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.

Israeli and US Troops to Honduras

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

Honduras Narco-trafficker Testifies in New York Court That Ex-President Porfirio Lobo Took Bribes from Traffickers

Key words: Honduras; narco-trafficking; organised crime; bribery; Porfirio Lobo; Cachiros;

by James Bargent, 07 March 2017

Insight Crime – a foundation dedicated to the study of organised crime.

One of the leaders of Honduran drug trafficking network the Cachiros has testified in court that he repeatedly bribed former President Porfirio Lobo, adding to the evidence suggesting drug traffickers corrupted Honduras‘ state institutions at the highest levels.

Testifying in the drug trafficking case of Lobo’s son Fabio, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga told a New York court that he made his first payment of between $250,000 and $300,000 to Lobo when the politician was running for president in 2009, reported La Prensa. This was followed by at least two more bribes delivered directly to the president, Rivera said.

The confessed drug trafficker testified that he later attended a meeting with Lobo after the election in which the president promised never to extradite Rivera and his associates and encouraged them to set up businesses that could be awarded government contracts, which they could then use to fund their political bribes.

Porfirio Lobo, ex-President of Honduras

According to Rivera’s testimony, then-President Lobo placed his son Fabio in charge of coordinating with the traffickers. Rivera alleged that Fabio Lobo personally assisted with security arrangements for two especially large cocaine shipments, and that for one of those shipments, the younger Lobo charged an extra $50,000 to pay off ‘the boss’ — allegedly referring to current security minister and security advisor during the Lobo administration, retired General Julián Pacheco Tinoco.

Rivera added that such political contacts, along with corrupt contacts in the police and military, helped the Cachiros establish themselves as one of Honduras‘ principal drug trafficking networks and move tons of cocaine through the country.

In addition, Rivera testified about the 2009 murder of Julián Arístides González, then head of Honduras‘ Office to Fight Drug Trafficking (Dirección de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico – DLCN). Rivera claimed he had attended a meeting with other traffickers and at least one current congressmen in which they decided to pay a group of policeman to assassinate Arístides.

Porfirio Lobo fiercely denied all of the accusations, telling AFP he had never associated with or received any money from criminals.

The Security Ministry also released a statement denying Rivera’s “ill-intentioned and baseless” accusations, which the ministry claimed he made in order to receive judicial benefits, reported El Heraldo.

InSight Crime Analysis

Rivera’s claims have yet to be independently verified, but they are not the first time Lobo has faced accusations of connections to organised crime. Last year, questions over Lobo’s murky ties surfaced after the emergence of a photo showing him with murdered crime boss José Natividad ‘Chepe’ Luna.

While the guilt or innocence of major political figures such as those Rivera named remains undetermined, his allegations add to a growing body of evidence that makes it clear that the rise of networks such as the Cachiros and the increased importance of Honduras as a drug transit nation is directly connected to organised crime’s ability to co-opt and corrupt the country’s institutions.

In addition, it is clear that this descent into security chaos coincided with the period following the 2009 coup against then Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, when Lobo and his political allies emerged as the country’s new rulers.

James Bargent, 07 March 2017

Insight Crime – a foundation dedicated to the study of organised crime.


Narcotraficante de Honduras dice que expresidente aceptó sus sobornos

Palabras claves: Honduras; Crimen Organizado; narco-traficantes; soborno; Porfirio Lobo;  Cachiros

Escrito por James Bargent, Insight Crime – una fundación dedicada al estudio del crimen organizado.

Miércoles, 08 Marzo 2017


Uno de los cabecillas de la red de narcotraficantes Los Cachiros dijo ante la corte que él sobornó varias veces al expresidente Porfirio Lobo, una nueva evidencia de que los narcotraficantes corrompieron las instituciones estatales de Honduras en sus más altos niveles.

Al presentar su testimonio en el caso de narcotráfico de Fabio Lobo, hijo del expresidente, Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga dijo en un tribunal de Nueva York que él hizo su primer pago a Lobo, de entre US$250.000 y 300.000, cuando el político era presidente en 2009, informó La Prensa. A ello le siguieron al menos dos sobornos más que le fueron entregados directamente al presidente, dijo Rivera.

El confeso narcotraficante afirmó que asistió a una reunión con Lobo después de las elecciones, en la que el presidente prometió que nunca extraditaría a Rivera ni a sus socios y los animó a crear empresas con las que podrían acceder a contratos del gobierno, los cuales les permitirían financiar sus sobornos políticos.

Porfirio Lobo, expresidente de Honduras

Según el testimonio de Rivera, el entonces presidente Lobo encargó a su hijo Fabio de coordinar acciones con los traficantes. Rivera declaró que Fabio Lobo le ayudó personalmente con medidas de seguridad para dos cargamentos de cocaína especialmente grandes, y que por uno de esos cargamentos el hijo de Lobo le cobró US$50.000 adicionales para pagarle “al jefe” —supuestamente refiriéndose al ministro de Seguridad y asesor durante la administración Lobo, el general en retiro Julián Pacheco Tinoco—.

Rivera agregó que dichos contactos políticos, junto con contactos corruptos adicionales en la policía y el ejército, les permitieron a Los Cachiros establecerse como una de las principales redes de tráfico de drogas en Honduras y transportar toneladas de cocaína por todo país.

Además, Rivera testificó sobre el asesinato, en el año 2009, de Julián Arístides González, el entonces director de la Dirección de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico (DLCN) de Honduras. Rivera dijo que asistió a una reunión con otros traficantes y al menos un congresista, en la que decidieron pagarle a un grupo de policías para que asesinaran a Arístides.

Porfirio Lobo negó categóricamente todas las acusaciones, y le dijo a AFP que nunca se había asociado con criminales ni recibido dinero de ellos.

El Ministerio de Seguridad también emitió un comunicado en el que negaba las acusaciones “malintencionadas y sin fundamento” de Rivera, que según el ministerio fueron hechas por el acusado con el fin de recibir beneficios judiciales, informó El Heraldo.

Análisis de InSight Crime

Las declaraciones de Rivera deben ser verificadas independientemente, pero ésta no es la primera vez que Lobo ha sido acusado de conexiones con el crimen organizado. El año pasado surgieron dudas sobre las turbias relaciones de Lobo, luego de que apareciera una foto en la que se le veía con el capo criminal (ahora asesinado) José Natividad “Chepe” Luna.

Aunque aún no se ha establecido la inocencia o la culpabilidad de las importantes figuras políticas que Rivera mencionó, sus acusaciones se suman a un creciente cuerpo de evidencia que deja claro que el surgimiento de redes como Los Cachiros y la creciente importancia de Honduras como una nación de tránsito de drogas son hechos relacionados directamente con la capacidad del crimen organizado para cooptar y corromper a las instituciones del país.

Además, está claro que el inicio de este caos de seguridad coincide con el período posterior al golpe de Estado de 2009 contra el entonces presidente de Honduras Manuel Zelaya, cuando Lobo y sus aliados políticos emergieron como los nuevos gobernantes del país.

Escrito por James Bargent

Insight Crime – una fundación dedicada al estudio del crimen organizado.

Miércoles, 08 Marzo 2017



Élites y crimen organizado en Honduras


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.

Life Laid Bare in Honduras: How the Migrant Caravan Makes Neoliberal Dictatorship Visible

October 25, 2018 Beth Geglia, Toward Freedom

This article by Beth Geglia was published in Toward Freedom. Toward Freedom is a news and analysis publication offering a progressive perspective on world events. They cover global politics, protest movements, government and corporate abuses of power, human rights, and other pressing topics. With writers and readers based around the globe, TF has worked for social justice through investigative and progressive journalism since 1952.

We are grateful to both Beth Geglia and Toward Freedom for permission to reproduce the article here. A link to the original article follows: https://towardfreedom.org/archives/americas/life-laid-bare-in-honduras-how-the-migrant-caravan-makes-neoliberal-dictatorship-visible/

Key words: migrant caravan; Honduran coup; generalized crime and violence; Berta Cáceres; the ‘bare life’ concept; government of organized crime; Special Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDEs); electoral fraud; US support.

A man carries his belongings on his shoulder as the second caravan of migrants leaves Esquipulas, Guatemala on October 21 in hopes of reaching the United States. Photo credit: Jeff Abbott

I remember sitting across the table from my friend Pavel in a coffee shop in Tegucigalpa in 2014. The conversation was casual and frank, as it often is, when talking to Hondurans about the imminent possibility of death. “The worst thing is that I know I could die in the dumbest way. It’ll happen while I’m leaving the grocery store, walking out of a coffee shop, or driving to band practice.” Pavel was a well-known musician and activist. His rock band had led an important role in denouncing the 2009 military coup in Honduras and reaching popular audiences about themes of poverty and structural inequality. Following a series of unidentified attacks against family members and band-mates, he was convinced that the government could, and would likely have him killed at any time.

“The other day I was talking to a friend of mine from elementary school who was in a special elite unit of the military for a while,” he said with a nervous, smile. “I asked him, ‘if they wanted to come into my home and kill me, is there any way I could prevent it?’ ‘No,’ he told me. ‘None?’ I asked, ‘but I’m talking like I have two dogs and gate and an alarm system, and…’ ‘No, if they want to do it, there’s nothing you can do,’” his friend had assured him.

That conversation in 2014 marked the beginning of my field research in Honduras as a doctoral candidate in Anthropology. During my fieldwork, which would last close to two years, I would have countless conversations like this one with Honduran men and women contemplating the possibility of their own death, or worse, that of their family members. Pavel was lucky. He eventually fled Honduras and received political asylum in Europe, but not before suffering serious mental health issues that led to repeated institutionalizations during the time I knew him. The post-coup crisis had given him “nervios” (nervousness, or anxiety) which was sometimes visible in his shaky hands and fidgety body as he talked about hoping to one day see a change in the city and country that he loved so much.

“Everyone here is like a ticking time bomb,” another friend in Tegucigalpa often told me. “We are all suffering psychologically but we don’t say anything. The things we experience every day, there is no escape from it.” These words reverberate through my head as I read the news today. “There is no escape from it.”

As I read the news, I’m also reminded of the moment I learned why my friend Victor slept in a hammock in front of his house. It was March 3, 2016, and I was in the southern region of Honduras, on a peninsula called Zacate Grande, studying land dispossession in rural communities. I had been woken up at 7am that morning to the news that the beloved Honduran social leader Berta Cáceres had been assassinated inside her home the night before. As the sleepy fishing village of La Pintadillera hummed gently with its morning activities, Victor left his radio streaming the news from Radio Progreso, as he did every morning, listening this time with solemn silence. “Bertita” had been a beloved ally to the struggle for land in the entire peninsula of Zacate Grande, and had helped establish their community radio station, La Voz de Zacate Grande, years prior.

Victor’s wife Gloria choked back tears over breakfast as her six-year-old daughter listened in, “I will never forget the day we celebrated the first anniversary of the radio. Berta was here. She drove us back from Playa Grande.” That day, Gloria said, the military stopped a group of local musicians on their way home from the festivities on the side of the road, detained them, beating some. Word of the attack made it back to Playa Grande. “I was so scared to go back but it was late and my kids had to sleep,” she told me. “Berta said ‘let’s go,’ and she drove. When we encountered the military on the road, Berta said ‘get those kids on the floor in case they start shooting at us.’ I was panicking, thinking, ‘oh my god, what if they shoot my child?’ but Berta knew what to do. She saved our lives.”

“We will keep doing this work, but we know they can kill us at any moment,” Victor told me the morning of Berta’s death. Then he asked me if I knew why he slept outside at night.

I had noticed before that Victor, a man facing death threats for his involvement in a community association dedicated in part to combating land grabbing and the privatization of local beaches by the country’s economic elite, had taken to sleeping in front of his house. I had assumed it was an act of defiance. Certainly, it was cooler to sleep in the fresh air and perhaps Victor was sending a message to his adversaries that he was not afraid.

“Look at how they killed Berta in her home,” he told me. “You know that I sleep in a bed with my wife and kids. Imagine if they came in looking for me and found us all there. Imagine if they came in shooting, and…” His voice trailed off before he could continue.

As I write these words I am visiting another friend who was forced to flee from Honduras’ northern coast to France in February of this year. Fabia had spent a large portion of her adult life working in the coastal maquilas—textile factories—and had established a women’s organisation to confront abuses endured by women at work and at home. Fabia worked for years to create opportunities for women and youth, and to help them escape violent situations with romantic partners, gangs, and drug cartels. The violence had made her town of Puerto Cortés unlivable. More and more youth were being forcibly conscripted into gangs, and femicide levels were through the roof. Months before fleeing, heavily armed, masked men raided Fabia’s office in broad daylight threatening to kill Fabia and her coworkers if they didn’t close up shop. When the threats persisted, unmarked vehicles began to circle her home; she finally left with her daughter. But upon arriving in France, Fabia’s body nearly collapsed from the stress. “I woke up one day and couldn’t move my legs, I couldn’t stand up,” she told me. Years of persecution in Honduras, according to Fabia, had taken a toll on her body and manifested in acute kidney failure, for which she spent weeks in the hospital.

There are too many such stories to write. And while people like Pavel, Berta, Victor and Fabia face political persecution, the victims of the violence of the political system include a majority of Hondurans. Honduran small business owners must pay a weekly “war tax” – an extortion from organised crime in league with National Police – or be killed, forcing many to go out of business from one day to the next. And all Hondurans (but especially the poor) face rampant generalised crime and violence. In 2011, Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world, according to the U.N. The lines between organised crime, state security forces, and the government have increasingly blurred in recent years, leaving Hondurans vulnerable to a myriad of violent actors with no possibility of protection from the state.

When I see news cycles about masses of Honduran migrants coming to the U.S., I think about the two main things I want the world to know about this situation. I want people to understand how much violence – structural, psychological, and physical – is endured by Hondurans before they even reach the U.S. Mexico Border. And I want people to understand how we got here, and the U.S. role in producing the unlivable conditions from which Hondurans are fleeing.

Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben puts forward a concept called “bare life” that refers to a state of being in which one is stripped of all legal and political rights. According to Agamben, “bare life” is produced when a sovereign power enacts a state of exception over a certain population or at a certain point in time. His work focuses on Nazi concentration camps as the ultimate expression of “exception” and “bare life,” producing a context in which virtually anything can happen. However, Agamben challenges us to think of “the camp” more broadly as any space in which “power confronts nothing but pure life, without any mediation.” In many ways, Honduras is one of these spaces.

Hondurans have been living in an effective state of emergency since constitutional order was abruptly overthrown with the military coup in 2009. Arbitrary arrests, violent repression against protesters, and targeted assassinations ensued under the interim military government in the months following the coup. While leaders throughout Latin America as well as the United Nations General Assembly vehemently demanded ousted president Zelaya be reinstated, Hillary Clinton in her role as Secretary of State as well as various U.S. lobbyists worked behind the scenes to legitimise the coup government. The 2009 elections that took place under martial law just months after the coup were widely boycotted, with most Western governments refusing to recognise the results until U.S. diplomatic pressure eventually turned the tide. This was also a time when Hondurans were organising in mass for a constituent assembly that they intended to be an important step in building popular democracy representative of a broad spectrum of Honduran society. While the post-coup resistance movement fought to build an inclusive democracy, the post-coup regimes worked to dismantle the institutionality of the country. The results were devastating. Entrenched impunity spread corruption throughout the state, effectively making corruption “the operating system” of a Honduran kleptocracy in cahoots with narco and transnational capital networks. Homicides jumped 50% from 2008-2011. By 2016, the year Cáceres was murdered along with five other members of her organisation, Honduras had been declared the most dangerous country in the world for environmental and land activists.

During this time, the regimes of Porfirio Lobo and Juan Orlando Hernández systematically dismantled the social safety net through ferocious neoliberal austerity policies that defunded healthcare, hospitals, and education. The labour code was reformed to provide maximum worker flexibilization to the manufacturing sector, overturning the 40-hour work week and further exposing needy Honduran workers to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. Unemployment and underemployment grew. The power to turn public assets over to private contractors through public-private partnerships was placed in the hands of the President and an un-elected presidential agency called COALIANZA. From 2010-2012, the extreme poverty rate increased by 26.3%. Today Honduras has become the most unequal country in Latin America.

In post-coup Honduras, the notion of citizenship has been reduced to a paradigm of citizen security—with security defined only in the negative. With violence ballooning, the human need to not be killed became the primary premise of intervention between the government and the governed at the same time that funds for healthcare, education, pensions and all other forms of public investment to improve citizens lives were slashed, and in many cases, directly pilfered by the ruling party. Militarization of everyday spaces, under the guise of reducing crime, has been bolstered by increasing U.S. military aid, the same aid Trump has threatened to cut off to the Central American Region. U.S. military aid made directly to Honduras totals at least $114 million since 2009, with additional funds coming through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). CARSI now constitutes roughly half of the $750 million Alliance for Prosperity aid package for the Northern Triangle region (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador).  So-called securitization in Honduras has meant the creation, with funding and training from the U.S., of new military hybrid forces, such as the Military Police of Public Order, and the elite investigative/counter-insurgency police unit called the TIGRES that has been deployed against the population.

The governance model of the Hernández administration has been to manage the population through their need for basic survival, their bare life, with a government handout programme called Vida Mejor (Better Life). The programme constructs bare bones houses and offers cash or food handouts to select populations. Instead of securing land tenure rights for Honduras’ rural poor, promoting development based in food sovereignty and security, or safeguarding wages, Vida Mejor relegates meager relief in exchange for political gains. It is a direct mediation between power and bare life, a population reduced to its basic biological needs for survival. The administration offers the possibility of employment to Hondurans in exchange for usurping their political rights as citizens through the development of “Special Economic Development and Employment Zones” (ZEDEs). In these zones, Hondurans could lose democratic local government from one day to the next, finding themselves instead under the direct jurisdiction of private investors.

In November and December of 2017, the violence that had been relegated since the post-coup period to the invisible spaces of late-night home raids, isolated rural areas, and selective assassinations was once again made visible on the national arena. Juan Orlando Hernández had run an illegal bid for re-election – strictly prohibited in the Honduran constitution. On the day of elections, as the opposition coalition showed what many analysts declared an irreversible lead, the Electoral Tribunal’s software abruptly malfunctioned, prompting a multi-day shutdown of the ballot counting. When counting resumed, Hernández had somehow taken a lead, defying the laws of probability. The Tribunal delayed over a month in formally announcing Hernández as the winner, despite the inability of the OAS observation mission to validate the electoral results. The U.S., joined by Mexico, Colombia, and Spain, propped up Hernández’s victory and undermined the opposition’s call for a recount. In the meantime, Hernandez’ government suspended constitutional rights, instated a state of emergency, and imposed a national curfew to combat the mass protests that ensued.

Like Victor on his porch, videos of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula showed Hondurans laying their lives bare before a state that would kill them. Hondurans in opposition to the fraudulent elections staged road blockades and other actions despite violent repression by state security forces who beat them and attacked them directly with tear gas and rubber and live bullets. One such video shows Hernández’s military police shooting live bullets at Honduran youth for participating in a cacerolazo (in a response to the imposed curfew, people banged on pots either in street marches or from inside their homes to voice their opposition). Another video shows an unarmed family yelling at and shoving heavily armed soldiers who have raided their home. The human rights organisation COFADEH reports that at least 30 Hondurans, mostly youth, were killed by the state’s Military Police forces in the month after the election. The TIGRES carried out some of the raids that contributed to the imprisonment of over 40 political prisoners.

Now we are seeing images of Hondurans in the thousands on the open road, migrating to the U.S. Most are traveling with a single backpack. They are jumping bridges to trudge through rivers when blocked by state security forces. They are barreling through military blockades and checkpoints. Parents shield their children from tear gas. They are not protected by the governments of Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, or the U.S. (although Guatemalan and Mexican citizens have shown tremendous solidarity and kindness to the members of the caravan throughout their journey thus far). Honduran refugees are protected by nothing but their own numbers.

While Hondurans have been fleeing to the U.S. in record numbers since 2009, the migrant experience has so far been one of isolation, invisibility, and powerlessness. In the thousands and out in the open, their migration has become a spectacle of vulnerability that is impossible to ignore. In the process of protecting themselves, Hondurans are essentially laying their bare life bare, for all to see, in hopes of reclaiming their collective right to live.


Some names and places have been changed for the purpose of anonymity

Beth Geglia is a researcher and filmmaker based in Washington DC. Her doctoral research in anthropology looks at “model city” development in Honduras.


The essence of the term oligarchy is captured by the briefest of descriptions as ‘rule of the few’. But the vagueness and uncertainty of the term are highlighted when trying to define who exactly the few are. Originally the term applied to rule by a local lord or family whose wealth allowed power over local decisions, but as populations, state machinery and national integration grew, the power and wealth of some families and business sectors grew disproportionately.

The sector of activity in which the oligarchy is involved varies from country to country. It may include specific productive sectors of a country such as plantation agriculture, logging or mining; the business sector may be dominated by foreign interests rather than national; the church may wield significant power over local populations; or some families may have benefitted from a history of financial dealings from which they have accrued enormous wealth.

In his important work on ‘The Political Economy of Central America since 1920’[1], Victor Bulmer-Thomas explains how a traditional élite of small merchants and landowners had been replaced by the 1920s by a powerful new élite, based largely on the export sector as growers, traders or financiers (particularly of coffee). The success of this new élite had been so great that

the new interests came to form a virtual oligarchy exercising economic, social and political influence out of all proportion to their numbers. The new élite absorbed foreigners into its midst without losing its national character and demanded from the state changes in legislation to guarantee an adequate supply of land and labour for the expansion of the export sector.[2]

The close links between the US government, US transnational companies and Central American oligarchies, resulting from a history of US involvement in and control of the Central American economy and military, are explored in other parts of this chapter.

[1] Victor Bulmer-Thomas (1987) The Political Economy of Central America since 1920, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[2] Ibid., p.2.