Dina Meza, Honduran journalist and human rights defender, visits London

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.

Dina Meza visits the UK

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.

PBI UK
1b Waterlow Road
London, N19 5NJ

Tel/Fax: +44 (0)20 7281 5370
Email: admin@peacebrigades.org.uk

UK Charity Number: 1101016

How gangs can affect everybody

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.”

Rubbish mounting up in Apopa

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.

Sources:

  • 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.

Continuing emergency in Guatemala, 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

Full Report Here.

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.

Read the full report here.

Honduras: Murder Rate Surges Deflating Hopes for Better 2019

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.

Nicaragua’s abortion ban

Prepared by Alice Klein.

Latin America generally has strict abortion laws, but Nicaragua is one of the few countries in the world to outlaw therapeutic abortion; that is ‘the termination of pregnancy before fetal viability in order to preserve maternal health’.[1] This includes when the mother’s or baby’s health and/or life is at stake.

Nicaragua’s ban came into force in October 2006, supported by the FSLN (Sandinista Front for National Liberation) who made a cynical alliance with conservatives in order to woo the Catholic Church in the run up to national elections.[2]

In November 2007, the Ortega government added criminal sanctions to the law. The Penal Code stipulates prison sentences for girls and women who seek an abortion and for health professionals who provide health services associated with abortion.[3] This includes sanctions for doctors and nurses who treat a pregnant woman or girl for illnesses such as cancer, malaria, HIV/AIDS or cardiac emergencies where such treatment is contraindicated in pregnancy and may cause injury to or death of the embryo or foetus.

It even goes as far as punishing girls and women who have suffered a miscarriage, as in many cases it is impossible to distinguish spontaneous from induced abortions. Indeed, Human Rights Watch say the most wide-ranging effect of the ban is the surge in fear of seeking treatment for pregnancy-related complications, such as hemorrhaging.[4]

Amnesty International says the ban is endangering the lives of girls and women, denying them life-saving treatment, preventing health professionals from practicing effective medicine and contributing to an increase in maternal deaths across the country.[5] The human rights group says that according to official figures, 33 girls and women died in pregnancy between January and June 2009, compared to 20 in the same period in 2008.

Despite attempts by the country’s feminists to campaign against the ban, President Ortega’s government has responded by attempting to silence them.[6] In September 2008, the Nicaraguan government launched ‘Operation No More Lies’ against NGOs it accused of embezzlement, money-laundering and subversion. It said the organisations’ promotion of human rights, gender equality and poverty reduction were “modern-day trojan horses” and a rightwing plot to destabilise the administration.

The following month, authorities raided the offices of the Communications Research Centre (CINCO) which works with the Autonomous Women’s Movement (MAM). Their work is financed by eight European governments and administered by Oxfam UK.[7] It aims to promote “the full citizenship of women,” but Ortega’s wife Rosario Murillo called it “Satan’s fund” and “the money of evil.”[8]

Murillo has since formed her own women’s group and penned a manifesto titled ‘The ‘Feminist’ Connection and Low Intensity Warfare’ in which she characterises feminists as oligarchs, counterrevolutionaries, and well-paid agents of imperialism.[9]

Critics have described these actions as a further sign of intolerance and authoritarianism by the once-revolutionary Ortega.[10]


[1] Emedicine obstetrics and gynaecology, http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/266440-overview (Accessed 11/08/09)
[2] ‘The government war on women’s rights in Nicaragua’, http://www.socialism.com/fsarticles/vol30no1/nicaragua.html (Accessed 11/08/09).
[3] Amnesty International (2009) ‘The total abortion ban in Nicaragua: Women’s lives and health endangered, medical professionals criminalized’, Amnesty International, New York.
[4] Human Rights Watch (2007) ‘Over their dead bodies: Denial of access to emergency obstetric care and therapeutic abortion in Nicaragua’, Human Rights Watch, New York.
[5] Op.cit. Amnesty International.
[6] See note 2.
[7] Rory Carroll (2008) ‘Oxfam targeted as Nicaragua attacks ‘trojan horse’ NGOs’, The Guardian, 14/10/08.
[8] Roger Burbach (2009) ‘Et Tu Daniel? The Sandinista revolution betrayed’, NACLA March/April: 33-43.
[9] Interview with Nicaraguan feminist Helen Dixon in Managua, July 2009.
[10] Op.cit. Burbach.

Guatemala: teleSUR Correspondent Attacked By Men With Machetes

The report on the need for Mayan resistance to the Oxec (and other) hydroelectric projects – also reported in this month’s additions to The Violence of Development website – is supported here by a teleSUR report on violence suffered by one of its journalists investigating the illegal logging and other damages done by the Oxec hydroelectric project. 

teleSUR, 24 August 2018 

Rolanda de Jesús García Hernández was filming the consequences of alleged illegal logging by a hydroelectric company when men threatened her with machetes. A teleSUR correspondent in Guatemala, the Indigenous Mayan K’iche journalist Rolanda de Jesús García Hernández, was attacked and robbed of her equipment while reporting on a hydroelectric project and illegal logging by unknown attackers who threatened to kill her.

García and another teleSUR correspondent, Santiago Botón, were summoned by the Q’eqchi’ community authorities of Sacta, on Cahabón’s riverside, to investigate illegal logging believed to be connected to the Oxec hydroelectric project. García travelled there to meet with local authorities, who accompanied her investigation on August 21 [2018].

García, with community leader Francisco Tec, walked for an hour to reach a community on Sacte mountain which has been severely affected by logging. Once there, they interviewed locals and filmed some of the affected areas for a T.V. reportage.

“The people were very worried; we interviewed them on the stop, as part of my job,” García told a press conference on Friday. “I managed to film some images, some shots with the locals. At the other side we saw there were some employees from the Oxec company. After a few minutes, they started yelling at us.”

The employees then approached the reporting team and tried to take the cameras. They then shouted sexually suggestive threats at García in Spanish.

The reporting team decided to leave the area, but got separated. García stopped at a small river, where she was surrounded by six men who threatened her with machetes.

“Employees of the Oxec Hydroelectric detained the journalist Rolanda de Jesús García, along with community members of Sacte in the Cahabón municipality, Alta Verapaz. The journalist was doing her journalism work when detained.”

García sent a text message just after 3 p.m. local time, saying: “In Cahabón, just informing you I’m in an ugly place, they want to take the camera away.” The attackers then seized the camera and threw it into the river.

“Our boss gets mad when someone enters his private property,” one of the men told García, stressing that the group knew who she was and where to find her. After threatening to rape and kill her then throw her body into the river, the men finally released García when she promised never to return. The incident has been reported to police.

People living on the Cahabón river say erosion and flooding have increased dramatically with the illegal logging allegedly related to the Oxec hydroelectric company, but the government is ignoring their plight.

“We can’t remain silent, it’s important to denounce this truth,” García said. “We’ve been the witnesses of several arrests and criminalization against the leaders, and now the press is being persecuted.”

“I fear for my life. I was warned they know who I am and took pictures and video of me. I was threatened and I was told their boss would have the files” – Rolanda García Hernández, teleSUR correspondent.

Guatemala’s social leaders, especially those involved in human rights and environmental issues, are often criminalized by the government and private companies whose economic interests are at stake, occasionally resulting in murder.

García said: “It would seem like it’s a confrontation between brothers and sisters, but we know this persecution comes from groups that are behind all these actions because when the communities try to speak to the cameras, the radios, to denounce, what they immediately receive is persecution. We’re also at risk.”

Several Guatemalan and international alternative media outlets and human rights groups are standing in solidarity with García, condemning the attack and demanding the Public Ministry prevent such assaults on freedom of speech.

The Oxec Hyodroelectric has denied any responsibility for the incident or having knowledge of García’s journalistic work.

Honduras most dangerous country for environmental activists

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Honduras is the deadliest place for environmental activists with scores of Hondurans killed defending land rights and the environment from mining, dam projects and logging, a campaign group said on Monday.

Between 2010 and 2014, 101 activists were murdered in Honduras, the highest rate per capita of any country surveyed in a report by Global Witness, although the overall number was greatest in Brazil.

Globally, killings of environmental activists reached an average of more than two per week in 2014, up 20 percent from the previous year, the report said.

A man looks for usable items in a dumpsite on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, April 17, 2015. | Reuters/Jorge Cabrera.

A man looks for usable items in a dumpsite on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, April 17, 2015. | Reuters/Jorge Cabrera.

Latin America fared worst, accounting for nearly three quarters of the murders – with 29 deaths reported in Brazil, 25 in Colombia and 12 in Honduras.

“Historically there has been very unequal land distribution in Latin America which has caused conflict between local and foreign companies and communities,” Billy Kyte, campaigner at Global Witness, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Governments in Latin America are by no means taking this problem seriously. Impunity levels are also very high so perpetrators of crime get away with it,” he said.

The report found 40 percent of environmental defenders killed last year were indigenous people caught on the frontline as they tried to defend land and water sources from companies in an escalating scramble for natural resources and land.

“Many indigenous groups lack clear land titles to their land and suffer land grabs by powerful business interests,” the report said.

Honduran activist, Martin Fernandez, said he was forced to flee for safety to Brazil for three months in 2012 after he received telephone death threats and was followed by cars with black tinted windows near his work and home.

“We live in fear, in fear of constant attack. I and many colleagues have had to live in exile,” Fernandez, head of the Movement for Dignity and Justice, a Honduran land rights group, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

He said Honduran and foreign companies were exploiting indigenous lands and clearing forests, particularly in the northern Yoro province where the Tolupan indigenous group live, to make way for dam construction and mining projects.

In its report, Global Witness said the Honduran government hoped to attract $4 billion in mining investments and recently freed up 250,000 hectares of land for new mining projects.

With the world’s highest murder rate, Honduras is struggling to contain drug-fuelled gang violence and organized crime. The government did not respond to requests for comment on the Global Witness report.

Heightened dangers faced by environmental activists in Honduras are likely to be raised next month at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council when the country’s rights record comes under review.

(Reporting By Anastasia Moloney; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

Guatemala’s Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla

By Steven Dudley, Insight Crime

15th December 2016

Insight Crime’s report on: ‘Guatemala’s Mafia State and the Case of Mauricio López Bonilla’ (15 December 2016) is written by Steven Dudley. Along with many other Insight Crime reports, it is an essential read for anyone who wishes to keep up-to-date with happenings in Guatemala and anyone wishing to understand the extent, depth and implications of corruption and impunity in Guatemala.

The link to access the report is at: http://www.insightcrime.org/investigations/guatemala-mafia-state-case-of-lopez-bonilla

The report is a little longer than the majority of the reports and articles included here in https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com  and so only the link to the report is given here.

Insight Crime is a Foundation that is dedicated to the study of the principal threat to national and citizen security in Latin America and the Caribbean: organised crime. It seeks to deepen and inform the debate about organised crime in the Americas by providing the general public with regular reporting, analysis and investigation on the subject and on state efforts to combat it.

SLAPPs: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation

Courts are for those who seek justice, not revenge. Yet a growing number of powerful corporations are using the courts for just that — to silence those who dare to speak out against them.

The following short article refers to the use of SLAPPs in the USA, but the criminalisation of protesters and activists is a tactic frequently used in Central America against those who oppose large-scale ‘development’ schemes such as mines, hydro-electricity dams, plantation agriculture and similar. Many organisations in Central America are experiencing the same onslaught of SLAPPs as those in the USA, so it is appropriate to include this article here despite its focus on North America rather than Central America.

24th Sepember 2018

Courts are for those who seek justice, not revenge. Yet a growing number of powerful corporations are using the courts for just that — to silence those who dare to speak out against them.

These lawsuits, known as SLAPPs or ‘Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation’, aren’t meant to win in court. They often rely on outlandish claims of corruption, collusion, and conspiracy that won’t prevail in a court of law. Yet corporations with deep pockets use SLAPP suits as a way to waste the time and exhaust the resources of public-interest journalists, activists, and non-profits. These lawsuits have a chilling effect — discouraging activists, silencing critics, and limiting free speech. And they’re part of a much broader trend of attempts to shrink civil society space and shut down activism — from the adoption of anti-protest laws in states across the US, to restrictions on political rights at the upcoming climate negotiations, to the murders of environmental defenders in record numbers last year.

After indigenous groups, environmentalists, and concerned citizens protested the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 and 2017, Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the project, filed a $900 million lawsuit against our partners accusing them of racketeering and corruption. The actions of one of those groups, BankTrack, consisted of sending public letters to financial institutions that were backing the pipeline — far from criminal.

Even CIEL has been the target of companies’ underhanded tactics. The day after Mr. Trump’s election, our own president Carroll Muffett was the recipient of a subpoena by ExxonMobil for our work exposing Exxon’s long-held knowledge of the climate crisis and attempts to stifle regulations that could have prevented it. The subpoena is part of a broader campaign of intimidation against climate advocates who are working to bring the truth to light.

That’s why we helped to launch the Protect the Protest Task Force, joining nearly twenty other organizations to unite our knowledge and expertise to confront these threats. From experienced lawyers and journalists, to communications professionals and activists, we stand stronger together: An attack on one is now an attack on all.

As part of the coalition, we are helping to raise awareness of SLAPP tactics and expose the worst offenders, as well as providing resources and mobilizing a network of attorneys to defend against SLAPPs, especially for individuals and small organisations with limited resources.

Corporate bullying of activists threatens our democracy. All of the social progress we’ve made throughout history has depended on the ability to speak out against injustices, so we’re taking a stand.