In the August updates for The Violence of Development website we included a short report on the increase in the number of femicides in El Salvador during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same has been happening in Guatemala. On 10th October 2020 Al Jazeera published a report written by Sandra Cuffe on the protests of women’s groups against the high incidence of femicides in Guatemala and on the 11th October TeleSur published a brief report on the protest action. We reproduce a summary of both reports below the photo.
Key words: femicide; femicide rates; Guatemala.
On Saturday 10th October Guatemala’s women’s organisations held a protest in several cities of the country, to reject the violence against women, which has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dozens of women gathered outside the municipal building in the city of Quetzaltenango, head of the department of the same name, to pay tribute and demand justice for the women who have been raped, murdered, and disappeared in the last 20 years.
“We speak for the 4 women who disappear every day. We speak for all the 77,847 girls and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 who are already mothers,” the organisers stated.
“We speak for all the 12,188 women murdered in the last 20 years in the country. We speak for all the 55 women who call every day to denounce their aggressor. We speak for all the lives stolen, silenced, and extinguished of every girl, teenager, and woman in Guatemala,” the organisers explained.
Similar mobilizations took place in the capital, Guatemala City, Escuintla, Cobán, Teculután, among others, where there were songs, marches, and candles in memory of the murdered women.
More than 200 women were killed in the first eight months of this year in Guatemala and more than 3,000 women and girls have been killed since 2015, according to human rights groups tracking government statistics. The overwhelming majority of these cases remain unresolved.
The protests were sparked by the murder of social work student Litzy Amelia Cordón, 20, whose body was found in the municipality of Teculután where primary schoolteacher Laura Daniela Hernández had been murdered the week before.
The women also demanded the State’s commitment to guarantee women’s security and freedom, and “to strengthen the processes of reparative justice for girls and women victims of violence and femicide. The State must take more action. Woman are getting killed in this patriarchal and misogynist system,” they said.
Gang culture in El Salvador
By Martin Mowforth
In April this year (2019), it was reported in El Salvador that municipal employees who provide local services such as rubbish collection in the town of Apopa had stopped work because of threats from local gang members.
The threats began with two gang members who threatened the fee collectors from the almost 2,500 market stall holders, from which the municipality gains between $1,200 and $1,500 each week. Threats were later extended to burial services at the local cemetery where work also stopped meaning that three families had to bury their relatives in other municipalities. Also affected were rubbish collection services and one crucial bus service.
Local mayor, Santiago Zelaya, organised a group of volunteers to collect the rubbish with accompaniment by the National Civil Police. Initially only three police patrols were granted and other services could not be guaranteed by police protection. Mayor Zelaya said, “In view of this situation with reduced municipal ability, we request that the security forces support the progress and development that the municipality has made.”
It is believed that the gangs became short of money following the holiday period (December – February) and that the threats stemmed from their need to raise funds. Four gangs operate in Apopa (only 20 km from the capital San Salvador) where schoolchildren and students, as well as businesses, have to be extremely wary as they travel to and from their studies on account of the danger of approaches by gang members.
The Barrio 18 gang is thought to be responsible for the threats. The gang had an agreement with the previous mayor who is now languishing in jail along with several gang members.
Between the 1st January this year and the 25th February, fifteen assassinations were committed in Apopa, the same number as were committed during the whole of 2018.
On 30th January this year I participated in a visit to the Comunidad Romero, close to the town of Apopa. The visit was organised by the Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS, Centre for Exchange and Solidarity), and our group discussed the problems of living there with a group of impressive young people who spend much of their time trying to avoid being approached and hassled by gang members. There is little work available and so young people who do not make the grade in school generally hang around on the streets where they are highly vulnerable to approaches by gang members.
The main street in Distrito Italia where the community is located, is run by the Barrio 18 gang on one side and by the Mara Salvatrucha on the other. Young people on their way to school or to get the bus to go into Apopa or San Salvador are particularly vulnerable to these approaches, and so many of the young people from Comunidad Romero have to go the long way round to avoid such contact.
Given the lack of employment opportunities and the lack of alternative forms of development, it is unsurprising that so many young adults join the migrant caravans in search of a future.
- La Prensa Gráfica, 14 April 2019, ‘Amenaza de pandilla en Apopa limita servicios municipales’ / ‘Gang threats in Apopa restrict municipal services’.
- Daniel Torres (El Salvador Day), 14 April 2019, ‘Pandilleros no permiten que se recoja basura en Apopa’ / ‘Gang members stop waste collection in Apopa’.
- Personal notes by Martin Mowforth from visit to Comunidad Romero, 30 January 2019.
In December 2018, Honduran human rights worker Dina Meza visited London. Because of the danger of her work in Honduras, she is accompanied there by Peace Brigades International (PBI). Both Dina and PBI feature several times in ‘The Violence of Development’ website, for which she was interviewed in 2017 – see https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com/dina-meza/
The following report by PBI explains her presence in London.
In December 2018 Dina Meza, a celebrated Honduran independent journalist, was invited to the UK to speak at the FCO’s Human Rights Day event. During her time in London Dina Meza met with the Minister for Human Rights; Lord Ahmad, All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights, as well as representatives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to discuss the human rights situation in Honduras as well as restrictions on freedom of expression and attacks against journalists in the country. She also met with NGOs and donors.
“We are joined by Dina Meza. She is a journalist in Honduras who is working to defend freedom of expression and information. And in case Dina, and after meeting her this morning, I would add this, a modest lady, and if she fails to tell you this herself is that she was named by Fortune magazine as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders of 2018. Why? Because of her work in this sphere. Thank you Dina for being here.” – Lord Ahmad
Committed to defending freedom of expression and information, Dina has spent years investigating and reporting on human rights violations across the country. She is currently the Director of ASOPODEHU and the President of PEN Honduras, an organisation that supports journalists at risk. She is also the founder and editor of the online newspaper ‘Pasos de Animal Grande’, which provides information and legal support to at-risk professionals, students and journalists.
In April 2018 Fortune magazine selected her as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders of 2018, highlighting her key role in bringing international attention to the assassination of activist Berta Cáceres, as well as the state violence surrounding Honduras’ volatile 2017 elections.
Dina works at incredible personal risk and has previously had to flee Honduras for her own safety. Due to the threats she faces she receives protective accompaniment from Peace Brigades International.
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By Pamela Machado, February 2021
We are grateful to Pamela, a Brazilian journalist, for her summary of the situation faced by women in Honduras.
Key words: abortion ban; Honduran National Congress; hypermasculinity; femicide.
More threats to the lives of women in Central America: On January 21st, legislators in Honduras voted on an amendment to permanently ban abortions in the country. Honduras already has a full ban on abortions; the new proposal aims to make it hard to be overturned – ever.
The bill was put forward by the Deputy for the ruling National Party, Mario Pérez, on the grounds that abortion is “a practice against human nature”. In the proposed bill, any changes to abortion rights would require a three quarters majority vote, which is higher than usual.
The amendment will have to be ratified by the Congress in a year, but it is widely regarded as a mere formality. Only 27 of the 128 seats in the Honduran Congreso Nacional are held by women.
The move in Honduras came shortly after Argentina became the largest country in Latin America to legalise abortion after decades of campaigning by women’s rights movements. There is little doubt that the bill in Honduras represented a backlash to the victory in Argentina.
Just a few days later, on January 25th, the Honduran Women’s Day, hundreds of women took to the streets of Tegucigalpa to protest against the bill. ‘We have nothing to celebrate,’ said Ana Cruz from the women’s rights organisation Asociación de Calidad de Vida to news agency EFE, “we are here to demand that they respect our rights.”
Latin American countries are amongst the worst in the world in safeguarding women’s rights, and Central America has a particularly dire reputation when it comes to access to contraception and safe abortion. Beyond Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua also have a complete ban on abortion. In El Salvador women can face up to 40 years in prison for any attempts to end pregnancy or even suffering miscarriage. It is reported that 18 innocent women are held currently in prison in the country for alleged ‘abortion-related’ crimes.
Women in Latin America not only bear the burden of social tensions but also suffer from a culture that reveres hypermasculinity and conservative politics. Banning abortions only serves to increase stigma and worsen women’s health conditions as they are left with dangerous options to terminate pregnancies. According to data from the World Health Organisation, 3 out of 4 abortions in Latin America are deemed unsafe.
The collective Somos Muchas says that around 8,600 women were taken to a hospital due to complications of unsafe abortion in Honduras in 2017. The group gathered hundreds of signatures internationally in a call to oppose the bill.
In addition to unsafe conditions for abortions, women in Honduras also struggle with high rates of femicides. In 2020, approximately 300 women were victims of femicide in Honduras.
It is now almost a year since the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) hosted an event entitled ‘Defending Rights Defenders’ on board the Tattershall Castle, a boat moored on the River Thames. My apologies to all the readers of the TVOD website monthly updates that we have not managed to upload a report of the event until now. Anyway, better late than never.
ENCA was strongly supported by Peace Brigades International (PBI), OFRANEH (Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras), the Guatemala Solidarity Network and the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign. The event explored both the causes and potential solutions to the dangers of being a defender of land rights, environmental rights and human rights in Central America, attracted 140 people and provided a platform for discussion and solidarity.
The event was chaired by Doug Specht from the University of Westminster who introduced three speakers: Martin Mowforth, author of ‘The Violence of Development’ opened the talks with a contextual introduction to the northern triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) where life for rights defenders is extremely dangerous. He cited research by the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and Global Witness that stated that since the 2009 military coup d’état in Honduras, 123 land and environmental activists have been murdered in that country with countless others threatened, attacked or imprisoned. The situation for rights defenders in El Salvador and Guatemala can hardly be described as any better than for Hondurans.
Following this introduction we were delighted to be joined by Aurelia Martina Arzú Rochez, vice-coordinator and spiritual guide of OFRANEH, who gave a powerful and personal account of living with the oppression of being an activist in Honduras. The Garífuna people are currently experiencing illegal takeovers of their ancestral lands by Canadian investors who are intent on developing a tourism industry that caters to wealthy foreign cruise passengers but which displaces and dispossesses the Garífuna people from their land. Moreover they suffer constant criminalisation by the authorities which are intent on protecting international investors rather than Honduran people.
More case studies of abuses of rights defenders from around the region were then presented. Following Aurelia and the other case studies, Emily Spence of Peace Brigades International took to the stage to explore ways in which rights defenders can be defended and supported through the work of PBI and other solidarity networks. The presentations were rounded off with a lively and interesting Q&A session.
While the presentations may have concluded on a sober note, the feeling of solidarity and the importance of pushing forward for new and better ways of living and fighting for rights was, quite literally, drummed home by the Pengenista samba-reggae drum band who capped off the evening with a lively range of dance and protest songs that got the whole room on its feet to join in celebration of what can be achieved when we engage in solidarity.
Below are just a few pictures and videos from the evening.
Video clips used in the presentations:
2016 has witnessed an increase in fatal attacks on human rights defenders in Guatemala. From January 1st to October 31st, eleven human rights defenders were killed and since October 31st, the killings have escalated, and by November 18th the total number of defenders killed came to 16. (The total for 2015 was 13.)
Union members and community leaders
On 10th May, community leader Blanca Estela Asturias was shot to death in Villalobos, Guatemala. Two men approached her as she was at her newspaper stand at 6 am and shot her at point blank range. She had recently organised a protest to call for better water service and better maintenance of the community’s drainage system.
On 19th June at about 6 pm, Brenda Marleni Estrada Tambito (shown left) was driving through Zone 1 of Guatemala City when a vehicle drove up next to her. The occupants of the vehicle opened fire and killed her. She was a member of the Coalition of Workers’ Unions of Guatemala (UNSITRAGUA) and the sub-coordinator of the Legal Aid Commission within the union. UNSITRAGUA brings together workers’ unions from different industries, as well as self-employed workers and independent farmers. She was the daughter of lawyer Jorge Estrada, who is currently involved in investigating and assessing labour rights in several banana plantations in Izabal.
On 10th November, Eliseo Villatoro Cardona was riding home on his motorcycle when two pursuers, also on motorcycles, shot and wounded him. Despite his wounds, he tried to flee, but the gunmen continued to chase him and killed him. Villatoro Cardona was a member of the executive committee of the Organised Municipal Employees’ Union of Tiquisate (SEMOT) in Escuintla.
A variety of sources have been used in the compilation of the lists above. These include: Prensa Libre, Aquitodito, Cerigua, Radio La Franja, Front Line Defenders, Committee to Protect Journalists, NISGUA, UNESCO, Reporteros Sin Fronteras, Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC).
The GHRC’s ‘Preliminary 2016 Human Rights Review’ has been particularly helpful and this was the work of Imogene Caird and Pat Davis, to whom I am especially grateful. The GHRC’s website is: www.ghrc-usa.org/
Reproduced from LatinoLife
This Latino Week
by: Jim McKenna
El Salvador gang requests government dialogue
One of El Salvador’s most prominent maras, MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha), offered to dissolve itself as an organisation in return for government concessions. MS-13 stated that it wanted a dialogue on a range of matters, including political representation and amnesty. The government rejected the proposal, saying that it amounted to negotiations with criminals.
Attempts to control the gangs of Central America is not a new development; with a 2012 truce in El Salvador failing within a year of its implementation. The main difference between 2012 and now was thought to be the promise of dissolution in exchange for government promises, which was previously not offered.
Central American gangs have historically been a problem, with U.S. deportation in the 1980s creating a situation where youth gangs would run rampant in society. Although the perceived importance of such gangs has declined in recent years, Central American cities still remain hotspots for violence, with an estimated 10 homicides a day in El Salvador this year.
Journalism has been and remains a perilous occupation in Central America for many years and particularly for Hondurans since the 2009 coup d’état. The passage into government earlier this year of a popular government that was elected without fraud has not yet removed the threat to journalists, as this short piece from Agence France-Presse demonstrates.
By AFP , May 30, 2022
Key words: Threats to journalists; Honduras; Committee for Freedom of Expression (C-Libre).
A journalist died in May in Honduras days after being shot, the fourth journalist killed so far this year in the country and the 97th since 2001, a freedom of expression organisation denounced.
The executive director of the Committee for Freedom of Expression (C-Libre), Amada Ponce, told AFP that Ricardo Alcides Avila, 25, died in a Tegucigalpa hospital after being shot in the head on Wednesday by unknown assailants in the south of the country.
Ponce said Avila was a journalist and cameraman for the Metro television and radio station in the city of Choluteca, 85 km south of the capital. “On the morning of May 26, he was traveling from his home in the community of Santa Cruz to his work in Choluteca, and there he was intercepted by unknown persons who shot him at very close range,” he said.
Avila was taken to a hospital in the capital.
Hours later, the police claimed that it was a common criminal assault. Ponce said, however, that “C-Libre has been able to confirm that it was not an assault. At the scene they found the young man’s backpack with 9,000 lempiras (about 367 dollars), his cell phone, his personal documents, keys and the motorcycle (on which he was riding), completely unharmed.”.
For C-Libre, the murder “is because of the work Ricardo was doing (…) linked to social movements” in the southern part of the country. He stressed that a few days before he was killed, Avila told his co-workers that he had to change his phone because he believed it had been hacked.
“This is an important element that the police have not investigated” and perhaps did not report it “because of the little credibility that the police have,” the C-Libre director commented. She pointed out that the committee has issued alerts of frequent threats received by personnel of the channel and Radio Metro because of their editorial line.
Ponce denounced that four journalists have been murdered so far this year and that since 2001, a total of 97 journalists, media owners and employees have died violent deaths in the Central American country.
In a statement on Avila’s death, C-Libre demanded that “the Public Prosecutor’s Office should have a protocol for the investigation of violent deaths of journalists and social communicators”.
The committee assured that since the 2009 coup d’état against then president Manuel Zelaya, husband of current president Xiomara Castro, “attacks and murders against journalists have increased”.
“Honduras is placed by international human rights organisations among the most dangerous countries for the practice of journalism”, she said. This in spite of the fact that in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) carried out by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, “In the UPR, the authorities committed the State to establish the necessary measures to provide protection to journalists, investigate, prosecute crimes and convict those responsible,” she said.
But “crimes against the press continue and more than 90% remain unpunished,” she added.
It would have been too much to expect that the election of a new president, Xiomara Castro, would signal a reduction in violence and killings in Honduras, although it remains a hope. Three weeks before the inauguration of the new president, Lenca Indigenous journalist Pablo Hernández was assassinated. We reproduce here the initial report of the crime by TeleSur.
Published 10 January 2022, TeleSur
Keywords: Pablo Hernández; Honduras; Indigenous peoples; Bertha Oliva; Juan Carlos Cerros; AMCH; political assassination; COFADEH.
For years now, Honduras has become one of the most dangerous places for human rights defenders, environmental activists, journalists, and social leaders.
On Sunday, Honduran human rights defender Pablo Hernández was murdered by several bullet shots in the back in the Tierra Colorada community, in the Lempira department.
Bertha Oliva, the coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), denounced that armed men ambushed Hernández on a dirt road.
“This murder is one more attack on freedom of expression and the defence of human rights,” The Association of Community Media in Honduras (AMCH) said, recalling that Hernández was director of the Tenan community radio station that broadcasts from San Marcos de Caiquín.
“Hernández was the second Lenca leader killed in less than a year. In March 2020, Lenca activist Juan Carlos Cerros was shot to death in the town of Nueva Granada,” news agency AP recalled, adding that they “belonged to the same indigenous community as Berta Cáceres, a prize-winning environmental and Indigenous rights defender who was murdered in 2016.”
The AMCH denounced that Hernández was threatened and harassed on several occasions for defending the rights of Indigenous peoples, for which he filed a complaint with the authorities.
Besides having been a promoter of the Indigenous University, Hernández was mayor of the Auxiliaría de La Vara Alta, coordinator of ecclesial base communities, and president of the Cacique Lempira Biosphere Agro-Ecologists Network.
The assassination of the Indigenous journalist was also condemned by former President Manuel Zelaya, whose wife, Xiomara Castro, will be inaugurated as president of Honduras January 27.