 24 US church denominations and organizations have registered their concerns about the situation in La Nueva Esperanza.
3 Oficio No. SJDH-DM-N. 0083-2013; Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKL-kHgXqKs&list=HL1361293849&feature=mh_lolz