On the criminalization and repression of social protest

Amongst the seven Central American countries, Costa Rica has an international reputation for social progress, environmental harmony and sustainability that outstrips the other six countries. In fact Costa Rica has been named by the Happy Planet Index report as the most sustainably happy country in the world.[i] In our experience, Costa Rica deserves many plaudits and is full of really interesting examples of harmony and sustainability; but it is not without its problems and conflicts. We have included here a short opinion piece written in the Costa Rican weekly newspaper Semanario Universidad to illustrate that not all Ticos share this happy perspective.

By Luis Morice (UCR) Sep 20, 2016

Reproduced by kind permission of Luis Morice

From Semanario Universidad, Costa Rica, 21 September 2016

In our country there is no army but there is a machinery of repression that operates in defence of the interests of the major capitalists, in defence of monopolies and of the transnational corporations. They repress people who they say they are defending and they follow the orders of the supposedly ‘progressive’ PAC [Citizen Action Party] government, aiming to intimidate and silence all types of protest and movements of popular discontent. The vilification of social protest becomes ever more frequent through the intensification of the current government’s repressive policies as a bewildering continuation of previous administrations, as well as through various ‘communication’ media which focus and intensify their campaign against it, seeking to demonise mass actions such as the protests and strikes of diverse social movements.

What they are unable to stop by any existing political means, they seek to prevent by means of violence against the people in the street, intimidating the movement of masses of people, intent on delivering the authoritarian message that sees the right to protest as a ‘sin’. This strikes fear into the masses and the working people and instils in them a deep and fierce hatred against this right, undermining the unity of social forces and silencing their denunciations, the discontent, the protest against the rotten and the degenerate. These anti-popular measures and reactions seek to impose a ‘progressive’ government of ‘change’ in holy alliance with global financial entities and with them the national bourgeoisie.

It is shameful to consider as a great example of ‘heroism’ and as a great achievement of the repressive apparatus of the government blue shirts, the ‘re-establishment of order’, or, in other words, the disintegration through violence of whatever struggle the social movement is undertaking. Examples include what happened to the taxi drivers in their struggle against Uber; what happened at the beginning of the year with the displaced families from Finca Chánguena who were protesting against their removal but were brutally repressed by the police force; the same that happened recently with the animalist demonstrators who were protesting for the closure of the Simón Bolívar prison (the zoo for those who consider it as such); or as happened years ago on 8th November when demonstrators from diverse political and social movements took action in defence of the CCSS [Social Security Office] and who were later beaten by police agents. By violence and by nothing more than violence, they stripped them of and fenced them off from their legitimate right to express by means of mass action their rejection and discontent against unjust situations. Faced with this ‘progressive’ government’s repression and with the PAC’s filibustering, [we need] unity and a permanent struggle of the workers.

[i]   The Happy Planet Index report, published by the New Economics Foundation, seeks to move away from purely economic measures of happiness and instead ranks countries by how much happiness they get from the amount of environmental resources used. Happiness is calculated by measuring a country’s happiness in relation to the wellbeing, life expectancy and social inequality and then dividing it by its ecological footprint.


FNL members assassinated, 2009 – 2011

This table also appears, slightly amended, in the book as Box 9.4 (page 184).

24 October 2009 – Victor Galvez shot 32 times as he left his office in Malacatan, San Marcos.

13 January 2010 – Evelinda Ramírez shot and killed in the municipality of Ocos – see Chapter 4.

29 January 2010 – FNL member Pedro Garcia shot and killed while driving home.

17 February 2010 – FNL leader in San Marcos Octavio Roberlo shot 16 times from a passing car while closing his store in the bus terminal.

21 March 2010 – Three community leaders who had denounced Unión Fenosa, Carlos Noel Maldonado Barrios, Leandro Maldonado and Ana María Lorenzo Escobar, killed by gunshots and machete wounds in the municipality of Ocos.

22 March 2011 – Head of the local committee for the nationalisation of energy, Santiago Gamboa, shot and killed by Guatemalan soldiers during protests in the town of Las Brisas.

Honduran politicians, U.S. aid implicated in killings of environmentalists

I am grateful to Sandra Cuffe for permission to reproduce the following article. Sandra is a freelance journalist based in Central America, where she covers environmental, indigenous, and human rights issues.

 By Sandra Cuffe | February 1, 2017

Global Witness, a London-based NGO, published a report yesterday examining the involvement of government officials and foreign aid in violent conflicts over mining, hydroelectric, tourism, and palm oil projects in Honduras. The result of a two-year investigation, the report includes several case studies and a series of recommendations for the Honduran and U.S. governments.

“We do an annual report to document the situation globally, and Honduras per capita has come out on top for the last few years. More than 120 land and environmental defenders have been killed in Honduras since 2010, so we wanted to investigate the reasons behind that,” Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather told Mongabay.

The issue was thrust into the global spotlight in March 2016, when Berta Cáceres, a well-known Honduran indigenous rights activist and Goldman environmental prize winner, was gunned down in her home. She had been receiving threats related to her work with communities opposing the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in western Honduras, and suspects arrested in connection with her killing include individuals with ties to the Honduran military and to DESA, the company behind the dam project.

The new Global Witness report, ‘Honduras: The deadliest place to defend the planet’, examines the Agua Zarca case and other hydroelectric dam projects in western Honduras, a hotel and golf tourism complex in indigenous Garifuna territory along the northern coast, and mining and logging activities. Regardless of where in the small Central American country of eight million the projects are located, similar patterns of indigenous and human rights violations emerge.

Allegations of corruption
“What we’ve uncovered is that there’s an awful lot of corruption around these mega-projects, these big investment projects, whether that’s mining, whether that’s hydroelectric, whether it’s logging, or whether it’s luxury hotel projects,” Leather said. “These projects are being imposed on communities, which is why they need to mobilize in the first place. And then that same corruption means activists can then be killed with impunity,” he said.

In some cases, allegations of corruption go to the highest echelons of the Honduran government. Global Witness highlights the case of Gladis Aurora López, president of the ruling National Party and vice president of Congress. Her husband, Arnold Castro, is the director of a company behind two contested hydroelectric dam projects in the La Paz department of Honduras that were granted licenses while López was a member of Congress.

Local community activists also implicate López in manipulations of a consultation process concerning the Los Encinos dam, and allege she ordered a violent police intervention in a community resisting the dam, according to Global Witness. Several Indigenous Lenca Movement of La Paz (MILPAH) members actively opposing the dam have been attacked and killed.

Global Witness is calling on the Honduran government to investigate and prosecute López. “We think that the prosecution of some of the higher level people linked to these abuses would send a strong signal that the Honduran government won’t tolerate corruption and won’t tolerate this violence against defenders,” said Leather.

Mongabay was unable to reach López before press time. However, in a letter to Global Witness, she denied any link to attacks against leaders and communities opposing hydroelectric dam projects. According to Global Witness, López’ husband also denied any illegal activity by his company and any ties to attacks.

In the case of the Los Encinos dam, the problem began shortly after the Honduran Congress granted its license, according to MILPAH president Felipe Benítez. The mayor of the municipality of Santa Elena, also affiliated with the ruling National Party, began offering all kinds of little projects and aid to local party members, creating divisions and turning them against community leaders and activists opposing dams, he said.

“Since then, there has been a serious problem of persecution, threats, harassment, and defamation, and also the problem of criminalization,” Benítez told Mongabay. Dozens of indigenous community council leaders and MILPAH members face criminal charges related to conflicts over lands and natural resource projects, he said.

Global Witness references reports of the killings of three local activists opposing the Los Encinos dam; two of their bodies were mutilated. Benítez’ own nephew was found murdered in December 2015.

Two months earlier, in October 2015, outspoken dam opponent and MILPAH leader Ana Miriam Romero allege she and her sister-in-law were beaten by a group of police, soldiers and civilians in Romero’s home while guns were drawn on her children. Both women were pregnant at the time and Romero’s sister-in-law miscarried following the beating, according to reports referenced by Global Witness. In January 2016, Romero’s home was allegedly the target of an arson attack and she lost most of her belongings.

“We’ve been persecuted and criminalized, and the situation here is terrible,” Benítez said. “A serious danger we face as defenders is that human rights aren’t respected. For example, we have 14 members of MILPAH with precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, but not long ago the police shot Victor Vásquez.”

A member of MILPAH and the president of one of the local indigenous councils, Vásquez was shot in the leg by police on January 13, 2017 during the eviction of a community in another municipality in the La Paz department, according to Benítez and human rights group reports. On paper, Vásquez is one of the beneficiaries of an IACHR request to Honduras for precautionary measures. Benítez says he now faces three months of rest and recovery due to the police gunshot.

International involvement
Hydroelectric dam project backers appear to go beyond local companies and Honduran government officials. Global Witness points to international finance institutions such as the Central American Bank of Economic Integration, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), as all having played a role in the hydro sector in Honduras. Multilateral institutions have also supported other controversial projects linked to attacks and killings.

In 2009, the IFC invested 30 million dollars in Corporación Dinant, a large Honduran palm oil and food company controlled by powerful landowner and business magnate Miguel Facussé until his death in 2015. Palm oil plantations tied to Dinant and other landowners in the Lower Aguan region of the Colón department have been the subject of years of land conflicts, with Global Witness confirming at least 82 activists fighting for land rights in the area were killed between 2010 and 2013.

Killings have continued in the ensuing years. When Global Witness interviewed the head of a special task force (unnamed in the report) that is investigating killings in the region, he revealed that many more people have been killed than were previously documented.

“His team is investigating 173 murder cases between 2010 and 2013, of which 18 or 19 are of private security guards and six are not land-related. The rest – at least 148 deaths – are believed to be of [farmers] killed in the struggle to defend their land,” the report’s authors wrote.

Local farmworkers’ and land rights groups accuse Dinant, other landowners, and Honduran security forces of involvement in death squads and paramilitary groups operating in the region and perpetrating many of the killings. Dinant and the Honduran military refute these claims.

Given the involvement of the IFC, local organizations took their concerns to the World Bank Group’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), which determined in December 2013 that the IFC had violated its own environmental and social guidelines when it made the decision to finance Dinant. In response, the IFC and Dinant developed an ongoing action plan to address the CAO report’s findings.

“IFC continues to work closely with Dinant and its external experts to support measures that reduce tensions in the communities in which the company operates and work towards peaceful co-existence,” an IFC spokesperson told Mongabay via email. Dinant has adopted new policies and procedures related to security management, human rights, and community engagement, according to the IFC spokesperson.

Despite the new policies, alarming human rights violations continue in the Aguan region, according to Honduran human rights organizations monitoring the situation in the region. On June 19, 2016, young farmers Allan Martínez and Manuel Milla were murdered in front of dozens of people on the soccer field in the community of Panama. And on October 18, 2016, Aguan United Farmers’ Movement (MUCA) president José Ángel Flores and MUCA member Silmer George were shot and killed. The Agrarian Platform, an umbrella group of local farmers’ and land rights organizations, alleged paramilitary groups operating in the region were responsible for the June and October killings.

Three months after Flores and George were killed, the situation remains the same, according to the Agrarian Platform.

“Arrests have not been made of the material authors despite the existence of arrest warrants, according to a report by the Lower Aguan Violent Death Unit, and so the paramilitary group continues to operate in the La Confianza settlement, sowing terror and fear among the population,” the Agrarian Platform wrote in a January 19, 2017 statement.

The U.S. is the largest single IFC shareholder and is an influential shareholder in the Inter-American Development Bank, Global Witness points out in its new report.

“We think that these international finance institutions, as well as the principal shareholders in them like the US, have a vital role to play in safeguarding that their money is not investing in projects that ultimately end up with activists being silenced,” said Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather. He added that they must first ensure meaningful consultation and consent from affected communities, and also to freeze funding if activists are threatened.

The U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) has also invested 22.5 million dollars in the FICOHSA Bank, which has backed Dinant and other controversial enterprises, Global Witness notes in its report. The report also highlights the support of the U.S. Embassy in Honduras for U.S. investors in conflict-ridden sectors such as the mining industry, and the tens of millions in U.S. aid for Honduran military and police forces, which have been implicated in numerous human rights violations in the country.

One of the report’s recommendations to the U.S. government, however, to “increase funds dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders and civil society space in Honduras,” was fulfilled even before the report was made public. Just days before the report’s release, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras James Nealon announced that the U.S. is contributing 2.9 million dollars to the Honduran protection mechanism for human rights defenders and journalists.

According to a U.S. State Department spokesperson, the United States consistently raises human rights concerns with the Honduran government and works with it to address them. Impunity and corruption pose significant challenges to the country’s institutions, but the Honduran government has demonstrated the political will necessary to tackle security and development challenges, the spokesperson told Mongabay.

Capacity for change, but lack of political will
The Honduran government’s political will is a key point of contention. In September 2016, the U.S. State Department certified that the Honduran government complied with human rights conditions placed on aid to Honduras in the Appropriations Act for the 2016 fiscal year. The move was met with criticism from NGOs and U.S. members of Congress, given the ongoing killings and impunity. More than 40 members of Congress have co-sponsored the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (HR 5474), a proposed bill to suspend all aid to Honduran police and military forces until five clearly defined criteria concerning human rights and justice have been met.

In the high-profile case of the March 2016 murder of Cáceres, seven suspects, including members of the Honduran armed forces and a hydroelectric dam company staff, have now been arrested. The developments shine some light on the question of the Honduran government’s capacity and will to effectively address human rights violations, according to Leather.

“I think on the one hand it shows that the Honduran government has some capacity to deal with this, which means that it’s more a question of political will,” he said.

“Beyond the Berta Cáceres case, there are several examples of where the authorities have made arrests, either for attacks against defenders or because of abuses of laws around consultation of communities, for example. So they do have some capacity, but they haven’t shown the political will yet to use that capacity across the board, and above all, to arrest the intellectual authors of these crimes as well,” Leather said. “And we’re convinced in the case of Berta Cáceres that the intellectual authors – those who ordered the attack – haven’t been arrested, even though we of course celebrate the fact that some of the trigger men have.”

The Global Witness report published yesterday focuses on Honduras, but similar forces are at play throughout Latin America. Already this year, indigenous and community activists opposing hydroelectric dams, mining, and logging reportedly have been killed in Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Like Berta Cáceres, Isidro Baldenegro was a past recipient of the prestigious Goldman environmental prize. An indigenous Tarahumara community leader and farmer, he was awarded the honor for his work organizing to protect Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains from illegal logging. After years of threats, he was shot and killed earlier this month.

“He was threatened by people associated with the loggers, who were logging in his community. He was threatened by organized crime. But he was also imprisoned by the Mexican state as well, on charges that ultimately turned out to be false,” Leather said.

“I think it shows the same collusion between the state, business, and criminal elements to silence those who are demanding their rights,” he said. “I would say that is the case across the Americas, albeit in Honduras it’s at the worst levels of violence.”



Mongabay is an environmental science and conservation news and information site. Mongabay seeks to raise interest in and appreciation of nature and wildlife, while examining the impact of emerging trends in climate, technology, economics, and finance on conservation and development.

Letter from Bismuna – a cracked paradise

This is a shortened version of an article entitled ‘All is not well in Paradise’ which appeared in ENCA Newsletter 34 (August 2003).

By Annette Zacharias and Dieter Dubbert*

Bismuna is an indigenous Miskito village on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua with a population of about 1,500 people. … The village is on the shore of a lagoon which opens to the sea. In this sea float many kilos of cocaine, packets of 60, 80, 90 kilos of pure cocaine. Why did they come floating our way? Off the Atlantic coast is a group of islands known as the Miskito Cays, hundreds of islands of mangroves which form the ideal hiding place for drugs in transit from Colombia. They are also a good location to re-fuel; but the traffickers have to get rid of their cargo the moment they see a patrol boat.

We have scenes that you would normally associate only with low-grade B-movies: people with dark glasses, bracelets and Rolex watches sitting in boats with two 150 horsepower outboard motors, silent and waiting for their contact with a Kalashnikov by their side. …

In 1993 the first packets were found. Nobody knew anything of drugs, their effects, their potential harm, nor of their value. But almost immediately people heard of astronomical values for them and began to look for more. … we found it difficult to explain how dangerous drugs were. How could they have experience of drug addiction if they’d never suffered it before? And fast money talked more powerfully.

In 1994 we wrote to the governor of our department, Stedman Fagoth, and asked him to address this problem. We suggested that all the cocaine found by the people should be bought officially by the state at market prices and channelled into the pharmaceutical industry. The reply from the governor was … silence. Worse than that, Dieter received a death threat (from an unknown origin). Later we realised that the governor had indeed concerned himself in the business. …

One consequence of the fast money was that people stopped working on their fincas. Nobody wanted to sweat by sowing rice, yucca or plantains. And who’s going to criticise them for preferring to buy everything rather than sweat on their fincas? … Whole families, including even grandmas, lived on the beach looking for the ‘blessing’ of a packet. They sold the drugs, and today there is a well-established system of trafficking. But the worst problem for the community is that many people have taken to using the drugs. We could say that the generation of youths aged 14 – 23 are lost in the drug. But also adult males with their family responsibilities have fallen into addiction.

There is open trafficking, almost risk-free, that transfers many kilos beyond the community and brings back a derivative of cocaine known as ‘crack’ – or ‘stone’ as it is commonly called – a mix of cocaine with ash and soda. According to those already addicted, you only need one stone to become addicted. As a consequence, robberies and violence have arrived in the community. Women fear for their safety. Properties are no longer secure. At night we listen to the rantings of drunks who have left their women. Many people, mainly women, arrive at our house asking for money to buy food or medicines for their children. These children grow up with disastrous, drug-addicted role models, their fathers, brothers, cousins.

Throughout the whole Atlantic coast there isn’t one rehabilitation centre, and the word ‘therapy’ is unknown. The police struggle against the tide with ridiculous budgets incapable of meeting their needs. It’s a public secret that many of the police are involved in this lucrative business, and so its control never progresses. Above all, there is no political interest in protecting the coast and its population.

This situation is dramatic and desperate. But there are a few individuals who are fighting against this appalling form of development.

* Annette Zacharias and Dieter Dubbert lived in Bismuna from 1990 to 2003. They founded a NGO called ‘From Coast to Coast – Solidarity with the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua’ with bases in Kiel, Germany, and Bismuna, Nicaragua. Using donations from Germany, Italy and Nicaragua, it aimed to support the indigenous community through a range of social projects including the construction of a clinic, a sewing workshop, a cultural centre, a baseball stadium and houses for those in need. They also established a rehabilitation centre for youths with drug and/or family abandonment problems. In 2003 they changed location to Waspam in order to increase their work with street children.

Sobre la criminalización y represión de la protesta social

De los siete países de América Central, Costa Rica disfruta una reputación internacional para el progreso social, armonía ambiental y sostenibilidad mucho en delante de los otros  seis países. De hecho,  se nombra Costa Rica por el Index del Planeta Felíz como el país lo más sosteniblemente felíz en el mundo.[i]De nuestra experiencia, Costa Rica merece muchos aplausos y es lleno de ejemplos de armonía y sostenibilidad muy interesantes; pero no es un país sin problemas y conflictos. Aquí hemos incluido un artículo de opinión corto escrito en el periódico costarricense  Semanario Universidad para ilustrar el hecho que no todos los Ticos comparten esta felíz perspectiva.

By Luis Morice  (Estudiante UCR) Sep 20, 2016

Producido aquí con autorización de Luis Morice

En nuestro país, no existe ejército pero sí una máquina represora en defensa de los intereses de los grandes capitalistas, en defensa de los monopolios y grandes transnacionales. Reprimen al pueblo que dicen “defender” y cumplen al dedillo las órdenes del gobierno dizque “progresista” del PAC, con el fin de amedrentar y silenciar todo tipo de manifestación y movimiento de descontento popular. Es cada vez más frecuente el envilecimiento de la protesta social producto de la intensificación de la política represiva del actual gobierno como una perpleja continuación de las anteriores gestiones, además de algunos medios de “comunicación” que agudizan e intensifican su campaña en contra de esta, que busca satanizar la acción de masas, entre ellas las protestas y las huelgas de diversos movimientos sociales.

Lo que no pueden detener por ningún medio político existente lo buscan hacer a través del ejercicio de la violencia contra el pueblo en la calle, amedrentando el movimiento de masas, intentando dejar un mensaje casi que de una manera autoritaria haciendo ver el derecho a la protesta como un “pecado” para atemorizar a las masas y al pueblo trabajador e infundir dentro de ellas un odio tan profundo y tenaz en contra de esta, en búsqueda de la inevitabilidad para la realización de dicha acción de masas, para evitar la unidad de las fuerzas sociales y silenciar su denuncia, su descontento, su protesta contra lo podrido y lo degenerado que se desprende de las medidas antipopulares y reaccionarias que busca imponer el gobierno “progresista” del “cambio” en santa alianza con los entes financieros mundiales y junto a ellos la burguesía nacional.

Es una legítima vergüenza considerar como un ejemplo formidable de “heroísmo” y un gran logro del aparato represivo del gobierno, o sea los vestidos de azul, el “restablecimiento del orden” o, en otras palabras, la desintegración por medio de la violencia de cualquier movimiento social en lucha; por ejemplo, lo sucedido con los taxistas en su lucha contra Uber, lo sucedido a principios de año con las familias desalojadas de finca Chánguena que protestaban contra una medida de desalojo pero fueron brutalmente reprimidas por la fuerza policial, al igual como sucedió recientemente con los manifestantes animalistas que desarrollaban su protesta por el cierre definitivo de la cárcel (zoológico para quienes así lo consideran) Simón Bolívar o como ocurrió años atrás un 8 de noviembre cuando manifestantes de diversos movimientos políticos y sociales se movilizaron en defensa de la CCSS y que posteriormente fueron garroteados por los efectivos policiales. Por la violencia y nada más que por la violencia les despojaron, les cercenaron su legítimo derecho de expresar mediante los mecanismos de acción de masas su repudio y descontento contra situaciones de injusticia. Ante la represión del gobierno “progresista” y filibustero del PAC, unidad y lucha permanente de la clase obrera y trabajadora.

[i]   El informe del Index del Planeta Felíz, publicado por la Fundación de Nuevo Economía, busca evitar las medidas puramente económicas de alegría y reemplazarlas por un rango de países según la felicidad derivado de la cantidad de recursos ambientales utilizado. La felicidad se calcula por medir el bienestar, la esperanza de la vida y la desigualdad social de un país y dividirlo por su huella ecológico.

Dr Juan Almendares: Letter to Mother Earth and Humanity of the Planet

The reader is also referred to the interview with Dr Juan Almendares in the Honduras section of the Interviews page.

13-300x276Let us defend the right to land of the peasants of Aguán and the National Front of Popular Resistance in Honduras. My grandmother used to say that the umbilical cord is always buried in some place and that my mother buried my umbilical cord in the roots of Ceiba, because this tree represents the unity of Mother Earth with the heavens. I learned the first lessons inside my mother when she was pregnant through the pedagogy of dreams, based in three principles: an intimate love for Mother Earth and for humanity, telling the truth and respecting dignity and life.

In every little piece of land, or close to the spring or the river – my grandmother would say – “you have to plant a tree or a little nutritious or medicinal plant. Clean earth and the water maintain the health of the body, the mind and the animal and human community.”

I grew up watching my mother pedal day and night on a sewing machine to make shirts for a factory that exploited her without minimal labour rights. We were “those from below” the railway, where poverty, brothels, alcoholism and violence proliferated. On the weekends the “campeños” – agricultural workers from the banana companies – would come to get drunk and attack each other with their machetes. It was a form of self destruction and of taking out their impotence against the power of the US banana companies.

When I was eight years old, at three in the morning I went with my mother to see the almost decapitated body of my father, who was killed by a hired assassin to take away a piece of land. There were seven of us brothers and sisters, we learned from that not to have hate or vengeance, nor violence or consumption of drugs and alcohol. A tropical storm came and we lost everything including our own house.

In my years as a secondary student I met the peasant Chepe Campos, of Salvadoran origin, who had migrated to the city because of poverty. He was a bricklayer; we worked together on the dream of organizing a bricklayers’ union. The project didn’t get finished because of the repressive anti-union forces and because of the flooding that destroyed the brick yards.23

The other teacher was Cristóbal, a shoemaker from the neighbourhood with whom we would talk about social injustice. When I was studying in secondary school at the José Trinidad Reyes Institute I met a Guatemalan peasant who was an agricultural worker for the banana companies. He explained to us with extreme wisdom the painful experiences of being exploited by those companies.

We suffered hunger, humiliations and poverty to be able to study medicine. I worked with one main idea: to serve the poor, the peasants, workers, original peoples, Garífunas and students.

I carried out post-grad studies in medicine in the United States. The peace movement of the US youth against the war in Vietnam, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Gandhi were inspiration for my position against militarism, torture and structural violence.

Nonetheless I came to the understanding that the essence of capitalism is anti-human and racist, that in its bosom is engendered the process of qualitative transformation of humanity itself and that we can’t be indifferent nor neutral but have to take a position against injustice, war and the violation of human rights.

I never wanted to stay in the north, even when I was condemned in Honduras by the death squads and the Argentinean Anti-Communist Alliance (Triple A). I have been a victim of the policy of the “three t’s”: trauma, torture and terror. This has not made it possible for me to hate any of my adversaries nor detractors. I start from the principle that the life of every being on the planet should be preserved and that this principle should be defended everywhere. That is why I have the firm conviction of not being racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, a participant in patriarchy nor authoritarianism; but I can’t keep silent before the crimes and lies of the military geopolitics of international financial capitalism, articulated with the oligarchic power and the ideology of neoliberalism.

In essence, I am anti-imperialist. I have the firm conviction that without local, regional and global solidarity and vice versa the substantial transformations in the bosom of humanity will never be made.

With this preamble of my life I want to respectfully invite the nice readers, friends of life and of Mother Earth to move your consciousness to protest against the injustice happening in Honduras and Meso-America and the plans of war against the peoples of the ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas] and Our America.

I have served as a doctor with profound love for the poor and the condemned of the earth who live in the world of injustice. I express my testimony of solidarity against the unjust conditions lived in by the Lenca people, where the oligarchy took ownership of the rivers and wants to build in San Francisco de Opalaca a dam to change the course of the waters and generate electricity for their multinational projects. Nonetheless the Lenca people are enlightened; they reject the shady light of corruption that make vulnerable the life of the rivers and of the forest; and they join in with the National Front of Popular Resistance to participate in the Re-foundation of Honduras and install the National Constitutional Assembly which takes a step towards a Constitution for everybody.

When I examine the original and peasant peoples I observe the infamous process of social injustice that forces beings into autophagy (eating oneself). The boys and girls have sad, anaemic, dry eyes, with their bellies bulging and full of parasites, bare-foot, emaciated and swollen because of pain. This horrendous reality doesn’t just move me and make me cry, but my consciousness acquires a greater commitment with the people in resistance.

Some years ago I presented my testimony of solidarity against the killing of the Tolupanes in Yoro, caused by the occupation of their lands by cattle. The authors of this sinister plot paid $500 for each human head. This practice is an indicator of the extreme racism in Honduras and that the hired killers have always been a normal tool in the hands of the powerful.

I remember Tacamiche, to cite one of so many violent evictions in Honduras. In July of 1995 close to 500 people who had been living since the middle of the century on lands abandoned by a branch of the North American business Chiquita Banana were evicted by the Honduran military. The symbolic cost of these lands for the banana company was one dollar. To evict the peasants they launched hundreds of teargas bombs. We attended boys and girls who were burned and several women aborted because of exposure to the toxic gases. They destroyed the health centre, the Church School, and the corn and bean fields. The five hundred evicted people were relocated in a building with just one bath and one bathroom.

If we ask ourselves who are those who have been dispossessed of their lands and of the waters by the mining, banana, shrimp and wood companies and the plantations of African Palm for agro fuel, it is the original peoples, the Garífunas, the Misquitos and the peasants. They are the ones who make the land produce, who live in pauper conditions, and those who have the worst conditions of health, education, potable water and housing.

Based on these historical antecedents, we appeal to unity, organization and mobilization of the local national and world conscious with the objective of stopping the machinery of geopolitical, ideological and anti-human war against the peoples of Latin America. In Bajo Aguán, in Honduras, plans for a peasant massacre are being developed. The demand for delegations, economic solidarity and every type of humanitarian support for the families of the Unified Peasant Movement of Aguán (MUCA) is an urgent message.

The violence screams in every sweaty pore of the peasant and the system buys the consciousnesses to hide the truth. To defend at all costs the life of humans and of the planet should be our mission. In this small country, with an oligarchic system and an army of international capitalism the multimillionaire plans for proliferation of military bases, media campaigns and growing multimillionaire religious and media fundamentalism against Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua and the suffering people of Colombia are reflected.

They are rehearsing and experimenting with a war in Honduras that begins against the peasantry and the original and Garífuna peoples. It is the power of the arms business and the buying of consciousnesses against the process of liberation and historic dignity of the peoples of Latin America.

We celebrate the strength of the spiritual and cultural unity of the resistance of the peoples of the world against pain and suffering. Our ethical and libratory commitment should be to such a degree that with the slightest showing of injustice, the subtle flight of the hummingbird moves us and invites us to defend dignity and life.

The US Accuses Nicaragua of ‘Institutional Corruption’ But its Own Report Doesn’t Support its Claim

Taken from NicaNotes 3 May 2017 | Reproduced here by kind permission of Chuck Kaufman

This week’s guest blog is by a correspondent who prefers to remain anonymous due to their job in Nicaragua.

On March 27, 2017, the headline in La Prensa, one of the major newspapers in Nicaragua, read, “The United States urges Nicaragua to address ‘institutional corruption’.  A report on drug trafficking released this month by the US State Department claims that there is institutional corruption in Nicaragua.”  The report on drug trafficking referred to is the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, a kind of report card issued by the US State Department rating the degree to which it says countries around the world comply with US expectations concerning the ‘war on drugs’.

The report’s first line claims: “Nicaragua remains a primary transit route for drug trafficking.”  For people with an interest in Nicaragua, there are at least three important issues raised by the report and the coverage in La Prensa. The first is the ‘war on drugs’, the second is what is actually happening in Nicaragua to fight narcotrafficking, and the third is the US’s ongoing, inappropriate interference in the internal affairs of Nicaragua.

For several consecutive administrations, the US has defined ‘the war on drugs’ as a war on supply to be fought outside of our borders. Despite spending billions of dollars with nothing to show for it , the US has clung stubbornly to this approach. We have ignored the consensus in much of the rest of the world that the problem is one of appetite. As long as people in the US are willing to spend billions of dollars on illegal drugs to get high, someone somewhere will supply the product. Many sovereign countries in Latin America and elsewhere have taken the very reasonable position that the US’s consumption of illegal drugs is not their problem and it is not a priority for them to help solve it, especially not on their soil.

Nicaragua has only to look to its neighbours to the north, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, countries allied with and heavily financed by the US’s war on drugs to see how bad things can go. The northern triangle countries are among the most violent and corrupt in the world. They are near failed states where many aspects of government barely function. In comparison, Nicaragua is safe, stable, and peaceful.

None-the-less, Nicaragua is quite active in working to prevent the damage that could be caused by the transportation of drugs through the country, particularly preventing the violence and corruption associated with gangs and drug cartels. This is acknowledged by the Nicaragua country report within the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report: Nicaragua’s “‘Retaining Wall’ (Muro de Contención) strategy promotes a coordinated effort to stop narcotics traffickers from entering the country.” (For a good description of this strategy see this article) The Strategy Report goes on to detail many anti-trafficking activities, including drug seizures carried out in cooperation with the US and other international partners.  The concluding statement about “institutional corruption” feels tacked on and not supported by what has come before.

The tone of the conclusion of the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report is paternal and condescending. It assumes that, of course, the US can grade and prescribe what other countries do: “The Government of Nicaragua must increase efforts to combat organised crime within the vulnerable Caribbean coast regions of Nicaragua, which remain the primary routes for international drug trafficking. In addition, an increased focus on drug prevention programmes and rehabilitation facilities, institutional corruption, and judicial independence is recommended to complement interdiction efforts.” (US dept of state resource) This is a continuation of a long, despicable history in which the US has tried to control and dictate to Nicaraguans how their country should be run. Nicaraguans are completely capable of analysing their own situation and deciding what, if anything, they want to do about it. The US has no standing to tell them what they “must” do.

The government of Nicaragua is not perfect. We know this because no government in the world is, including our own. However, sovereign nations, which like Nicaragua, are not a threat to anyone, have a right to struggle with their own imperfections and to work them out in their own way.

The article in La Prensa, includes commentary by sociologist and political analyst Oscar René Vargas. He says the report means that the United States “is following the political, economic and social events of Nicaragua… that Nicaragua is already on the radar of the United States. This does not mean that the United States will take immediate action against the government, but it does mean that the promoters of the ‘Nica Act’ will take into account… the State Department report.” (The NICA Act would cut Nicaragua off from the system of international loans that Global South countries need to run themselves in the global neoliberal economic system. See: this  for the ridiculous details. Those of us who work to keep the US’s relationship with Nicaragua friendly and non-imperialistic need to stay alert to this situation.


  • During a meeting in Managua with Directors of Police Academies from Central America, Colombia and the Caribbean, the Inspector General of the Mexican Police Academy, Rubén Rodríguez, said Nicaragua is one of the most successful countries in the fight against drug trafficking and organised crime. “We believe this is a very important meeting to learn about the Nicaragua experience in public safety, fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” the Director of the Mexican Police Academy said. (Nicaragua News, May 1)

NicaNotes is a blog for Nicaragua activists and those interested in Nicaragua, published by the Nicaragua Network, a project of the Alliance for Global Justice, http://afgj.org/

A comment on recent developments in human rights in Guatemala and Honduras, May 2018.

By Martin Mowforth

Two reports on human rights developments in Guatemala and Honduras have recently been published:

  • the first, in NACLA Report on the Americas (vol.50, no.1; spring 2018), written by Simon Granovsky-Larsen is entitled ‘In Guatemala, Security Forces Square Off Against Social Movements’;
  • and the second, in Al Jazeera News, by Heather Gies is entitled ‘Honduran journalists face increasing threats and intimidation’, 3 May 2018. (www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/honduran-journalists-face-increasing-threats-intimidation-180503112711060.html)

Both reports describe a worsening situation for human rights defenders. Granovsky-Larsen describes what the state sees as ‘social conflicts’ whilst social movements and local communities see the same conflicts as ‘defending their territory’. He states that within Guatemala, “affected communities are contesting four active mines and another 906 mining licences that are moving towards extraction. Opposition is also directed toward the 128 sites where hydroelectric dams operate or are under construction. Campesinos and Indigenous peoples are involved in over 1,500 agrarian conflicts, including through defence of communal land, occupation of unused state land, agricultural workers’ disputes, and resistance to the expansion of sugar and African palm plantations.” In essence, the response of the state and investors to these conflicts has been violence and criminalisation.

Granovsky-Larsen cites the case of the community of Laguna Larga in the department of Petén. In June 2017 the community was forcibly and violently evicted by 1,500 police officials and 300 soldiers from national parkland land which the National Council for Protected Areas (CONAP) claimed was occupied illegally. “Nearly all buildings and crops in the community were destroyed during the eviction.”

Displaced from Laguna Larga, Guatemala (Photo @Radio Pozol)

Granovsky-Larsen claims that there were 116 cases of forced evictions between 2008 and July 2017 and suggests that the cases that he cites are few among many which illustrate the most common threats faced by Guatemalan defenders of land, environmental and human rights. “At least 200 rights defenders have been murdered since 2000, most by hired killers and private security,” but the threats also come from state agents and agencies.

According to Granovsky-Larsen, the Organisation of American States (OAS) has denounced the use of criminalisation against rights defenders as ‘systematic’. Such criminalisation tactics include the bringing of criminal charges for minor offences, arbitrary detention, public defamation of defenders and restrictions on protests and demonstrations. Essentially such measures are designed to intimidate defenders and to dissuade them from taking action against ‘developments’.

Regarding the situation in Honduras, Heather Gies takes up the case of Dina Meza, a journalist and human rights defender. [See my 2017 interview with Dina in the Interviews section of this website.] Dina suggests that she is only one of many media workers who are under threat in Honduras for questioning the authority of the state and investors. My interview with Dina she explains the importance of the accompaniment of international human rights observers from Peace Brigades International (PBI). She also recounts the instance when her life was threatened and she was rescued from the threatening situation by the arrival of PBI accompaniers. Because of these threats and other forms of vandalism against her and her family, she has had to move house three times in the last four years, found it necessary to leave the country for six months and has had to implement her own precautionary measures.

Dina Meza (Photo: Martin Mowforth)

Gies cites a range of statistics relating to Honduras:

  • According to Reporters Without Borders, Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, these dangers including physical attacks, threats and abusive legal proceedings.
  • According to the Commission for Investigation of Attacks on Journalists of the Latin American Federation of Journalists, 60 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2009.
  • In the same period, murders of land rights defenders, environmental rights defenders and human rights defenders, LGBTQ people and other vulnerable groups have also increased.

Gies also cites other factors which restrict the freedom of the media in Honduras, including the following.

  • Self-censorship brought on by the threats and violence against journalists.
  • Denial of access to events and state institutions because of criticisms of those institutions.
  • Government reform of penal legislation to punish journalists with 4 to 8 years in jail for “apologising for terrorism”, a reform which Gies argues targets “reporters who refuse to toe the government line or be ‘bought off’.”
  • A related reform broadly re-defines terrorism “in a way opponents said could criminalise social protests at judges’ discretion”.
  • Sabotage of selected radio station signals.
  • Anonymous smear campaigns.
  • Surveillance against defenders by military intelligence.

Guatemala – a state of emergency?

The following is a slightly fuller version of the text that appears in Box 9.1 (p. 172) of the book.

The following extracts were taken from Guatemala News, 25 March 2009 and can be retrieved from www.guatemala-times.com/opinion/editorial/951-guatemala-in-a-state-of-emergency

The evolution of the organised crime wave that started last year in Guatemala reached a boiling point yesterday. Gun fire attacks on buses and killings of bus drivers in several strategic locations in the capital virtually paralysed Guatemala City. It was a very well organised plan of attack, … Guatemala City has over 4 million inhabitants, it is severely overcrowded and congested by too many cars …

Yesterday, the local radio stations were reporting the attacks and the citizens of the capital started to have a feeling of being under siege by unstoppable crime. Rumours started to circulate and disinformation transmitted by the radios started to create a sense of panic in the population. Calls were made to local radio stations demanding the military to be put on the streets to bring order and for the government to impose a state of emergency.

The strategy of assassination of drivers of the public bus system started before the presidential elections in 2007. Some sectors accused one of the presidential candidates, ex-general Otto Pérez Molina[1], of being the brains of that particular strategy to create insecurity and fear in the population. (The accusation has not been documented or confirmed.) …

In his message last night, broadcast on national television, President Alvaro Colom stated that the events that occurred yesterday are part of a strategy to destabilise the government. He insisted that it is a reaction of organised crime to the security actions taken by the government. …

There are unconfirmed theories that the military and its usual sympathisers, certain power sectors of the country, want to establish military presence to control the security situation as soon as possible. …

There are other theories that claim that the publication of the police files from the period of the civil war – when the police were under the control of the military – is causing concern among the people who then ruled the country officially and unofficially (1960 – 1996). The recent declassification of military files covering some operations during the same time period and the creation of a Presidential Commission to declassify more military files is making some people extremely nervous. …

So, the question is: are yesterday’s events of violence, reporting of the media and demands for military presence, just a coincidence, or were they orchestrated?

[1] In November 2011, Otto Pérez Molina was elected President of Guatemala and assumed power in January 2012