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.

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.













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.

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.


Honduran government faces US and corporate backlash

Readers of The Violence of Development updates must by now be used to the acronyms ICSID and ISDS after many years of following the case of Pacific Rim / Oceana Gold and the struggle against metal mining in El Salvador. For those who aren’t familiar with the sets of initials, they stand for:

ICSID: International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes – this is a branch of the World Bank, established to adjudicate between companies and governments when commercial and financial disputes arise between them.

ISDS: Investor-State Dispute Settlement.


After the change of government in Honduras from one that was run by organised crime and which invited transnational corporations to rape and exploit its natural and human resources to one that is relatively progressive in its attempts to make ‘development’ benefit Honduran communities, it was entirely predictable that the new government would soon find itself facing ISDS judgements from the ICSID.

In a NACLA Report, Karen Spring of the Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) has written an account, titled as above, detailing and explaining what such settlement hearings and judgements mean for the now not-so-new Honduran government of Xiomara Castro. We are grateful to Karen for her permission to reproduce her account here in The Violence of Development website. The original article can be found at: https://www.hondurasnow.org/article-published-in-nacla-winter-2023/


By Karen Spring

As President Xiomara Castro’s administration works to mitigate the fallout of the post-coup years, transnational companies are lining up to sue the state for lost profits.

Seven men, all dressed in suits, gathered at an undisclosed location in Honduras, sitting around a table covered in a white tablecloth and decorated with small glass vases holding yellow flowers. At the head of the table sat Roy Perrin, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, and to his right sat investor Erick Brimen, the CEO of a project known as ZEDE Próspera. A social media post about the meeting on X from the U.S. Embassy referenced the “investment climate” and “legal guarantees” for investors.

In reality, the men were meeting to discuss one of the most controversial projects advanced in Honduras under previous administrations, including those headed by former president and accused drug trafficker Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH).

The meeting took place on September 29, 2022, just 13 days after three U.S. companies involved in ZEDE Próspera notified the Honduran government that they would seek international arbitration under the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).


‘International arbitration’ before a World Bank controlled Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)

A few months later, in December 2022, the three companies filed a $10.8 billion case against the Honduran state. Like other trade agreements, CAFTA-DR allows investors to sue states for monetary damages stemming from government decisions that could negatively affect corporate investments. The arbitration suit is based on claims that President Xiomara Castro’s decision to overturn the laws that gave birth to the Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDEs) allegedly threatened or eliminated ZEDE Próspera’s ability to return a profit.

And while ZEDE Próspera’s visit to the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa would not per se impact the arbitration suit, the ZEDE investors were looking for ways to bolster their case and credibility. Given the U.S. Embassy’s powerful influence in Honduras and its growing critique of Castro’s policies in the name of defending the pro-business status quo, the Embassy was one of the most strategic places for them to seek support.


Minor Reforms and Increasing Opposition

After more than a year and a half in office, Castro, the first woman president of Honduras, is confronting an increasingly well-organised national and foreign challenge to her government’s power and political platform.

In the first year of her administration, the U.S. Embassy vocally showed its disapproval for initiatives that sought to undo the worst excesses of the governments that ruled the country following the 2009 coup.

As opposition grows, the government has been weakened and undermined by what President Castro has called “the eternal enemies of democracy and a few rotten allies.” Although Castro has made no specific reference to the role of the U.S. Embassy in these efforts, inside Honduras there is little doubt that Washington supports opponents of the democratically elected government and continues to help fund elements of the growing national opposition.

For instance, USAID has maintained support to the tune of $1 million per year for the vocal public-private National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA), which Castro’s government has called “an accomplice that remained silent” in the face of corruption during the post-coup years.

Despite the U.S. government’s stated commitment to addressing the root causes of migration, on the ground in Honduras its policies continue to oppose even the smallest reforms that threaten the economic interests of foreign companies and wealthy individuals.

In 2022, Washington publicly criticized President Castro’s new Energy Law, formally called the Special Law to Guarantee Electricity as a Common Good for National Security and as an Economic and Social Human Right. The U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Laura Dogu, and the U.S. State Department claimed that the law creates uncertainty by impacting foreign investment and eliminates private trade in energy.

According to Grahame Russell, director of the U.S.- and Canada-based human rights organisation Rights Action, U.S. opposition to the Castro administration is similar to that faced by other progressive governments in Latin America. “All governments, including Castro’s, make mistakes,” he said. “But no one can doubt the little wiggle room that the Castro administration and their proposed policies have before the wealthy elite and their allies, the U.S. and Canadian governments, try to stop and undermine them.”

While the United States worries about how the Energy Law affects investment, the Honduran government argues that the legislation is beneficial for Honduras’s poor majority. The law, which entered into force in May 2022, seeks to renegotiate energy generation contracts, expecting to save the Honduran state an estimated $23.5 million while providing energy subsidies to approximately 1 million Honduran households.

The renegotiation of contracts is much-needed— the state currently pays an exorbitant price per kilowatt to private energy generation companies. Most contracts were granted and signed when accused drug trafficker Juan Orlando Hernandez (“JOH”) was in office as president or head of the National Congress. Extensive corruption and illegal procedures surround at least a dozen of these contracts, according to Honduran organisations like COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras) and the Centre for Studies for Democracy (CESPAD).

Importantly, some of the major problems associated with the projects include human rights abuses and the companies’ failure to consult local communities affected by dam and solar energy initiatives. In short, the contracts have unloaded the increased cost of energy on poor Honduran consumers.


Corporate Collusion with a Narco-Mafia State 

After the investors behind ZEDE Próspera presented their $10.8 billion case (almost two-thirds of Honduras’s annual budget), several other foreign companies followed suit. As of early October 2023, eight other companies had submitted claims against the state of Honduras. That number does not include threats from others to present claims in the future or the few cases that had been filed against Honduras prior to Castro’s inauguration.

The impact of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms sends a strong and chilling message. In the case of Honduras, between the United States’ strong messaging about President Castro’s policies impacting the “investment climate,” and a slew of ISDS claims filed against the state, the message is clear. If the government makes changes to the pro-business, narco-dictatorship’s policies, the global political and economic structures will seek compensation, working with all the tools at their disposal to limit the administration’s ability to make reforms.


From ‘odious debts’ to ‘odious investments’

In other words, by undoing odious investments—to borrow the term ‘odious loans’ from the debt justice movement—political leaders will be subject to political backlash, international shaming, and large fines. Alternatives will not be permitted.

According to Jen Moore, associate fellow with the Global Economy Program at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), ISDS are neocolonial and extractivist at their core, and undermine national sovereignty of both governments and peoples’ local struggles.

“[ISDS cases] are part of the architecture of impunity with which transnational corporations, mostly from the Global North, seek to profit wildly and maintain their control over the natural commons and the economy, especially in the Global South,” she said.

The mere threat of having to make a million- or billion-dollar payout to law firms or corporations is just one component. The cases are a significant impediment for territorial defence struggles and the sort of changes that Hondurans envision for the future of their communities and country, added Moore.

As of early October 2023, the pending ISDS claims against Honduras are related to real estate, energy generation projects, highway and airport construction, finance, and last but certainly not least, ZEDEs. Although information surrounding all cases—as listed on the World Bank Group’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)—is limited, at least seven of the nine cases presented in the last year are linked to corruption claims and/or serious social and human rights conflicts in various parts of the country.

One such case involves solar energy projects based in southern Honduras. Three Norwegian entities—Scatec, a renewable energy company; Nor-fund, a state-owned development finance fund; and its partner KLP Norfund Investments, the largest pension fund in Norway—filed two separate ISDS claims against Honduras in 2023. The cases likely were presented after a failed attempt to renegotiate the energy contract under the new Energy Law. The three actors are involved in large solar energy projects in southern Honduras that have been linked to drug trafficking, murder, and criminalization of local land defenders.

One such solar project, Los Prados, has faced opposition since 2016. Since then, nearby communities arguing that they were not adequately consulted and that the solar farms affect their water and food supply have met criminalization. In April 2019, eight community leaders who were summoned by police as witnesses were arrested and accused of duress and damages (they were later released). In addition, at least one community leader active in the movement, Reynaldo Reyes Moreno, was murdered in November 2018. Honduran authorities at the time suggested that Moreno’s murder was unrelated to his opposition to the solar projects, but his community believes otherwise. No thorough investigation of his murder has been conducted.

The project involved improving an existing highway and installing toll roads in at least two places. Local residents in the cities of El Progreso and La Lima maintained a permanent protest camp at the site of one toll booth, and in 2017, all the toll booths were burned down during protests sparked by electoral fraud and the unconstitutional re-election of President JOH. After arguing that they were not properly consulted, local citizens and business owners refused to pay the tolls to use the road, which they argued was constructed with public funds prior to the concession.

Community leaders at the forefront of opposing projects subject to ISDS claims question why foreign companies that make deals with governments involved in illicit, criminal activities have the moral and political grounds to make multimillion-dollar claims for lost profits.

According to Miriam Miranda, the coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras (OFRANEH), investors take advantage of institutional weakness derived in part from the infiltration of criminal interest in state institutions.

“International capital has no shame in investing and supporting a president involved in drug trafficking,” she said. “Foreign companies validated the narco-state and took advantage of the institutional weaknesses that provide a great opportunity to invest, avoid paying taxes, and have all the privileges they want.”

Miranda survived an assassination attempt in her home on September 19, 2023.


International Tribunals Enforce Dirty Deals

Debt justice movements use the term ‘odious debt’ to describe illegitimate debt incurred without the people’s consent, often by despotic regimes. The concept argues that debt incurred by a dictatorship should be seen as personal debt of that government, not of the state itself.

This idea, though typically used to describe debt and not necessarily contracts with foreign companies suing under ISDS, should be applied to Honduras, particularly in light of the billions of dollars of claims against the country.

Foreign companies that shook hands with JOH’s government should not be entitled to compensation that hinders future development and burdens Honduras and Honduran communities.

Although the Castro administration has not explicitly announced its position around all the ISDS claims against Honduras, the Presidential Commission in Defence of Sovereignty and Territory, formed in April 2023, announced in a press conference that Honduras would not participate in the international tribunal process related to ZEDE Próspera’s claim.

In a statement delivered by Minister of Finance Rixi Moncada, the Commission said: “[The claimants] view the [ZEDE Próspera] litigation as an opportunity to join [state] looting through false arbitration…In admitting this controversial arbitration, the ICSID as an international body is being negligent to national [Honduran] legislation from 1988…that requires companies to exhaust national remedies before seeking international arbitration.” Moncada insisted that companies involved in corruption would lose their cases.

Although the press conference only addressed the issue of ZEDEs, Honduras has, in at least one other case, refused to engage in international arbitration by virtue of not appointing an arbitrator. Although to date no official announcement has been made, this suggests that Honduras could decide not to participate in any of the arbitration processes.

President Castro’s administration has quickly learned the difficulties of proposing reforms that even remotely threaten national and foreign economic interests. The U.S. government, despite its rhetoric about supporting democratically elected governments, including Castro’s, has assisted in undermining many of her administration’s most ambitious reforms that simply attempt to roll back some of the post-coup policies.

Internationally, the ISDS claims against the state attempt to further deadlock Castro’s proposed changes and prop up the claims of foreign companies, many of which got involved with odious investments during JOH’s narco-dictatorship.

With about two and a half years remaining of her mandate, Castro faces an ongoing struggle to resist opposition to her proposals, while pushing to follow through on the policies her administration has pledged to champion.

Karen Spring is the co-coordinator of the Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) and a PhD student at the University of Ottawa.

Karen Spring: karen@hondurasnow.org

US Intervention and Capitalism Have Created a Monster in Honduras

By W. T. WHITNEY In CounterPunch, 13 October 2021

We are grateful to CounterPunch for permission to include the following article by W.T Whitney in The Violence of Development website. A link to the original article in CounterPunch is given here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/10/13/us-intervention-and-capitalism-have-created-a-monster-in-honduras/

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

Chilean author and human rights advocate Ariel Dorfman recently memorialized Orlando Letelier, President Allende’s foreign minister. Agents of dictator Augusto Pinochet murdered Letelier in Washington in 1976. Dorfman noted that Chile and the United States were “on excellent, indeed obscenely excellent, terms (like they are today, shamefully, between the United States and the corrupt regime in Honduras).”

The Honduran government headed by president Juan Orlando Hernández does have excellent relations with the United States. The alliance is toxic, however, what with the continued hold of capitalism on an already unjust, dysfunctional society. Hondurans will choose a new president on November 28 [2021].

Honduras, a dependent nation, is subject to U.S. expectations. These centre on free rein for businesses and multi-national corporations, large foreign investment, low-cost export goods, low wages, foreigners’ access to land holdings and sub-soil resources, and a weakened popular resistance.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government casts a blind eye on Hernández’s many failings. These include: fraud and violence marking his second-term electoral victory in 2017, an illegal second term but for an improvised constitutional amendment, testimony in a U.S. court naming him as “a key player in Honduras’ drug-trafficking industry” and, lastly, his designation by U.S.  prosecutors as a “co-conspirator” in the trial convicting his brother Tony on drug-trafficking charges.

Some 200 U.S. companies operate in Honduras. The United States accounted for 53% of Honduras’s $7.8 billion export total in 2019. U.S goods, led by petroleum products, made up 42.2 % of Honduran imports.

Honduras’s Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDE) reflect planners’ exuberant imagination. They envision privately owned and operated “autonomous cities and special investment districts” attracting foreign investment and welcoming tourist and real estate ventures, industrial parks, commercial and financial services, and mining and forestry activities.

Banks and corporations active in the ZEDEs will appoint administrative officers, mostly from abroad and many from the United States. They, not Honduras’s government, will devise regulations and arrangements for taxation, courts, policing, education and healthcare for residents.

The first ZEDEs are taking shape now. The idea for them cropped up following the military coup in 2009 that removed president Manuel Zelaya’s progressive government. Hernández, as congressional leader and as president from 2014 on, led in promoting them. Honduras’s Congress in 2013 amended the Constitution to legitimize legislation establishing the ZEDEs. The recent end of litigation before the Supreme Court resulted in their final authorization.

For most Hondurans, who are treated as if they were disposable, capitalism has its downside. Honduras’s poverty rate is 70%, up from 59.3% in 2019. Of formally employed workers, 70% work intermittently; 82.6% of Honduran workers participate in the informal sector. The Covid-19 pandemic led to more than 50,000 businesses closing and almost half a million Hondurans losing their jobs. Some 30,000 small businesses disappeared in 2020 owing to floods caused by hurricanes.

Violence at the hands of criminal gangs, narco-traffickers, and the police is pervasive and usually goes unpunished. Victims are rival gang members, political activists, journalists, members of the LGBT community, and miscellaneous young people.  According to insightcrime.org, Honduras was Latin America’s third most violent country in 2019 and a year later it registered the region’s third highest murder rate. Says Reuters: “Honduras has become a sophisticated state-sponsored narco-empire servicing Colombian cartels.”

Associated with indiscriminate violence, corruption, and narco-trafficking, Honduras’s police are dangerous. President Hernández eight years ago created “The Military Police for Public Order” (PMOP), the Interinstitutional National Security Force, and the “Tigres” (Tigers). These are police units staffed either by former soldiers or by “soldiers … specializing in police duties.” Police in Honduras numbered 13,752 in 2016 and 20,193 in 2020.

Honduras’s military has grown. Defense spending for 2019 grew by 5.3 %; troop numbers almost doubled. For Hernández, according to one commentator, “militarism has been his right arm for continuing at the head of the executive branch.”  The military forces, like the police, are corrupt, traffic illicit drugs, and are “detrimental” to human rights. The looming presence of security forces is intimidating as they interfere, often brutally, with voting, protest demonstrations, and strikes.

According to Amnesty International, “The government of … Hernández has adopted a policy of repression against those who protest in the streets … The use of military forces to control demonstrations across the country has had a deeply concerning toll on human rights.”

The U.S. government has provided training, supplies, and funding for Honduras’s police and military. Soto Cano, a large U.S. air base in eastern Honduras, periodically receives from 500 to 1500 troops who undertake short-term missions throughout the region, supposedly for humanitarian or drug-war purposes.

Not only does serious oppression exist, but, according to Reuters, severe drought over five years has decimated staple crops [and] … Nearly half a million Hondurans, many of them small farmers, are struggling to put food on the table.” The UN humanitarian affairs agency OCHA reports that as of February 2021, “The severity of acute food insecurity in Honduras has reached unprecedented levels.”

For the sake of survival, many Hondurans follow the path of family and friends: they leave. Among Central American countries, Honduras, followed by Guatemala and Mexico, registered the highest rate of emigration to wherever between 1990 and 2020. The rate increases were: 530%, 293%, and 154%, respectively. Between 2012 and 2019, family groups arriving from Honduras and apprehended at the U.S. border skyrocketed from 513 in 2012 to 188,368 in 2019.

The undoing of Honduras by U.S. imperialism follows a grim pattern, but is also a special case.  Rates of migration from Central American countries to the United States correlate directly with levels of oppression and deprivation in those countries. As regards hope, the correlation is reversed.

Differing rates of apprehension of Honduran and Nicaraguan migrants at the U.S. southern border are revealing. Capitalist-imbued Honduras specializes in oppression, while optimism is no stranger in a Nicaragua aspiring to socialism.

Department of Homeland Security figures show that between 2015 and 2018 the yearly average number of Nicaraguans apprehended at the border was 2292. The comparable figure for Hondurans was 63,741. Recently the number of Nicaraguan migrants has increased; 14,248 presented themselves at the border in 2019 – as did 268,992 Honduran refugees.

Recent reflections of Carlos Fonseca Terán, the FSLN international secretary, show why hope has persisted in Nicaragua. He points out that, since 2007, poverty, inequality, illiteracy, infant mortality, and murders have dropped precipitously. Citizens’ safety, electrification, renewable energy sources, women in government, healthcare funding, and the minimum wage have increased, markedly. Fonseca adds that the “percentage of GDP produced … under associative, cooperative, family and community ownership went from less than 40% to more than 50%.”

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

Note: Although at the time of writing not all the results of the Honduran election are in, it appears that Xiomara Castro of the Libre Party had defeated Nasry Asfura of the National Party by a relatively wide margin. It seems unlikely that the National Party will be able to steal the election fraudulently as it did in 2017.

Edwin Espinal and Raúl Álvarez, Honduran political prisoners – all charges dropped

In December 2019 we included in this section of The Violence of Development website a Honduras Solidarity Network article about Honduran political prisoner Edwin Espinal. Here we are pleased to include, almost two years later, the news that the charges against Edwin and co-defendant Raúl Álvarez have been dropped. Rights Action gives a brief account below along with links elsewhere for more details.

Edwin Espinal, left, and co-accused Raul Alvarez, outside a Honduran courthouse, Sept.17, just after all the politically motivated charges (related to their democracy and human rights activism in Honduras) were dropped. Photo: Karen Spring.

More details of the case and the struggle for justice are found in the CBC news report (21 September 2021 – link given here:


Pending formalisation of ruling

Edwin and Raúl have to wait a bit longer for the ruling to be formally published, and the appeal period to expire. It was, however, a clear and fast ruling from the court. It is widely suspected the ruling will be legally ratified, and the decision will not be appealed by the corrupt, military-backed Honduran regime.

THANK-YOU to all Rights Action supporters who helped us support this very difficult struggle that began with Edwin’s illegal detention on January 18, 2018.

The almost 4 years struggle was led by Karen Spring, Edwin’s partner in Honduras, and by Janet Spring, Edwin’s mother-in-law in Elmvale Ontario.

Karen Spring (in Honduras)

Janet Spring (in Canada)




Also refer to the December 2019 article in this section of The Violence of Development website.

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’.

Honduras 2009-2020: 11 años de dictadura, repression y explotación respaldado por los EE.UU. y Canada –  11 años de resistencia y solidaridad

Le estamos muy agradecido a la Red de Solidaridad con Honduras (HSN) para la autorización de reproducir el resumen siguiente de los desarrollos en Honduras desde el golpe de estado militar en 2009 lo que terminó la democracia en el país.

“The government can’t combat corruption because corruption is the government”
11 years, and counting, of repressive, corrupt, ‘open-for-global-business’ regimes in Honduras, backed and legitimized fully by the US, Canada and the ‘international community’.

Declaración por la Red de Solidaridad con Honduras (HSN)
28 Junio, 2020

Dictadura, Resistencia y Solidaridad, 28 de Junio 2020
Red de Solidaridad con Honduras (HSN)

Hace once años, Honduras se puso de cabeza por un golpe político-militar contra el Presidente Manuel Zelaya Rosales. Este golpe recibió un fuerte apoyo del Gobierno de los Estados Unidos, encabezado por el Presidente Barack Obama y la Secretaria de Estado Hillary Clinton, y del Gobierno del Canadá, encabezado por el Primer Ministro Stephen Harper y el Ministro de Estado de Relaciones Exteriores Peter Kent.

El golpe hizo a un lado muchas reformas iniciadas por el Presidente Zelaya en consulta con los movimientos sociales hondureños, como el aumento del salario mínimo, la reforma agraria, la igualdad de género, el aumento de los derechos de las comunidades indígenas y los esfuerzos para reducir el costo de vida de los pobres. El golpe también tenía la meta de aplastar las esperanzas de un cambio más profundo en Honduras y la refundación del país a través de un cambio constitucional y una asamblea popular constituyente.

La respuesta del pueblo y sus organizaciones de la costa caribeña garífuna, de las montañas del pueblo lenca, de las comunidades campesinas de todo el país, de la juventud urbana, de los sindicatos y de las organizaciones de mujeres y LGBTI fue tomar las calles en forma masiva a partir del día del golpe, el 28 de junio de 2009.

En los últimos 11 años, el pueblo hondureño ha vuelto a las calles una y otra vez a pesar de las migraciones masivas, los fraudes electorales, los asesinatos, las desapariciones, la represión y ahora, en el 11 año del golpe, una narco-dictadura durante una pandemia.

Desde el golpe, algunas cosas han sido constantes de la dictadura: la militarización, la criminalización de los activistas, las privatizaciones neoliberales y el crecimiento de una economía de extracción. Todo esto con la policía entrenada por los Estados Unidos, la policía militar y los militares en las calles, abusando violentamente de los hondureños para todo, desde protestar hasta estar en la calle sin cubrebocas.

Todavía hay 11 presos políticos en prisión preventiva y cientos de personas que todavía enfrentan graves cargos por las protestas en contra del fraude electoral en 2017 y 2018. La impunidad de los poderosos y la élite política continúa sin que se haga justicia y prácticamente sin que se investiguen los cientos de asesinatos y desapariciones que se produjeron entre 2009 y 2020. El asesinato de más alto perfil desde el golpe, el de la líder indígena Berta Cáceres, aún no ha visto acción en contra de los autores intelectuales o financieros de su asesinato. COPINH y sus comunidades siguen siendo amenazadas y acosadas.

Entre 2019 y 2020, al menos 11 activistas garífunas fueron asesinados en la impunidad. Los periodistas son amenazados y agredidos físicamente, y los miembros de la oposición política son acosados y amenazados continuamente. Se ha dado a los militares el control de importantes sumas de dinero para el sector agrícola, mientras que los campesinos son asesinados, detenidos y desalojados, también en la impunidad.

En 2020, la naturaleza criminal de la dictadura de Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) está ahora más expuesta que nunca con los juicios en Nueva York en contra de su hermano y sus socios en el negocio del narcotráfico.

Pero, a pesar de las flagrantes y documentadas violaciones de los derechos humanos, de la corrupción y del narcotráfico, el gobierno de los Estados Unidos continúa su apoyo público, económico y militar a Hernández. El gobierno canadiense se niega a hablar o a denunciar públicamente los abusos cometidos por JOH. Mientras tanto, JOH ha aprovechado la epidemia de COVID-19 para militarizar aún más el país, proveyendo de más poder al ejército, restringiendo las protestas y destruyendo los medios de vida de los pobres (más del 60% de la población), al tiempo que dirige las pequeñas cantidades de fondos de ayuda sólo para quienes apoyan a su partido político.

Aún así, la resistencia continúa y el pueblo sigue organizándose. A lo largo de los años, se han formado nuevas coaliciones y movimientos que se han unido a la resistencia en la lucha contra la dictadura. Esta lucha continúa en las calles, en el campo y en el ámbito electoral.

La Red de Solidaridad con Honduras ha estado al lado de la resistencia del pueblo hondureño desde 2009. Seguimos luchando para que los gobiernos de los Estados Unidos y de Canadá dejen de apoyar la dictadura y cualquier uso de nuestros impuestos para promover la violencia en Honduras. Una herramienta en esa lucha dentro de los EE.UU. es nuestro continuo apoyo a la Ley por los Derechos Humanos en Honduras Berta Cáceres en la Cámara de Representantes.

Los grupos miembros de la Red continúan exigiendo el fin de la impunidad en Honduras, justicia para Berta Cáceres y para todas aquellas personas asesinados, desaparecidos, encarcelados o perseguidos por la dictadura. Acompañamos las luchas contra la minería, los megaproyectos; por el derecho a la tierra, por todas las demandas del pueblo hondureño y de las organizaciones que trabajan por una Honduras nueva, transformada y refundada.

Para obtener más información histórica y reciente sobre la resistencia y la solidaridad con el pueblo hondureño, visite el sitio web de HSN, sus enlaces a los sitios de las organizaciones miembros y otra información.
FB: https://www.facebook.com/HondurasSolidarityNetwork
Tw: @hondurassol


Honduras 2009-2020: 11 years of U.S. and Canadian-backed dictator, repression, exploitation – 11 years of resistance and solidarity

We are grateful to the Honduras Solidarity Network for permission to reproduce the following summary of developments in Honduras since the military coup in 2009 that brought an end to democracy in the country.

Statement by Honduras Solidarity Network
June 28, 2020

“The government can’t combat corruption because corruption is the government”
11 years, and counting, of repressive, corrupt, ‘open-for-global-business’ regimes in Honduras, backed and legitimized fully by the US, Canada and the ‘international community’.



Eleven years ago today (June 28), Honduras was turned upside down by a military/political coup against President Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

This coup was strongly supported by the US Government led by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Canadian government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Peter Kent.

The coup pushed aside many reforms that had been made or begun by President Zelaya in consultation with Honduran social movements such as an increase in minimum wage, land reform, gender equality, increased rights for indigenous communities and efforts to reduce the costs of living for the poor. The goal of the coup was also to crush the hopes for a deeper change in Honduras and the refoundation of the country through constitutional change and a popular constituent assembly.

The response of the people and their organisations from the Garífuna Caribbean coast, to the Lenca people’s mountains, from campesino communities across the country, to urban youth, trade unions, women’s and LGBTI organisations was to take to the streets in massive numbers starting the day of the coup, June 28, 2009.

Over the last 11 years, Hondurans have returned to the streets over and over again, despite massive migrations, electoral frauds, assassinations, disappearances, repression, and now, in the 11th year of the coup, a narco-dictatorship during a pandemic.

Since the coup, some things have been constant from the dictatorship: militarization, criminalization of activists, neoliberal privatizations and the growth of an extraction economy. All this with US-trained police, military police and military on the streets, violently abusing Hondurans for everything from protesting to being on the street without a face mask.

There are still 11 political prisoners held in pretrial detention and hundreds who still face serious charges from the 2017 electoral fraud protests in 2017 and 2018.

Impunity for the powerful and political elite continues with no justice and virtually no investigations of the hundreds of assassinations/disappearances from 2009 to 2020.

The highest profile assassination since the coup, that of indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, still has not seen the prosecution of the intellectual authors or financiers of her murder; her organisation (COPINH) and COPINH’s communities continue to be threatened and harassed.

In 2019-2020 at least 11 Garífuna activists were assassinated in impunity.

Journalists are threatened and physically attacked and members of the political opposition are continually harassed and threatened.

The military has been given control of significant monies for the agricultural sector while campesinos are killed, arrested and evicted, also in impunity.

In 2020, the criminal nature of Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH)’s dictatorship is now more exposed than ever with high profile prosecutions in New York of his brother and their drug trafficking business associates.

But, despite the blatant and documented violations of human rights, of corruption, and of drug trafficking, the US government continues its public, economic and military support for Hernández. The Canadian government refuses to speak or publicly denounce the abuses committed by JOH.

Meanwhile, JOH has taken advantage of the COVID19 epidemic to further militarize the country, giving the army more power and restricting protests, and destroying the livelihood of the poor (more than 60% of the population) while restricting the small amounts of relief funds to those who support his political party.

Still, resistance continues and the people continue to organise. Over the years, new coalitions and movements have formed and joined the resistance in a fight against dictatorship. This fight continues in the streets, the countryside and in the electoral realm.

The Honduras Solidarity Network has been standing with the Honduran people’s resistance since 2009. We continue to fight for the US government and the Canadian government to stop supporting dictatorship and any use of our tax dollars for violence in Honduras. One tool in that fight in the US is our continued support for the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in the House of Representatives.

Our member organisations continue to demand an end to impunity in Honduras and justice for Berta Cáceres and for all those assassinated and disappeared or imprisoned and persecuted by the dictatorship. We accompany the struggles against mining, megaprojects and for land rights and all the demands of the Honduran people and their organisations that fight for a new, transformed, and ‘refounded’ Honduras. ”

For more historical and recent information on Honduran resistance and solidarity see the HSN website and its links to member organisation sites and other information.

Tw: @hondurassol
FB: https://www.facebook.com/HondurasSolidarityNetwork


Former head of Honduran police charged in US with drug trafficking crimes

The spectacularly corrupt and violent situation in Honduras is US and Canadian policy at work, and the situation just got worse

The close links between the Government of Honduras and organised crime continue to feature significantly in The Violence of Development website. One remarkable fact about these links is that as the evidence mounts of their existence, the US and Canadian governments continue to support the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández as “an ally in the war on drugs”. Despite his strong denials of links with drug trafficking and organised crime, the evidence piles up against Hernández.  

We are grateful to Rights Action and Karen Spring of Honduras Solidarity Network for permission to reproduce the following articles on this website.

Rights Action
May 4, 2020


US Justice Department Indicts Honduran Former National Police Chief (Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares) on Cocaine Trafficking Charges

US indictment of Juan Carlos ‘el tigre’ Bonilla Valladres is tip of impunity iceberg
by Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network, April 30, 2020

Today, the US Justice Department, Southern District of New York indicted Juan Carlos ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla Valladares on four counts of drug trafficking and related weapons charges. Bonilla Valladares is a former head of the Honduran National Police and a former Regional Police Chief of the western Department of Copán in Honduras.

According to the press statement announcing the indictment, “Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares allegedly abused his official position to protect cocaine shipments and murder a rival drug trafficker as part of a conspiracy involving high-ranking Honduran politicians and members of the Honduran National Police.”

The indictment makes direct reference to President Juan Orlando Hernández’s involvement in drug trafficking. It outlines how Bonilla Valladares worked in coordination and on behalf of Tony Hernández, the brother of current President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), and President JOH himself: “BONILLA VALLADARES corruptly exploited these official positions to facilitate cocaine trafficking, and used violence, including murder, to protect the particular cell of politically connected drug traffickers he aligned with, including [Juan Antonio “Tony”] Hernández Alvarado and at least one of Hernández Alvarado’s brothers, who is a former Honduran congressman and the current president of Honduras referred to in the Complaint charging BONILLA VALLADARES as “CC-4.”

Tip of Impunity Iceberg
For years, Bonilla has been the subject of controversy and faced public accusations of extrajudicial killings, torture, ties to drug cartels and organised criminal groups operating inside the National police, and corruption. His indictment for drug trafficking in the US is only the tip of the iceberg.

Previous accusations against Bonilla show how he and the Honduran police are deeply involved in organised crime; how mechanisms to stop violations of the Honduran police do not function as they should; how impunity has reigned for years; and how investigations against those intertwined with the powerful and large-scale drug traffickers in Honduras, never ever advance.

Death-Squad Killings of Young People
In 2013, the Centre for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) published an overview of news articles from the Associated Press, Insight Crime, US Government documents published by Wikileaks that describe Bonilla’s shady past.

All sources describe a 2002 investigation conducted by the former Chief of the Internal Affairs of the Honduran Police, María Luisa Borjas against Bonilla and other police officers, involved in “at least three killings or forced disappearances between 1998 and 2002.” Bonilla was accused of killing Honduran youth. In 2002, Bonilla was charged with murder but was either found not guilty two years later or prosecutor’s dropped the case before it went to trial.

Murdering Rival Drug Traffickers
One of the murders of a drug rival that Bonilla is allegedly tied to, was also discussed in Tony Hernández’s trial in New York in October 2019. The rival mentioned is Franklin Arita Mata, who was killed in July 2011 in an ambush of his bulletproof vehicle transporting the principal victim and three of his bodyguards.

The Honduran press reported on the 2011 incident writing that Mata’s car was attacked by unknown individuals travelling in two vehicles. Furthermore, in response to the murder, Bonilla, as the Regional Police Chief responsible for the jurisdiction where the incident took place, told the press that various police teams would be sent to investigate.

Involvement In a Police-led Organised Criminal Death Squad
In 2014, Honduran journalist David Romero read a testimony on Radio Globo of an unidentified police agent that had worked alongside Bonilla. The police agent turned whistleblower outlined several crimes including torture, rape, and death squad killings involving Bonilla and several members of the Honduran police. The testimonies gave a lot of detail about specific murders committed by police-led organised criminal death squads that Bonilla was involved in.

In one of the many cases that the testimony outlined, was the rape of a young woman in the northern city of Choloma. In order to force the young woman’s mother to help the police death squad locate ‘Amilcar El Renco’, the woman was kidnapped, taken to an unmarked ‘security’ house, and raped.

The agent’s testimony identifies the police agents involved in the incident, including  ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla, Egberto Arias Aguilar (former Police Commissioner, current location and position unknown), Eduardo Antonio Turcios Andrade (named in 2019 as head of the newly created Transportation Security Force (FUSET)), and Victor López Flores (former Police Commissioner who pleaded guilty in US courts for drug trafficking in 2017). The agent also stated that the police-led organised criminal death squad had support from the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation (DNIC) and an Analysis section of the National Police.

Honduran media would later report that Cristian Amilcar Sierra, also known as ‘El Renco’, who the police death squads were looking for in 2014, would be murdered in his home in Choloma in 2015 for allegedly being involved in the criminal activities of the gang ‘El banda de el Negro’. ‘El Negro’ is likely Carlos Arnoldo ‘El Negro’ Lobo who was extradited to the US, worked with the Los Cachiros and the Sinaloa drug cartel, and was later convicted in the US for large-scale drug trafficking.


Former police chief of Honduras accused of trafficking drugs to US on behalf of Honduran president
By Jeff Ernst, 30 April 2020

US federal prosecutors have accused the former national police chief of Honduras of trafficking tonnes of cocaine to the US on behalf of the country’s president, Juan Orlando Hernández, and his brother, who was convicted of similar charges in October.

Hernández was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of his brother Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández, but the US has continued to call him an ally in its ‘war on drugs’.

According to the complaint filed on Thursday by the Southern District of New York, the former police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla “participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, to further the conspiracy.”

Prosecutors also allege that Bonilla was entrusted with “special assignments, including murder” by President Hernández – who is identified as a co-conspirator – and his brother, Tony.

Bonilla, an imposing figure known as El Tigre (the Tiger), was appointed as national police chief in May 2012 at a time when Honduras had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In the role, Bonilla collaborated with US counter-narcotics forces operating in Honduras and helped to create a special unit of the police that works with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), leading to the indictment of numerous high-profile drug traffickers including the president’s brother.

Bonilla, who was also identified as an alleged co-conspirator of Tony Hernández last year, has repeatedly cited his relationship with the DEA as evidence of his innocence.

The US pushed for his removal from the police job in 2013 owing to persistent allegations of violence, including that Bonilla had participated in death squads targeting suspected gang members.

Bonilla was previously the regional police chief of the Copán department on the border with Guatemala, one of the most crucial points on the drug trafficking route. During that time, prosecutors allege, he orchestrated the murder of a rival drug trafficker who was threatening a route controlled by Tony Hernández and an associate.

Bonilla has denied all allegations, telling a local news station on Thursday: “I am not a villain. I am a former officer of the national police with the rank of general who served my country and served society.”

It is unclear if the US has formally requested Bonilla’s extradition. If so, the president would be faced with a dilemma of whether to order the capture of a person who could some day testify against him in court. Experts believe Bonilla is likely to follow the example of others who have been indicted on drug trafficking charges and turn himself in to the DEA.

US prosecutors allege that President Hernández received millions in bribes from drug traffickers including Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the notorious former leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. The president has vigorously denied all allegations of ties to drug traffickers, referring to them as “fairytales”.
*** / ***

More information: Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Networ:k Spring.kj@gmail.comwww.hondurassolidarity.org


Rights Action:


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

October 25, 2018 Beth Geglia, Toward Freedom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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