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: Protests Intensify Against President Hernandez

Hondurans demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Oct. 19, 2019. | Photo: EFE

The following report comes from TeleSur:

Published 19 October 2019  Telesur

Hondurans called for the resignation of Juan Orlando Hernandez after a U.S. federal court convicted his brother of drug trafficking.

Hondurans on Friday took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) after the New York Federal Court found his brother, Tony Hernandez, guilty on charges of drug trafficking, use of weapons and lying to authorities.

“We call on all our militancy to total, organized and permanent nationwide mobilization by performing peaceful but firm and forceful protests,” said former president Manuel Zelaya, who is the Freedom and Refoundation Party (Libre) coordinator.

Besides asking the United States to suspend all aid to the Hernandez administration, Zelaya asked to give the Honduran people a “democratic government” and fair laws.

During the trial of Tony Hernandez, the U.S. jury heard testimony from drug traffickers who claimed that politician JOH used their money to finance his campaigns on at least two occasions.

This alleged fact, which Hondurans had long been denouncing, triggered protests against a president who began his second presidential term on January 27, 2018 amid accusations of electoral fraud.

Honduras: having the background with shout ‘Out with JOH’, the night was spent with the Hondurans protesting against the narco-government and the tyrant JOH repressing the people. In Honduras, politics and drugs are the same thing.

After Zelaya’s call, protests began to spread throughout the country. On Friday afternoon, Hondurans blocked roads that led to cities such as Yarumela, La Ceiba, San Pedro Sula and Cortes.

The protests would gradually acquire more forceful expressions. On Friday night, access roads to the headquarters of the Honduran government were closed. Meanwhile, the number of burning barricades increased in the streets and highways.​​​​​​​

Former presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla called for the installation of a transitional government, which would be chaired by him until the winner of the 2021 elections takes office.

The rejection of President JOH happened even in the least expected places and moments. During a sports program broadcasted on television, the host railed against Hernandez whom he described as a “drug trafficker”, emphasizing that the ruling National Party lawmakers are “cockroaches.”​​​​​​​

The Hernández Brothers – the narco-state of Honduras

The Violence of Development website has included numerous articles condemning the state of Honduras for the violence of its armed forces, its gangsterism and links with drug trafficking. Here on his ‘Two Worlds’ blog site, John Perry outlines the results of a recent court case in New York which confirms the Honduran government as a fully-fledged narco-state that uses gangster tactics to enforce its ‘policies’.

The article was originally posted inLondon Review of Books , plus comments.

The Two Worlds blog can be found at: https://twoworlds.me/  We are grateful to John Perry for permission to reproduce the article here.

Key words: Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH); Donald Trump; drug trafficking; drug cartels; electoral fraud

By John Perry

October 23, 2019

Court sketch of witnesses in the trial of Tony Hernández (The Limited Times)

Donald Trump said last year that migrant caravans, mainly of Hondurans, were coming to the US from ‘shithole countries’. But now he says that the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, is doing a ‘fantastic job’.

Trump and JOH recently reached an agreement declaring Honduras to be a ‘safe place’ for asylum seekers trying to reach the US. JOH also promised to help the US tackle transnational criminal organisations. He’s well placed to do this. Last November, his brother Tony was arrested in Miami and accused of drug trafficking and possessing illegal weapons. At his trial in New York, which concluded last week, the jury found Tony Hernández guilty. He faces at least 30 years in prison for bringing 200,000 kilos of cocaine into the US between 2004 and 2018, in packets often stamped with his own initials.

In an imprudent tweet two days before the verdict, the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa praised the Honduran government for joining the US in ‘the fight against drugs’. In August, however, JOH was accused of accepting $1.5 million in drug money for his 2013 re-election campaign.

One of the witnesses in the trial of Tony Hernández was Alexander Ardón, identified as a drug trafficker five years ago. He has confessed to involvement in 56 murders. He told the court in New York that the Mexican cartel boss ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, sent to prison for life by a US court in July, visited Honduras twice and paid JOH $1 million in protection money. Ardón said that he had himself paid $4 million in bribes to JOH and his predecessor, Porfirio Lobo. Lobo’s son was convicted of trafficking in the US last year and his wife has just been imprisoned for fraud.

In a separate case, JOH’s cousin was indicted for trafficking in the US in September. JOH responded on Twitter that those testifying against him are liars and ‘confessed murderers’.

The prosecution concluded that drug traffickers ‘infiltrated’ and ‘controlled’ the Honduran government.

A trafficker who gave evidence, Chang Monroy, was asked why he had previously lied about knowing Tony Hernández. ‘I was scared,’ he said, ‘because I’m like other drug traffickers that are violent, but no other drug trafficker has a brother that’s the president of a country that controls the police and the military.’

Witnesses alleged that Tony Hernández had arranged the murder of two of his rivals, in one case by a former death squad member who was later promoted to head of the Honduran police. A cartel that Hernández was linked to, Los Cachiros, has carried out at least 78 assassinations. The victims include three journalists.

The emergence of the narco-state of Honduras began with the military coup of June 2009. In elections contrived to validate the coup (and approved by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state), Lobo became president in 2010. JOH succeeded him in 2014. The constitution was changed in 2015 to allow a president to serve more than one term, and JOH stood again in 2017. The election was riddled with fraud, but Trump still congratulated him on ‘a close election result’.

Following Tony Hernández’s conviction in a US court, any previous US president would have distanced himself from JOH. Trump, however, is untroubled by criminal behaviour and his judgments are based on electoral calculation: is his base more worried about drugs coming into the US, or Central American migrants? With more than 240,000 Hondurans apprehended at the US border so far this year, Trump backs a foreign president who acts tough. He’ll ignore the poverty and violence that drive the migrants to leave their homes: instead, he’ll continue to support the policies that produce them.

Edwin Espinal, Political Prisoners, State-sponsored Drug Traffickers and Persecution in Honduras

By Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network

17 November, 2019

We are grateful to Karen Spring and the Honduras Solidarity Network for permission to include this article in The Violence of Development website. Karen is the partner of Edwin Espinal who was held in Honduran jails as a political prisoner. The article gives the reader an idea of how difficult life can be for human rights defenders in current-day Honduras.

Key words: Honduras; political prisoners; human rights defenders; criminalization of protest; state-sponsored drug trafficking; President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH).

It has been three months since Edwin Espinal was released from La Tolva prison. I haven’t written anything publicly due to being exhausted for, while Edwin was in prison, I felt like I ran a 1.5-year marathon with little time to sit down, reflect, and absorb what was going on around me.
Thank you to the people who have supported Edwin’s case, my human rights work in Honduras and this belated update from Honduras.

In the three months since his release, Edwin has been recovering, speaking to media, attending the legal hearings and meetings related to the cases of the other political prisoners, spending a lot of time with family, and planning our future.
Edwin continues to have a permanent, loud, ringing sound in his ear. We are told it is tinnitus but still feel we need to see another specialist that can run further tests. Edwin developed the problem in prison after complaining of an ear infection that was never treated. The ringing sound not only interrupts his sleep or other moments of rest or quiet, but also generates a lot of frustration and anger.
It reminds him of the whole experience in La Tolva, being denied medical treatment, the unjust way he was detained, and as he often says, “the way the government wanted to make me suffer.”
The mental health impact could possibly be worse than the actual physical problem. He frequently gets headaches that he says are linked to the noise in his ears and asks me sometimes to put my head up against his to see if I can hear the loud ringing in his ears. But it is internal and I hear nothing.
Every week, Edwin goes to the courthouse to sign a ledger that is supposed to show to the Honduran judiciary that he has not left the country and that he is still present to face the charges against him. His court date is set for May 14 and 15, 2020.
As for myself, I continue my work supporting the other political prisoner cases. Within the first 6 months following the 2017 electoral crisis, all were released except five including Edwin. Now, only one political prisoner remains in jail; over 170 people still face charges and are forced to sign regularly at courthouses around the country. I am also doing human rights work related to the criminalization of people awaiting trial. Some are being harassed continuously by Honduran military and police.

One young man who was arrested for participating in protests during the 2017 electoral crisis, and who spent four months in the maximum-security El Pozo prison, has been forced into hiding. Military soldiers and police – with their faces covered, carrying heavy weapons including illegal weapons like AK-47s – have shown up four times at his small house to either raid it, when he is not home, or just stand outside to intimidate him. He reports that a red Toyota pick-up truck with tinted windows and no license plate is frequently seen parked on his street. Out of fear, the young man has since fled his home.
Many people face this type of intimidation and are forced to hide, or move frequently. They fear they will be killed.
The Honduras Solidarity Network is assisting this gentleman and others to raise their profiles to deter the government from harassing them further and to make all the details of the harassment known publicly.

On November 11, Edwin, Raúl, members of the National Committee for the Freedom of Political Prisoners and myself, travelled to the city of El Progreso for political prisoner Gustavo Cáceres’ trial. It was suspended last week after two witnesses, called by the Honduran government, did not appear. As a defence strategy, Gustavo’s lawyers asked him to testify before the judges.
When Gustavo took the stand, the judges asked him to state his ID number, address, and birthdate. He shrugged and could not answer completely, due to his disability. Many people in the courtroom teared up as Gustavo attempted to give his version of the events related to his detention. He was arrested while crossing a bridge where a protest was taking place.
When stopped by the police, they put a black bag over his head (a method of torture used by the police to generate fear and attempt to elicit confessions) and took him to the police station. Gustavo told the court in an honest and sincere way, but in broken sentences, that he was close to the protest; he was trying to cross the blocked bridge to go to work. Meanwhile, the police officers that arrested him, contradicted each other, including testifying that Gustavo was arrested in two different places and based on different reasons.

Defamation campaign

In early October, I attended half of the trial of Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández (brother of President Hernández) in New York. I posted summaries of the trial on my blog aquiabajo.com so people could follow the case.

As a result of my attendance at the trial and being closely monitored by the Honduran government, another defamation campaign circulated against me on October 18, 2019, claiming that I was paying people $200 each to protest outside the New York trial and that I received funding from a convicted drug trafficker who is also in jail in the US.
These campaigns are dangerous and have become a common tactic of the Honduran government to try to discredit human rights defenders and create security problems for them. This is another reason that I have not written much as both Edwin and I are aware of the exceptionally difficult security situation that we are in in Honduras, particularly given the current political context.

State-sponsored drug trafficking

Since Tony Hernández was found guilty on 4 counts of drug and weapons smuggling and lying to federal authorities, the environment in Honduras has been eerie and dangerous.
As the Canadian and US government insist that the governments in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and now to a degree, Bolivia, are drug traffickers and dictators, it is outrageous to hear absolutely nothing from Canadian and US authorities regarding the drug conviction of Tony Hernández in New York and the role that President Juan Orlando Hernández continues to play in enabling and participating in drug trafficking.
Now, weeks after this conviction, military, police, and other government institutions are terrorizing the Honduran population so they do not protest.
One Honduran journalist has reported that since the conviction, 11 people linked to the President and the President’s brother’s drug cartel have been murdered, likely to stop them from testifying against them. Human rights and social movement leaders have been kidnapped and tortured, and in some cases, brutally killed. Their bodies are dumped off at the side of a road, which is a strategy to terrorize the population.
There have also been 51 massacres in different parts of the country so far this year and often involve individuals dressed in police or military uniforms getting out of unmarked vehicles, open firing at groups of young people in public areas, and then fleeing the scene. The massacres and lack of investigations into why and who committed them, send a cold chill through communities and the entire population in Honduras. However, smaller groups of people still take to the streets to protest this corruption when demonstrations are organised.
Hondurans are well aware that Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) is scared and feeling insecure about his control over the Presidential Palace because he has been exposed as a co-conspirator in the drug case against his brother. They believe that while JOH remains in power, it is less likely that the US will ask for his extradition. Hondurans also understand that JOH is not only protecting his political power as President but also his and his brother’s drug cartel interests. Evidence brought forward in the NY trial reveals that their involvement in drug trafficking has converted them into one of the major suppliers of cocaine to the US through the infamous and now-imprisoned Mexican drug trafficker, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman and the large, Mexican-based Sinaloa cartel. As one cooperating witness said in the New York trial when asked why he was scared to testify against Tony Hernández, “All drug traffickers are dangerous and violent, but none [as much as] the brother of the President of a country that can control the military and the police.”

Edwin and I await an end to this fearful time. We are deeply grateful for the support we continue to receive from our community of Simcoe County that advocates for his freedom, the freedom of all political prisoners, and for human rights in Honduras. Thank you!

Karen Spring
Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Honduras Solidarity Network


Honduras descends further into a living hell

By Martin Mowforth

Followers of the monthly additions to The Violence of Development website will already be aware that the conditions of human life in Honduras are pretty much unliveable for the majority of the country’s population. Witness:

  • The epidemic of homicides over the last ten years.
  • The wave of migrant caravans setting off from Honduras for the United States over the last three years.
  • The growing local and national dominance of gangs and their threats and extortion of Hondurans trying to run their own businesses.
  • The corruption of the national government, seemingly run as a facilitator of organised crime.
  • The attitude of transnational corporations towards Honduran people, reflecting more the behaviour of crime syndicates than legitimate businesses.
  • The dispossession of the Garífuna, the Lenca and other Indigenous groups of their land and their resulting displacement.
  • The likelihood of threats and violence towards those who protest against these conditions.
  • The growing wave of poverty.
  • The growing wave of unemployment.
  • The growing wave of hunger and malnutrition.
  • The privatisations of previously public services.
  • The defunding of public services.
  • The regular annual increase in funding for the repressive Honduran security forces.
  • The extraction of national and natural resources by foreign companies.

Add to this list the passage of Hurricanes Eta and Iota in November and the Covid-19 pandemic, and nobody should be surprised that so many Hondurans seek to flee the country to anywhere they may find better and less violent opportunities. On 10th December [2020] a caravan of over 400 people left Honduras for the United States searching for a new life, but they were prevented from going further at the border with Guatemala. In mid-December it was reported that hundreds of Hondurans were planning to leave San Pedro Sula (the country’s second town) as another migrant caravan in mid-January. They will presumably already have considered the possibility of being stopped at the border and may well have considered alternative routes and means. In mid-January [2021] the formation of the caravan was reported to be 7,000 – 9,000 strong and to have passed through the Honduras–Guatemala border, but also to have been prevented from going any further and scattered[1] – as I write.

Telesur’s correspondent in Honduras, Gilda Silvestrucci, reported that the pandemic had given rise to a wave of violence in the country affecting the most impoverished and vulnerable areas and people. “In Honduras the economic crisis generated by the pandemic and the hurricanes will bring new migratory caravans in January 2021.”[2]

Miriam Miranda, a Garífuna land, environmental and human rights defender and Coordinator of OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras), described the situation thus: “We live in a country of eternal emergencies. We have no time for anything else. US and Canadian supported coups d’état. Pandemics. Hurricanes and tropical storms. Rapacious, murderous and corrupt governments backed by the US, Canada and transnational companies. We need to construct another society and State.”[3]

In amongst the bad news of state failure, violence, corruption and killings, mid-December brought welcome relief with the news of the arrival and assistance of a brigade of Cuban doctors to tend to the victims of Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Spokesman for the brigade, Dr Carlos Alberto León Martínez, explained that they were also prepared to tend to Covid-19 patients. The brigade was made up of 11 doctors, five graduates in nursing, five specialists in hygiene and epidemiology, an administrative director and three service workers.[4] Given the strong control of the Honduran government by the US and by organised crime, one might wonder why the government would allow a brigade from Cuba to enter the country; but Cuba began its medical cooperation with Honduras in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch struck the region. It has maintained that relationship with the Honduran medical establishment since that time and by 2019 more than 2,000 Cuban doctors had provided more than 29 million medical services and 800,000 major surgeries within Honduras.[5]

Apart from the 91 deaths and countless people left homeless by Hurricanes Eta and Iota, schools, public buildings, bridges and roads were also destroyed or damaged. Many floods and landslides occurred and over 70 communities were left without electricity.

On 22 December, the Central Bank of Honduras (BCH) and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL by its Spanish initials) estimated that the country’s losses due to the two hurricanes and the pandemic were standing at over $4 billion. The CEPAL report detailed the goods not produced, the services not rendered, the damages to infrastructure, buildings and production, and the cost of reconstruction. The loss and damage costs caused by the pandemic and the hurricanes were estimated at $2.3 billion and $1.9 billion respectively.[6] At the end of 2020, the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE by its Spanish initials) made $652 million available as bonds for the reconstruction of Honduras, and announced the availability of another $1 billion of bonds. Dante Mossi, the Executive President of the BCIE, was reported as saying that the support for the government “will not necessarily lead to sovereign indebtedness,”[7] but the support will be issued in bonds to the banks so that they have the necessary liquidity to enable them to make loans to companies and cooperatives. If that doesn’t lead to indebtedness for the government, it will certainly lead to indebtedness for the Hondurans who take loans from the banks.

Honduras has an appalling record of killing, jailing or legally preventing land, environment and human rights defenders from protesting against some form of economic activity that will displace them and the communities they represent. In September 2019, eight anti-mining protesters were sent to jail as preventive detention. They were detained for defending the headwaters of the Guapinol and San Pedro Rivers, on which their communities depend, from the threat of pollution by a mining project owned by the Honduran mining company Inversiones Los Pinares.

The eight are: Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, José Abelino Cedillo, Orbin Naún Hernández, Kelvin Alejandro Romero, Arnol Javier Aleman, Ewer Alexander Cedillo, and Daniel Márquez. They have spent 15 months in preventive detention and another Committee member, Jeremías Martínez Díaz, has been in the same situation for two years, since December 2018. These are the Guapinol Eight. Just before Christmas [2020], Judge Zoë Guifarro refused to free the men and refused to accept their legal team’s appeal. The decision was described as totally illegal. Edy Tábora, a member of the legal team, said that this “reaffirms the pact of impunity between the company, Inversiones Los Pinares, the Public Prosecutor and the judiciary.”[8] The owners of Inversiones Los Pinares are Lenir Pérez, previously linked with other mining-related abuses, and Ana Facussé, daughter of the late palm oil magnate Miguel Facussé whose economic activities have been linked with violence, assassinations and drug trafficking.

18th January [2021] marks 6 months since the forced disappearance of the Garífuna Five. The five are Alberth Sneider Centeno Thomas, a 27 year old community activist who has advocated for the Honduran government to compensate the Garífuna people for stolen land, Milton Joel Martínez Álvarez, Suami Aparicio Mejía Garcia, Junior Rafael Juárez Mejía and Gerardo Mizael Rochez Cálix.[9] All are members of the Fraternal Organisation of Black Hondurans (OFRANEH). All were abducted by armed men identified as agents of the Honduran Investigative Police Agency (DPI) and have not been seen or heard from since. OFRANEH has been demanding that the Honduran government comply with an Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) order to clearly demarcate their land and ensure their right to it.[10] Given this clear example of state terrorism, it never ceases to amaze that the governments of the United States, Canada and the UK continue to support the organised crime syndicate of President Juan Orlando Hernández which governs Honduras.

On 4th January [2021], former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who was deposed by a military coup in 2009 and is now coordinator of the LIBRE Party (Freedom and Refoundation Party), published a report on the social and economic conditions prevailing in the country. The report noted a 3 year period of sustained output decline, a very high level of indebtedness to foreign institutions, and a high level of corruption. The public debt increased from $3.2 billion in 2009 to $16 billion in 2020. The report warned that “This accelerated indebtedness, which is suffocating the economy …., cannot be sustained without falling into the vicious circle of further increasing debt to pay off debt.”[11]

All is not well in Honduras – an under-statement if ever there was one.

[1]  El Economista, 18 January 2021, ‘Guatemala disuelve con el uso de la fuerza a caravana migrante hondureña’, El Economista y EFE.

[2]  Gilda Silvestrucci, 18 December 2020, ‘New Caravans of Honduran Asylum-Seekers Expected as Crisis Continues’, Telesur.

[3]  Rights Action, December 2020, ‘The Normalcy of “Eternal Emergencies” in Guatemala and Honduras’, Rights Action December 2020 Newsletter.

[4]  Telesur, 16 December 2020, ‘Honduras: Cuba Sends Medical Brigade to Assist Eta, Iota Victims’.

[5]  Ibid.

[6]  El Economista, 22 December 2020, ‘Pandemia y huracanes dejan pérdidas a Honduras por $4,140 millones’, El Economista, taken from Agencia EFE.

[7]  El Economista, 10 December 2020, ‘BCIE anuncia $1,000 millones para la reconstrucción de Honduras’, El Economista, taken from Agencia EFE.

[8]  Jen Moore, 25 December 2020, ‘No Holiday for Honduran Anti-Mining Activists’, Counterpunch.

[9]  The Violence of Development website, 20 August 2020, ‘The Garífuna Five’, https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com/the-garifuna-five/

[10]  School of the Americas Watch, 18 January 2021, SOAW newsletter.

[11]  Telesur, 4 January 2021, ‘Ex-President Manuel Zelaya Decries Social Situation in Honduras’.

While Projecting a Friendly Face and an Extended Hand, the Biden Administration Has Continually Challenged the Initiatives of Honduras’ New Progressive Government and Ignored the Voice of the Honduran People

By  James Phillips, Covert Action Magazine, May 3, 2023

This article is rather longer than those usually included in the bi-monthly additions to The Violence of Development website, but we deem it to be not just an informative and valuable guide to the current situation of governance in Honduras, but also a helpful summary of the history behind this situation. We are grateful to James Phillips and to Covert Action Magazine for their permission to reproduce the article in our website.

James Phillips is a cultural and political anthropologist with 40 years as a student of Central America. He has authored numerous articles and book chapters, and his latest book (‘Extracting Honduras: Resource Exploitation, Displacement and Forced Migration’) was published by Lexington Books in 2022. He can be reached at: phillipsj@sou.edu

The original article in Covert Action Magazine can be found at: https://covertactionmagazine.com/2023/05/03/while-projecting-a-friendly-face-and-an-extended-hand-the-biden-administration-has-continually-challenged-the-initiatives-of-honduras-new-progressive-government-and-ignored-the-voice-of-the/

Key words: Xiomara Castro; Juan Orlando Hernández; coup d’état; Zones of Special Economic Development (ZEDEs); US intervention; corruption; violence; assassinations

Honduras President Xiomara Castro [Source: resistediverso.blogspot.com]

The dangers of a coup remain, given past policies

In November 2021, Hondurans resoundingly elected a new government, headed by President Xiomara Castro, that pledged to end official corruption, reduce violence, and move away from reliance upon a destructive, extractive economy controlled by foreign corporations.

Castro’s government committed to moving the country toward an economy that allowed people to work for themselves, their families, and their communities instead of toiling for others while falling ever deeper into poverty and dependency. That election seemed a remarkable break, especially from the previous 12 years. But various dilemmas have plagued the new government’s attempts at change.

Xiomara Castro at her inauguration. [Source: Photo courtesy of Lucy Edwards]

The former Honduran government of Juan Orlando Hernández, unwaveringly supported by the U.S., became a nationwide criminal enterprise that included gangs, drug traffickers and corrupt corporate interests—elements that continue today to foment daily violence and resistance within Honduras against any movement by the new government toward reform and renovation.

Sketch shows former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in court after being charged with narco-corruption. [Source: cnn.com]

And the Biden administration has continually challenged the initiatives of the new Castro government and ignored the voice of the Honduran people.

The U.S. maintains control under the guise of partnership and assistance, peppered with criticisms and veiled threats. Given these pressures, what are the prospects for the future of Honduras, and for U.S. policy and practice?


Elections and the Popular Will

To understand the importance of the election of Xiomara Castro, it is useful to compare it to the three previous Honduran elections. The 2009 election was held in the wake of a coup d’état and it was “won” by those who had perpetrated the coup. The voting took place as the military and the police violently repressed massive popular protests that continued for months after the coup.

In the presidential elections of 2013 and 2017, Juan Orlando Hernández—one of the chief proponents of the 2009 coup—claimed victory, despite widespread claims that his National Party (Partido Nacional, PN) had won through fraud.

Hernández was not legally eligible to run for re-election in 2017 (the Honduran Constitution prohibits a president from running for a second term), but the Supreme Court that he had stacked with his own judges allowed it, ignoring the Constitution.

After each of these elections, protests erupted and were brutally repressed by security forces with liberal use of tear gas, beatings, arrests and killings. These post-coup years of National Party rule, when Hernández retained the presidency and systematically concentrated the powers of the state under his control, were marked by extreme violence (with a murder rate and a femicide rate among the highest in the world), pervasive official corruption, criminality with impunity, and deepening poverty, both for the nation and for a majority of Hondurans.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department accepted the validity of these elections and continued to certify that the Honduran government was making progress in protecting human rights and democracy—a conclusion that could only be arrived at by systematically ignoring the loud protesting voices of Honduran human rights leaders and popular organisations.

Demonstrators carry a banner reading, “When tyranny is law, revolution is order. Damn the soldier who points his weapon at his people.” Tegucigalpa, Honduras, December 3, 2017. [Source: upsidedownworld.org]

As the 2021 elections approached, Hernández’s hand-picked successor and the National Party hoped to retain power by offering “bonuses” to groups of people, especially poor households in rural areas, who would promise to vote for the PN. The PN also kept trying to revise voting laws and procedures so as to control local election committees, and to exercise coercion where it might be effective.

To oppose Hernández and the PN, three opposition political parties joined to support Xiomara Castro for president, with a platform that pledged to eliminate official corruption and impunity, protect women and human rights, and transform the country’s heavy dependence on resource extraction and foreign investment that had reduced many Hondurans to poverty.

In November 2021, the Honduran people overwhelmingly elected Castro. The parties supporting her gained a fragile majority in the Congress and control of several major cities. In the year since Castro’s inauguration, her government has faced increasing resistance from Hondurans who fear major reform; increasing criticism and impatience from those who voted for her and now want to see real change; and constant pressure from the United States to abandon plans for meaningful change. For the new Honduran government, this is a time of hope and danger.


Achievements of the New Government

Despite the headwinds, the Castro government has managed in its first year to take important steps toward fulfilling the promise of a better future for the country. The new Congress has repealed some of the previous legislation that had enabled impunity, corruption and the curtailment of labour rights.

The government is engaged in negotiations with the United Nations to establish an independent body that can investigate and begin to prosecute corruption. The government has also intervened in at least a few prominent cases to seek satisfactory solutions where communities were being forcibly evicted by corporations or large landowners. It has helped to dismiss some cases brought against human rights and environmental defenders by supporters of the previous government.

The President and the Congress have established entities and endorsed educational efforts to address the high rates of femicide in the country, although the results so far have been meager. The Congress passed a law establishing important assistance for the 300,000 Hondurans internally displaced by unlawful eviction and gang violence. These (and more) are a few important steps that hold promise.

The Castro government also declared a 30-day “state of exception” that suspended some basic rights in various neighbourhoods in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in order to crack down on the widespread criminal extortion of poor communities, small and medium-sized businesses, and the transport sector. The Congress then extended this for several more weeks.

Many Hondurans applauded this, since extortion has affected so much of Honduran daily life. But the use of the police and the military to carry out the crackdown is controversial, given the allegedly deep involvement of the security forces in criminal enterprises and their many alleged and documented human rights abuses.

[Source: Confidencialhn.com]


The Dilemma of a Honduras “Open for Business”

At the core of the Castro programme is a transition from the foreign-dominated extractive political economy of the country—one that had in the past 12 years reduced Hondurans and their communities to dependents working to enrich others—to an economy that favoured the promotion of local initiative and greater national self-reliance.

The implications of such a transition are not only economic. They also signal a shift in identity and dignity for individuals, communities, and the nation itself. Clearly, such a transition would threaten the current situation in which Honduras is a colony, a source from which foreign corporate interests and a few wealthy Hondurans extract resources while leaving the Honduran people with a poverty level that currently stands at upwards of 73%, the second highest in the hemisphere. Corruption and state-sponsored or condoned violence are bitter fruits of this externally oriented colonial model. All of this is what the Xiomara Castro government has pledged to change, and what the Honduran people overwhelmingly voted to change.

Poverty remains ubiquitous in Honduras. [Source: globalgiving.org]

Conflict is brewing in Honduras between the Castro government and the promoters and investors of the “special development and employment zones” (zonas especiales de desarrollo y empleo, ZEDEs). The ZEDEs are essentially sovereign enclaves for foreign investment and enterprise that are carved out of Honduran territory.

There are currently several ZEDEs in Honduras, all in the early or initial stages of development. For many Hondurans, including members of the business elite, the ZEDES represent a threat to Honduran communities and businesses and a violation of national sovereignty. Castro’s government and the new Honduran Congress recently repealed the law of the previous government that had authorized the creation of ZEDES.

Blueprint for special economic zone. [Source: proceso.hn]

Developers of the Prospera ZEDE have charged breach of contract and have threatened a $10.75 billion lawsuit against the Honduran government unless the Congress reinstates legal permission for the ZEDEs. Additional pressure came from a letter by two U.S. Senators (a Democrat and a Republican) supporting the ZEDEs and criticizing the Castro government for obstructing free enterprise and “development” initiatives.

A Florida Congressman warned Honduras that it faces “serious sanctions” if it “illegally expropriates” U.S. investments in the Prospera ZEDE. U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Laura Dogu urged the government to keep the country open for business, by which she clearly meant business as usual, including the ZEDEs.

Laura Dogu [Source: processo.hn] Her remarks were taken as intrusive criticism, even a mildly veiled threat, and provoked a pointed response from Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina.

There are legal arguments to counter these threats, but the threats are significant, and they have generated further threats of legal action against the new government. Meanwhile, many Hondurans are demanding the repeal of the ZEDEs. The government feels pressure from outside and from its own people pulling in opposite directions.

From his prison cell in New York, Hernández himself issued an open letter to the people of Honduras. He and members of his close circle are in detention in the United States on charges of overseeing massive drug trafficking from Honduras to the U.S. during his presidency.

His open letter was a litany of his accomplishments for the Honduran people. The actual benefit of most of these “accomplishments” is questionable, but the letter painted a rosy picture of his presidency, ignoring the rise in violence, corruption and poverty under his rule. He also criticized the new government.

Why was Hernández allowed to write and publish this letter while he is in custody in the U.S.? It could only happen with the permission, perhaps even the blessing, of U.S. authorities. While the U.S. has offered friendly assistance and partnership to the Castro government, Hernández’s letter and its publication from a U.S. prison reinforces the idea that a largely unregulated extractive economy controlled by foreign interests must be maintained if Honduras is to prosper—a proposition clearly contradicted by the experience of the past 12 or more years.

Arrest of Juan Orlando Hernández. [Source: getindianews.com]

Significantly, Hernández’s letter to the Honduran people also seems to reinforce a basic policy assumption of the Biden administration’s initiatives for curbing emigration from Central America by supporting more foreign aid and investment in business as usual. It seems that the U.S. and other powerful interests continue to promote the same remedy that has sickened the patient.

Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence. [Source: jimbakkershow.com]

One might think that, if the United States were serious about curbing emigration from Honduras, it would embrace and support the efforts of the Castro government to make the transition to a political economy that actually enables Hondurans to work for themselves and their families instead of schooling them in dependence on foreign interests. Instead, the United States and the powerful foreign and Honduran interests that profit from the country’s colonial dependency are hard at work threatening, resisting and undermining almost every impulse and initiative for change from the new government or the Honduran people.


The Dilemma of Ongoing Violence

The Castro government has pledged to curb violence, but it faces the entrenched interests of powerful landowners, foreign corporations and politicians and activists of Hernández’s National Party, many who still control municipalities and regions of the country and have close ties to corrupt police and gangs. Police still engage in the eviction of poor communities at the behest of powerful and wealthy interests, and the criminalization of peasant and local community leaders who try to stop the theft of their land. It is proving difficult to combat a corrupt system that has had 12 years to grow. Violent incidents, threats, disappearances and assassinations continue.

Shortly after its inauguration in January 2022, the Castro government formed a Presidential Commission to investigate and respond to land conflict and violence against peasant communities and groups in the Aguán Valley. The conflicts arise in large part because of the often illegal and violent attempts of large landowners and corporations to take land from peasant communities and cooperatives.

The openness of the Castro government to assist peasant groups has generated new energy for these groups, but also a backlash from large landowners and corporations that takes the form of an increasing number of assassinations of peasant leaders and members of peasant organisations, according to the Honduran Centre for the Study of Democracy (CESPAD) and others.

Harassment and attacks against Indigenous and other rural communities over land and resource control continue in many parts of the country, including the north coast department of Atlantida, where powerful interests use hired gunmen (sicarios) to threaten members of local groups belonging to the National Confederation of Rural Workers (CNTC). There are too many incidents of this kind to detail here.

[Source: pbicanada.org]

Some Hondurans see the roots of such violence in the interests behind the current extractive economy and the failure, so far, of the government to control unregulated extractive industries. Joaquín Mejía, a prominent Honduran human rights lawyer, said the new government was partially responsible for the murders inasmuch as it had failed to suspend or cancel the illegal mining concessions granted by the former regime.

Joaquín Mejía [Source: wp.radioprogresohn.net]

Over the past decade Honduras suffered one of the highest rates of femicide in the world. Despite the Castro government’s pledge to address and reduce the killing of women and other gendered violence, such violence has continued and even increased in the past months.

Some remaining members of the National Party in Congress continue to use obstruction and accusation to stop most attempts to repeal laws and policies of the previous government that encouraged corruption and impunity. There is a more sinister threat in this, as well.

In October 2022, a National Party member of the Congress issued a call for Hondurans to put on their white shirts, a reference to 2009 when supporters of the coup d’état wore white shirts. This was a not-so-veiled call for a coup against the Castro government.

The nationwide network or system of interrelated actors and interests that rely on violence and intimidation to accomplish their goals is based on relationships of collusion among corrupt police, criminal gangs, drug traffickers, PN activists, powerful landowners and those with vested interests in extractive industries, and their security guards, a network of corruption described in a 2017 report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

This interrelated network of interests and dependencies allows the powerful and prominent to use hired assassins to do the actual dirty work. Political and human rights assassinations can be made to seem like common crimes. This interrelated network of interests has not substantially changed since it formed under the former post-coup governments.

Its underpinning was widespread impunity for the perpetrators. The Hernández government and the National Party in Congress revised the Honduran Criminal Code to weaken the punishments for actual criminal behaviour while expanding the categories of popular protest and resistance that were defined as criminal behaviour, essentially turning the criminal justice system on its head—codifying a system of rewarding the perpetrators and blaming the victims. The Castro government has been working to repeal such laws and is faced with the enormous and dangerous task of trying to dismantle this system of violence, corruption and impunity.

The ongoing violence cannot be understood simply as a series of random or unconnected incidents. This violence serves several purposes. It targets and eliminates individuals who in any way contest, contradict or hinder the workings of the network of corruption. Individuals targeted for assassination can include local community leaders who try to protect the land and resources of the community from extractive projects. Or investigative journalists uncovering corruption. Or local leaders and activists of the government’s Libre Party. Or human rights defenders. Or women and leaders and members of the LGBTQ community. Violence can also take the form of threats, illegal evictions, repression and criminalization of communities that stand in the way of lucrative projects.

Investigation of death of community activist. [Source: processo.hn]

Eliminating these individuals and communities weakens the Castro government’s ability to fulfill its promised agenda, inasmuch as it eliminates some of Castro’s natural allies. The campaign of violence weakens the new government by creating a sense of chaos, and a government powerless to provide protection and stability. Creating chaos and fear is calculated to destroy people’s hopes in the Castro government.


The Dilemma of Dependence on the Security Forces

Some of these recent incidents reflect another major dilemma for the Castro government: its dependence on the country’s security forces. This poses concerns because of the role the security forces have played in recent Honduran history. The corrupt and dictatorial Hernández government relied on the military and the police to enforce its will and to enable its corruption.

The security forces were implicated in aiding the cover-up of assassinations, the unlawful eviction of communities at the behest of powerful corporations and landowners, and the brutal repression of peaceful popular protests. But the Castro government must do something to reduce gang and drug-trafficking violence and to address some other seemingly intractable problems such as environmental degradation and illegal land seizures. Using the security forces to address these problems is a temptation in a context where solutions and relief are demanded and are needed quickly.

Honduran security forces have been implicated in their share of human rights crimes. This begs the question of how a progressive government should use them. [Source: ticotimes.net]

The Castro government pledged to disband the Military Police, reduce the power of the military, and clean up corruption in the National Police, but it has been hard for many Hondurans to see much progress toward these goals. The “state of exception” that the Castro government declared deploys the police and the military to enforce this.

But human rights leaders and others have expressed concern about the use of the security forces to combat extortion in certain cities since it provides the military and the police with yet another arena for increasing their hold over Honduran society and reflects the weakness of the government and civil society to deal with the problem. The Honduran military has in recent history staged coups against civilian governments it did not like.

After several decades of a rampant extractive economy—mining (including hundreds of broad mining concessions, some using open-pit mining with cyanide), as well as logging, plantation agriculture, tourism—Honduras faces serious environmental degradation. Mining and palm oil enterprises have also invaded legally protected ecological reserves such as the Carlos Escaleras National Park.

The San Pedro River, in the Carlos Escaleras National Park, was one of the many rivers under threat of devastation by open-pit mining. [Source: greenleft.org.au]

Local communities that have tried to defend their environment from extractive industries continue to suffer reprisals, as the now emblematic case of Guapinol illustrates. The Castro government plans to use the military to form “Green Brigades” to enforce environmental laws and reduce illegal land practices. The reliance on the military here is particularly concerning for many communities that have long endured the presence of the military as an occupying force in the service of the same powerful interests that are largely responsible for extractive destruction.

The close relationship of the Honduran military to the U.S. military has long been a source of concern about the very sensitive issue of sovereignty. The Castro government raised the hope that Honduras would be able to assert its independence in the face of strong pressures from the United States. This would be a major feat, given the history of U.S. influence over Honduran life. This concern over national sovereignty was exacerbated during the years of the Hernández government, and it continues unabated. Within this concern is the ongoing dilemma of how to reduce corruption and criminality in the security forces and change their entire ethos.

U.S. soldier pins lapel on Honduran trainee at the Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras. [Source: jtfb.southcom.mil]

Human rights leaders and many other Hondurans express serious concerns about the militarization of Honduran society. As if to heighten these concerns, the government’s proposed budget for 2023 includes an increase in funding for the security forces rather than the reduction that many expected. There is concern also that what is given to the security forces will be taken from important social services and other programs, just as it was under Hernández.

The critical response to Castro’s action can be seen clearly in this excerpt from a news report in CriterioHN, an important Honduran news outlet:

The promise to demilitarize security in Honduras remains a chimera, or at least this is evidenced by the actions of the government of President Xiomara Castro, who despite having promised to take the military off the streets, is doing the opposite by allocating them more resources compared to last year.


The Dilemma of Financing Change Without Selling the Country

All of this external and internal pressure is directed toward a Honduran government that is financially weak, dependent and vulnerable, and does not control the entire country. The past 12 years of post-coup governments, greatly increased the country’s debt (now estimated at close to 60% of the country’s GDP) while corrupt officials systematically pocketed huge amounts of state finances and starved basic social services.

The Castro government finds itself with a financial dilemma, needing money to pay the debt and to finance services such as public health and education that have been so neglected that they will require more money to restore and rebuild to adequate functioning. Sources of funding are problematic. With one of the poorest populations in the region, Honduras cannot rely heavily on taxes and fees from its own people.

Extractive industries bring in revenue, but many of these industries—mining, logging, export agriculture, tourism—also operate under contracts favourable to the investors and companies, contracts negotiated by the Hernández government, that enrich the extractors while returning little wealth to the country.

Mining actually provides only a small percentage of the country’s income, but it is protected by the powerful interests that benefit. Because Honduras has been so reliant on extractive industries, those who control them—both Honduran elite and foreign interests—wield an outsized influence in the country.

There are other sources of income for the Castro government. Foreign aid, loans and investment are available to the Honduran government. But since the government is known to be in need of money, it seems to be in no position to negotiate for favourable terms. The problem here is to distinguish what assists self-reliance and change from what reinforces dependency and “business as usual.”

The inherent danger with reliance on this area of finance is that government plans and programs are reshaped to suit the needs of the foreign sources of income, to put reform on hold in order to attract needed income. In addition, high levels of violence, corruption, and extortion in Honduras over the past decade have been a source of concern for some potential foreign investors. For those interests that want to cripple the Castro government, chaotic acts of violence serve the same purpose of discouraging investment.

Without the funds to service the debt and address basic social needs, there is a political price to be paid for deferring change indefinitely. It is the pressure from below, from the Honduran people who elected Castro and who need or expect her government to transform at least some of the worst conditions in basic services in the country. The urgency of this demand is becoming increasingly evident in the function of daily basic services such as public health and meeting needed raises to salaries for public workers such as nurses.

Hondurans at the polls on election day in 2021. [Source: Photo courtesy of Lucy Edwards]

The Dilemma of Emigration

In 2009, the year of the coup, approximately 1,000 Hondurans left the country seeking asylum. By the later years of the Hernández government (2015-2020), as many as three hundred people may have been leaving Honduras each day, a significant number out of the total population of Honduras (approximately 9.5 million). So far, this emigration flow has shown few signs of diminishing since the inauguration of the Castro government.

Hondurans in the United States during the past 12 years have been sending back remittances to Honduras that have totalled in excess of $4 billion a year, amounting to almost 20% of the country’s income.

This situation presents a dilemma for the Castro government. The flow of remittances that Hondurans in the United States have sent back to Honduras in recent years has been a substantial support for many Hondurans, relieving some of the economic pressure on some Honduran families. This is very real income for Honduras. When the Castro government was taking office early in 2022 and wondering how to finance both the country’s debt and meet its public social needs, remittances seemed like an important resource.

But this boost to the economy also comes with significant risks and costs. Remittances depend on several factors not under the control of the Honduran government, including fluctuations in the U.S. job market and attitudes and policies toward immigrants in the United States. The flow of remittances is thus unreliable over time.

The cost of this flow of people out of Honduras is evident. It represents a significant loss of youth, energy and creativity out of the country—a negative flow of social capital. This social capital is one of the major resources Honduras must have and retain if the promises of transition and reform under the new government are to become reality.

Such a large emigration also represents yet another sign of the dependency of Honduras on the United States as its benefactor. The large emigration to the U.S. allows the United States to use immigration policy and the image of migrants as a weapon to control and hold Honduran governments accountable. The fate of Honduran e/immigrants becomes a bargaining chip in the relationship between Honduras and the United States.

The Administration’s Call to Action initiative promises millions of dollars to Honduras and other Central American countries to promote investment, attract foreign corporations and create jobs, supposedly to create conditions for Hondurans to remain in Honduras. But to receive this aid, it is clear that the Castro government must agree to do nothing to seriously alter or challenge the current dominance of foreign corporations and “business as usual.” To some Hondurans and foreign observers, this seems like the same failed policy again—or worse, a form of extortion.

There is also the serious problem of immigrant child labour in the United States. As the number of children and teenagers immigrating to the U.S. from Honduras and other Central American countries has exploded in the last few years, individuals posing as “sponsors” have trafficked children and teens into dangerous and difficult jobs, violating U.S. child labour laws and keeping these immigrant youth in debt servitude, as a February 26 report in The New York Times reveals.

Many of these young people are under immense pressure to make money to send home and to pay back their “sponsors.” Many die through work-related accidents or illnesses. So far, U.S. authorities and agencies charged with the welfare of immigrant children do not seem to have been able to gain control of the situation. All of this raises questions about the real value of remittances coming from child labour. Cynics point out that child labour is common in Central America, but that is another of the realities that the Castro government must work to change.

Child labourers in Honduras. [Source: rebellion.org]


The Problematic Relationship with the United States

For 150 years, the United States has influenced and sought to control the economic and political life of Honduras. In the age of U.S. expansionism and empire building, Honduras became a colony.

U.S. mining, and then banana and fruit company interests that gained such control over Honduran political life in the early 20th century were followed by the strengthening of relationships between the militaries of the two countries beginning in the 1950s. Civilian governments have come and gone in both countries, but the military relationship and collaboration has remained. The U.S. turned Honduras into its chief vassal state in the region, and the base for projecting U.S. military power. So dominant was the U.S. presence in the 1980s that Honduras was called the “USS Honduras,” and one Honduran congressman said, “Everyone knows Honduras is run by the U.S. Embassy. Honduras is an occupied country…”

Honduran governments, controlled by a small political and economic elite, found it to their advantage to keep the country “open for business,” especially for U.S. and other foreign investment.

Honduran soldiers in the 1920s who were trained by the U.S. [Source: latinamericanmusings.wordpress.com]

The country alternated between periods of military rule and weak civilian government. Honduras was a nation with weak institutions and a powerful elite aligned with U.S. interests, despite the misgivings of many Hondurans about the loss of national sovereignty under the control of the U.S. Embassy.

Honduran soldiers operate a mortar for members of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division during a joint exercise, March 1988. [Source: revcom.us]

In the past decade, U.S. involvement in Honduran affairs has continued. Consider the response of the Obama administration to the coup in June 2009 that deposed Manuel Zelaya’s mildly reformist government. After a brief delay, the U.S. recognized the post-coup government in the interest of moving on and promoting “business as usual.” As the Hernández government became ever more mired in human rights abuses, corruption and violence, the State Department continued to certify that the country was making progress in democracy and human rights, ignoring the mountain of evidence to the contrary.

Obama shakes Manuel Zelaya’s hand at the Summit of the Americas not long before Obama backed a coup against him. [Source: latinamericanmusings.wordpress.com]

When Hernández finally left office last January, the U.S. requested his extradition on charges of drug trafficking. Many Hondurans breathed a sigh of relief, but they also saw this as another sign of the colonial-style relationship of their country to the United States. Some asked, “Why did we need the U.S. to indict Hernández? Why couldn’t our own institutions do it?”

Some Honduran human rights leaders argued that the U.S. indictment of Hernández, who was for so long a staunch U.S. ally, was an effort to clean an embarrassing image so that the exploitative reality could continue as usual with a cleaner, friendlier face.

The U.S. military presence in Honduras, the training of Honduran military in the U.S., and the joint military training exercises since the 1980s have been a part of the Honduran relationship to the U.S. for years and has expanded to include the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Currently, the U.S. is promoting more “security” agreements with the Castro government.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is constructing a massive new embassy in the heart of the Honduran capital. The current embassy complex is already large, and the new one raises questions about its actual purpose in a country with a population of fewer than ten million. What agencies, offices and military units might be housed in this new embassy? The workers building it have been on strike for several months, with complaints of working conditions and owed pay against the contractor hired by the U.S.

Blueprint of the new U.S. embassy compound in Tegucigalpa. [Source: ai-architect.com]

The United States is committed to the idea that it needs Honduras as one of its primary allies in the region, and one that is, conveniently, next door to Sandinista Nicaragua.

From the viewpoint of Washington, Honduras cannot be allowed to loosen its ties with the U.S. and move toward the sort of people-oriented political economy espoused by, for example, Nicaragua. This thinking—this fear—drives reaction to what the Castro government is trying to accomplish.


The Dilemma of Fractured Solidarity

Honduran human rights leaders have said repeatedly over the past decade that they welcome external solidarity, and that it can be of much help. But the pressures and dilemmas exerted on the Xiomara Castro government as it tries to move Honduras toward a more just and liveable society threaten to create yet another dilemma, one of fractured solidarity, both internal and external. Internal solidarity with the new government comes from the support of the Honduran people for the programmes of the new government and a stake in the general direction in which the government is leading the country.

While still strong, this support is strained by an increasing perception that the government cannot deliver on its promises, that it is internally divided, or worse, that it is making compromises with the very actors and forces of the old regime—police, military, big extractive and foreign businesses, the National Party, and the U.S Embassy. Internal solidarity can give way to disillusionment, passivity, emigration, or other reactions that further weaken the government’s support.

This situation also shapes external solidarity—the solidarity of groups and organisations in Europe, the United States, Canada and elsewhere. The image of a government that cannot seem to deliver the transformations it has promised; a country in turmoil, division, and violence; and a country whose government is forced to resort to drastic and seemingly repressive measures to “fast-track” some of its promises. All this can confuse and weaken the sense of solidarity from abroad.

What are people of good will outside of Honduras to think of what is happening in the country? A confusing and negative image is easily amplified by news media controlled or influenced by the forces (internal and external) that do not want change in Honduras. Perception and news media play critical roles in this shaping and fracturing of solidarity.

This sort of weaponization depends on: (1) portraying a distorted picture of friendly and legitimate criticism as a mass movement against the Castro government as a whole; (2) suggesting that the problems and “failures” of the Castro government are the result of its own policies rather than the entrenched legacy of the previous government aided by the U.S.; (3) erasing the historical context of U.S. control and interference in Honduran life; and (4) using terms such as human rights and democracy selectively to reshape and re-direct sentiments of support to serve the purposes of the U.S and other vested interests instead of the Honduran people.

By these means, solidarity can be weakened, diverted or invited to support narrow interests determined in Washington and foreign corporate board rooms without ever revealing these interests. Hondurans are wise to the ways that U.S. administrations and agencies and some of their own governments have tried to deceive, co-opt and suppress their aspirations. But the situation for Honduras at this moment raises concerns that both internal and external solidarity with the Castro government may become strained, if not endangered.


What Next?

The interrelated dilemmas facing the Castro government seem to present a “damned either way” situation. The bright light for Honduras is its people. They have a long history of organised, creative and peaceful resistance to the exploitation of their land and resources and the dangers to their national sovereignty. Honduras has very active and politically astute popular organisations and a strong and independent community of defenders of human rights, local communities and the environment. Their election of the new government was another powerful action to take back their country.

At this precarious moment, what constitutes real solidarity with the Honduran people? For U.S. citizens whose primary responsibility is the actions of their own government, recognizing and working to change the role of the U.S. government and corporations in perpetuating the status quo of “business as usual” would be a primary expression of solidarity since it would address one of the primary obstacles to change in Honduras. Re-thinking the failed strategy of more foreign investment and foreign aid for large-scale extractive development in Honduras would help considerably.

Finding ways for consumer action, legal action and legislation to hold U.S. corporations and investors accountable for their practices in Honduras is a related form of much needed solidarity with the Honduran people.

Working for major reforms in immigration policy could be another form of solidarity for U.S. citizens. In this, it is worthwhile to work toward ending mechanisms and excuses for mass deportations of Hondurans and others (excuses such as Title 42).

The United States government continues to talk of “partnership” with Honduras, but the relationship is intrinsically one of dominance. After more than 150 years of assumed superiority by successive U.S. administrations, it will be a difficult challenge to significantly change this official attitude to one of real partnership. The heart of solidarity with Honduras will require a significant change in attitude and practice. The human people-to-people connection that animates solidarity will be a great asset in this effort. What happens to Honduras will tell us much about the future of Honduras, Latin America and the United States.


Ferro-nickel and iron ore mines result in persecution and assassinations in Guatemala and Honduras

By Rita Drobner

January 2023 

In November 2022, the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) was invited to attend a roundtable meeting organised by Peace Brigades International (PBI) at which two rights defenders from Central America presented reports on the dangers that they face every day.  ENCA member Rita Drobner attended the meeting on behalf of the organisation and wrote this report for the ENCA newsletter. It is reproduced here with Rita’s permission.

It is hard for me to write this up: sitting ‘comfortably’ at a computer with a cup of tea; nobody is trying to take my life; I have not been threatened or arrested.

In contrast, these are daily hazards facing Community Journalist Carlos Choc Chub from Guatemala (second from right) and Environmental Rights Defender Reynaldo (Rey) Dominguez (on the right) from Honduras, pictured at a roundtable in London organised in November 2022 by Peace Brigades International (PBI). It has since been revealed that Reynaldo’s brother Aly was assassinated on 7th January 2023, along with Jairo Bonilla, as they both attempted to defend Honduras’s Guapinol River – read more details of the killings in Honduras in the article preceding this.

“These two young men were founders of the struggle to protect our natural resources from an illegal mine that is destroying rivers in the national park,” said Rey. “For five years we’ve been threatened, criminalised and falsely imprisoned, the only thing left was murder.”

PBI fears that the second visitor, Carlos, may also be in danger. He had to rush back to a court hearing on 24th November, where he feared that he could be jailed. He has not filed any reports since his return for “Prensa Comunitaria” the local Maya Q’eqchi’ news outlet.



“The right to inform and to be informed cannot be infringed. We are living through difficult times in my country, for investigating and reporting on environmental violations, corruption, and human rights violations. Despite this, I am convinced that being an indigenous journalist is not a crime,” wrote Carlos last year.

Carlos has faced threats to his life and the lives of his family. Homes in his community regularly get raided and at times he can’t stay at home. For Carlos this started in 2017 after photographing and reporting on violent repression by Guatemalan security forces of a demonstration during which an unarmed protester, Carlos Maaz, was killed. The protest was organised by local fishermen against the contamination of Lake Izabal, the largest freshwater lake in Guatemala, by the Fenix ferro-nickel mine.

The journalism network Forbidden Stories took up investigations into the Fenix mine after a warrant was issued for Carlos’ arrest and reported that the Guatemalan authorities lied about what happened to Maaz, as well as the environmental contamination caused by the mine.

Further criminal charges of “threats,” “incitement to commit crimes” and “illicit association” were brought against Carlos, calling him a green terrorist. A colleague of Carlos quit journalism, whilst Carlos increased collaborations through the journalistic projects of ‘Forbidden Stories’, ‘Mining Secrets’, and ‘Green Blood’, which resulted in coverage by international outlets such as Le Monde, El País, The Guardian and Toronto Star.

Following coverage of further protests, police agents claimed to have been physically attacked and filed charges against Carlos. During 2022, he was forced to stop reporting while fighting drawn out and regularly postponed criminal proceedings. In September 2022, he was declared innocent with the court having found no evidence substantiating the accusations. Despite this, a further court hearing was scheduled for two months later.


Carlos called on the UK government to raise his case with their Guatemalan counterparts and draw attention to the criminalisation against him and other journalists.

The US Treasury Department has since sanctioned the Solway Investment Group, whose subsidiaries operate the Fenix Mine, due to “multiple bribery schemes over several years involving politicians, judges, and government officials”. There were also concerns about Russian ownership of the Swiss-based Solway Investment Group.

The company’s website claims that the Fenix Project is a socially and environmentally responsible “fully integrated ferro-nickel production facility in eastern Guatemala first developed in 1960. In 2011 Solway Investment Group purchased 98.2% of the project from the Canadian company, HudBay Minerals, and gave a new start to the project.” The project has mining rights to 36.2 million tons of nickel ore reserves with 1.86% nickel, as well as the rights to an additional 70.0 million tons of resources. In 2014, the ProNiCo plant began operating, and is currently moving towards operating at its annual production capacity of over 20,000 tons of nickel.

Fenix Project, El Estor, Guatemala – Photo from ‘Forbidden Stories’


Potential expansion options include the construction of a high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) plant at the Fenix site to treat low-grade laterite reserves with nickel below the current cut-off grade of 1.6%. The website states that the facility’s two boilers have been upgraded to expand production and “increase the stability of the entire energy system, while at the same time reducing costs.”

However, the Maya community news agency, Prensa Comunitaria, reports that the previous boiler exploded, killing five workers. It also says the workforce fears for their health and safety, and the operation’s Russian leadership under Dmitry Kudryakov are not interested in accidents and welfare concerns.

The Toronto Star, quoting Prensa Comunitaria, records that fishermen complain about red slick in Lake Izabal being caused by the mining operations. Villagers observed red smoke emitted from the mine at night. Manuel Ramos Ochoa, a former employee, “At night, they remove the filters, when they are processing their products. They think that people don’t see it, and in the end, nobody says anything about it.”

A mine spokesperson denied their processing plant ever emitted red fumes, despite photographic evidence to the contrary. Extremely high concentrations of particulate air pollution are dismissed by Solway as “unrelated to the plant” and caused by” road dust, waste incineration in fields and wood used for cooking.”



ENCA has covered the Guapinol land and water defenders regularly over the years: the lows of arrests, disappearances and displacements as well as the highs when political prisoners were released, including freedom for the Guapinol Eight in March 2022 (ENCA 84). However, Rey explained at the Roundtable that the men’s names (the Guapinol Eight) have not been cleared and they have not received any official notification regarding their release.

Photo: Rey and Carlos with PBI representatives met with the All Parliamentary Human Rights Group (APPG), MPs and at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
They asked the UK to enact due diligence legislation that protects the environment and the individuals and communities who defend it.


Rey urged the UK government to take all necessary action to ensure that minerals extracted by companies that violate human and environmental rights don’t end up in UK markets. 

He told us: “I live in Guapinol, Honduras. Water is Life. Defending two rivers in my community against drying up and contamination is a fair and legitimate fight. Yet, I have been imprisoned for it and the 15 days in a high security facility have been particularly hard.”

Rey said that others, including solicitors, protestors’ families and whole communities, are at risk. Activists are not sleeping at home.

The new Honduran government of Xiomara Castro raised hopes a year ago when it announced: “The entire Honduran territory is declared free of open-pit mining (…) and will proceed to the review, suspension and cancellation of environmental licences, permits and concessions.” Castro promised to reinstate rule of law and to protect human rights and environmental defenders.

Environmentalists praised the government’s decision because, despite massive environmental damage, mining produces less than 1% of Honduras’s Gross Domestic Product and provides less than 0.1% of employment in Honduras.

However, the new government has not lived up to its promises. According to Rey, civil servants of the previous coup government are still in place and the new government fears a further coup. Business associates of the corrupt ex-president Juan Orlando Hernandez, now under arrest for drug trafficking, are well connected in the USA, in Panama and Europe.

Inversiones Los Pinares (previously Emco Mining) holds the controversial mining concession inside the Carlos Escaleras National Park. The concession has not been revoked, despite 34 water sources in the park being at risk of drying up and of contamination.

In 2018, the company began building an access road to the planned mine inside the park, which it will use to transport iron oxide to a pelletizing plant in the nearby city of Tocoa. The plant, which melts iron with carbon or coke to form compound pellets — part of the steelmaking process — is 99.6% owned by Inversiones Ecotek S.A.

Ecotek is associated with Nucor corporation, the biggest steel producer in the USA, which has built the new Palmerola Airport in Honduras and Munich Airport in Germany.

These powerful business interests have left a wake of people dead, injured and imprisoned. International solidarity is required to support the Municipal Committee for the defence of Common and Public Good (CMDBCP), the only organisation defending the environment in the Bajo Aguán region of northern Honduras.

Copying Bukele in El Salvador, Honduras declares its own ‘state of exception’

By Martin Mowforth

Because of the popularity of Nayib Bukele’s ‘state of exception’ in El Salvador, President Xiomara Castro has implemented a copy of the policy in Honduras.

El Salvador’s state of exception began in March 2022 when civil rights were suspended and the police and armed forces carried out mass sweeps and detentions of alleged gang members, most of whom were tattooed and young.  Estimates vary, but up to 70,000 people have been arbitrarily detained with their civil rights suspended. Despite the human rights implications, however, the move has proved popular with the public, many people have reported that they feel safer on the streets, and the rate of homicides has fallen considerably.

In Honduras, a massacre on the 6th March by heavily armed gangsters was the ninth massacre of the year and prompted President Castro to extend a state of exception that had already been established in half of the Honduran territory since December 2022. This was seen as the ‘Bukele effect’ or ‘Bukele model’, but has been a major cause for concern by human rights groups and civil society groups, as the following article by Meghan Krausch illustrates.

Quite apart from the suspension of civil rights and the right to due process for the detained, in El Salvador there have been several collateral effects of the policy. These include an increase in the rate of migration of gang members to other countries in the region, and a ‘mutation’ of the criminal structures involving moving their focus of attention from urban areas to rural areas.

Human rights groups also call attention to the need to attack the roots of the problem rather than the symptoms. They also note that the current progressive government of Honduras is spending a similar amount of public funds on the security forces as the previous narcotrafficking and gangster-ridden government of Juan Orlando Hernández rather than on education, health and the re-building of the public institutions which had degenerated into corruption and uselessness.













Honduran Activists Are Protesting ‘State of Emergency’ That Suspends Civil Rights

Activists say the measure implemented as part of a “war on extortion” actually amounts to a criminalization of poverty.

By Meghan KrauschTRUTHOUT

Published March 15, 2023

This article remains the same as the original which can be found at: https://truthout.org/articles/honduran-activists-are-protesting-state-of-emergency-that-suspends-civil-rights/

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

We are grateful to Meghan Krausch and Truthout for their permission to use Meghan’s article from 15 March this year specifically in The Violence of Development website.

Activists protest the state of exception with music and banners on January 14, 2023, in Parque Finlay, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Their banners read “the military police are femicidal and trans-hating” and “Violence is not battled by criminalizing poverty!” KARLA LARA

In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, a group of activists has been gathering regularly on Saturday mornings to oppose one of President Xiomara Castro’s popular new policies: a state of emergency that partially suspends several fundamental constitutional rights. The measure, also known as a state of exception, is meant to be a key part of Castro’s “war on extortion,” a major and systemic problem in Honduras. Anti-militarist activists, however, say that there can be no path forward with more militarization and that the state of exception amounts to the criminalization of poverty.

Like their abolitionist counterparts in the United States, these anti-militarist activists often find themselves attacked online when they invite people out to their activities. Commenters accuse them of supporting extortion or even of being gang members themselves. Criticising the new government carries the risk of being branded as right-wing, said one member of the group, Sofia (a pseudonym), who requested anonymity due to fears of retaliation from the police. The measures are popular, said Sofia, despite “what human rights are being trampled on,” because “people just want revenge.”

“And it’s understandable too,” she added. In Honduras as in the United States, violence is a popular response to violence.

Following in El Salvador’s Footsteps

In January 2022, Honduras elected a new president, Xiomara Castro. Castro, whose campaign was supported by many of the nation’s social movements, is the country’s first female president and first ever to be elected from a third party (LIBRE). Castro’s election signalled the end of the narco-dictatorship that was imposed after her husband, Mel Zelaya, was forcibly removed from office in 2009, and that came to be symbolized particularly by two-term President Juan Orlando Hernández.

The 12-year period after the 2009 coup was characterized by increased militarization, weakening of most if not all civil institutions, high levels of violence against activists, collusion with narcotraffickers at the highest levels of government and police, and the looting of public funds. Amid all of this, rates of violence have been extraordinarily high in Honduras and everyday people, especially those who live in areas controlled by powerful gangs or organised crime syndicates, have been profoundly affected.

Gang control of neighbourhoods sometimes extends to members telling all residents within a territory where they can and cannot work (not in places controlled by a rival gang) and controlling other behaviours of daily life. The penalty for disobedience is often high, and violent.

Among the effects of this level of gang control are the ‘taxes’ or ‘fees’ that must be paid regularly. According to a recent survey (extortion is almost never reported to the police), Hondurans pay around $737 million in U.S. currency in these fees annually. This type of extortion, extracted in particular from people who work in the transportation sector like taxi drivers, is the major stated target of the state of exception.

Castro originally imposed the measure for 30 days, beginning on December 6, 2022, in over 200 neighbourhoods in Honduras’s two largest cities. The state of exception has since been approved by the Honduran Congress and extended twice (the current one expires on April 20), and now includes 17 out of 18 departments of the country.

Under the order, six articles of the Honduran constitution are suspended, related to the freedom of movement, the right to free association and assembly, and the sanctity of the home. Security forces are also able to make arrests without warrants or normal judicial processes of probable cause, people can be detained for longer periods of time, and their homes can be broken into and searched by the police without the same judicial checks. Just under 20,000 officers from multiple agencies, including the Military Police (PMOP) created by the previous regime, have been dedicated to this effort.

Independent Honduran media outlet Contra Corriente highlighted that the state of exception will sharply increase detention rates at a moment when the prison system in Honduras is already caging almost twice as many people as it was built to hold.

The idea for the state of exception undoubtedly comes from neighbouring El Salvador, where a similar programme implemented by President Nayib Bukele has been renewed for just under a year, and the facts are concerning. Evidence suggests that everyday life in El Salvador has noticeably, even dramatically, improved, with residents marvelling at the ways they can now circulate freely in public unimpeded by violence, but these improvements come at a high cost. So far in El Salvador, 64,000 people have been imprisoned, according to governmental figures, over 2 percent of the country’s entire population, and a new ‘mega prison’ has been constructed to contain the massive incarcerated population.

report from Human Rights Watch states that at least 90 people have died in custody in El Salvador during the state of emergency but the government has not investigated any of these deaths, and cases of abuse and arrests of innocent people abound. Public defenders say that in the current political and juridical environment, it is nearly impossible to win anyone’s release, no matter their case or circumstances.

The Salvadoran model is as popular in Honduras as it is in El Salvador. “It’s normal for people to feel calm when they can leave their colonia because the state of exception has swept people up, but what has been kept under the rug? What isn’t visible is that innocent people have been detained, and some of them haven’t come out alive,” legislator Claudia Ortiz told independent outlet El Faro, of the changes in El Salvador. “It’s shocking to know that your or my tranquillity was achieved at an unacceptable price.”

A banner that says “the police don’t take care of you, they rob, rape, and kill you” dries during an anti-militarist protest on December 10, 2022, in Plaza La Merced, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. KARLA LARA


Challenging the Normalisation of Violence

Since the beginning of the state of exception in Honduras in December, a self-convened group of anti-militarists has been regularly organising sit-ins in neighbourhoods that are included in the order. Their purpose, said Sofía, is “to make visible the classist nature of the state of exception.” Her comrade, Suli Argentina, said they also use these spaces to share the testimonies of all the ways people have been affected by militarization, so that people can see that while extortion hurts the community, militarization causes a lot of harm as well.

The neighbourhoods covered by the state of exception suffer from extremely high rates of poverty and unemployment.

These events have taken different forms, but all have been in a public space like a plaza or a park where people in the community gather or where the group can be easily seen. Many have involved collective art activities. At the first event on December 10, 2022, they worked with community members to make banners that have since been hung at later sit-ins.

A seemingly simple activity like making a banner together can involve a dialogue about militarism and patriarchy, said feminist folk singer/songwriter Karla Lara. For example, the group made one banner in honour of Keyla Martínez, a nursing student who was murdered in police custody in February 2021 after being detained for violation of a COVID curfew.

As the group was working on the banner, they were trying to decide what colours to paint it. Lara recalled that one person suggested the banner should be painted pink. Other participants engaged in a dialogue, asking why they thought pink would be effective at humiliating the police, eventually getting to the point that pink only “humiliates” because it is associated with femininity. In other words, using pink to humiliate is at its heart a misogynist idea.

Other events have included musical performances and workshops by groups such as Batucada AntiCistemica (a trans-affirming drumming group with a pun on “cisgender” in its name). Another time the group set up in a central plaza with less foot traffic but lots of cars passing by and hung the banners so that they could be seen by more people.

Overwhelmingly, the activists said, the point is to create a space in the neighbourhoods to question militarism as the solution to the problems that people are experiencing. At the same time, said Sofia, a lot of caution is exercised in how the events are designed, because of the sensitivity of the issues and the risk of being seen as taking sides with the right wing. “We try to do playful activities,” she said, “so that they don’t provoke any violence either.”

Argentina says that she hopes the group can help people see “why militarization doesn’t necessarily resolve the problem at the roots, so that people will begin to understand that we are not against measures that will guarantee the safety of the population, but rather want measures taken that really eradicate the problem of this violence at its roots.”

Anti-militarist activists paint a banner that says “those in uniform kill” on December 10, 2022, in Plaza La Merced, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. KARLA LARA


Ending Violence Will Require Bigger Quality-of-Life Changes for All

The neighbourhoods covered by the state of exception suffer from extremely high rates of poverty and unemployment. The people in them are being offered security forces — not health care, not plentiful healthy food, not art and not school. Not only has the size of the military increased throughout the years of dictatorship, said Sofía, but the security budget this year also increased under the new government, to the detriment of other public services.

Abolitionists have often grappled with calls for more policing from members of targeted communities. In their book No More Police, abolitionist organisers Andrea Ritchie and Mariame Kaba write that they understand these calls as “responses to what is perceived as a threat to take away the only resource offered by the state to respond to a multitude of problems.” Instead, they argue, abolition is about offering communities as many resources as possible, rather than the one-size-fits-all violence of policing. Policing is the only resource offered by the state to the danger these communities experience in a context of organised abandonment — danger that is created and sustained by the larger inequitable and unjust structures.

The state of exception itself is “only focused on the poorest neighbourhoods … where the lack of resources is part of daily reality,” said Argentina.

Argentina and others in the group of anti-militarist activists strongly emphasize the racist and classist nature of the state of exception. They say that focusing only on these historically marginalised neighbourhoods is classist, as the state of exception does not affect everyone equally, and they emphasize that extortion is also not limited to these neighbourhoods. Furthermore, said Lara, limiting the measure to these neighbourhoods “puts out the idea that poverty is criminal by implying that extortion is rooted in these neighbourhoods.”

By suspending requirements for any judicial orders or other due process before stopping, searching or arresting people, the only criteria police need to use is who looks “suspicious” to them. “It’s pure prejudice,” said Sofía. But the arrest of poor and working-class young men, the activists said, will also stigmatize poverty as their arrests lead to the circular presumption of their guilt.

[The] years of corruption, organised abandonment and the disintegration of most institutions are an important part of the story of root causes of the violence on Honduran streets.

Honduran authorities claim there have been no human rights complaints during the state of exception. Activists interviewed by Truthout confirmed that they were personally aware of police abuses, including detention of innocent people, stemming from the decree. One person told a story of someone who had been picked up by the police and dropped off in a strange neighbourhood while being threatened by them, instead of taken to a police station.

The people Truthout spoke with were not surprised at the lack of official complaints. It is unreasonable, Sofía said, to expect that people would go to the same police who have targeted them to lodge a formal complaint of police abuse, particularly within the strong culture of mistrust of the police stemming from the dictatorship and before.

These activists also said they fear retaliation for their organising work against the state of exception. While they have not faced any physical attacks from the police at this time, members of the group are well aware that when they criticise militarism in Honduras, they are provoking the same powerful institutions that retain unchecked power to commit abuses.

The state of exception has not fundamentally changed the structure of violence, extortion and narcotraffic in Honduras, according to these activists, in part because the police and military are themselves a significant part of this structure. In Lara’s view, “The abusive culture of the police is the same as always. As much as they say these are the police of the socialist government, that there’s been a purge, that the leadership has changed, the police are as violent as ever. I would say even more so. Because the state of exception gives them total impunity.” Besides, she adds, everyone knows who really controls the drugs in the neighbourhood: the police.

Former President Juan Orlando Hernández is currently facing trial in the United States on charges of using his office to facilitate the traffic of over 500 tons of cocaine. It is a matter of public record that his government was deeply entangled with narcotrafficking, and it has been established, partially through his brother’s conviction, that he used millions of dollars from the country’s now-ailing health system to fund his re-election campaign, itself only possible as a result of a judicial coup he headed. These years of corruption, organised abandonment and the disintegration of most institutions are an important part of the story of root causes of the violence on Honduran streets.

Although the state of emergency is popular, this group of anti-militarist activists are not the only ones opposing it. The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH, for its acronym in Spanish), the organisation founded by martyred environmentalist Berta Cáceres, has also come out in opposition. Their statement emphasizes that the roots of the structural violence Hondurans face are not to be found in the precarious neighbourhoods listed in the state of exception but in financial institutions, among other elite actors, and among the security forces.

There may be no better evidence of the fact that the underlying structure of violence in Honduras remains unchecked by the state of exception — “that militarization doesn’t work to improve the conditions of people’s lives,” as Argentina said — than the wave of assassinations against land and human rights defenders that has taken place during the period of emergency. Since the end of December 2022, at least eight people involved in social movements have been murdered. In addition, three Afro-Indigenous Garífuna women were murdered in January in Puerto Cortés, a zone that is under the state of exception.

Hondurans, like people in the U.S. and many around the world, are being sold a specific type of safety. This safety can be bought quickly by putting thousands more police and military on the streets, but it necessitates increasing rather than decreasing the overall level of violence, as long as the definition of violence includes police abuse, raids and incarceration.

Kaba and Ritchie wrote that abolitionists need to “confront the stories we are told about policing and safety that fail to add up,” including the way “police colonize our imaginations.” Lara mentions, too, that “we learn in TV series that police are important. We see on ‘Chicago Fire’ that on top of that they are good looking.” This has to change, she said. But the work of creating alternatives to policing is slow and not as easy to explain.

Militarized, violent solutions to ‘crime’ are sold to people constantly, through increased police and security forces on the street, through television shows and through the discourses of politicians. Rarely are the complex, local, multifaceted, system-changing alternatives portrayed.

“The ugly part [of this militarization] is that people believe it’s good that they do it, that they have succeeded in getting that into people’s heads,” Lara said.

That is why it is so critical, these activists say, to create this public space to question militarization. “As part of the sexually diverse community and as a woman, I personally understand very clearly, I don’t trust the police.” Echoing a popular movement slogan, she added that the police “no nos cuida, nos asesina” — “The police don’t care for me or my community, but kill us.”

Nevertheless, Argentina said, “We are going to keep fighting for a bet on life.”


Meghan Krausch, Ph.D., is a public sociologist, activist and writer in the Detroit metro area. Her writing has been published in In These TimesThe Progressive and Inside Higher Ed. Meg tweets @drmegkrausch.

In Honduras, the killings continue

Compiled by Martin Mowforth

On 7 January this year, two environmental defenders, Aly Dominguez and Jairo Bonilla, were shot dead in broad daylight. Both men were co-founders of the Guapinol resistance group to an iron ore mine owned by one of the country’s most powerful couples, Lenir Pérez and Ana Facussé. For nearly a decade, the Guapinol environmental defenders have denounced the contamination caused by the mining megaproject  and the crimes that have been committed against the defenders in the Carlos Escaleras Botaderos Mountain National Park. The case of the Guapinol defenders was featured on the front cover of ENCA 84 in March 2022. They were released last year after 2½ years of illegal detention, but now they are suffering a new wave of persecution by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Tocoa.

On 15 January, three Garífuna women were assassinated on the Travesía beach near Puerto Cortés. According to the National Human Rights Commission of Honduras (CONADEH by its Spanish initials), “the three women were sat on the beach close to the sea when heavily armed men approached them and shot them with issuing a word.” These three assassinations brought the total number of women assassinated within the Honduran territory to 17 women in 2023.

A total of 300 women were assassinated in Honduras during 2022. Also in 2022, official figures registered 35.8 homicides per 100,000 population. That was the highest rate in Central America, despite the fact that it had fallen from 41.2 per 100,000 in 2021.

On 25 January, human rights defender Abelino Sánchez, regional secretary of the National Union of Rural Workers (CNTC) and president of a peasant cooperative in the department of Cortés, was seriously injured after being shot twice by two men who came to his house at 7 pm. He had recently received death threats related to a land conflict. The CNTC has frequently been involved in land conflicts with large landowners during which many rural workers have been detained, criminalized, tortured and subjected to violence and intimidation by private security forces and by police. Report of the attack reached us from COFADEH, the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras.

On 12 February, Karen Spring of Honduras Now reported on her @HondurasNow twitter feed:
“Another campesino leader and his son have been killed in the Aguan Valley. According to Diario Colón, Hipólito Rivas and his 15-year old son were murdered in the community of Ilanga. Rivas was part of the Gregorio Chavez campesino cooperative from the La Panama. #Honduras.”

In November 2021, Jared Olson in the Intercept (https://theintercept.com/2021/11/06/honduras-paramilitaries-land-rights/) explained that in Honduras land battles, paramilitaries infiltrate local groups and then kill their leaders, usually at the behest of a giant transnational corporation such as the Dinant group and its huge palm oil plantations. Amongst other issues addressed in Jared’s The Intercept report, is the role of the U.S. government and military training Honduran “special forces” in the region; and links between these “special forces” and para-military groups and Dinant private security guards. The Intercept reports also on the central role of the World Bank as a major investor in and defender of its business partner, the Dinant Corporation.


  • https://mailchi.mp/rightsaction/relentless-killings-in-bajo-aguan-honduras
  • https://theintercept.com/2021/11/06/honduras-paramilitaries-land-rights/
  • Rights Action, 14 February 2023, ‘Relentless killings in Bajo Aguán, Honduras, related to African Palm production and global food supply chains: Hipólito Rivas and 15 year old son murdered’.
  • Comité Municipal de Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos de Tocoa, 7 January 2023, ‘Alert: Human Rights Defenders Murdered in Guapinol’.
  • Nina Lakhani, 11 January 2023, ‘Honduran environmental defenders shot dead in broad daylight’, The Guardian, London.
  • Karen Spring: https://www.hondurasnow.org/
  • Manuel Bermúdez,16 January 2023, ‘Asesinadas tres mujeres garífunas en Honduras, denuncia CONADEH’, Semanario Universidad, San José.
  • Jenny Atlee / COFADEH, 28 January 2023, ‘Criminal attack on land defender’, COFADEH, Tegucigalpa.
  • Dina Meza, 14 February 2023, ‘Caso ARCAH: Por qué quisieron secuestrar a Misael’, Pasos de Animal Grande, Tegucigalpa.





Embajador argentino: “madres de esta plaza, el pueblo las abraza”

Por defensores – 24 octubre, 2022

COFADEH (Comité de Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos en Honduras) y su fundadora, Berta Oliva de Nativi ya han figurado en otras páginas del sitio web The Violence of Development. Martin Mowforth entrevistó a Berta específicamente para el sitio web en 2010 y 2016. Se encuentran las dos entrevistas a: https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com/berta-oliva-2/ y https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com/berta-oliva/

Le estamos muy agradecido a COFADEH por el permiso para incluir este artículo en nuestro sitio web.


Tegucigalpa.- Este  día en los  bajos del Congreso Nacional se realizó la celebración del Día Nacional de Derechos Humanos, donde la Secretaría de Estado en el Despacho de Derechos Humanos en un acto público dio a conocer diferentes actividades, entre ellas la entrega del borrador del Programa de Memoria, Verdad, Reparación, Justicia y No Repetición para la Reconciliación y Refundación de Honduras a representantes de organizaciones de derechos humanos y al Poder Legislativo.

Así mismo se hizo la solicitud a la Alcaldía Municipal del Distrito Central (AMDC) sobre el cambio de nombre a la Plaza la Meced en el centro de Tegucigalpa y colocarle el nombre de Plaza los Desaparecidos, como parte del rescate a la memoria, ya que a esta plaza por más de cuarenta años acuden cada primer viernes de cada mes madres, hijos, nietos y esposas a exigir verdad y justicia y preguntarle a los perpetradores dónde están los detenidos desaparecidos en Honduras.

También se anunció públicamente sobre el Programa de Memoria, Verdad, Reparación, Justicia y no repetición para La Reconciliación de Honduras, por parte de la SEDH, como parte de las acciones contenidas en la sentencia Herminio Deras versus Honduras.

Entre los representantes que se encontraban en la mesa principal están Luis Rolando Redondo, presidente del Congreso Nacional (CN), el presidente de la Comisión de Justicia y DDHH, Jari Dixon; la Secretaria de DDHH, Natalie Roque; el Procurador General, Manuel Díaz Galeas, el embajador de Argentina en Honduras, Pablo Vilas, y la coordinadora general del COFADEH, Berta Oliva.

“Estar acá como testigos de honor de este Día Nacional por los derechos humanos en Honduras, es muy un conmovedor. Yo quiero decirles madres de esta plaza, el pueblo las abraza. Así empieza nuestra lucha en Argentina de la democracia, el año que viene estaremos cumpliendo 40 años de haber recuperado esa democracia que fue interrumpida en 1976”, señaló el embajador de Argentina en Honduras, Pablo Vilas.

Agregó que “hace dos días, el 22 de octubre, conmemoramos en Argentina el día del derecho a la identidad, por esto que decía también la ministra. En el 2014 el Gobierno de Néstor Kirchner se promulgó la ley que reforzaban y acompañaba la noche de nuestras abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, que 45 años atrás iniciaron la búsqueda de sus familiares”.

“Y seguimos buscando a nuestros hermanos y nuestras hermanas, a nuestros tíos y a nuestros padres, por eso también otra de nuestras consignas es detenidos desaparecidos presentes ahora y siempre. Por qué estamos aquí, porque la memoria es activa, la memoria no es un papel, la memoria se lucha y se mantiene”.

Añadió que hemos venido a representar al gobierno de la Argentina en esta etapa de refundación hondureña, porque fue aquí donde se trabajó el ensayo del Plan Cóndor para la región centroamericana.

Además, señaló que fue en Honduras donde persiguieron a hombres y mujeres argentinos y de toda América, “por eso también estamos aquí hoy presentes, porque ponemos el cuerpo, porque ponemos las palabras y las acciones a disposición de la lucha que ustedes están dando”.

El embajador hizo referencia a la lucha que ha emprendido el COFADEH y su coordinadora general, la lucha de las madres hondureñas y las madres de Plaza de Mayo, y expresó que son un ejemplo para las futuras generaciones .

“Querida Berta, la lucha de nuestras madres, la lucha de nuestras abuelas está asegurada en esta nueva generación de jóvenes, hombres y mujeres comprometidos con el presente, el pasado y el futuro de nuestra América. Seguimos teniéndolas de guía, nuestras abuelas de Plaza de Mayo. Todos los jueves siguen dando la ronda en de la pirámide de Plaza de Mayo, las pocas que nos quedan. Con ellas en sillas de ruedas, con bastones, pero son el ejemplo de la lucha, de que por una gripe no vamos a faltar a nuestras tareas. Que por una pandemia no nos van a hacer retroceder de las calles. Su legado es presente y será futuro”.