The following report comes from TeleSur:
Published 19 October 2019 Telesur
Hondurans called for the resignation of Juan Orlando Hernandez after a U.S. federal court convicted his brother of drug trafficking.
Hondurans on Friday took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) after the New York Federal Court found his brother, Tony Hernandez, guilty on charges of drug trafficking, use of weapons and lying to authorities.
“We call on all our militancy to total, organized and permanent nationwide mobilization by performing peaceful but firm and forceful protests,” said former president Manuel Zelaya, who is the Freedom and Refoundation Party (Libre) coordinator.
Besides asking the United States to suspend all aid to the Hernandez administration, Zelaya asked to give the Honduran people a “democratic government” and fair laws.
During the trial of Tony Hernandez, the U.S. jury heard testimony from drug traffickers who claimed that politician JOH used their money to finance his campaigns on at least two occasions.
This alleged fact, which Hondurans had long been denouncing, triggered protests against a president who began his second presidential term on January 27, 2018 amid accusations of electoral fraud.
Honduras: having the background with shout ‘Out with JOH’, the night was spent with the Hondurans protesting against the narco-government and the tyrant JOH repressing the people. In Honduras, politics and drugs are the same thing.
After Zelaya’s call, protests began to spread throughout the country. On Friday afternoon, Hondurans blocked roads that led to cities such as Yarumela, La Ceiba, San Pedro Sula and Cortes.
The protests would gradually acquire more forceful expressions. On Friday night, access roads to the headquarters of the Honduran government were closed. Meanwhile, the number of burning barricades increased in the streets and highways.
Former presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla called for the installation of a transitional government, which would be chaired by him until the winner of the 2021 elections takes office.
The rejection of President JOH happened even in the least expected places and moments. During a sports program broadcasted on television, the host railed against Hernandez whom he described as a “drug trafficker”, emphasizing that the ruling National Party lawmakers are “cockroaches.”
In December 2018, Honduran human rights worker Dina Meza visited London. Because of the danger of her work in Honduras, she is accompanied there by Peace Brigades International (PBI). Both Dina and PBI feature several times in ‘The Violence of Development’ website, for which she was interviewed in 2017 – see https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com/dina-meza/
The following report by PBI explains her presence in London.
In December 2018 Dina Meza, a celebrated Honduran independent journalist, was invited to the UK to speak at the FCO’s Human Rights Day event. During her time in London Dina Meza met with the Minister for Human Rights; Lord Ahmad, All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights, as well as representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss the human rights situation in Honduras as well as restrictions on freedom of expression and attacks against journalists in the country. She also met with NGOs and donors.
“We are joined by Dina Meza. She is a journalist in Honduras who is working to defend freedom of expression and information. And in case Dina, and after meeting her this morning, I would add this, a modest lady, and if she fails to tell you this herself is that she was named by Fortune magazine as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders of 2018. Why? Because of her work in this sphere. Thank you Dina for being here.” – Lord Ahmad
Committed to defending freedom of expression and information, Dina has spent years investigating and reporting on human rights violations across the country. She is currently the Director of ASOPODEHU and the President of PEN Honduras, an organisation that supports journalists at risk. She is also the founder and editor of the online newspaper ‘Pasos de Animal Grande’, which provides information and legal support to at-risk professionals, students and journalists.
In April 2018 Fortune magazine selected her as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders of 2018, highlighting her key role in bringing international attention to the assassination of activist Berta Cáceres, as well as the state violence surrounding Honduras’ volatile 2017 elections.
Dina works at incredible personal risk and has previously had to flee Honduras for her own safety. Due to the threats she faces she receives protective accompaniment from Peace Brigades International.
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Gang culture in El Salvador
By Martin Mowforth
In April this year (2019), it was reported in El Salvador that municipal employees who provide local services such as rubbish collection in the town of Apopa had stopped work because of threats from local gang members.
The threats began with two gang members who threatened the fee collectors from the almost 2,500 market stall holders, from which the municipality gains between $1,200 and $1,500 each week. Threats were later extended to burial services at the local cemetery where work also stopped meaning that three families had to bury their relatives in other municipalities. Also affected were rubbish collection services and one crucial bus service.
Local mayor, Santiago Zelaya, organised a group of volunteers to collect the rubbish with accompaniment by the National Civil Police. Initially only three police patrols were granted and other services could not be guaranteed by police protection. Mayor Zelaya said, “In view of this situation with reduced municipal ability, we request that the security forces support the progress and development that the municipality has made.”
It is believed that the gangs became short of money following the holiday period (December – February) and that the threats stemmed from their need to raise funds. Four gangs operate in Apopa (only 20 km from the capital San Salvador) where schoolchildren and students, as well as businesses, have to be extremely wary as they travel to and from their studies on account of the danger of approaches by gang members.
The Barrio 18 gang is thought to be responsible for the threats. The gang had an agreement with the previous mayor who is now languishing in jail along with several gang members.
Between the 1st January this year and the 25th February, fifteen assassinations were committed in Apopa, the same number as were committed during the whole of 2018.
On 30th January this year I participated in a visit to the Comunidad Romero, close to the town of Apopa. The visit was organised by the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS, Centre for Exchange and Solidarity), and our group discussed the problems of living there with a group of impressive young people who spend much of their time trying to avoid being approached and hassled by gang members. There is little work available and so young people who do not make the grade in school generally hang around on the streets where they are highly vulnerable to approaches by gang members.
The main street in Distrito Italia where the community is located, is run by the Barrio 18 gang on one side and by the Mara Salvatrucha on the other. Young people on their way to school or to get the bus to go into Apopa or San Salvador are particularly vulnerable to these approaches, and so many of the young people from Comunidad Romero have to go the long way round to avoid such contact.
Given the lack of employment opportunities and the lack of alternative forms of development, it is unsurprising that so many young adults join the migrant caravans in search of a future.
- La Prensa Gráfica, 14 April 2019, ‘Amenaza de pandilla en Apopa limita servicios municipales’ / ‘Gang threats in Apopa restrict municipal services’.
- Daniel Torres (El Salvador Day), 14 April 2019, ‘Pandilleros no permiten que se recoja basura en Apopa’ / ‘Gang members stop waste collection in Apopa’.
- Personal notes by Martin Mowforth from visit to Comunidad Romero, 30 January 2019.
The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC) was founded in 1982 at the height of the 36 year long Guatemalan war. The Commission documents and monitors human rights violations and attempts to defend those whose human rights are under threat. It also carries out advocacy work on behalf of rights defenders and lobbies for policy change both in Guatemala and the USA. To find out more about the work of the GHRC, go to: http://www.ghrc-usa.org/
The GHRC report is entered into the TVOD website in Chapter 9 under the sub-heading of ‘Emergency in Guatemala’. This sub-heading refers to the emergency experienced in Guatemala during 2009 when work on the writing of ‘The Violence of Development’ book began. The fact that this present GHRC report was produced in 2018/2019 exposes the fact that Guatemala is in a constant state of emergency and the Guatemalan oligarchy and elite – in the words of the report – “remain strong and poised to keep power at any cost.”
GHRC 2018 Emergency Delegation
Delegation Observes Violent Targeting of Land Rights Defenders
From July 12-16, 2018, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC/USA) coordinated an emergency delegation to Guatemala after the international community was alerted to intensified violence and a series of murders targeted at human rights activists and Indigenous land defenders. The delegation, made up of human rights and justice advocates from the USA, Canada and Guatemala, travelled to the eastern and north-eastern departments of Jalapa, Chiquimula and Alta Verapaz, as well as Guatemala City. The group met with organised communities, national organisations, researchers, state institutions and political prisoners, many at risk for defending human rights, their territory, land and water. This report summarizes the first-hand accounts of serious human rights violations reported to the group during the delegation. Some key observations the group documented:
● The string of assassinations that inspired the delegation were not isolated incidents but are part of an ongoing trend of systemic violence and targeted attacks against defenders and territorial leaders.
● The delegation repeatedly heard about the lack of access to justice for crimes committed against Indigenous community members, while at the same time how local prosecutors and judges move swiftly to protect local, national and international economic interests.
● The actors behind the dispossession and pillage of Indigenous territories, which led to genocide for economic gain, remain strong and poised to keep power at any cost. Since the delegation ended, the targeted violence that Indigenous campesinos, or farmers, and land defenders face has only intensified. Despite the violent land evictions and murder noted here and well documented by Guatemalan and international human rights organisations, there have been no arrests for the crimes outlined in this report. In fact, campesino organisations we visited during the delegation continue to be attacked, their members killed while more defenders have been criminalized.
In January 2019, President Morales tried to unilaterally and illegally cancel the mandate of the UN-mandated International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), in an effort to attack the rule of law and democratic institutionality. That same month, Transparency International released a report showing that the Guatemalan government was perceived to be one of the most corrupt countries in the Americas. On January 30, Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas noted in his 2018 report to Congress that “with more corruption, there are fewer human rights.” Impunity coupled with corruption have left grassroots Indigenous organisations, communities and families without justice.
Our delegation heard how agribusiness and mining companies are responsible for the dispossession of water, forests and lands of Indigenous communities. Not only are these activities resulting in less land for subsistence farming and food crops, contributing to increased malnutrition and poverty, they are major contributors to exacerbating the climate crisis. Throughout the delegation, we heard that for many Guatemalans, especially young adults and youth with few opportunities and no access to basic rights like health care, education and food, migration to the USA is their only option. Based on the delegation’s observations, we urge the US government to:
● Take measures to support the Constitutional Court and the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Office.
● Openly show its support for CICIG and its legal right to continue its works until its mandate ends in September 2019.
● Support efforts of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate, prosecute and sanction those responsible for the murders of land defenders.
● Urge the Attorney General to end the malicious prosecution of land defenders, which has led to an alarming number of political prisoners in Guatemala in recent years.
A report by teleSur on 10 May 2019 gives details of the 2019 homicide rate in Honduras. Extracts from the teleSur report are given below.
“We cannot place a policeman or military member on every bus.”
The number of violent deaths in Honduras has gone up in April and May, sometimes by a rate as high as 98 percent over figures from 2018.
According to a report by the General Directorate of Forensic Medicine and the National Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (OV-UNAH), between Jan. 1 and May 8 of 2019, 1,258 people were murdered – a rate of 10 per day. While the overall number for the year is lower than the 1,340 registered homicides that took place during the same time last, the number of deaths in April and May of 2019 have increased significantly.
April 2019 saw 78 more violent deaths over last April and in the first 8 days of May there were 113 violent deaths, 38 more than those that occurred in the same period of the previous year.
Wednesday (8th) was an especially violent day with 25 murders taking place all over the country according to a report by Criterio. The deaths were registered in cities such as La Ceiba, Choluteca, Danlí, Lepaterique, Teupasenti, El Paraíso, San Pedro Sula and Santa Cruz de Yojoa.
Just the day before on Tuesday at the Central American Security Conference 2019 run by the United States Southern Command, and including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico as observers, the head of the Armed Forces of Honduras René Orlando Fonseca had said that Honduras “lives in a climate of peace and security” and that “violence is sporadic.”
This year, 274 homicides were reported in January, 258 violent deaths in February, and in March there were 251 homicides, figures below those registered in 2018 during the same period.
Those three encouraging months of reduced homicides in the country were overshadowed, however, by the high incidence of deaths in April and the start of May.
Spokesman for the Secretariat of Security Jair Meza, a high ranking police official, attributed the increase in violent deaths to “gangs and gangs linking up to acquire territories for the sale of drugs in different neighbourhoods.” Meza argued that another factor causing the high incidence of homicides is extortion, mainly in the transportation sector.
According to Sepol (the Police Statistical System), last Wednesday the driver of a local bus was executed on the Boulevard del Norte, apparently because of extortion.
“We cannot place a policeman or military member on every bus,” says Meza.
By Martin Mowforth
Key words: Honduras; foreign troops; Southcom; migration prevention; counter-terrorism; Olivia Zúñiga Cáceres; civil unrest.
1,000 Israeli troops to Honduras
In May this year a multilateral treaty between Honduras, Israel and the United States saw the deployment of 1,000 Israeli soldiers to Honduras to train the Armed Forces of Honduras and the National Police. The treaty was forged between Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
The main mission of the troops is to train for border protection to prevent migrants fleeing Honduras to the USA, but they will also offer training in the fight against drug trafficking, investigation and counter-terrorism. (It may be a forlorn hope that they will unearth and expose the terrorism practised by the US forces in Honduras against so many Latin American nations.) The 1,000 troops will be stationed with the Joint Task Force of the US at the Soto Cano air base in Palmerola, the largest US military base in Latin America.
The presence of Israeli soldiers is part of a bilateral cooperation agreed between the two countries and signed before Honduras transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Another agreement between the two countries (signed in 2016 and for a period of ten years) commits Honduras to purchasing a million dollars’ worth of arms and military equipment and the repowering of ships and planes.
Olivia Zúñiga Cáceres, a deputy from the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party), explained that the 2009 post-coup government “began to make military agreements where the Honduran army would receive more training, and it is all paid for with the taxes of the Honduran people, so that all of the general budget that was destined for health, education and public services is reduced.”
Zúñiga Cáceres (who also happens to be one of the daughters of the assassinated leader of COPINH, Berta Cáceres) went on to describe the Israeli armed forces as: “specialists in genocide, specialists in torture, which they do against the Palestinian people.”
300 US troops to Honduras
Another Southern Command (Southcom) brigade of US Navy and Marine soldiers arrived in Honduras at the beginning of June to “improve disaster response and other crisis situations”.
As Popular Resistance.org writes, “Southcom has been a controversial actor in Latin American politics for many years since its founding as a force to defend US interests at the Panama Canal. The commander of Southcom, US Admiral Craig Faller, has intimated that the force could be re-oriented for intervention in Venezuela …”
It is interesting to note that this new deployment of forces coincides with widespread civil unrest in Honduras. The protests of health and education workers have grown into broader demonstrations against government corruption and neoliberal economic development policies such as privatisation and deregulation. It also coincides with US efforts to persuade northern triangle countries’ governments (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) to prevent the waves of migrants that have chosen over the last nine months to leave the failed state that is Honduras.
- Telesur, 6 May 2019, ‘1,000 Israeli Soldiers To Arrive in Honduras to Train Troops, Police on Border Protection’
- Popular Resistance.org, 22 May 2019, ‘”This Is A War Against The Honduran People”’
- Criterio, 3 June 2019, ‘Masiva protesta de médicos y docentes pese a división orquestada por el gobierno’
- Rights Action, 3 June 2019, ‘Honduran Presidents linked to drug-trafficking & money laundering since US & Canadian-backed coup ousted Honduras’ last democratic government’
- Public Sector Finance, 7 June 2019, ‘Protests in Honduras continue over public sector reforms’
- Telesurenglish.net, 8 June 2019, ‘300 US Southcom Troops Arrive in Honduras to Teach ‘Humanitarian Assistance’’
- School of The Americas watch (SOAW), 12 June 2019, SOAW News
June 7, 2019
We are grateful to Rights Action for reproducing in June 2019 an analysis made by Insight Crime in April 2019. Details of Rights Action and Insight Crime are given at the end of this article.
Key words: organised crime; drug trafficking; President Jimmy Morales; International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG); illicit campaign finance; corruption.
US Drug Probe Lands Guatemala President in Hot Water
by Parker Asmann, April 25, 2019
Controversy is swirling in Guatemala after evidence emerged showing that President Jimmy Morales used a helicopter owned by a presidential candidate recently arrested in the United States on drug charges — a case that has turned up the heat significantly on the Central American nation’s head of state.
President Morales, who will be replaced after elections this year, reportedly used a helicopter owned by candidate Mario Amilcar Estrada Orellana for official business in January 2018 and possibly on at least one other occasion, Prensa Libre reported. Morales claimed in an April 23 press release that the helicopter was contracted by his government with a company called Maya World Tours, which brokers helicopter flights.
However, a legal representative for Maya World Tours said that the company never provided the use of Estrada’s helicopter to Morales, and that the president used the aircraft through some other arrangement, according to Prensa Libre.
Just last week, US authorities arrested Estrada, a former presidential candidate with the centre-right National Change Union (Unión del Cambio Nacionalista — UCN) political party, on drug and firearms charges. Estrada allegedly sought millions in campaign funds from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for facilitating the group’s drug trafficking activities.
Despite his arrest, Morales stated that neither he nor his country’s intelligence officials had any idea that Estrada was engaged in drug trafficking. A 2011 US embassy cable, later released by WikiLeaks, dubbed Estrada’s UCN a ‘narco party’. Estrada and his party were also investigated in 2015 for alleged illicit campaign financing and links to drug trafficking.
Morales confirmed that he met with Estrada April 2 of this year at a finca owned by the candidate in southeast Jalapa department, Soy 502 reported. The announcement came after another presidential candidate, Sandra Torres of the National Unity of Hope (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza — UNE) party, raised questions about the encounter in an April 22 tweet.
After “insistent” requests from Estrada, according to Morales, the two talked about the transition process if Estrada were to win the upcoming June election — and nothing else. “I have no problem in saying it, because I have done it in a transparent way,” Morales said.
Other associates of Morales and his National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional — FCN-Nación) political party are also alleged to have links to Estrada and the UCN.
Ernesto José Degenhart Asturias, the brother of Guatemala Interior Minister Enrique Antonio Degenhart Asturias, is running for congress on the UCN ticket. Degenhart has been at the heart of Morales’s battle to weaken the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), which is investigating Morales for alleged illicit campaign financing during his 2015 presidential run.
A number of other shadowy officials with links to the Morales administration are also connected to the UCN or running for various government positions on behalf of the political party this election season.
InSight Crime Analysis
The United States government has played a bizarre role in backing President Morales’ efforts to undermine investigations carried out by the CICIG and Attorney General’s Office into the alleged criminal conduct of Morales and his political party. However, the Estrada investigation by US authorities has returned attention to Morales — even as he continues his attacks on the CICIG.
US Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the key supporter of Morales’ drive to quash Guatemala’s anti-graft unit. He has halted US funds for the CICIG — which accounts for just under half of the commission’s budget — due to its alleged role in helping prosecute a Russian family in relation to a scheme to fabricate identification documents. Those allegations, however, were shown to be unfounded and lacking any evidence. Yet Rubio alleged that the CICIG was manipulated or possibly even working with the Russian government in prosecuting the family.
While Rubio and other powerbrokers have hobbled the CICIG from abroad, Morales has waged a war against its prosecutors at home. Morales ousted CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez from the country and later ordered the expulsion of the rest of the commission’s agents. In January 2019, he terminated the agreement that founded the CICIG altogether, putting the country on the brink of a constitutional crisis.
Whether Morales’ links to Estrada will force the US government to reconsider its relationship with Guatemala and its embattled president is impossible to infer, according to Mike Allison, a Central America expert and the head of the political science department at the University of Scranton. “It’s tough to predict when the US government will work with people ‘known’ to be corrupt and when it won’t,” Allison said.
Indeed, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Morales and Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández for their cooperation on security last year. At the same time, some of Hernández’s family members are alleged to be “large-scale drug traffickers.” Previous US administrations also worked with the likes of disgraced former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina until he was arrested along with his former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, on corruption charges.
However, support for Morales may be waning in some US government circles. Kimberly Breier, the United States’ Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, is reportedly not going to meet with President Morales and Foreign Affairs Minister Sandra Jovel during her upcoming tour through the Northern Triangle region.
“Without increased pressure from the United States and the international community, I don’t see Guatemalan authorities moving against Morales,” Allison said. However, “it’s somewhat more likely that if there is evidence behind the allegations against Morales, those charges could be pursued in US courts.”
Rights Action is a non-profit organisation incorporated in the U.S. and Canada. Founded in the U.S. in 1995, Rights Action grew out of Guatemala Partners that, itself, was created from the merger of PEACE for Guatemala and Guatemala Health Rights Support Project, both founded in 1983. https://rightsaction.org/
InSight Crime is a foundation dedicated to the study of the principal threat to national and citizen security in Latin America and the Caribbean: Organized Crime. www.insightcrime.org/
Although aware of the problem of street children, especially in Latin America, I was unaware of the general hostility felt and expressed towards them and to teams of street educators who try to protect them until one evening in 1995 when I accompanied one such team around the centre of Tegucigalpa. It was only then that I began to appreciate the constant danger experienced by both street children and the workers of organisations such as Casa Alianza and the Quincho Barrilete Association. The experience and the hatred that so many citizens feel towards street children are described more fully in an account of that evening given in ‘The Violence of Development’ website. It is this widespread hatred which excuses the unofficial programme of social cleansing carried out largely by police and death squads.
Later that year I had the displeasure of proof reading the English version of Casa Alianza’s submission to the UN Committee Against Torture, a report on ‘The Torture of Guatemalan Street Children 1990 – 1995’, a thoroughly unpleasant booklet documenting “a PARTIAL list of cases of torture against street children in Guatemala City” [emphasis in original.] If proof were needed that the major perpetrators of the torture and killings of street children were to be found amongst the ranks of the police and security forces, this booklet provides it.
Eighteen years later the number of street children in Central American cities has not decreased and governments have failed to implement solutions that prevent children feeling the need to seek refuge on the streets. Despite some successful and valuable programmes to tackle the problem, it is not possible to report much progress. A total of 373 children and youth under the age of 23 were murdered in Guatemala City during the first six months of 2003. 105 of these (28 per cent) were under 18 and some as young as 12 years. The statistics were collected by the Legal Aid Programme of Casa Alianza Guatemala. In Honduras between 1998 and December 2003, Casa Alianza documented 2,089 extrajudicial murders of children and youth under the age of 23. Figure 9.1 brings the statistics for Honduras up to the year of 2011 and shows a shocking recent increase, suggesting a deliberate strategy of social cleansing – as Duncan Campbell writes, some in Honduras would see it as getting rid of the vermin from the streets.
Founded in Guatemala in 1981, Casa Alianza expanded into Honduras and Mexico in 1986 and Nicaragua in 1998 and serves 4,000 – 5,000 children each year. It describes the situation of most of them as:
abused or rejected by dysfunctional and poverty-stricken families, and further traumatised by the indifference of the societies in which they live. Ubiquitous and growing in numbers, many far too young to comprehend their fate, they beg, steal and sell themselves for a hot meal, a hot shower, a clean bed. Living on the edge of survival, they are often swept in an undertow of beatings, illegal detentions, torture, sexual abuse, rape and murder.
The Quincho Barrilete Association is a NGO which works with abused children in Managua, Nicaragua. There is of course considerable overlap between abused children and street children and María Consuelo Sánchez, director of the organisation, outlines the extent of this overlap for those children helped by the Association, at the same time indicating the nature of the problems they suffer:
76 per cent experience intra-family violence; 31 per cent experience sexual violence; 58 per cent spend much of their time on the street; 18 per cent are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation; 21 per cent have already been victims of commercial sexual exploitation; and 31 per cent work on the streets, selling. Basically, the children who are not at school are on the streets.
Jessica Shepherd reports that Viva, an umbrella organisation for charities that help street children, says that up to 1.5 million Guatemalan children are consistently out of school – that is a fifth of the country’s pupil population. Casa Alianza has also reported several times on threats which have been issued to street educators by patrolling soldiers and policemen. In one extreme case in 2005, lawyer Harold Rafael Pérez Gallardo was murdered in Guatemala City. Harold was a legal programme advisor to Casa Alianza and at the time of his killing was advising the organisation on several pending cases regarding irregular adoptions, murders, sexual exploitations, the trafficking of children and other human rights violations against children.
Like the Casa Alianza observation above, María Consuelo Sánchez also noted the close correlation between family poverty, unemployment and the abuse of children which her organisation attempts to prevent and/or overcome. Behind this link with poverty, at least in part, are the structural adjustment programmes and stabilisation programmes forced on Central American governments by the international financial institutions such as the IMF and supported by various international aid organisations such as the USAID. These ‘agreements’ implemented painful economic reforms which threw thousands of state employees and others out of work and forced the end of food subsidies and school meal programmes, as a result of which, as Dafna Araf noted, “more and more families needed their children to work in order to help the family to survive.”
Such neoliberal economic policies led to more flexible working patterns, or put another way, to the chance for employers and companies to pay their workers less and demand more from them. In such a world, “children make good employees – the cheapest to hire, the easiest to fire and the least likely to protest.” The link between such policies and the increase in the number of street children is indirect, but the link between street children and the violence meted out to them is direct. Many working class and middle class commuters of Tegucigalpa resented the existence and presence of these children and were prepared to turn a blind eye to their removal – by whatever means and with whatever violence necessary.
 Casa Alianza / Covenant House (November 1995) ‘Report to the UN Committee Against Torture on the Torture of Guatemalan Street Children’, Guatemala City, p.4.
 Casa Alianza (July 2003) ‘Six months of bloodshed in Guatemala City – 373 young victims’, Guatemala.
 Casa Alianza (December 2003) ‘Increase of Child Murders in Honduras in November’, Tegucigalpa.
 Duncan Campbell (29 May 2003) ‘Murdered with impunity, the street children who live and die like vermin’, London: The Guardian.
 Casa Alianza (undated) ‘Giving Children Back Their Childhood’, Covenant House Latin America.
 María Consuelo Sánchez (6 July 2009) interviewed specifically for this book by Martin Mowforth, Alice Klein and Karis McLaughlin, Managua, Nicaragua.
 Jessica Shepherd (8 March 2011) ‘Street life’, London: Education Guardian, p.1.
 Casa Alianza (5 September 2005) ‘Legal Program Advisor from Casa Alianza Murdered’, Guatemala City: Casa Alianza.
 Dafna Araf (November 2003) ‘Children of the Street – Troubled Past and Uncertain Future’, San José: Mesoamerica, 22 (11), p.6.
I am grateful to Sandra Cuffe and to the progressive organisation Toward Freedom for permission to reproduce this article here. Although the article refers to environmental defenders in many parts of the world, it is also relevant to Central America where the abuses and threats suffered by environmental defenders are as bad as or worse than those suffered elsewhere in the world.
It could be your morning coffee, your bananas, your sugar, or the palm oil found in approximately half of all packaged products at your grocery store, including breakfast cereals. Land and environmental defenders were killed in record numbers last year, and for the first time, agribusiness is tied to more killings than any other sector, according to a report published Tuesday by Global Witness, a London-based NGO (https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/at-what-cost/).
The organisation documented 207 killings of land and environmental defenders in 22 countries around the world in 2017, a slight increase from 2016. However, the number of people killed while protesting large-scale agriculture in 2017 more than doubled.
“For the first time, agribusiness surpassed mining as the most dangerous sector to oppose, as 46 defenders who protested against palm oil, coffee, tropical fruit and sugar cane plantations, as well as cattle ranching, were murdered in 2017,” noted the authors of ‘At What Cost?’, the Global Witness report.
Last year also saw a rise in massacres, many of which were linked to agribusiness conflicts. Global Witness documented seven cases in which more than four land and environmental defenders were killed. In Brazil, three massacres had a combined death toll of 25, more than 40 percent of the total 57 defenders killed last year – the most killings Global Witness has ever recorded in any country.
In the Philippines, killings of activists and community leaders skyrocketed. “President Duterte’s aggressively anti-human-rights stance and a renewed military presence in resource-rich regions are fuelling the violence. Almost half of the  killings in the Philippines were linked to struggles against agribusiness,” according to the report.
On the southern island of Mindanao, an indigenous village leader engaged in a heated struggle against the expansion of a coffee plantation, and four of his relatives, and two other residents were all killed by soldiers on December 3. The government claimed the deaths were the outcome of fighting between the army and leftist guerrilla forces, but there was little evidence to support the claim. Between the government’s announcement that it would earmark more lands for industrial plantations and the increased militarization of Mindanao, killings of locals opposing land grabs are unlikely to cease.
Global Witness identified several root causes underlying threats to defenders, regardless of whether cases are tied to agribusiness, mining, logging, or other activities. Corruption and impunity are on the list, but so is the failure to recognise customary or collective land rights and secure land tenure. Failure to seek the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities also underpins the violence, according to the organisation.
“Local activists are being murdered as governments and businesses value quick profit over human life. Many of the products emerging from this bloodshed are on the shelves of our supermarkets,” said Ben Leather, a Senior Campaigner at Global Witness.
A United Nations intergovernmental working group continued to work on its draft of a binding international instrument concerning transnational corporations, but at the moment, most international guidelines concerning business and human rights are just that: guidelines. They’re voluntary. Products are sometimes labelled ‘sustainable’ by industry-led groups regardless of the facts on the ground.
Sugar and palm oil linked to violence and killings can be ingredients in all kinds of everyday products. Amnesty International traced palm oil from Indonesian plantations with reported human rights abuses to nine multinational food and household corporations with dozens of brands.
“We invite consumers to join us in campaigning alongside defenders, taking their fight to the corridors of power and the boardrooms of corporations. We will make sure their voices are heard,” said Leather.
Whether they are linked to conflicts over agribusiness or extractive industries, killings are at the extreme end of the spectrum of violence and harassment against land and environmental defenders.
Criminalization, death threats, sexual assault, and intimidation are everyday occurrences in many parts of the world.
Franklin Almendares is all too familiar with targeted intimidation. The head of the National Centre for Rural Workers (CNTC), he had been meeting with representatives from other Honduran land rights organisations this past February to discuss land struggles and the ongoing political crisis in the country, and there was much to talk about.
It was after midnight by the time he left the meeting. There was almost no traffic in Tegucigalpa at that time of night, but Almendares did not make it more than three blocks from the meeting when a vehicle suddenly crashed into his. Due to past attacks against him, Almendares opted to keep driving, but the other vehicle maneuvered around to the front of his, blocking his path. Two of the four men got out, pulled Almendares from his vehicle, frisked him for a weapon, and searched his bag.
“The only thing they robbed was my agenda,” Almendares told Toward Freedom. It was not the first time this had happened to him. “I’ve had my agenda stolen four times,” he said.
A police patrol truck had suddenly appeared a few minutes after the incident and officers tried to convince Almendares to get in and accompany them to search for the perpetrators. He declined, and the police officers did not bother to take notes, ask for details, or even inspect vehicle damage before leaving.
Almendares decided to go to the police station downtown to file a formal report, but he was intercepted along the way by a different police patrol truck, this time with both police and military personnel aboard. They knew who he was and what had happened. Fearing for his safety, Almendares declined their offer to accompany him and quickly took off for home, making sure he wasn’t followed. Regional CNTC leaders also face frequent intimidation, threats, and attacks.
“At CNTC we’re in a permanent state of crisis,” said Almendares. “Lands are being handed over for monoculture crops, dams and mining.”
Thousands of campesinos have been criminalized, and both public security forces and paramilitary groups have been attacking communities defending their lands, he said. Between the increasing concentration of power since the 2009 coup d’état and the fiercely contested re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernández last November, Almendares expects things to get even worse, and he is not alone.
The new Global Witness report addressed Honduras in its review of trends in 2017. The group documented four killings of land and environmental defenders in the country, a sharp drop from the 14 in 2016. However, Honduras still had the second most killings per capita in 2017, after seven consecutive years with the notorious distinction of holding the lead. Despite a drop in killings, repression of human rights defenders in general increased, as did attacks, the report authors noted.
In neighbouring Guatemala, killings have shot up drastically this year. To date in 2018, at least a dozen land and environmental defenders have been killed, and most of them were indigenous. According to the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), the first eleven killings this year included five Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) members, three members of the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), a Maya Chorti community leader, a Quetzaltenango social pastoral land group affiliate, and a member of the Coordination of Communities Affected by Sugar Cane Agribusiness.
“In 2018, it’s possible to predict a greater risk, not just due to the political and social context but also because the cost of attacking a defender has greatly dropped due to the inaction, tolerance, complicity and behaviour of the state, opening the door for state and non-state actors to consider that impunity will be guaranteed if they act against [defenders],” UDEFEGUA noted in a report published earlier this year.
This month, on July 12, another Guatemalan defender was killed. Ángel Estuardo Quevedo, a community leader from Casillas, Santa Rosa, was shot several times in broad daylight. He was an active participant in the powerful regional resistance movement to Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine, and was involved in coordinating the rotation of residents participating in protest actions.
Locals from several municipalities in the area have been working together for more than a year to maintain an ongoing roadside protest in Casillas to block mine traffic and stop mine production. The movement also maintains a round-the-clock presence outside the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City pending a ruling concerning the mine.
For years, community leaders, activists and residents organised in opposition to the Escobal mine have been killed, attacked, jailed, and threatened. Miguel Ángel Payeras is one of the countless Casillas residents who experienced repression last year, when police attempted to violently evict the roadside protest camp in order to escort fuel to the mining project.
“They came with the intention of fighting with us,” Payeras told Toward Freedom in an interview last year. “They shot tear gas at people running away.”
A diabetic with vision and leg issues, Payeras uses a wheelchair and was unable to flee. Police dragged him away in his chair, and the foot in which he has no feeling was dragged along underneath the footrest, hitting his ankle over and over. Despite the repression, people regrouped and others poured in from nearby communities and other municipalities to maintain the protest camp and the selective roadblock to prevent mining operations. The resistance has continued every single day since.
If the first half of this year is any indication, the next annual Global Witness report could very well reveal that Guatemala took over as the country with the most per capita killings of land and environmental defenders in 2018. Despite the life-and-death stakes, defenders are not backing down.
“We’ll be here until the mine is shut down,” said Payeras. “If they kill me, I’ll die in the struggle.”
Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist based in Honduras. You can find her on twitter at @Sandra_Cuffe or read more of her work on her website at sandracuffe.com
Toward Freedom (https://towardfreedom.org/) is an organisation that has been offering a progressive perspective on world affairs since 1952.
This chapter concerns itself with the causes and effects of the wave of violence that for the last two decades have been affecting those sectors of Central American society that have devoted their efforts and energy to defending local and national environments, local communities and policies aimed at benefiting a majority rather than an elite.
It is important to begin with an outline of the origins of the current crisis of violence in Central American societies, and it is important to acknowledge at the outset that these origins lie at least in part with the monopoly of power held by an elite in the Central American region. As the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS, Centre for Exchange and Solidarity) in El Salvador explains:
There is a clear transition of power happening in Latin America. There has been a widespread rejection of the elite’s monopoly of power, which was inherited from Spanish Colonialism and was unconditionally backed by the United States governments for the past century. This rejection has resulted in the replacement of military dictatorships with democratic processes over the past two decades. Given that the economic elite largely maintained political power at the beginning of the transition from military dictatorship to democracy, the elite thought their monopoly was invincible and that their economic domination and privileges would be enough to maintain a monopoly on political power.[i]
Other origins of the violence in Central America, however, are also relatively easy to identify, as the following illustrates. As early as 1935, the real role of the US military was noted by some of those within the US armed forces. In a piece entitled ‘War is a Racket’, Major General Smedley Butler declared:
I spent 33 years … in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico … safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902 – 1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.[ii]
This chapter covers a range of aspects of violence in the region. In some cases, the material here could not be included in Chapter 9 of the book. In other cases, some items which have been included in the book are also included here, but in an expanded form.
Keywords: Human rights abuses | Authoritarianism | Drug trafficking | Oligarchies | Impunity | Death squads | US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) | Social cleansing | Femicide | Coup in Honduras | Gangs / ‘maras’ | ‘Plan mano dura’ | Prison fires | International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)
[i] Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (2009) ‘CIS condemns military coup in Honduras’, San Salvador: CIS, 29 June 2009.
[ii] Major General Smedley Darlington Butler (1935) ‘War is a Racket’, available at: www.ratical.com/ratville/CAH/warisaracket.html (accessed 18.03.10).