Social cleansing

Although aware of the problem of street children, especially in Latin America, I was unaware of the general hostility felt and expressed towards them and to teams of street educators who try to protect them until one evening in 1995 when I accompanied one such team around the centre of Tegucigalpa. It was only then that I began to appreciate the constant danger experienced by both street children and the workers of organisations such as Casa Alianza and the Quincho Barrilete Association. The experience and the hatred that so many citizens feel towards street children are described more fully in an account of that evening given in ‘The Violence of Development’ website. It is this widespread hatred which excuses the unofficial programme of social cleansing carried out largely by police and death squads.

Later that year I had the displeasure of proof reading the English version of Casa Alianza’s submission to the UN Committee Against Torture, a report on ‘The Torture of Guatemalan Street Children 1990 – 1995’, a thoroughly unpleasant booklet documenting “a PARTIAL list of cases of torture against street children in Guatemala City” [emphasis in original.][1] If proof were needed that the major perpetrators of the torture and killings of street children were to be found amongst the ranks of the police and security forces, this booklet provides it.

Eighteen years later the number of street children in Central American cities has not decreased and governments have failed to implement solutions that prevent children feeling the need to seek refuge on the streets. Despite some successful and valuable programmes to tackle the problem, it is not possible to report much progress. A total of 373 children and youth under the age of 23 were murdered in Guatemala City during the first six months of 2003. 105 of these (28 per cent) were under 18 and some as young as 12 years. The statistics were collected by the Legal Aid Programme of Casa Alianza Guatemala.[2] In Honduras between 1998 and December 2003, Casa Alianza documented 2,089 extrajudicial murders of children and youth under the age of 23.[3] Figure 9.1 brings the statistics for Honduras up to the year of 2011 and shows a shocking recent increase, suggesting a deliberate strategy of social cleansing – as Duncan Campbell writes, some in Honduras would see it as getting rid of the vermin from the streets.[4]

Founded in Guatemala in 1981, Casa Alianza expanded into Honduras and Mexico in 1986 and Nicaragua in 1998 and serves 4,000 – 5,000 children each year. It describes the situation of most of them as:

abused or rejected by dysfunctional and poverty-stricken families, and further traumatised by the indifference of the societies in which they live. Ubiquitous and growing in numbers, many far too young to comprehend their fate, they beg, steal and sell themselves for a hot meal, a hot shower, a clean bed. Living on the edge of survival, they are often swept in an undertow of beatings, illegal detentions, torture, sexual abuse, rape and murder.[5]

The Quincho Barrilete Association is a NGO which works with abused children in Managua, Nicaragua. There is of course considerable overlap between abused children and street children and María Consuelo Sánchez, director of the organisation, outlines the extent of this overlap for those children helped by the Association, at the same time indicating the nature of the problems they suffer:

76 per cent experience intra-family violence; 31 per cent experience sexual violence; 58 per cent spend much of their time on the street; 18 per cent are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation; 21 per cent have already been victims of commercial sexual exploitation; and 31 per cent work on the streets, selling. Basically, the children who are not at school are on the streets.[6]

Jessica Shepherd reports that Viva, an umbrella organisation for charities that help street children, says that up to 1.5 million Guatemalan children are consistently out of school – that is a fifth of the country’s pupil population.[7] Casa Alianza has also reported several times on threats which have been issued to street educators by patrolling soldiers and policemen. In one extreme case in 2005, lawyer Harold Rafael Pérez Gallardo was murdered in Guatemala City. Harold was a legal programme advisor to Casa Alianza and at the time of his killing was advising the organisation on several pending cases regarding irregular adoptions, murders, sexual exploitations, the trafficking of children and other human rights violations against children.[8]

Like the Casa Alianza observation above, María Consuelo Sánchez also noted the close correlation between family poverty, unemployment and the abuse of children which her organisation attempts to prevent and/or overcome. Behind this link with poverty, at least in part, are the structural adjustment programmes and stabilisation programmes forced on Central American governments by the international financial institutions such as the IMF and supported by various international aid organisations such as the USAID. These ‘agreements’ implemented painful economic reforms which threw thousands of state employees and others out of work and forced the end of food subsidies and school meal programmes, as a result of which, as Dafna Araf noted, “more and more families needed their children to work in order to help the family to survive.”[9]

Such neoliberal economic policies led to more flexible working patterns, or put another way, to the chance for employers and companies to pay their workers less and demand more from them. In such a world, “children make good employees – the cheapest to hire, the easiest to fire and the least likely to protest.”[10] The link between such policies and the increase in the number of street children is indirect, but the link between street children and the violence meted out to them is direct. Many working class and middle class commuters of Tegucigalpa resented the existence and presence of these children and were prepared to turn a blind eye to their removal – by whatever means and with whatever violence necessary.

[1] Casa Alianza / Covenant House (November 1995) ‘Report to the UN Committee Against Torture on the Torture of Guatemalan Street Children’, Guatemala City, p.4.
[2] Casa Alianza (July 2003) ‘Six months of bloodshed in Guatemala City – 373 young victims’, Guatemala.
[3] Casa Alianza (December 2003) ‘Increase of Child Murders in Honduras in November’, Tegucigalpa.
[4] Duncan Campbell (29 May 2003) ‘Murdered with impunity, the street children who live and die like vermin’, London: The Guardian.
[5] Casa Alianza (undated) ‘Giving Children Back Their Childhood’, Covenant House Latin America.
[6] María Consuelo Sánchez (6 July 2009) interviewed specifically for this book by Martin Mowforth, Alice Klein and Karis McLaughlin, Managua, Nicaragua.
[7] Jessica Shepherd (8 March 2011) ‘Street life’, London: Education Guardian, p.1.
[8] Casa Alianza (5 September 2005) ‘Legal Program Advisor from Casa Alianza Murdered’, Guatemala City: Casa Alianza.
[9] Dafna Araf (November 2003) ‘Children of the Street – Troubled Past and Uncertain Future’, San José: Mesoamerica, 22 (11), p.6.
[10] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Costa Rica: land of natural wonders and threats to those who defend them

This is an extended version of Box 9.3 which appears in the book (page 182).

A small selection of the threats suffered by Costa Rican environmentalists follows:

1989 – the death in suspicious circumstances of the indigenous Antonio Zúñiga, who opposed illegal hunting in the Ujarrás Indigenous Reserve.

1992 – the death from shooting of Oscar Quirós, a leader in the fight against deforestation in Sarapiquí.

1994 – the death in a fire, whose cause was never satisfactorily explained, of Oscar Fallas, Jaime Bustamente and María del Mar Cordero, leaders of the Costa Rican Ecologists Association (AECO) who had run a strong campaign against the Stone Forestal company, then a subsidiary of Stone Container, a US company.

1995 – the death of David Maradiaga, a poet, ecologist and leader of AECO, after a mysterious disappearance for three weeks.

1995 – simultaneous house fires of the homes of Wilfredo Rojas (a geologist) and Elizabeth González, both professional members of the Campaign Against the Landfill Dump in Cordel de Mora.

1990s – constant threats received by members of the country’s ecological movement after denouncing environmental damage; cases include Ana Cristina Rossi (writer), Patricia Sánchez (journalist) and León González (forestry engineer).

1999 – repression and arrest of ecologists on a peaceful march to demand a moratorium on deforestation in the Osa Peninsula.

2005 – Didier Leitón Valverde – see Box 2.1 (page 35) in the book.

2007 – the lawsuit intervening against a programme on the University of Costa Rica Channel 15 made by ecologists Marielena Fournier and Fredy Pacheco.

2000s – intimidation against Alcides Parajeles, a campesino who opposes illegal hunting and felling in the Osa Peninsula; threats include the destruction of his stock fencing and firearms pointed at his family.

2008 – threats to the residents of the Perla de Guácimo as a result of their complaints against the contamination of their water by pineapple cultivation.

2009 – Aquiles Rivera – see Box 2.1 (page 35) in the book.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, other Costa Ricans who have been the subject of threats and intimidation as a result of their defence of the environment and rights include: Carlos Arguedas, Abel Sánchez, Marco Tulio Araya, Orlando Barrantes, Marta Blanco, Era Verde, Cristino Lázaro, Yamileth Astorga, Marielena Fournier, Fredy Pacheco, Ronald Vargas and Santos Coronado – amongst others.

Facussé threatens human rights activists, beheads peasants

04/26/2011 | AP

If you are wondering, dear reader, why I didn’t post on last week’s assassinations, including beheadings, it was because I simply could not handle it. It’s no excuse, the campesinos in Aguán aren’t backing off. But sometimes even the secondhand trauma is too much. It’s one of those dilemmas of violence research- one’s own pain is voluntary, in a sense, and thus cannot be legitimately compared to the pain of those who are experiencing the evident, immediate trauma (except within a theoretical framework of a violence continuum, using a million caveats). But perhaps my twisted gut, this sense of nausea and impotence can provide some small insight, even thousands of miles away, into the terror embodied by those facing the barrels of Facussé’s assassins’ guns.

In any case, when he’s not busy ordering the murders of campesinos who get in the way of the WWF-eco-certified African Palms he has on the lands he stole from them, Facussé, who has admitted on national television that his guards kill peasants (and yet has never been investigated by the government for his role in these murders) is now fighting back. Tired of people calling him out, he took out a full-page ad in La Tribuna to publicly denounce/threaten the human rights defenders who have affected the only thing he cares about- his profits. What’s really astounding—and not just speaks, but shouts to the level of US-backed impunity in Honduras—is that, in order to personalize this threat against his opponents, he not only names them, but quotes exactly what they have to say about him, just as unapologetically as he admitted to doing exactly what many of them accuse him of- murdering campesinos. The ad, included below as an image, reads as follows:

To the Honduran Nation and International Community:
We write here to inform you that we are being subjected to a smear campaign using false accusations of national and international NGOs. Said campaign has the aim of destroying over 50 years of work to provide Hondurans and Central Americans with products of the highest quality, investments in the billions of lempiras, the creation of more than 8,000 direct jobs, the generation of more than US$100 million in profits annually, and the creation of more than 100 thousand indirect jobs.

The most recent campaign is aimed at blocking the certification of the company by the UN for the sale of carbon credits for the development and implementation of clean energy projects and projects for environmental conservation; to stop international financial institutions from financing our companies, thus putting at risk the investment so desperately needed by the country and finally to promote the boycott of our products.

We ask you all to not be fooled by these people and groups that denounce us internationally irresponsibly and with sinister intent, not only with the aim of destroying the hard work of thousands of Hondurans and Central Americans in making the Dinant Group what it is today, but also of undermining the environment for investment and development in Honduras.

We call upon the corresponding Honduran authorities to investigate what we have stated here.

To the Honduran nation and international community, we reiterate here our commitment to continue helping the development of the country, through business practices committed to the conservation of the environment and through proper corporate social responsibility.

Miguel Facussé Barjum, President, Dinant Corporation/ Exporter of the Atlantic

“To affect [his/its] business, profits and image is an important tactic, and we will do whatever we can to ensure that these projects do not continue receiving funding”,
said to Sirel the representative of FIAN Honduras, Ana María Pineda

“We, Artists in Resistance, Feminists in Resistance, and many allied groups along with the youth, have a boycott campaign against the products of Miguel Facussé”…
Karla Lara, of Artists and Feminists in Resistance of Honduras

As such, the decision to launch a boycott campaign against the products of the Dinant Corporation means joining together the desire of thousands of Hondurans who want to deal a blow to the economic and political power of Miguel Facussé, one of the leading exponents of this structure”
Lorena Zelaya, member of the FNRP

Miguel Facussé is “an assassin and thief straight out of Hell” who will “make himself owner of the entire country using the same methods he uses here”:
Father Fausto Milla, in relation to Zacate Grande

“The soldiers and police are commanded by Miguel Facussé, despite the fact that they are paid by the Honduran people, but they obey the orders of the de facto powers that have taken control of the nation”.
Bertha Oliva, COFADEH

“Save the Rainforest makes an urgent call to send a message to the British government to withdraw authorization from these two projects that will directly benefit Miguel Facussé Barjum, repeatedly indicated by campesinos organizations to be the primary individual responsible for the violence and violation of human rights in the Bajo Aguán”.
Save the Rainforest, German NGO in relation to the projects of carbon credit sales

“the loans that are being provided to this man [Facussé], who has become the number one criminal in Latin America, for now, with the ability of mobilizing an army that at this moment, openly patrols the streets of the Aguán, in Tocoa and in Trujillo, carrying out acts of terror in the numerous cooperatives in the palm agrarian sector in the Aguán”.
Andrés Pavon, CODEH

What I have seen is outrageous and Facussé is a criminal”
Mirna Perla, Salvadoran judge and member of the parallel True Commission set up by the FNRP

We have confirmed the lack of seriousness of the Attorney General and a generalized dissatisfaction in the region, which could lead to a dangerous increase in conflict. Furthermore—explained the leadership of FIAN International—, international standards are not being applied with regards to evictions. They are premeditated violent acts, without legal backing, and represent crystal-clear violations of human rights”,
Central American coordinator of FIAN International, Martin Wopold Bosien.

Quotha content by Adrienne Pine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Quotha content by Adrienne Pine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

‘Anyone Can Murder A Woman In Honduras And Nothing Will Happen’ Women and girls in the barrios live in constant fear of sexual attack and a violent death

We are grateful to Rights Action for permission to reproduce this article by Sorcha Pollak.

By Sorcha Pollak, May 11, 2015

The windowless room in downtown San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second city, bustles with activity as more than a dozen women take their seats at a long oak table. Water bottles are distributed and the electric fan switched to full blast to alleviate the oppressive summer heat creeping through the half-open door.

As the chatter dies out, Dicsa Bulnes clears her throat, introduces herself and begins to speak. “As a woman I feel trapped. I am a prisoner in my own home, there’s nowhere for me to go. I have no freedom.”

Bulnes, who is from the marginalised Afro-Caribbean Garífuna community, pauses for a moment to take a sip of water before she continues. “My partner nearly killed me. He still sends me threatening messages on my mobile attacking me. I’ve tried reporting him but the authorities won’t do anything. It feels like they are forcing women to buy their own coffins, to return to the attacker and suffer through the violence.”

Bulnes is a member of the Foro de Mujeres por la Vida (Women’s Forum for Life), an organisation which campaigns for women’s rights in a country that increasingly turns a blind eye to the violence and persecution that plagues the lives of countless women.

The forum has called a meeting in its small San Pedro Sula office so a female journalist from a safe western country can hear about the daily battles endured by the women of this small central American nation.

Aside from having one of the highest murder rates in the world – a national homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 – Honduras is rapidly becoming one of the most dangerous places on Earth for women.

Over the past decade, this nation of just over eight million people has witnessed a sharp increase in domestic and sexual violence and gender-based murder, a phenomenon known as femicide.
According to the University Institute for Democracy, Peace and Security in Honduras, 531 women were murdered in 2014, the majority of these aged between 15 and 24. Although this number was slightly lower than that of the previous year – there were 636 recorded murders of women in 2013 – the lack of accountability for this violation of a woman’s most basic human right has normalised the concept of femicide.

Between 2005 and 2013 the number of violent deaths of women increased by 263.4 per cent.
Carolina Sierra, spokeswoman for Foro de Mujeres por la Vida, says any attempts made to improve women’s rights before the 2009 military coup, which ousted reformist president Manuel Zelaya, were erased by the current administration.

“The increased militarisation of the country means all measures now focus on weapons and the military, while any measures that were taken to protect women’s rights have been completely abandoned,” says Sierra. “It’s almost like there’s a carte blanche for the assassination of women. Anyone can murder a woman in Honduras and nothing will happen.

“With this lack of accountability, women’s bodies are being used to send a message of fear and hate to the rest of the population.”

In 2014, the United Nations reported that 95 per cent of cases of sexual violence and femicide in Honduras were never investigated, while only 2.5 per cent of cases of domestic violence were settled.

Living in fear
Maria Teresa Meza, who lives in a small shack in the Bordo Gavión riverside slum of San Pedro Sula with her children, says sexual violence is the daily lot for most young women in the community. “Rape is a real danger for young women living in the bordos. If you let your daughter step outside her home she will either be raped or forced into selling drugs.”

Teenage girls living near the bustling food markets in the capital, Tegucigalpa, face the same level of violent abuse. Sarai (19) says many of her friends became pregnant when they were only 12 or 13 after meeting gang members in the marketplace. She says gangs “own the barrios” of Tegucigalpa, controlling how women walk, talk and dress. “They walk around the area monitoring everyone who comes in and out. They know exactly what’s going on and every single detail of our lives.”

Wendy (14) says women and girls are the first to suffer under this brutal culture of drugs, extortion and violence. Freedom of speech doesn’t exist in a world where themaras youth gangs rule the streets. “All I can see around me is violence; there never seems to be any light. Women don’t have the freedom to walk down the street without worrying about being attacked. The men rule and the women must follow.

“Some young women are raped by their own families,” she adds quietly. “They’re raped by their uncles and fathers.”

Supaya Martínez, co-director of the Centre for Women’s Studies Honduras, says gangs govern every aspect of a woman’s life, down to the colour she uses to dye her hair. “If a woman dyes her hair the wrong colour, the local gang will kill her.”

Martínez says people have learned to justify femicide by arguing that female victims are involved in gangs or connected with drug traffickers.

Murder of beauty queen
Last November the bodies of the Miss Honduras beauty queen, María José Alvarado, and her sister were found in the region of Santa Barbara in western Honduras. The sister’s boyfriend was found guilty of murdering the women in a jealous rage. However, Martínez says the government claims the young women were connected to drug-traffickers.

“It’s as if it was their fault. They place the blame on the victim and basically say she was responsible for her own death.

“There hasn’t been a strong enough response from the government to end this. Women die every day but no one is punished and so the crimes just continue.”

Last year UN special rapporteur on violence against women Rashida Manjoo called for the Honduran government to address the “climate of widespread and systematic crime, corruption and impunity”.

Supports cut
However, as part of its process of restructuring in 2014, the government actually downgraded the status of the National Institute for Women, cut funding to women’s rights groups and abolished the police emergency telephone line for female victims of violence.

“We’re living in a country where women don’t feel safe enough to report acts of violence to the authorities,” says Sierra, adding that many women who speak up about injustice must pay for it with their lives.

“Men are killing women with rage, fury and cruelty. We’re scared to speak out but this is the daily lot we’re living.

“We’re forced to live in a culture of violent machismo which has become a natural, accepted part of Honduran society.”

Rights action:

CISPES Supports Human Rights Defender in Face of Death Threats

Sent: 26 January 2010 09:01 by Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)

CISPES would like to express our heartfelt solidarity with El Salvador’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Oscar Luna, who announced last Thursday, January 21 [2010] that he and his family have been receiving death threats. Luna declared that the threats have been delivered in the name of supposed extermination groups, demanding that he leave the country within 48 hours so as to not “obstruct the work of social cleansing” that they are attempting to carry out against “delinquency.” The re-emergence of such “social cleansing” groups was previously denounced by former Human Rights Ombudswoman Beatrice de Carrillo in 2006.

Oscar Luna has been an outspoken advocate for human rights in El Salvador. He defended the Suchitoto 13, water privatization protesters who were charged under the anti-terrorism law and denounced electoral fraud by ARENA during the 2009 elections. Most recently, he has pushed the Attorney General’s office to investigate the intellectual authors of the murders of Marcelo Rivera, Ramiro Rivera and Dora Alicia Sorto Recinos and mobilized his office to provide protection for environmental activists in Cabañas. He has decided not to leave his post, nor to leave the country. Instead, he is calling on the Attorney General and the head of the National Civilian Police to investigate and to provide additional protection for him and his family.

On January 16, El Salvador celebrated the 18th anniversary of the Peace Accords, when much of the State’s repressive apparatus was formally dismantled. However, the re-emergence of death squad structures, and the continued death threats against and assassinations of social movement activists, FMLN leaders and human rights defenders, represent a terrifying roll-back in the struggle for real democracy. CISPES stands with Mr. Luna in defending his position and in continuing his important work of promoting human rights in El Salvador and we call on the Attorney General’s office and the National Civilian Police to do everything within their power to protect Mr. Luna and all others in the struggle for justice in El Salvador.

Honduran environmentalists under threat

The following article was included in the January 2008 ENCA Newsletter (no.44) as a report on a summer 2007 ENCA study tour of Honduras.

By Martin Mowforth

ENCA’s 2007 environmental study tour of Honduras met with our Honduran counterparts who work in a range of grassroots socio-environmental organisations there. We met and spent several days with members of the Fundación Prolansate, the Olancho Environmental Movement (MAO), the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH) and the International Centre for Information on Cover Crops (CIDICCO). With several members of these organisations we also attended the launch of an Amnesty International report on ‘Persecution and Resistance: The experience of human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras’.

Even before our involvement with Amnesty International, it is no exaggeration to say that we had been shocked by the level of danger suffered by our Honduran counterparts in these organisations. Had we been aware of this beforehand, we would have allowed ourselves at least a couple of days after each of our visits to these organisations to absorb the reality of the threats they have to live with. A little background may be helpful to explain the situation our partner organisations face, along with a few details of some of the assassinations which have already occurred and the threats currently faced.

In the 1980s, whilst wars raged around Honduras, the country became known as USS Honduras for its role in harbouring, training and supplying the contras in Nicaragua. In that decade it developed its own death squads – like most of the death squads in Latin America, they were inspired and trained, overtly and covertly, by branches of the US government – to snuff out dissent and opposition within its own borders.

The peace accords and the end of the wars fought in the territories of its three neighbours (Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua) did not exactly bring an end to the activities of the death squads in Honduras. The political targets were replaced by those deemed appropriate for a spot of social cleansing – street children and vagrants. Casa Alianza (a street childrens’ organisation which works in a number of Central American capital cities) reports the violent deaths and arbitrary executions of 3,395 children and youths from 1998 to 2006 (inclusive)[1] – a systematic form of genocide, or as Casa Alianza calls it “a selective policy of extermination”.

But the death squads also began to make themselves available for other targets, one of which was provided by environmentalists and social activists who were leading protests against the indifference, disruption, dislocation and contamination caused by commercial activities and so-called development projects. Since the assassination of Jeannette Kawas in 1995, environmentalists in Honduras have been a major target for the death squads.

Jeannette-Kawas-300x297Jeannette Kawas (pictured) was the President of Fundación Prolansate, an environmental and conservation organisation which has the responsibility for the care of a number of protected areas on the northern coast of Honduras around Tela Bay. It was as a result of her work that these areas were granted stronger protection by the Honduran state and that a large area around Punta Sal was awarded the status of a National Park. But this work did not please everyone, and the advances made during her presidency of Prolansate were seen as obstacles to the development of a number of business projects. The organisation was involved in campaigns against transnational companies which were deforesting and polluting the local environment. It was also involved in a local controversy which approved the movement of landless campesinos (supported by the Honduran Ministries of Agriculture and Tourism) into areas under Prolansate’s protection. Moreover, the area was seen as ripe for tourism investment, and land purchases by interested companies and individuals (even without the construction of tourism infrastructure) had already forced up land values and converted the area into a source of capital accumulation.

Jeannette Kawas was assassinated in February 1995, and still nobody has been brought to justice for the crime. Despite all the possible sources of violence given above, it is currently believed that the intellectual author of the crime was Jorge Montoya who had sold land for logging, the permit for which was cancelled by AFE-COHDEFOR, the state Forestry Commission, under Jeannette Kawas’ prompting and local management.

Carlos-Escaleras-r-220x300Carlos Escaleras (pictured) was assassinated in October 1997. Throughout the 1990s Carlos coordinated the efforts and campaigns of COPA, the Coordinating Body of Popular Organisations of Aguán, and in this role he often found himself and the organisation protesting about the contamination caused by a palm oil extraction plant owned by Miguel Facussé, a rich and powerful businessman and nephew of a former President of Honduras. Amongst others, Facussé has been accused of the intellectual authorship of the assassination of Carlos, but “the parliamentary immunity of some, the economic, political and military power of others and the complicity of judges and magistrates have been the obstacles to justice; as a result of these, the intellectual authors and material assassins have remained wrapped in impunity”[2].

Carlos Antonio Luna (pictured left) was assassinated in May 1998 at the age of 42. He fought against illegal timber felling in the region of Catacamas in the department of Olancho and exposed those responsible for it. In April he received death threats, and he left with COFADEH (the Honduran Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared) a note to say that if anything happened to him, the intellectual authors of the threats were Lincoln Figueroa, a nationalist deputy who, it was known, had already remarked that only killing Carlos Luna would solve thCarlos-Antonio-Luna-pictured-left-256x300eir problems; Jorge Chávez, a timber merchant; José Angel Rosa, another timber merchant who had repeatedly threatened Carlos with death; and the Soto family who were involved in the illegal exploitation and trafficking of timber. Jorge Chávez was captured in 2002 and served four years in jail, gaining his freedom in 2006. The other intellectual authors remain free. The material assassin Oscar Rodríguez is currently serving a 27 year sentence for the crime.

Carlos Roberto Flores (pictured right) was 28 when he was assassinated in June 2001. He paid with his life for his opposition to the Babilonia hydroelectric project. Six security guards of Energisa, the company responsible for the project, are accused as material perpetrators of the crime – three of them have been detained and three have fled. Accused as intellectual authors of the crime is Héctor Julián Borjas Rivera, President of the Energisa company, which had received a $270 million loan from the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE) for the project. He has not been arrested.

José Mauricio Hernández Cáceres was assassinated in November 2002. He was killed because of his public opposition to illegal logging in Olancho. In 2004, Alexis Días Cáceres was sentenced to 20 years in prison for committing the crime with two accomplices who were given lesser sentences. Within the communities in Olancho in which José was known, it is widely believed that the intellectual authors of the assassination are Rúben Antúnez (a cattle rancher), Francisco Zúñiga (mayor of the communCarlos-Roberto-Flores-pictured-right-203x300ity of Jano and an exploiter of the local forest timber) and Juan Lanza (a timber merchant).

Carlos Arturo Reyes (pictured below left)Carlos Arturo Reyes (pictured right) was 23 years old when he was assassinated in July 2003. After the March For Life in 2003, his name appeared on a death list of environmentalists to be assassinated. Carlos’s brother, Francisco Nahín Reyes Méndez, is believed to be responsible for the assassination. Francisco is known for his violent character and is also believed to have killed his girlfriend. It is thought that he was used by the logging companies to carry out this crime, after which he fled to the USA. But he returned several months later and is still at large in Honduras.

In December 2006, two members of the Environmental Movement of Olancho (MAO by its Spanish initials), Heraldo Zúñiga and Roger Iván Cartagena, were shot dead in the town of Guarizama, in Olancho. They were killed in execution style bCarlos-Arturo-Reyes-pictured-right-216x300y four members of the national police who are now in custody. The MAO has consistently campaigned against illegal logging in Olancho department since the year 2000 and has not been afraid to name the names of those responsible and to denounce corrupt officials of COHDEFOR, the Honduran Forestry Development Commission, which issues permits for felling. In May 2006 Heraldo Zúñiga stated that he had received several death threats after publicly exposing cases of illegal logging in the west of the department. That same month the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) requested information about this case from the Honduran government, which implemented protective measures for Padre Andres Tamayo, leader of the MAO. No protective measures for other members of the MAO were implemented. After the executions of the two MAO members in December 2006, the IACHR ordered the Honduran government to provide protection for other members of the MAO, but as ENCA members discovered during their visit in August 2007, no such protection has yet been provided.

The litany of assassinations could continue, but space prevents it. Today’s most pressing concern is the list of those currently living under threat of death or of persecution and prosecution by the authorities acting upon accusations made by the illegal loggers and companies whose operations they oppose. Those under threat of death include those listed after the first March For Life in June 2003, when thousands of people walked more than 170 km from Juticalpa in Olancho department to Tegucigalpa to demand an end to the illegal timber operations in Olancho. The march was headed by Padre Andres Tamayo, the priest in the town of Salamá, who now has a permanent bodyguard of Honduran soldiers because of the death threats he has received. Padre Andres drove us around various parts of Olancho to show us the deforestation, the areas where the MAO and local communities have blockaded roads to stop the loggers, the places where unarmed local residents have experienced tense stand-offs against hired gangs armed with AK-47s and Uzis. But what disturbs members of the MAO most is the threats faced by other members of the MAO who have no bodyguards and no protection despite the IACHR’s instructions to the Honduran government. Recent history shows that the threats are not idle. The logging companies and all those who profit from the operation will stop at nothing to ensure the profits they gain from selling their timber to the USA and Europe[3].

[1] Casa Alianza UK Newsletter, February 2007. 35 per cent (1,193) of these were children under the age of 18.
[2] Comité de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH) (2006) Erguidos Como Pinos: Memoria sobre la construcción de la conciencia ambientalista, Tegucigalpa, page 48.
[3] Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) (2005) ‘The Illegal Logging Crisis in Honduras: How US and EU imports of illegal Honduran wood increase poverty, fuel corruption and devastate forests and communities’. The report is available from the EIA’s website:

María Santos Domínguez

On 5 March 2014, as human rights defender Ms María Santos Domínguez returned to her home, she was surrounded and attacked with sticks, stones and machete by a group of seven individuals. Her husband and her son came to her rescue but were also attacked, with her son losing his ear. María Santos Domínguez has faced death threats on repeated occasions.

She is the co-ordinator of the Organización del Consejo Indígena del Río Blanco y del Sector Norte de Intibucá (Indigenous Coucil of Río Blanco and the North of Intibucá). The human rights defender is also a member of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Indígenas y Populares de Honduras – COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras) and an emblematic leader in the struggle for the defence of the Gualcarque river and the indigenous Lenca territory. Her husband, Mr Santos Roque Domínguez, is also a member of COPINH and a community activist.

On 5 March, just after noon, María Santos Domínguez was returning from preparing school lunches, on the route she normally uses. Santos Roque Domínguez phoned her several times due to the worry caused by the threats already made against the human rights defender. On the fourth call, María Santos Domínguez informed her husband that seven individuals, allegedly the same who had threatened her with death, and who had been waiting for her on her route, had her surrounded. In that moment, her husband and son left the house to search for her and found her, having already received deep machete wounds, being beaten with sticks and stones by the group. Santos Roque Domínguez tried to reason with them and pleaded with them not to kill his wife, meanwhile his son attempted to aid his mother. Immediately, one of the group slashed the child with the machete, chopping off his right ear and part of his face. Santos Roque Domínguez was also gravely injured. The attack against the three family members has left them in a serious state of health.

María Santos Domínguez, as well as her husband and son, have been the target of serious threats and attacks because of their work in opposition to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric plant. The same group who attacked them on 5 March also destroyed their crops on a previous occasion.

Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a human rights defender, owing to threats, defamation, judicial harassment, physical attacks, attempted killings and killings. Indigenous leader and member of COPINH, Mr Justo Sorto was killed on 21 January 2014. Human rights defender Mr Tomás García was killed on 15 July 2013, and the case has still not been properly investigated.

Front Line Defenders roundly condemns the attempt on the life of human rights defender María Santos Domínguez, as well as the attack on her husband and son. Front Line Defenders considers the attack to be directly related to the peaceful and legitimate work of María Santos Domínguez and the Organización del Consejo Indígena del Río Blanco y del Sector Norte de Intibucá.

Gunmen Kill 2 Journalists in Southern Town in Guatemala

Posted by: This reporter has chosen to remain anonymous.

Date: 10 March 2015
Location: Zona 1, Mazatenango, Guatemala

Description of Event: Gunmen shot and killed two journalists and wounded a third Tuesday as they walked in a park in southern Guatemala, the editor of Prensa Libre newspaper said.

Danilo Lopez, the local correspondent for Prensa Libre, and Federico Salazar, of Radio Nuevo Mundo, were killed in a park in Mazatenango municipality.


The men were the vice-president and secretary, respectively, of the recently created Suchitepequez Press Association, according to Centro Civitas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to journalists’ human rights.

Prensa Libre editor Miguel Angel Mendez Zetina said Lopez had worked at the paper for more than a decade and recently filed a complaint against Jose Linares Rojas, the mayor of San Lorenzo, for making death threats against him. Lopez had written stories about the lack of transparency surrounding public funds in Linares’ administration, the editor added.

“Two mayors from Mazatenango municipality had threatened him for his stories,” Mendez said. “Danilo was a very ethical reporter, very transparent and he was very good at accounting for public funds and how this impacted communities.”

Marvin Robledo, director of Radio Nuevo Mundo, said Salazar had not mentioned any problems or threats and was not working on anything special when he was killed.

“We’re going to await the investigations, we don’t know the motive,” Robledo said.

Lopez’s family said he had also been threatened recently by Julio Juarez, the former mayor of Santo Tomas La Union, who had left his post to become a congressional deputy candidate, according to a statement from the press association.

6Local volunteer firefighters said a third man, Marvin Tunches, was taken to a hospital in serious condition. The press association said Tunches was a reporter for a local cable channel and requested protection for him.

Local prosecutors announced through their Twitter account the capture of a suspect in the attack.

During the current government, four journalists have been killed in the Suchitepequez department. Investigators have received 20 complaints about aggression toward journalists so far this year.

Miguel Gonzalez Moraga of Centro Civitas, said that while President Otto Perez Molina announced a program in November 2014 to protect journalists, so far no related actions have been made public.

This report first appeared on